Teens and Physical Intimacy

QUESTION: Is petting and kissing for young people bad in a biblical context?

ANSWER: It’s a great question. I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer it (since my dating years were long ago), but I’ll give it a try. And I’ll begin by making an assumption: That you sincerely want to obey God, and do what’s best, or you wouldn’t have asked the question. If that’s so, here are some things to think about, as you develop your own standards in this area.

1) I’m not sure what other countries are like, but here in North America we live in a sex-obsessed–we could almost say a sex-crazed society. Movies, television shows, music videos, and more, targeting young people, glorify a sexually permissive and promiscuous lifestyle that is far from the moral purity God’s Word sets down for us.

And because sensuality and immoral behaviour are so widely condoned and promoted, peer pressure on teens to fit in can be tremendous. Nobody wants to feel like a misfit, and it takes a lot of courage to stand alone.

I heard of a young woman who was taunted by others because she was still a virgin. They mocked her for being a religious goody-goody and an old-fashioned prude. But one day she turned on them and said, “Look, I can be just like you are any time I want to. But you can never again be just like me!” (Well said!)

Since God created us (Gen. 1:27), we know that He invented sex, and it’s one of the things He pronounced “very good” (vs. 31). However, like many other things, this gift can become “very bad” when it’s out of balance with other blessings, or not used within the boundaries God has set.

We can illustrate that with water. Water is definitely “very good,” and necessary for us. But if there’s flooding--water that overflows its proper boundaries--it can be dangerous and destructive.

2) Teen-agers have to be especially careful in this area, because their hormones are going crazy. It’s just a natural stage in their development, but it can’t be ignored, and it calls for extra caution–especially since, as I mentioned a moment ago, youth-targeted media seem to be doing everything possible to fan the flames of passion. It shouldn't be a matter of getting as close to the flame as possible without getting burned, but of setting a clear standard to keep one’s distance.

Here’s a passage from God’s Word to think about:

"Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification [a clear separation from evil]: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel [body] in sanctification and honour, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God [not like worldly society, in other words]; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness” (I Thess. 4:1-7).

The word “defraud” there is important to our discussion. In the context, it means to take advantage of another person in order to satisfy selfish desires; or to arouse sexual desires in another person that can’t be righteously satisfied. This fits exactly what I was saying about staying a safe distance away from the flame!

3) There are many Scriptures that have to do with setting a godly standard in one’s relationships and moral values. Here are a few.

A) “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ [that is, behave yourselves as He would], and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). “Provision for the flesh” is talking about doing those things that you know are likely to stir up sinful desires–desires that can’t be righteously satisfied. This would include avoiding those television shows and movies, etc. that flaunt an impure standard of behaviour.

B) “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from [say “no” to] fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (I Pet. 2:11). “Abstain from evil <shrink from it and keep aloof from it> in whatever form or whatever kind it may be” (I Thess. 5:22, Amplified Bible).

C) “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (I Cor. 15:53). The friends we choose to associate will either support and strengthen our moral convictions or slowly wear them away and break them down. It’s important to choose good friends.

D) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn. 2:15-17). Temporary pleasures are contrasted there with long-term blessing. Moses provides us with an example of one who made the right choice, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25).

E) “If we live in the Spirit [that is, if we’re born again Christians], let us also walk in the Spirit [guided and strengthened by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God]....Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Gal. 5:25, 16). Saturating our minds with the Word of God is an important key to walking in the Spirit. “How can a young man [or woman] cleanse his [or her] way? By taking heed according to Your word....Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!” (Ps. 119:9, 11).

4) Physical intimacy at too early a time can derail long-term hopes and good intentions. God has designed that sexual fulfilment be found within the faithful marriage of one man and one woman (Heb. 13:4; cf. Gen. 2:24).

How do we know who is the right marriage partner for us? Is it going to be on the basis of good looks? Or sensual excitement? Such things may seem important to some, especially early on, but they are not enough to sustain loving and productive marriage, long-term. Too many have formed a bond in the heat of passion that proves to be a mistake, and a stressful burden later on.

First and foremost, a Christian should be looking for someone who is a committed Christian. Not just “sort of a Christian,” but one who lives by a high standard of godly conduct. One who loves to study God's Word. One who shares a desire to live for Christ, and find ways to serve Him.

Sexual pleasure in marriage is only one small part of the picture. The couple needs to get involved in serving faithfully in a local church, and perhaps in a para-church agency, with a sense that they are united in that purpose, and supportive of one another in it.

Further, the married couple needs to be committed to raising children, if God grants them, children who put their faith in the Lord Jesus, and live for Him and serve Him. The Bible explains one reason why God invented the marriage union: “He seeks godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).

So how does one find such a future partner? By engaging in wholesome activities with wholesome-minded friends. Relationships begin with acquaintance--meeting someone. Some may go no further than that. Others move on to a casual friendship, and maybe on to a closer friendship.

In your own mind, treat each friend of the opposite sex as a potential mate. I'm not suggesting you tell him or her that. But think in terms of the future possibilities. Don't say, for example, "Oh, this isn't serious. We're just friends," as though that permits you to lower the standard of what you'll accept. Emotional attachments can form that are difficult and painful to break. Set a high standard for dating and it'll be much safer.

Over a period of time, you can get to know a lot about a person at this level. In that respect, group activities are often superior to a couple dating separately. You get to observe the interactions of that other person with a variety of people in a variety of situations.

The Lord has provided us with a standard to weigh the character of that other person we’re interested in–and Christ-like character should be what we’re looking for above all. Here is J. B. Philips’ insightful paraphrase of First Corinthians 13:4-7, describing what to look for in that special someone:

“This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience–it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it shares the joy of those who live by the truth. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

5) And let me close with two more bits of counsel. Establish godly boundaries for your relationships, and consistently engage in wholesome activities.

Godly Boundaries would include:
A) Strictly limiting the time you’re alone together with that other person.

B) Establishing a time to be home from evening activities--one that’s agreed to by your parents--and sticking to it.

C) Also, limiting demonstrations of physical affection to occasional actions you wouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed to engage in in front of your parents or your pastor--or the Lord Jesus.

D) Your standard of dress is an important factor too. It says a lot about you, for good or ill. Dress should be modest and neat, not slovenly, or revealing and suggestive (I Tim. 2:9). Notice how the Lord contrasts extremes in dress to be avoided for women, with qualities of character which should be the focus (I Pet. 3:3-4).

E) Be accountable to God, and to your parents (who are God’s representatives in authority over you). You should be able to tell your parents where you are going, and what you'll be doing, and how they can get in touch with you if they need to.

Godly Activities could include:
A) Wholesome entertainment (I'm thinking of public events, not being home alone watching a video together).

B) If your church, or a good church you know, has youth events, you could attend those. Or what about planning some fun family activities?

C) And what about looking for some Christian service activities you could get involved in with others? Singing in a youth choir. Or helping to serve a meal at a homeless shelter or rescue mission. (That will not only be a blessing to others, it can help you set good values yourself.)

D) Or what about challenging other young people to participate in a Bible memorization program with you? One that focuses on verses that will be helpful to you all–such as the ones I’ve used here.

E) Would your school object if a few of you gathered briefly for prayer before the start of classes in the morning--even if you have to meet outside, just off school property? It would be a great time to ask the Lord to help you to live for Him and please Him in all you do that day, as well as praying for the events of the day, and for others you know are in need.

I hope these few thoughts will be of help. God bless you, as you work through these things for yourself, for His honour and glory.