Intimacy Before Marriage: It’s More than Just Sex!

Intimacy Before Marriage: Do we focus on the wrong temptation?Yesterday Darby Dugger shared a great post about her biggest regret: not staying pure until marriage. I’ve written at length on the blog about why we should wait until marriage for sex, and why God made sex just for marriage. But sometimes I fear that in all of our talk about saving sex for marriage we forget that the biggest sexual temptation isn’t always a physical one. Intimacy before marriage isn’t only about sex.

And so I thought today I’d share the BIG ISSUE that often causes couples to fall in the area of sexual temptation.

Here’s the scenario: a couple decides they want to wait until marriage to have sex. Yay! That’s all very good. And so they sit down and they talk a lot about boundaries. Will we kiss? If so, for how long? 10 seconds? 15 seconds? Can we kiss on the neck, too? What about hands? Where can they go? Just on the back? Nothing under clothes? Can we ever lie down together? Can we snuggle on a couch together? Etc. etc. etc.

I’ve read Christian books that talk at length about which of these boundaries you should have. As a teen, I sat through talks that laid out extremely specific boundaries that couples should adopt (right down to how many seconds you can kiss, as if we’re holding a kitchen timer or something).

We add rules upon rules to what we’re going to do physically–as if that should be our primary focus about intimacy before marriage.

And that’s where we make what can potentially be a big mistake.

Good Girls Guide My SiteWhen I wrote The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex (an awesome book for every wife, but ESPECIALLY for those about to get married!), I divided the book into three main sections: how sex works physically, emotionally, AND spiritually.  All three go into having a great sex life. And, in fact, all three are highly related to our libidos. Like I shared in the book, the times when I feel most like jumping my husband are the times when I hear him pray out loud for our girls. Hearing his heart for our children, whom I love very much, and going before God together, is seriously sexy.

We tend to think about intimacy before marriage in these terms:

Physical Intimacy = Bad

Emotional Intimacy = Good

Spiritual Intimacy = Very Good!

What are we doing here? First, we’re portraying physical intimacy as a bad thing–it’s dangerous!–which often does a real number on women once they’re married, because it’s hard to flip that switch once you are married and start to see sex as a good thing.

But we’re also turning sex into entirely a physical thing, and forgetting that it is so much more than that.

We’re actually cheapening sex.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying together before you’re married. In fact, I think it’s a very good thing! We need to know that we can pray together and have a spiritual life together.

But here’s the thing we also have to know:

It is precisely WHEN we are praying together that we are most likely to fall sexually. It is WHEN we are spiritually and emotionally close that we are most likely to experience real sexual temptation.

And all of this applies especially to girls.

Many girls can “turn off” the sexual cues they get when they’re kissing, and can resist. We know that we’re not going to have sex before we’re married, we decide that in our heads, and we don’t let it go too far.

But when you’re praying together and feeling close, all of a sudden those sexual feelings will come on, full blast, when you didn’t really expect them. And if you, as a “good Christian girl”, have drawn up all of these physical boundaries, and have been concentrating on spiritual and emotional intimacy, you may be very surprised when all of a sudden you find yourself in a compromising situation you never dreamed of.

So what am I saying? That we shouldn’t be emotionally or spiritually close?

No, I’m not saying that. Here’s what I’m saying:

Intimacy is a wonderful thing, and intimacy in its fullness is meant to be experienced only in marriage.

It is wonderful to start to feel intimate before you’re married. But be aware that sexual temptation is often far more tied up in emotional and spiritual intimacy than it is in sexually “fooling around”. If you draw all kinds of lines that you “will not cross” physically, but fail to talk about what’s going to happen when you’re praying together or sharing deep memories or crying together and all of a sudden you feel tremendously drawn to each other, you’re likely setting yourself up for a fall.

Certainly talk about what you want to do physically, but I think a better conversation to have is this one: we are going to feel really drawn to each other the closer we get–closer in every way, not just physically. So let’s just set some boundaries like we won’t be in each other’s rooms late at night, or we’ll try not to hang out in an empty house too much, or we’ll have a friend that we text constantly for accountability.

