What is a biblical level of intimacy before marriage?
Those who ask this question are usually looking for guidelines regarding physical boundaries in dating. However, intimacy is a much broader issue than physicality. A dictionary definition of intimacy talks about close friendship, deep emotional connection, and sexual involvement. To be intimate with someone is to be close to him or her, to reveal private information, to feel linked together. Intimacy includes emotional and spiritual connectedness as well as physical connection. Dating couples grow more and more intimate as they become more serious about the relationship. If proper boundaries are not established, increasing intimacy can have some undesirable results – such as feelings of abuse or betrayal following a break-up, loss of appropriate personal boundaries without a commensurate commitment, and beginning to become one before the couple actually belongs to one another. With this in mind, let's explore some boundary guidelines.
Physical: It is difficult to provide solid physical boundaries that apply to every dating relationship. Depending on one's culture and one's typical physical contact with others, physical boundaries may vary. For instance, some people hug everyone they know. This is not a sign of intimacy or love so much as it is a greeting. For others, hugging is an intimate gesture. It is also important to look at the degree to which the physical touch is carried out. There is a difference between a hug of greeting and a long embrace. Each person should be aware of the meaning he or she attaches to certain gestures when considering appropriate boundaries. It is also wise to be aware of whether certain physical touches lead a person to desire more intimate touch. For example, does a hug of greeting quickly lead to a make-out session? Recognizing personal healthy boundaries is the first step, but physical boundaries should be mutually established prior to physical contact. In the heat of the moment, it is difficult to stop a kiss that is later regretted. If both parties know the limits beforehand, maintaining boundaries becomes easier. Boundaries for physical touch should be a matter of prayer and discussion. The partner with the stricter boundaries should set the norm for the couple.
All that being said, there are certain physical boundaries that are clearly biblical. These are not a matter of personal meaning or choice. It is inappropriate to have sex, in any form, prior to marriage. It is also inappropriate to be naked in one another's presence. Sex is a gift from God that is meant for a married couple to enjoy (Proverbs 5:19; Song of Solomon; 1 Corinthians 7:1-4; Hebrews 13:4). Ephesians 5:3 says, "But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." The New International Version puts it this way, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." Anything in a premarital relationship that hints of sexual immorality – like dry sex, foreplay, nudity, sleeping in the same bed, pornography, and the like – is unacceptable.
Emotional: Often, dating couples who have chosen to abstain from physical intimacy still struggle with emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy occurs when couples share their inner thoughts with one another and rely on one another for emotional support. To an extent, dating couples will become increasingly emotionally intimate. This is a natural progression even of friendship. As people begin to know and trust one another, they become more deeply emotionally linked. However, it is wise for couples to continue to guard their hearts. Dating implies no long-term commitment. When couples find their only emotional support in one another, they set themselves up for heartbreak. There should be private portions of a heart that a person shares only with his or her spouse.
Spiritual: Some well-intentioned Christian couples begin devotionals or prayer times with one another. These are both great practices, but they also need boundaries. Our relationship with God is perhaps the most intimate thing we have. When we invite others into this, we are inviting them into intimacy. One way married couples strengthen their relationship is by praying together. Certainly, dating couples should pray together. But the manner in which they pray should preserve their personal boundaries. Married couples can pray as one unit before God. Dating couples are still two individuals.
First Thessalonians 4:3-7 says, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness." (See also Colossians 3:5 and Galatians 5:19-24). While this passage primarily applies to physical boundaries, it can also apply to other areas of intimacy. In essence, Paul is saying that we need to learn to control ourselves. We are not to take advantage of others – whether it's taking physical liberties or pressing for another type of intimacy. We are told not to wrong each other in matters of intimacy. Dating couples do not have the commitment that married couples do. They have not yet been made one (Mark 10:8) and are no more attached to one another than friends. Dating couples should honor one another by respecting boundaries. Though dating couples are deepening their relationships and learning whether they are compatible for marriage, they should not act as though they are married. Certain gifts are reserved for marriage only.
It has often been said that you should date as if you are dating someone else's future husband or wife. What level of intimacy would you want your future spouse to have had with a previous boyfriend or girlfriend? Many people regret being too intimate before marriage, but you will never regret not being intimate enough.
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