“How far can I go?” Easily the number one question – spoken or not – of Christian dating couples in relation to physical intimacy. “How far is too far?” Or asked another way, “What is the absolute most we can get away with without actually sinning?”
I’ve heard all manner of answers to it, from the ‘click and whistle’ approach (cause you can’t get up to too much if you’re hands are clicking and your lips are whistling!) all the way through to justifying everything outside of vaginal intercourse (which leaves a whole lot of options!).
It reflects the natural bent of the human heart – but particularly the young person as they explore their emerging independence and self-governance – to know where the boundary is so that we can run right up close to it. How close to the fire can we stand without getting burnt? How far can I go?
It’s the wrong question.
We don’t ask it with some other boundaries.
When standing on the edge of a very tall building we’re more likely to ask ‘how far BACK from the edge do I need to stand to be safe?’ And only the brave (or stupid) would venture too close. Because we know that the consequences of finding out where ‘too far’ is would be dire!
We need a better understanding of sexual intimacy.
While they may be true, ‘God says’ or ‘the Bible says’ are not adequate boundaries. They’re a good start but ultimately unsustainable without a greater sense of purpose and intent. An understanding of why God wants us to honour our own and one another’s sexuality (including His intended design for us to experience and explore our sexuality in covenanted marriage, the preciousness of our physical person and His desire to keep us from heart-wounding) is needed to carry beyond the legalism to a deeply held desire for God’s best for us and for the other.
Externally imposed rules and boundaries are no match for internally determined desires, goals and intentions. A deeply held understanding of and a conviction around God’s best is needed to make good personal choices and also to process any sense of falling short.
God desires that we would not be wounded sexually through abuse, rejection, confusion or manipulation. He doesn’t intend for sexual intimacy to be a thing of comparison or competition. God doesn’t want us to carry the heart burden of sexual regret or remorse as well as other potential physical consequences.
God designed us as sexual beings and, as with everything He made, it works best when experienced as He intended for us. God’s love for us compels Him to draw a boundary around our sexual exploration and engagement.
Honour as a boundary.
Whilst boundaries around the where, what and when of physical intimacy are helpful and accountability to them necessary – the greater value of honour will ultimately fuel the kind of self-control and determination required to succeed. Honour of God’s will and heart for us, honour of our own sexuality and the gift it is intended to be in its created context and honour for one another – a deeply held sense of protection and preservation of the other’s dignity, purity and heart.
Instead of “how far can I go?” other questions to ask …
What do I hope for in a potential future marriage relationship – how can I protect that now? How do I best honour the other person? Is this in line with God’s design for my sexuality and for sexual intimacy? How can I manage my own lust and desires? How far back from ‘the edge’ should I stay to keep from falling? What decisions do I need to make and practices should I put in place that will set me up to win?