The root of temptation is often not sexual, and if we make everything into something physical, we set ourselves up for inadvertent failure (and a whole lot of shame), and we also don’t present the full picture of who we are sexually.

Does that make sense? Let me know in the comments if this is something that you experienced when you were dating/engaged. When did you feel closest? How did you handle boundaries?

P.S. I’m doing a whole bunch of FLASH GIVEAWAYS on my Facebook Page over the next few days to celebrate getting to 20,000 fans! Head on over and watch for the giveaways–and then just comment to win!



  1. Very good point. I’ve always told people that your marriage really has three relationships: physical, emotional and spiritual, and they are all tied together. Bring on up, the others are likely to fallow. Keep one low, the others are likely to stay down as well.

    This applies prior to marriage as well as in marriage. Your emotional intimacy will be limited by your physical and spiritual intimacy, and your physically intimacy will be drawn up by your emotional and spiritual intimacy (as you noted)., and all the other combinations therein.
    Jay Dee – recently posted…What can Christians do in the bedroom?My Profile

  2. I am reminded of the youth group (12-14 year olds) who were pushing the leaders for a “line” they mustn’t cross when dating. The other leaders were beating around the bush, so I asked if I could answer. I told them to keep in mind that whoever they dated now wasn’t likely to be who they ended up marrying, and so whatever they “did” would turn out to have been with someone else’s husband or wife.
    You could see them moving the “line” waaaay back from what they hoped for!

    Not so useful for an engaged couple, but exactly what that group of young teens needed to hear. :)

    • Sheila says:

      My husband has used a similar line when talking to youth group boys: Don’t do to a girl something that you’d be upset if someone else did to your future wife. Really does put things in perspective!

  3. This is a great post!! {no surprise there;} You read the post that I linked up last Wednesday. About the spiritual and emotional being separated from the physical in Christian circles & how this can be devastating for good Christian girls. I approached it all from my story where it was guy friendships and dating relationships that were not well defined {BIG MISTAKE FOR ME!!}. I didn’t fall physically and wasn’t even really tempted BUT what I lost in a relationship that didn’t end in marriage by not understanding how linked the spiritual, emotional and physical are, is what was so painful for me. Coming to the other side years later, I have experienced healing, but, I think it’s true that this kind of healing is harder to understand than physically giving away too much. I just wish I understood more how it all goes together when I was dating…
    Abby recently posted…Pure Passion :: From Duty to Beauty {Sex in Marriage}My Profile

    • Sheila says:

      Yes, exactly! Sometimes we do give away too much in other ways, too. I know I emotionally opened myself up to far too many friends in high school, and shared things that I now wish only my husband knew. Intimacy is a BIG concept, and we really do focus on too narrow a definition.

  4. Hannah says:

    I’ve never commented on the blog before (I went back and read your WHOLE archive though, I’m addicted!) but this is a topic I’m very passionate about, and I love your thoughts, Sheila!

    When my husband and I were dating, I pushed him early on to set up boundaries and rules so I would feel “safer” knowing we were on the same page. Boy, I was stunned with his response!

    He brought up all the conversations we had had about grace and the Law – about how we as Christians are not to put ourselves back under the Law (Galations 3:3) but instead “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16)

    What we decided, and have seen in our Christian friends again and again, is that boundaries and rules draw your attention to what is “off limits” and we all naturally find loopholes. The other person’s body becomes a threat and a temptation, (which of course is supposed to magically reverse once you get married!) Exactly as you say, Sheila, all the attention is on the physical.

    My then-boyfriend read Colossians 2:20-23 to me, which speaks of man-made rules and regulations that SEEM wise but “have no value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Then he turned to chapter 3 and said “This is how our relationship needs to look.” That chapter is ALL about our new identity, and clothing yourself in righteousness.

    I’ll wrap up my story… How did this look “practically”? We really focused on helping each other see who they are in God’s eyes – yes, the spiritual focus made us more attractive to each other, but causing one another to sin would stand out so starkly as wrong against that backdrop, it just didn’t belong.

    Looking back, I see that there were things we intentionally never did – we ended our dates early in the evening because it just didn’t seem like “us” to stay up after dark together, he never set foot upstairs in my house where my bedroom was, and there were lots of physical lines we didn’t cross. But we never really talked about those things as “off limits!”

