Young People Ask . . .
How Far Is “Too Far”?
“Could you please warn people about the dangers of going too far? . . . All the ‘in between’ needs to be addressed, because it’s what leads to sex. My question is, where is the limit?”
That is what one girl asked a magazine for teenagers. But perhaps it’s a question you have also wondered about.
If you are a Christian, you take seriously the words at 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6: “This is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication; . . . that no one go to the point of harming and encroach upon the rights of his brother in this matter, because Jehovah is one who exacts punishment for all these things.”
So although you may realize that sexual intercourse by unmarried Christians is wrong, you may still wonder how God views kissing, hugging, or caressing someone of the opposite sex.
A Part of Growing Up?
First of all, it is good to keep in mind that the Bible does not condemn legitimate, clean expressions of affection free from sexual overtones. Ancient Christians were quite demonstrative of their love for one another. They would commonly “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20) Even Christians of the same sex would kiss and embrace.—Compare Acts 20:37.
In a number of cultures, kissing and embracing are still considered appropriate ways to show affection for someone. However, many youths today show affection in ways that go beyond a reasonable definition of what is appropriate. One U.S. survey found that over two thirds of teenagers polled said that they had engaged in some form of petting involving the caressing of intimate body parts. Many started doing so as early as age 14. As found in another survey, 49 percent had engaged in petting to the point of sexual climax.
Some justify such sexual experimentation as simply a part of growing up. According to the book The Family Handbook of Adolescence, “sex play and exploration are commonplace among virtually all normal adolescents.” Some people even recommend petting. The book Growing Into Love, by Kathryn Burkhart, claims: “Because it stops short of intercourse, most petting can be experienced free from anxiety and serve as a wonderful outlet for sexual energy.”
The question is, though, How does God view such behavior?
What’s in a Kiss?
When you are in “the bloom of youth,” sexual desire runs strong. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Therefore, it is only natural to be curious about what it feels like to kiss or touch someone of the opposite sex. But The Family Handbook of Adolescence points out: “Sexual ability precedes, sometimes by many years, emotional maturity.” Indeed, many youths do not fully appreciate that a kiss or a caress has the power to arouse strong romantic feelings or sexual urges.
Wisely, therefore, you must consider the consequences of engaging in conduct that arouses sexual feelings. What if you are too young to marry? Then why kiss or do anything in a way that would arouse you sexually? All that this would accomplish is to cause you frustration. This is because there is no way for you as a true Christian to take those romantic feelings to their logical conclusion—sexual intercourse. The Bible makes clear that such relations are proper only within marriage.—1 Corinthians 6:18.
Consider, too, the other person, who might be aroused sexually by your romantic activity. Is it not deceitful, and even cruel, to kiss or caress someone you are not in a position to marry or may not even seriously consider as a potential marriage mate? (Compare Proverbs 26:18, 19.) The Bible warns: “The cruel person is bringing ostracism upon his own organism.”—Proverbs 11:17.
It shouldn’t be any secret to a Bible student that a romantic touch or a kiss can arouse strong sexual desire. The Bible tells of the seduction of a young man by a prostitute. It says: “She has grabbed hold of him and given him a kiss.” (Proverbs 7:13) Such a kiss or touch can trigger a profound physical response. As intimacies progress a boy or a girl becomes increasingly aroused. Frankly, the body is getting ready for sexual intercourse.
If a couple are married, they can satisfy their passions in a delightful and honorable way. But when an unmarried couple indulge in passion-arousing sexual play, problems are sure to result. In one survey, writer Nancy Van Pelt found that many youths who got involved in petting openly admitted they had simply got, as they put it, “carried away.” Typical is a young girl who was pressured into going further than she ever had before. Although she did not engage in sexual intercourse, she did allow the boy to touch her intimately. She says: “Now I feel terrible.” Was what she permitted the boy to do to her really wrong?
What Is “Too Far”?
Some youths believe that as long as they don’t engage in sexual intercourse, they haven’t gone too far, that what they do isn’t really wrong. The Bible shows otherwise. At Galatians 5:19-21, the apostle Paul said: “The works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct . . . those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
What is fornication? The original Greek word for fornication is por·neiʹa. It refers to sexual activity involving the use of the genital organs carried on outside the bonds of marriage. One girl quoted in Seventeen allowed her boyfriend to pressure her into performing oral sex. “I feel really stupid,” she said, “because all my friends say they do it with their boyfriends and I’m going to lose him if I don’t.” Research shows that alarming numbers of youths have engaged in that form of immorality. Nevertheless, such acts constitute por·neiʹa and bring God’s disapproval.
The apostle Paul also linked fornication with “uncleanness.” The original Greek word, a·ka·thar·siʹa, covers impurity of any kind, in speech or action. Surely it would be unclean to allow one’s hands to stray under someone’s clothing, to remove someone’s clothing, or to caress another’s intimate areas, such as the breasts. Why, in the Bible the caressing of the breasts is associated with the pleasures reserved for married couples.—Proverbs 5:18, 19; compare Hosea 2:2.
Some youths nevertheless brazenly defy these godly standards. They deliberately go too far, or they greedily seek out numerous partners with whom they can practice sexual uncleanness. They are thus guilty of what the apostle Paul called “loose conduct.”
Various authorities show that the original Greek word for “loose conduct” (a·selʹgei·a) means ‘outrageous acts, excess, insolence, unbridled lust, and outrageousness.’ Youths who practice loose conduct are like the pagans Paul referred to. Because of “the insensibility of their hearts,” those pagans came to be “past all moral sense, [giving] themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) Surely you would want to avoid coming under such condemnation!
Realize, then, that one does not have to engage in sexual intercourse to go “too far” from Jehovah’s standpoint. If you are too young to marry, romantic touching and kissing should be off-limits. And those carrying on a courtship must take care that their displays of affection do not become unclean. Granted, holding to godly standards is not easy. But God says at Isaiah 48:17: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.”—See also Galatians 5:16.
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If you are unmarried, engaging in behavior that arouses passion can lead to frustration and worse