Although I was not alive in the 1960s, I understand that at the time there was a big “free love” movement. Apparently it had one fatal flaw: the promoters of this sexual revolution had no idea what constituted freedom or love. The people assumed that if there were mutual feelings between two people, they should be free to have sex. I agree that we should be free to do whatever love calls us to do, but we need to make sure that it is love that is calling us.
It is easy to be moved by infatuation, loneliness, or lust and to mistake any of these for love because the feelings are so strong. Many people assume that if a couple has genuine feelings for each other and a strong desire to be sexually intimate, then they should be “free” to do whatever they wish, provided they both feel comfortable with it.
So if you deeply love a person, are committed to him, and see yourself marrying him, why can’t you express that in whatever way you want? After all, when you love someone, you desire union with him. I would say that as long as a couple only see themselves being together for life and can only talk about marriage, then they should only see themselves having marital relations in the future, within marriage. Until the reality of marriage is there, the expression of marital oneness is dishonest. Even if I reserve sexual arousal for a person I hope to marry, this does not make my actions moral. It just means I’m optimistic.
You mentioned that you wanted to get as close as possible to your boyfriend. Many young women suspect that physical intimacy will draw a guy closer to them, but this tactic often backfires. One girl said that, in her quest for pleasure, she was “painfully disappointed when I found only guilt instead of freedom, pain instead of love, and suffering instead of pleasure. Instead of drawing my boyfriend and me closer together, a sexual relationship only drove us further and further apart.”
Perhaps the easiest way to find out if our actions conform to authentic love is to imagine God sitting on a nearby sofa watching us. If his presence would cause immediate shame or the desire to stop dead in our tracks, we need to ask ourselves why. If God is love, and we “really love” the other person, shouldn’t we be thrilled to have Love himself witness everything we do together? That awkwardness in our hearts is there because deep inside we know that our actions are not loving.
There are two essential elements of love. The first is the desire for union. (I would say you’ve got that.) The second and more important element of love is to desire what is best for the other, to desire God and heaven for him. It elevates the desire for union so that the two want to be together not for just a night but for eternity. Both elements must be present for love to exist. If I crave unity with a woman, but I do not desire her salvation, call it whatever you want, it is not love. After all, the purpose of foreplay is to prepare for sex. Since you’re not married and therefore not ready for sex, foreplay will only bring about greater temptations, not greater love.
If you are unsure whether a particular action could be sinful, then love demands that you refuse to go there. Suppose I put a teaspoon of powder into a cup of tea for my wife. I look at the bowl where I got the powder. It reads “sugar” on one side and “rat poison” on the other. Do I say, “Oh, it’s probably not poison. I’ll give it to her anyway”? If I loved her, then I would never do something that was possibly lethal for her. Similarly, even if I were not convinced that a particular action with her would be sinful, I would still avoid it if there were good reason to believe that it might be harmful to her soul. Since her soul is more important than her body, I should have all the more concern to protect her salvation.
Also, consider the heart of this guy’s future wife, in case you do not end up marrying him. I think that most sincere people who become physically intimate before marriage can see themselves marrying their partner. But most do not end up marrying each other. I have been in a few long relationships, and in each one marriage was a real possibility. In one case we were even trying on rings. The Lord had different plans for us. In fact, I went to her wedding, where she married a friend of mine! Watching them exchange vows and kiss at the altar made me take a deep look at the relationships I have had in my life. Take the same look, and honestly ask yourself if your actions are in any way defrauding the future bride of the guy you are dating.
. Josh McDowell, Why Wait? (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Book Publishers, 1987), 115.