    We were also really surrounded by people in our church. He was part of an accountability group, and I had several women I could talk to, so don’t hear me saying we didn’t need help or didn’t struggle! We just looked at it as more of a flesh vs spirit issue with rules being something that stirs up the former rather than aids the latter.

    Now that we’re married, I can happily look back and say that the BEST thing about it is that all those ideas have translated seamlessly to our marriage, where we’re still invested in each other’s sanctification and we have a million more ways to go about it! :)

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, Hannah, that is so beautiful! I love that. I think that’s really far more biblical. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Christians are very uncomfortable with the whole idea of “living by the Spirit”, because that leaves so much leeway for interpretation. We’d prefer guidelines. But we ARE supposed to live by the Spirit. Love this!

      • Hannah says:

        I know what you mean – in fact, I still don’t know how to explain it to other women without sounding REALLY fluffy in a culture (or human nature?) that wants rules and formulas. (Do this + wear this + follow these steps = pure, sexy marriage.) I’m still trying to figure out the implications.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this! I have a growing girl (15) and though I can totally see the truth in this, I don’t think I would have thought of teaching her this on my own. It almost feels like a “duh” moment. How many times have I read about or even known someone who ended up committing adultery or coming close, and the relationship was based on spiritual intimacy!

    Abby makes a good point too. There is much danger in becoming emotionally intimate with someone you’re not married to. Just like going into a marriage having given your body to another, there is also pain involved in having given your heart to another.

    It’s easier said than done because we crave emotional and spiritual intimacy. I personally will be praying for God to continue to draw my girl to Himself, where she can have all of her needs met, that He himself will give her the wisdom and discernment that she will need, (and the same for whoever that special guy might be) and that He will give us, her parents, the wisdom to guide her through this time of growing up!

    Thanks for one more piece of wisdom that this parent needed!
    Beth Cranford recently posted…Learning To Embrace Seasons Of SolitudeMy Profile

  6. What you say is so true.
    My husband and I lead marriage seminars so we approach it from the other direction. We tell people that their sexual intimacy will increase as they pray together and share at an emotional level!

    I’m intrigued at the difference between males and females on this. You wrote, “And all of this applies especially to girls…. …But when you’re praying together and feeling close, all of a sudden those sexual feelings will come on, full blast, when you didn’t really expect them. …… all of a sudden you find yourself in a compromising situation you never dreamed of.”

    I’d love to know more. Is there some research you could send me to? Thanks so much.

  7. Wow! My eyes were opened while reading this post. You are exactly right when you say,
    “It is precisely WHEN we are praying together that we are most likely to fall sexually. It is WHEN we are spiritually and emotionally close that we are most likely to experience real sexual temptation.”
    Amen! I never, ever made the connection before now, but knowing how spiritually (and emotionally) intimate my husband and I were during our courtship… it makes more sense why we struggled in the area of sexual temptation.
    Thank you! I now have wiser advice to equip my children with and talk to young singles about! Thank you so much!
    Darby Dugger recently posted…Pray-Day ThursdayMy Profile

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, thanks, Darby! And thanks for a great post yesterday. It really started a good discussion (and there’s another installment coming tomorrow!)

  8. You bring up a very important point Sheila. I remember how our closeness and attraction grew the closer we got to our wedding. At some point we felt like our hearts got married months before but now we had to sit around and wait for a wedding! lol. It helped that we had boundaries in place that were backed by wasn’t just “do not do this and do not do that” but really a clear understanding of what “this or that” might lead to/expose us to. And so even though we felt really close, the boundaries we’d established a while back would keep us on track, (not without struggles) and having others keeping us accountable helped a whole lot. I agree with you, it’s important to teach this to courting couples as well, as the not-so-obvious area where temptation can originate from.
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…Beyond the Wedding Night – 7 Tips for a Healthy Sex Life in MarriageMy Profile

  9. What tempted me to ultimately cross lines was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t get married. Fear that someone wouldn’t find me attractive enough to marry. Fear that if I didn’t do x y or z that I’d lose their interest and attraction towards me. Fear that I’d be alone and unloved.

    All those fears led me to cross lines I really didn’t want to cross and to even push my now-husband into temptations and into crossing those lines.

