How Do I Figure Out My Sexual Limits?
I've always planned on saving sex for marriage. I thought it was a black-and-white issue, but now it seems like it's getting more gray. I've heard people say you should do whatever seems right to you, whatever you're comfortable with. But I don't know what I'm comfortable with. There are things I think I enjoy, but I still feel guilty about them. How do I know what's best for me?
You're right. "How far is too far" is not a black-and-white issue, but it is a lot less gray than you might think. Going by what's "comfortable," or what "seems right," doesn't help you figure out how far you should go. But the Bible does give you the kind of help you need. It doesn't spell out in detail what's right or wrong, but it tells us a lot about godly sexuality.
The Bible tells us we're meant to live with peace, patience, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). That applies to the physical part of a dating relationship, too. You need to determine if the things you do with your dates are part of a peaceful life (hint: feelings of guilt are quite different from feelings of peace). Do they help you develop patience? Could you date for several months, a year, two years, without compromising your desire to remain a virgin? Physical involvement tends to move forward. The more physically intimate you become, the more sexual excitement builds up. And it's tough to stop once you've started. You need to set limits you can sustain for the long haul. And that takes self-control.
The Bible also tells us our relationships are meant to be spiritually encouraging, prayerful, and full of conversation that builds up other people (Romans 12:9-13; Ephesians 4:29 and 5:19). Very often, though, physical intimacy does the opposite. It can start to take up most of your time and mental energy. When that happens, there's very little left to invest in more important areas of the relationship. And since it's rare that two people are willing to set the exact same limits on their physical activity, one person may often pressure the other to do a little more, to go a little further. That's hardly building each other up. You need to determine what level of physical intimacy leaves plenty of space for conversation, prayer, and encouragement.
The Bible also tells us our "private parts" are just that—private. After sin entered the world, God himself made clothes for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). God intended us to keep our private parts covered.
Every person has a God-given sense of privacy and integrity about his or her own body, particularly the private parts. When someone's body is violated—as happens in sexual abuse or rape—it's a horrible thing. That violation can also be more subtle. If a person isn't completely comfortable being touched in their private areas, the ultimate result is feelings of shame and loss.
Even if there's no immediate sense of shame, the experience changes a person. You never again feel that your body completely belongs to you. That's why people who have been sexually intimate with one partner are usually sexually intimate with the next. The barriers are down. To keep those barriers intact until marriage, couples need to respect one another's sense of privacy and honor each other's bodies. That's why I recommend not touching each other on parts of the body that could be covered by a T-shirt and shorts.