Hi there! I am a 19 year old lady. I read Heather's article about "How far is too far?" She mentions of "Hand to body (nonsexual discovery of her body)". If my boyfriend should touch my legs, my buttocks or rub my breasts, would any of those 3 things be seen as "nonsexual discovery" or "sexual discovery"? Because the answer to this question would explain if I should allow those kind of touches, or not. Would he mean that as affectionate touches or lustful touching? Should I stop him when he does that or is it okay for him to do that? What about hugs and prolonged embraces? What about kissing on body areas, like my neck, collar-bone area and the chest-area above my breasts? All of these FEEL like affection and love when he does it to me, but I dont know what is going on in his mind while he is doing it. I need your advice, please, so that I can know what the right thing is for ME to do. It doesn't make me feel uncomfortable if what he is doing is acceptable, but I just am unsure whether it IS acceptable or not. Thank you for your time and advice.
Before I go into the specifics of your questions, I’d just like to say this: the fact that you’re researching ‘How Far Is Too Far’ says to me that you understand the importance of having boundaries with physical affection before marriage, and that’s awesome. The virtue of chastity is a lifelong virtue that brings us freedom through mastering our sexual desires, and treating others with respect. When we live the virtue of chastity, we experience freedom in our relationships and can truly love others. I’m 27 years old and not yet married, and I’m so grateful for all the ways living chastity has helped me out in my relationships.
It is important to have clear boundaries with boyfriends, but I also hope that physical affection isn’t the center of your relationship. One of the great benefits of chastity is that we have the freedom to truly get to know another person. Sex (and other sexual activity) creates a strong bond between two people, and by living chastity in our dating relationships, we can clearly see the other person for who he is, and discover whether or not he is a good match without that physical bond clouding our judgment.
I also understand that it’s important to know where the line is, when it comes to ‘How Far Is Too Far?’ – but let me also say that it isn’t nearly as important of a question as ‘How Can I Best Love This Person?’ St. Thomas Aquinas said that true love wills the good of the other – works for it, actively pursues it. And the greatest good for another is his/her relationship with God, so every action, thought, and word towards a significant other should help him/her grow closer to God. When we love someone, we want to protect them and keep them safe. So, rather than drawing a line of physical affection and tiptoeing along the edge of it, I’d recommend that you stay a few steps back from it to help protect your boyfriend (and yourself) from accidentally crossing over it.
When Heather spoke of ‘nonsexual discovery’ of the body, she was referring to nonsexual touching – things you might do with anyone (a family member or a friend, not just a significant other) like hugging, putting an arm around them, touching their shoulder or knee. Sexual discovery is very different, and more like what you’ve described in your message. It involves touching the other’s body with the intent of arousal, which is considered lustful outside of marriage. Your buttocks and breasts are sexual parts of your body and can easily lead one or both of you to a place of arousal. His hands shouldn’t go there. Your legs are different, depending on the context – if he has his hand on your knee while you’re driving in the car, that’s different than if he were to caress your thigh as you two are kissing. One is clearly sexual, the other is not.
If you’re striving to live the virtue of chastity, then those kind of sexual touches aren’t appropriate. They will push one or both of you towards the line, and maybe over it. Love doesn’t push someone towards the edge of their breaking point, and this is a conversation you need to have with your boyfriend – you should be united as a couple on where you draw the line.
You should know what triggers you to desire more, physically, and avoid those triggers. It’s really important to know yourself, first. And it will also be important, throughout your relationship, to keep having these conversations and ensuring that you two are on the same page. I personally have always been unhappy in relationships where I had to act as a policewoman and constantly tell a guy to stop when his hands would wander.
Hugs and prolonged embraces are probably fine – but again, it depends on the context. You have to know yourself and what triggers you. The same is true for kissing on your neck, collarbone, and upper chest. Do these things tempt you to go further? Do they tempt him to? One thing can so easily lead to another, so again, I’d recommend not hanging out on the edge of the line. The reality is that the two of you are human, and attracted to one another. Spending time on the edge of the line makes it very easy to cross that line. And of course these actions feel like love and affection – because physical affection feels good. But I think the fact that you’re asking questions about whether or not these actions are acceptable means that, on some level, you don’t think they are. Praise God that if we do make mistakes, the sacrament of Reconciliation is always available for us to receive forgiveness for the ways we’ve messed up and grace to be stronger in the future.
I can’t answer whether or not your boyfriend’s intentions are affectionate or lustful, nor can I tell you what is going on in his mind while those things are happening. But I can tell you that men are much more easily aroused than women, so it’s a good idea to err on the side of doing less, physically, to protect both of you. It’s also wise to think, and pray, and have your own boundaries in place before you talk about this with him.
My current boyfriend and I have had very clear discussions about our own individual boundaries, and we are on the same page. We both want our physical contact to be respectful and affectionate, so we’ve drawn our lines, very clearly. And when we’re together, we strive to stay two steps back from those lines, in case one or both of us have a moment of weakness and slip. If we slip one step, we still haven’t crossed our lines, which makes us much happier in our relationship overall. The respect we show to one another clearly articulates our love and affection for one another without guilt, regret, or shame.
I hope this was helpful to you. Please know that you will be in my prayers as you seek to learn more about chastity and live it better. Please keep me in your prayers, too.
REAP Team Chastity Educator