    I think it is very important to focus on the health of oneself before beginning a relationship. If we are personally healthy and spiritually healthy we can face these issues appropriately.

    If such temptations do arise, instead of just trying to surpress it with rules you know you won’t keep, tackle the reason behind it. I had no one to guide me as I grew up. I just had rules (which were broken in secret). Basically, all my parents did with those rules was hold off the inevitable and create unproductive and even counter productive fear and guilt.

  10. Hi Sheila – great article as usual. Enjoying your theme this week! As I am newly single, and fairly new in my Christian walk (approx 3 years), I quickly realized after speaking with some co-workers about online dating in our 40’s (did you know there is a rule/equation of how to calculate the age you should/could be dating???? wow – anyway….), that my dating practice is going to look alot different than it did 13 years ago when I was single. I wonder if you had some pointers and advice, aside from the teenager talk about no sex before marriage/saving/purity, but those of us who have already “been there/done that” with failed marriages etc… and are back in the dating world with what I would say are “worldly-views” on dating. How do explain no sex before marriage when you are in your 40’s (or 30’s, 50’s, etc) when getting married isn’t even on my radar? or even if it was, to men who have todays worldly views thats its ok to live together/they don’t want to get married again or that its ok to have sex before marriage? – and without them thinking you are looney-tunes?

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, that’s a great question! I should definitely address that. Look for it in the future, though it may not be for at least a month or so because I’ve got the blog pretty planned out for the next little while while I finish up a book.

      My quick answer would be this: don’t date ANYONE who isn’t a strong Christian, and then you shouldn’t have to explain your convictions. If you have to explain them, you’re dating the wrong person and it will never work. Ever.

      I know that’s a tall order, but there are a lot of Christian dating sites that are great (though you can’t guarantee all the men there will share your convictions, either). What I often suggest friends do when they’re just chatting is ask two questions: “What’s your favourite Bible verse and why?”, and “how do you volunteer or serve in church or Christian community?” If they can’t answer those two verses, then they’re likely not serious about their faith. And you really don’t want to go down that road.

      I’ve written about Christian internet dating before, and I’m going to a wedding at the end of this month for a couple in their late 30s who met online. So I know strong Christians can meet online! But I know it’s super tough. You just don’t want to start off with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. It’s a recipe for disaster long term.

  11. Thanks Sheila!
    “So let’s just set some boundaries like we won’t be in each other’s rooms late at night, or we’ll try not to hang out in an empty house too much, or we’ll have a friend that we text constantly for accountability.”

    I think this really gets to the heart of the issue more than things like purity rings and a heap of rules about physical contact. My husband and I did not have sex before we were married, but we did come a little too close a couple of times and it was because we allowed ourselves to cross these kind of boundaries rather than physical ones. For instance, being at my place or his by ourselves without reason, purpose or company. Late nights weren’t such an issue because he was always dropping me home, and I lived with my family of 7 and two noisy dogs! lol!
    I’m not a great fan of ‘accountability friends’ simply because I feel that it invites a 3rd party into the relationship onto ground that I feel should be ours and ours alone. For me, it would be a hinderance to true intimacy with my husband. Also, God is our accountability! He sees and knows, and if we’re not aware of that then we’ve got problems that friends can’t fix!

    I really heartily agree with your thoughts about rules for physical contact. I feel that sitting down together to discuss such rules just invites your minds to wander and dwell on thoughts of contact and intimacy… talk about the beginning of a slippery slope!

    I also love your thoughts on spiritual intimacy. The reason I say this is because the time we spend reading, praying and discussing spiritual things now is usually in the evening before going to bed. Or perhaps in bed lying awake talking for ages. In other words, it’s some of our most private and intimate times together as a couple. And it is time often shared with *cough* other kinds of intimacy too!! While your dating/engaged, I think it is certainly wise to keep things less intense and not too private (eg. you can spend time discussing spiritual things and praying together while family/flat mates are also around the house doing their own thing). Once you’re married you’ll have all the time in the world to build up that intimacy further.

