I lead a weekly Bible study with a group of high school young men. Prom was approaching and the guys wanted advice. One of them asked me, “how far is too far?”
I have known these guys for over three years, and I knew this young man’s heart. He did not have a lustful intention, but he didn’t know how to articulate his question to get an appropriate answer.
I remember seeking this same question as a teen. I met my wife when I was 16 years old and our friendship had led me into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Up until I met her, I had only had impure relationships with young women and my attitude towards dating and affection had largely been shaped by my addiction to pornography. My relationship with Christ led me out of that addiction and when my future wife and I started dating, my only intention for her was for both of us to seek the good for the other in our relationship.
Unfortunately, I had no idea what this meant. In the day-to-day living of a dating relationship that was new, young and still growing in maturity, I did not know how to express affection in a way that was truly loving. I had only seen and experienced affection within the context of lust. I did not understand what was appropriate in a young and loving relationship.
The first time that I went in for a kiss, I stayed too long and my advance wasn’t welcomed. Thankfully, Katrina was patient with me while also insisting that affection be expressed in an appropriate manner. I realized that I had a lot to learn.
My wife and I dated for over four years before we married and we were both virgins on our wedding day. We made the virtue of chastity a core value within our relationship. The lived reality of this virtue was difficult—and we learned what was appropriate through some trial and error.
Looking back, I wish that I had the wisdom that the young men in my Bible study had. They seek guidance from adults that live the virtues that they are trying to master. As I shared above, one young man wanted to know what the boundaries needed to be on prom night with a girl. He asked me, “How far is too far?” Because I had lived through this question, I knew that the answer was self-evident if I could re-state his question with a little more definition.
His real question was, “What is an appropriate expression of affection for the defined status of our relationship?”
This was our conversation:
ME: “If you and I were holding hands, walking down the hallway at school, what would people think?”
TEEN: “They would think that we are in a dating relationship.”
ME: “Correct. Holding hands is not a bad thing. But it is not appropriate for the nature of our relationship. The same can be said for sex, kissing, or any number of affectionate actions. All are good—but only if they match the nature of your relationship.
If you are not in a life-long commitment of love (marriage) then sex (or any action that exists for the purpose of arousing for sex) is not appropriate. If you are not dating, a kiss on the cheek is not appropriate. You must always do what is good for both you and the other person. Define your relationship first and then express the affection that matches that relationship. If you have questions regarding what is and is not appropriate, seek advice from the older and wiser people that are living the virtue of chastity. (One thing to keep in mind, though, is that couples do not receive a license to be progressively more impure as they get closer and closer to marriage. If anything, the closer they come to the sacrament, the more seriously they should desire to guard the purity of their love.)
For more on affection read “I love you but DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Everett Fritz is the founder and Executive Director of St. Andrew Missionaries. He authored the best selling book, Freedom: Battle Strategies for Conquering Temptation – a guide for young men trapped in the shackles of sexual sin. Everett speaks on the topics of discipleship, prayer and chastity. He and his wife Katrina reside in Denver, Colorado with their 3 children. To contact Everett to speak or to learn more about his apostolates, visit www.everettfritz.com or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.