In all of the purity books and sermons I’ve been exposed to growing up, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “If you’re asking ‘How far is too far?’ you’re asking the wrong question. Your motives need to be checked.”
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that this criticism is not helpful, and it is actually one of the pieces of purity culture that leads to people feeling shameful of their sexuality. “How far is too far” is actually a very valid question. It may be subjective and complicated, but it is worth asking.
Here are the main reasons I believe that the criticism of this question is faulty, and can actually do more harm than good.
It assumes that the least physical intimacy possible, the better.
Growing up in purity culture, I heard all kinds of horrible metaphors about how the more you could save of yourself for marriage, the more value you had to give to your spouse. One example is using a cake as a metaphor for the sexuality you save for your future wedding night. If you hold hands before marriage, it’s like taking a finger full of frosting. If you kiss before marriage, you might be taking away a bite or a piece of the cake. If you lose your virginity, of course the cake is basically useless. It’s as if you dropped it on the floor or sneezed on it.
No joke, I have heard someone explain this metaphor in seriousness. Purity is not a contest to see who can be the least affectionate with their significant other. Less physical involvement is not always better. In fact, it could be harmful if your boundaries are so strict that you are learning to feel uncomfortable and shameful about your sexuality.
Bonding and building comfortability are important elements of a relationship. If you are pursuing marriage together, the physical part of your relationship needs to be able to grow just as your emotional partnership is growing. This of course should be within limits, but healthy sexuality has an element of synchronization with the level of commitment and emotional intimacy you are building.
It assumes that the desire for sex is bad.
Defining the line between desire and lust is incredibly difficult and to be honest, I haven’t figured it out. But I do know that the desire for sex is healthy and should be seen as such. I often hear about couples who have a hard time transitioning from seeing sex as wrong to right after a single ceremony. Viewing sex as taboo and shameful while dating makes this transition particularly difficult.
If you hold the mindset of thinking that asking “how far is too far?” is wrong, you’re basically saying that someone should be ashamed of wanting sexual intimacy with their partner. This does not help promote a healthy mindset about sex while dating. It should be seen as natural to want intimacy, and it should not automatically be assumed that a couple is just trying to get away with as much as they can.
While I encourage asking the question “How far is too far?” and seeking healthy balance, I empathize that this can be very difficult to figure out. Sexuality isn’t straightforward, and the answer to this is subjective. As my boyfriend and I have sought to understand purity on a deeper level, our conclusions have remained flexible and have adapted to new thoughts, insights, and concerns.
Asking “how far is too far?” should be recognized as a natural part of figuring out how to be close to your significant other in a way that honors God’s intentions for sexuality.
In Christ’s Love,