  12. Alchemist says:

    This brings to mind one of your earlier blog posts on Divergent. Someone commented that they got really close to sleeping together in one of the sequels. But in the first book, when they haven’t spoken more than maybe 200 words to each other Four takes Tris through his fear landscape. He shows a girl he barely knows his deepest fears. That struck me as incredibly intimate. It would be no wonder that they end up getting physically involved if they start their relationship with that level of emotional intimacy.

  13. Hey Sheila,
    Question for you. My little sister is 19 and is in the beginning stages of her first relationship. I’m really happy for her and have let her know that I am here for her if she ever has any questions or anything (I’ve been married for five years). However, I was wondering if you have any book recommendations for her. Growing up we didn’t talk about any of these topics (and, though I love them, my parents weren’t super great examples. they are divorced now) and I remember when I started dating my now-husband when I was her age, I was CLUELESS! I think that is a large part of why we struggled a lot with physical temptation, I just was not prepared for how a guys mind works or what would happen as we got closer and closer as a couple. I glanced through my old copy of one of Joshua Harris’ books, but it really came across as fear inducing – and that’s not what I am looking for. Is there anything out there that covers topics like this post and also prepares someone who is moving towards serious relationships and marriage? Thanks for any help!

  14. Wow. I wish I would have read this before I got married. I grew up in a conservative family and I only ever heard about how sex was bad, dangerous, and I shouldn’t do it until I get married. Drawing lines was very hard because I didn’t know where they should be. I think that we probably ended up being more physically involved than we should have been but I’m so glad that we held out until we were married. Now that I think about it, those times when there was a lot of physical temptation were during or right after times when we really connected emotionally or physically. It was also very hard to flip that switch (as you say) and think of it as the beautiful gift from God that it really is once we were married. It took some time for me to fully comprehend that concept and I think that it may have caused some problems between us during those first couple of months of marriage. You brought up some awesome points that I haven’t seen on any other blogs (or anywhere for that matter). They are definitely something that I hope to convey to any children that I may have as they begin to get older and start dating. Purity has to do with more than just physical touch and sex. Thanks for writing this!

  15. I am 36, single with no kids and recently found my first love on Facebook. He’s 39, single with no kids and actually, looked for me on the Internet for years before accepting the idea that I might have gotten married with kids. We were each other’s first loves, dated for 2 years and haven’t seen each other in 17 years. When I knew him back then, he was NOT Christian and not once, had I ever heard him utter anything religious.Yet, we grew up in a very religious country where it was rather abnormal for someone to not attend the Mass or go to the mosque. So, when we first spoke on the phone in 17 years and that he spent almost 2h talking about God, I almost immediately fell back in love with him. I’ve been single for the last 12 years, have dated/hooked up only with 3 men after the end of my relationship with my first love, waiting for the God-fearing man I’ve been asking God for ages. So, seeing that my first love who has never stopped loving me, who has never been married and who has given his life to Jesus, was brought back into my life, I saw it as God’s answer to my prayers.
    Although we don’t feel the need to see each other through video chat, we talk a lot on the phone. The closeness we share because of our common religious beliefs, fond childhood and adolescence memories, common life outlooks, among other things, has convinced us that we’ve always been meant for each other. To my big surprise, I’ve noticed that when it comes to him, I am unable to uphold my physical boundaries because of everything we share on a spiritual and emotional levels. If if weren’t for the distance between us (like I said, we live on 2 different continents), we’d have torn off each other’s clothes the minute we met. We try to avoid conversations with sexual innuendos to the best of our abilities but we can’t help it. It’s like: “Well, we click spiritually, emotionally, we love each other deeply so it’s absolutely normal to have desire for each other so what’s wrong about talking about it, especially at our ages?”. So, I totally agree with your post which is very enlightening for me. I am a person who usually stick to rules she establishes for herself but I couldn’t understand why I was unable to make everything within my power to make sure we wouldn’t give into our sexual desires. I was wondering why it was easier with the other guys. Well, I didn’t have that much of a connection, actually I had none, with those other men. Whenever my first love talks about his faith or give me a testimony of how he has experienced God’s love, I am just in love.

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  1. […] same wavelength this week.  Before I came back to do the final edits of this post, I read hers on Intimacy Before Marriage.  She shares that her ‘weakness’ is when her husband prays for their daughters. […]

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