RELATIONSHIP Q&A: PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES
What if my girlfriend or boyfriend sleeps on a separate bed when they sleep over? Is that okay?
Flee from sexual immorality… – 1 Corinthians 6.18
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.– 2 Timothy 2.22
This is really dangerous territory for a lot of reasons. First of all, even if you don’t do anything physical, the temptation is definitely there. Rather than putting ourselves in a tempting position, Scripture tells us to flee temptations, not put ourselves in the path of them and then will ourselves not to succumb. And even if nothing physical happens, the struggle with lust will most likely be there. Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but if you’re sleeping in the same room or bed with a guy, sex crosses his mind, even if it doesn’t cross yours (and if we’re being honest, it crosses yours also). He may not want it to, but it does, and then he’s struggling with lust and you’ve both been involved in allowing that to happen. This is definitely not fleeing from sexual immorality or youthful passions, or pursuing righteousness from a pure heart.
Another thing to think about here is that sex isn’t the only privilege that comes with marriage. Another privilege (among many others) is that you get to spend all your nights sleeping next to the person you’ve committed your life to. When you’ve made that commitment, you get this bonus. You can’t cut corners and jump to the privileges without making that commitment. There is a lot of intimacy and closeness that comes with being vulnerable enough to actually sleep with someone. You shouldn’t be doing that without the commitment of marriage just as much as you shouldn’t be having sex with them. ALL the privileges of marriage come after the wedding.
Finally, you have your witness to non-believers to consider. When you sleep over at someone’s house or apartment or dorm room, even if you don’t sleep in the same bed, someone knows about it – roommates who see you there in the morning, your roommates who know you didn’t come home, neighbors who see you leaving or know your car was parked outside all night long – there’s someone who knows you’ve been there and they don’t know that nothing physical happened. They most likely assume that something physical did happen. Any of these people may know that either of you call yourself believers. What kind of message does that send to them? They will end up seeing you as a hypocrite. If they’re a new Christian, they may end up thinking that, if you did it, it must be okay for them to do it too. If they’re not a believer, they either end up thinking that you’re not either, or they just add you to the list of people they know who claim to love Christ but don’t live that way. We can’t let that happen! We are Christ’s examples to people in this world, and we need to live like it, even if it means not doing things that may feel nice to us.
What are some good ways to maintain sexual purity in a dating relationship?
Boundaries and accountability are crucial! Have friends (guys for guys and girls for girls) who you are committed to being completely vulnerable and honest with and who will ask you the tough questions about your purity every week. And when you set boundaries (like having a curfew for dates, not being alone at night, etc.) tell them to your accountability partners so that they can ask you about them. For example, if you know you struggle to maintain purity if your boyfriend/girlfriend is at your house late at night, set a curfew and then ask your accountability partner to call you randomly on any night after that curfew time to see if you’re with them or not. You should also think back and think ahead. Think back to times and situations in your life when you’ve been tempted, and then think ahead to make sure you don’t put yourself in those situations anymore. If watching a movie on your couch tempts you to be physical with your boyfriend/girlfriend, then plan ahead to only watch movies in theaters or invite other friends to watch movies at your house with you. The point is to be prepared. If you only think about boundaries and purity when you’re in the heat of temptation, you’re not going to be equipped to make good decisions. Set your boundaries and bring other people into them to help hold you accountable and to confess to when you mess up.
What advice do you have for a couple who is engaged?
Set boundaries, probably even more strictly than you did when you were dating! For everyone I know who is married, sexual temptation only got worse once they got engaged. It becomes easier to justify crossing over those boundaries with lies like, “Well, we’re almost married, so it’s basically the same thing now, right?” While, yes, you are almost married, it is most definitely not the same thing. You still haven’t made that commitment to each other that you’ll make at your wedding. And you still have a duty to protect each other and encourage each other to pursue the Lord. I’ve known people who set curfews for themselves once they got engaged so that they wouldn’t be alone together after 10 pm. Sometimes when dropping the girl off, the guy wouldn’t even walk her to her door to get rid of the temptation to go inside. And crucial in these boundaries you have with each other will be accountability. Each of you should tell your friends what these boundaries are so that they can have your back when you’re going on dates. If you don’t want your fiancé(e) to be in your house after a certain time at night, tell your roommates. Go on double dates to minimize the temptations of being alone. Also, shorter engagements can help with this. Most weddings can be planned in 4-6 months. The longer your engagement is, the more time you have to struggle with these things. If you can plan a fun, God-glorifying wedding in 4-6 months and start your lives together sooner, why spend 12-18 months planning and stressing and being tempted? And however long your engagement is, get yourselves in some biblical premarital counseling. Having an older couple mentor you through the process of getting married will help you prepare better for future conflicts, will help you work out some issues before getting married, and will add another level of accountability during your engagement. And finally, while you’re engaged, treasure this stage in your relationship! Too often people see engagement as just a time to plan for being married, and it is a great time to do this, but there are also things God wants to teach you as an engaged person that He won’t teach you as a single or married person. Every stage of our lives is a time for the Lord to grow us in our relationships with others and with Him. We don’t want to miss what He has for us in one stage by focusing only on getting to the next stage.
