How Far Before Marriage?

couple kissing
by Paul <><

what’s okay, what’s not, and why

How far can you go without a marriage license? It would be really nice if the Bible said “with thy lips together thou may kiss, but with thy lips parted thou shalt not kiss” or “above the waist you shall touch freely, but below the waist you shall not touch.” Because such detailed limits are not given, some will suggest that God doesn’t care if we slip a hand under a blouse, up a skirt, or into a pair of pants. It is increasingly common for Christians to believe and even teach others, that as long as the penis does not enter the vagina, it’s “not sex.”

Why didn’t God spell it out for us in the Bible? Actually, I think He did, but because we are products of the society we live in we don’t see it.

Up until very recently, it was commonly accepted that stimulating the breasts or genitals directly or indirectly WAS SEX. In the days before reliable birth control, many prostitutes made a living doing everything but intercourse. So when Paul says “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16a NKJV) those who read it would not have thought he was referring only to intercourse, but to any and all of the ways a prostitute of the day would pleasure a man. Even married couples might regularly resort to sex without intercourse in order to not conceive. So perhaps our failure to understand that things like oral sex and petting to orgasm are unacceptable outside of marriage is on us and our culture, not on God.

I will begin by making a biblical case against premarital sex and “playing around.” Then I’ll look at some scientific and experience based reasons why it’s a very bad plan to push sexual boundaries.

the Word says

In the seventh chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul says a lot about sex and marriage. He begins by saying its good for a man to “not touch” a woman. Paul knew those who were unmarried could better serve the Lord and wanted those who could abstain to not marry. But look at the word Paul used – “touch”. The same Greek word is used repeatedly when Jesus touched people to heal them, and it means “to fasten one’s self to, adhere to, cling to”. The word is intimate, but not inherently sexual. It sure seems that Paul was concerned about more than just sexual intercourse – he seems to be excluding all intimate contact between unmarried men and women.

In verse 2 Paul says that we should marry in order to avoid “fornication.” The Greek word there is “porneia,” and it means far more than the English word fornication. The best translation would be “immoral sexuality” and this would include adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, and even bestiality. Paul’s solution for dealing with sexual desires was to get married and have sex (a LOT of sex actually). Given his desire to see folks not marry, this is significant. If some sort of “foreplay to orgasm” could deal with a person’s sexual needs and leave them unmarried, don’t you think Paul would have advocated it? But in addition to the fact that this behavior is wrong, it leads to, rather than prevents, marriage.

Finally, let’s jump down to verse 36-38, where Paul talks about a man and “his virgin.” Some have said these verses are about a man’s virgin daughter, others say it’s about a man who is betrothed to a virgin, but not yet married. Verse 38 can be read either way (compare the NASB and the RSV for example). Consider that in verse 36 we have a question about the man “behaving improperly” towards the virgin. If we dig into the Greek roots for the word translated as “behaving improperly” we see it can mean “indecent.” We also read about “need” in verse 36, and the man’s self-control in verse 37. All of these show that the issue is the man’s self-control over his own sexuality, and this would mean the verses are about a man who has chosen a wife, but has not yet married. Again, the only solution offered for sexual needs is marriage. Clearly, Paul did not think it was acceptable to have sex, any kind of sex, just because a couple was engaged.

logic says

Still, how do we draw a Godly line about what we can and cannot do with a man or woman to whom we are not married? Read that question again – “to whom we are not married.” If a married man, rubbed on the crotch of a woman’s jeans other than his wife, would it be a sin? Is it likely the wife would say “It’s okay, it’s not sex”? And if the wife performed oral sex on some man other than her husband, would he be wrong to be upset because “it’s not sex?” Clearly, these examples are cases of sexual sin! If its sexual sin for a married person to do these things with another, then how can it not be sexual, or not be sin, for two single people to do these things? Why would it be alright to do these things with anyone we feel close to while we are single, but not after we marry?

science says

The idea that necking, petting, and oral sex are not “really sex” can also be dispelled by looking at the biology of sex. Sexual interaction has profound effects on our bodies and minds. Sexual arousal causes our bodies to increase production of pheromones (think air borne hormones) from the upper lip, the underarms, and the genitals in both men and women, and the navel and aureole (the area around the nipple) in women. These pheromones are so powerful that 20 minutes of exposure to a man’s pheromones can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle. Exposure to sexual pheromones effects how we think and feel about the person we are with, causing us to bond with them. In marriage, this sex induced bonding is a good thing, but outside of marriage, it can be a very bad thing. Sex, including sexual contact far short of intercourse, clouds our ability to make intelligent, rational decisions about the person we are being sexual with. Sexual contact causes us to feel closer to the person we are sexual with and this can and does result in marriages that are doomed to fail. It is better and wiser to make life long decisions about marriage without sex making it impossible to see and think clearly.

real live experience says

Setting all of the above aside for a moment, the best reason we give for a single person to say away from anything even remotely sexual is because we have seen the results of sexual contact before marriage.


