How Far is Too Far When You’re Dating?

Lee Ann Herring

So you think he’s the one. You’re talking about marriage, thinking about marriage, and already feel like you’re committed to each other for life.

So it seems natural that your physical relationship progresses. You trust each other more so you’re exploring your sexual relationship more.

But have you actually decided how far you’re willing to go before marriage?

When you love someone drawing boundaries is hard. But the lines you draw at the start will leave lasting marks on your relationship.

Until you are married, it’s important to be clear about the forms of physical or sexual intimacy you want to keep just for you and the person you marry.

Healthy sexuality is about more than “don’t look, don’t touch,” or “hang on until marriage then everything will be okay.”

The common mistake is to think of drawing your boundaries as “How far can I go?” A better rule of thumb is “how close to God do I want to be?”

A dating relationship that honors God draws both people closer to Him. If you feel like God is coming between you and your partner, that may be your values or conscience talking to you. You need to listen.

Why is God so concerned about our boundaries when dating?

God describes Himself as a father. A good father protects and provides for his children. He’s focused on preparing us for the relationships we will have.

So how does God prepare you for your future relationships? What might He need to protect you from?

  1. God wants to protect your future sex life.

If God intends you to get married one day, or if you’re married already, He wants the person you’re with to love and respect you the way He does. How you choose to use your body makes a difference to that.

One of the most painful experiences I’ve endured was telling my husband about the other men who knew my body before we were married and hearing about his history with pornography.

It’s as though the people in those memories are all right there in bed with us.

When you experience conflict in a relationship, and you will, those memories can become a place you choose to hide from each other. You imagine the people in your past somehow accepted you in a way your spouse doesn’t. But the truth is they were never as committed to you as the person you marry.

My husband and I have carried the weight of comparing ourselves to other people we remember and it took intensive counseling for our sex life to be restored.

  1. God wants your relationships to be built on trust.

If your dating relationship leads to marriage, you hope it will be free from fear and insecurity.

If you can both control your sexual desire while dating, you’ll be more confident about resisting temptations when you’re married. That might include flirting, viewing pornography or even being unfaithful.

Temptations don’t suddenly stop on your wedding day.

Your future sex life may be complicated enough without you having also trained your body to respond to other people or situations that are not healthy.

But it’s about more than the kind of wife you want to be. What kind of adult do you want to be?

Your sexuality is a huge part of who you are, so if you can handle this area well, you’re more likely to be intentional about other areas of your life.

  1. Why settle for false intimacy, when God wants you to know the real thing?

In high school, I had a relationship with God. But then I got into a relationship with a guy. We started having sex, and for the rest of that relationship I slowly built a wall between God and me.

I didn’t want God to see that part of my life. So I thought I could somehow hide from Him.

Eventually I couldn’t sense God in my life anymore because I was shutting Him out of so much of it.

I sacrificed my intimacy with God, and damaged my ability to relate in a healthy way to other people, because I believed sexual intimacy would provide contentment. I was wrong.

I had to choose between sex with this guy or my relationship with God.

Your boundaries communicate how you value God.

Generally speaking, a wise place to draw “the line” is where signs of affection turn into arousal.

Signs of affection can be emotional or spiritual, not just physical.

Our unique personalities, sexual histories and relationships influence the boundaries we need to be healthy.

Your boyfriend’s line may be different from yours. Beware of bending your convictions to his desires.

A good rule of thumb is to go with whomever’s boundaries are more conservative so neither of you feels you’re dishonoring God.

Boundaries exist to demonstrate how much you care about God, yourself and others. They are there to express your values, not just restrict your sexuality.

Think about these questions then discuss them with your boyfriend:

  1. At what point do your signs of affection turn into sexual arousal?
  • When you’re in a private place?
  • When you’re snuggling?
  • When you’re making out?
  • When you’re sharing your hopes and dreams?
  • When you’re praying together?

Wherever that point is, you want to take two steps back, and draw your line there. Don’t test your limits.

  1. What situations tempt you to cross your line?

I knew a couple who decided they couldn’t cook a meal together — too much heat in the kitchen, both literally and figuratively. For you, there may be other situations you know are high risk.

Learn to recognize your triggers. They tell you when you’re nearing or crossing one of your lines.

  1. Which conversations should wait?

Sharing your deepest secrets or your hopes and dreams can lead to you wanting to express that closeness physically.

Beware of talking to your boyfriend about:

  • Marriage as a hypothetical. Beginning this type of conversation too soon in a relationship can create a misleading sense of commitment.

If you see dating as a step towards marrying someone, it’s good to clarify that early on in case he doesn’t see it that way. But discussing the details of what getting married would look like should wait until you both agree that’s where you’re headed.

If you’re not yet 18 and financially independent, you probably don’t need to be talking about marriage with your boyfriend yet, do you?

Where do you go from here?

  • Make a list of things that trigger arousal for you.
  • If you’re dating, ask him to do the same.
  • Discuss your lists and agree on some boundaries for your relationship. Remember, this type of conversation could itself be arousing.

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