Doesn’t everything get easier once you’re engaged/married? Seems like it does.
No! See the above question for more on engagement struggles, but everything definitely doesn’t get easier just because you’re engaged or married. There are some things that are better than in dating, most notably the fact that there is much more emotional safety in the commitment of a marriage as opposed to a dating relationship. But we are all sinners and every stage in our lives will be full of opportunities to put our own sinful desires ahead of our holiness. One thing that not a lot of people talk about but which seems to be true in the lives of many married couples I know, sexual temptations actually do change quite a bit in marriage (but that doesn’t mean things get easier). The way Satan will attack your relationship when you’re dating is to tempt you to do things that you aren’t supposed to do, like have sex. But the way he will often attack you when you’re married is to tempt you to not do things that you are supposed to do. God designed sex for marriage. He designed it as a way to show the unity that a husband and wife have in marriage, and He is a good God so He also made it fun. Satan knows this and he doesn’t want married couples to have these kinds of healthy relationships, so he will try to get you not to have sex and be close with each other. Whether that comes in the form of tempting you to be selfish and therefore not wanting to serve your partner sexually, or whether he attacks your insecurities and makes you unwilling to be vulnerable with your spouse, or anything in between, Satan will try to make you not want to do something that you wanted to do so badly before you got married. So purity in your relationships is always going to be a struggle! It just might take different form in different stages of your life.
What if a guy/girl wants to draw the line in physical affection but isn’t respected when he/she says no?
Depending on where one person is wanting to draw that line, at some point this could be rape. Now, I’m assuming that this question isn’t asking about that, but I wanted to mention it anyway because I think sometimes girls fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I said no, but I didn’t run away or even stop kissing him, so it’s just as much my fault as his,” but if you’ve said no and then he’s had sex with you anyway, that’s rape and you need to talk to someone about it.
But assuming that you’ve actually just tried to set good boundaries and the other person keeps trying to cross those boundaries, that’s a different situation. I honestly think if the person you’re dating doesn’t respect you enough to work hard to maintain the boundaries you want to set up, you should break up with them. This isn’t a person who’s concerned for your holiness and your relationship with the Lord more than they’re concerned with their own personal pleasure. They’re not trying to protect you or push you to become more like Christ. They’re simply seeking to get what they want from you in some way. Being alone will be better than being with someone like this.
What do I do if my boyfriend keeps letting us cross physical boundaries but is an otherwise God-loving guy?
I would seriously consider if this is a guy to continue dating. If you’ve set up boundaries and he keeps crossing them, refusing to put your purity and your relationship with Jesus ahead of his desires, he doesn’t seem like a guy that’s going to love you selflessly. At the very least you need to have a serious discussion with him, and you may need to just break up with him if this doesn’t change.
What is too far when it comes to being sexual with one another?
I actually don’t want to answer this question. Instead I’d like to suggest that we ask a totally different question in its place. Ask yourself (and each other), “How much can I encourage the person I’m dating to pursue holiness and purity?” See, asking how far I can go with someone is ultimately a selfish question. It’s basically saying, “I don’t want to cross the ultimate line, but I want to get as much pleasure out of this person and get as close to that line as possible.” It doesn’t seek the best for the person you’re with (or the ultimate best for yourself). It doesn’t put another person’s relationship with the Lord ahead of your own desires. But if you can ask yourself how you can best help someone else pursue purity, then you’ll actually stay far from that line, and you’ll learn to practice true love by caring more for someone else than for yourself. Scripture says to FLEE sexual immorality, not get as close to the line as possible without actually crossing it.
Is it more important to pursue purity or Jesus? Why?
If you’re pursuing Jesus, you’re pursuing purity. There’s no either/or here. If we’re truly pursuing Jesus, then we follow Him and obey Him, and He commands purity and holiness in our lives and hearts. And if we seek Him with all our hearts, then purity will become something that we desire and seek as well.