Our sexuality is like a whiteboard – but we write on it with permanent markers. All of the sexual messages we get from our culture make marks on that whiteboard, but because of how God created us the things we experience while highly aroused make larger marks and the things we experience along with orgasm make the very largest of marks. Again, this is a good thing in marriage – what we do with our spouse gets written down and becomes a part of what we want, expect, and enjoy. But what if we have sexual contact with several individuals before we marry? The first person we are with leaves a lot of marks on us and we want and expect sex to be however it was with them. Each new partner leaves more marks on us. Soon our white board is unreadable, and our sexual expectations and desires are a mess.

What if the person you marry can’t do that “special thing” a former partner did? What if your spouse can’t do something you like as well as the last person you were sexual with? What if you have come to enjoy and be aroused by the way a certain partner’s body part looked or felt and your spouse does not look or feel this way? What if the man or woman you marry finds something you have come to enjoy and want to be gross? Or what if they “need” something that you don’t like because of a bad experience with another person?

What if you wait until you are sure you are with the one you are going to marry? This avoids some of the problems, but not all of them. Unmarried couples don’t have the same regular contact and opportunities that married couples have and this means their sex life will not be the same as it will be when they do marry. There is the problem of habituation – becoming so used to doing something a certain way that you can’t do it any other way. As an extreme example, one couple we’ve talked with engaged in “dry humping” to mutual orgasm before marriage. When they did marry they found very little enjoyment in being naked together and both of them found it difficult to be aroused or orgasm during intercourse. They had become so used to the only kind of sex they knew that intercourse was difficult and not enjoyable.

But the dangers of sexual contact before marriage with the one we marry go far beyond setting up patterns. Talk to 100 women who “messed around” before marriage a year after the wedding and at least 95% will say they wish they had not done it. In theory, these women should be able to repent and go on, but in practice, it usually results in guilt, resentment, and sexual difficulties. Couples married for many years often trace long term sexual problems to the fact they did not wait till after the wedding to become sexual.

women who felt coerced say

We think a major part of this is that most women really don’t want to be sexual before they marry. Sure, their bodies are pushing them for it and they may get some pleasure out of it (although many do not), but most of them know deep down inside that it’s just not right. So why are so many “good Christian girls” so easily persuaded to go at least “part way?” Because they don’t think they have a choice. These young women have learned that many of their brothers in Christ will not continue to date a girl who does not “put out.” There are exceptions, but the sad reality is that many men who say they follow Jesus want and expect to be taken to climax by a woman they are “serious” about. The perception is that a woman has very little chance of getting married is she does not give out some free samples. If the choice is “let him feel me up” or “stay home every Friday and Saturday night,” you can see why a young lady might allow something she does not want to do. If the choice is “take care of him with my hand” or “forget about another date” you can see why a woman might do something she does not want to do.

sad woman

There is a second problem that goes hand in hand with this. Because she is doing something she does not want to do, the young lady is likely to feel she can’t say no to anything. So she not only does what she feels is wrong as a single woman, but she also does things she finds distasteful – things she would not want to do even if she were married. This creates a great deal of resentment in the woman and this resentment will be vented on her husband after she marries. And once she is married, the woman may decide to stop doing things she just does not like. This leads to resentment in the husband, who feels like he has been the victim of “bait and switch.”

don’t believe what our culture says

We know it’s difficult for teens and young adults to not be sexual. Most will have to deal with a full blown adult sex drive for more than a decade before they marry. It seems that “everyone is doing it” and it seems that if you don’t do it now you will miss the best sex of your life. Let’s dispel the myth that sex is for the young. We talk to others in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who agree that it is still getting better every year. We have also talked to a 70-something semi-retired pastor who says he and his wife are still going strong … almost nightly! Please don’t think you have to start having sex now because the best sexual years of your life are passing you by – it’s just is not so! You have decades of sexual pleasure ahead of you IF you don’t mess it up by jumping the gun.

Paul (not that one) says

One thing that I, Paul, have learned to do when seeking information from anyone from a doctor to a mechanic, is to ask the person I’m talking to what they would do if they were in my position. So in closing let me tell you what my understanding and experience would have me do if I were single. I would not “French kiss” a woman until she was my wife. I’m not saying it’s sinful to French kiss outside of marriage, but I know given my natural desires, this activity results in strong sexual arousal, a great deal of temptation, and a bonding that is unwise outside of marriage. The first time I kissed a woman on the lips would be when she said “yes” to my proposal of marriage. I would make a point of never being alone enough to have sex with any woman I liked. Once I knew for sure that God wanted me to marry a woman, there would be a very short engagement.

I see it this way: you have two sex lives, the one before you marry and the one after you marry. Everything you do in your premarital sex life will have an impact on your married sex life – and the impact is never positive. It’s a gamble, and the odds are stacked against you. Sex in marriage can be a wonderful thing, don’t destroy it before you even get to try it. We have never had a couple tell us they are sorry they waited and have had some tell us how glad they are to have waited. On the other hand, we have heard over and over from couples who wish they had been completely inexperienced on their wedding night. What sex play before marriage can get you is nothing compared to what it can cost you. It’s like having a million dollar trust fund you can’t touch until you marry – and agreeing to trade it all for a thousand dollars right now.

Suggested article:
Why Wait for Sex?


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