How Far Is Too Far?

Students talk about what it does and doesn’t mean to be sexually pure.

Ever wonder what other Christians think about sex? Or how far they think is too far? Or how they would define sexual purity? Well, we wanted to know what Christian students are saying about abstinence and sexual purity. What we found were some misconceptions and unclear boundaries.

Take Tim*, 16, for example. Tim’s a Christian who believes wholeheartedly in abstinence. He says, “If you remain abstinent until marriage, you’re sexually pure.” But then he says, “I think petting’s all right. If you have genuine feelings for a person, if you love them, and if you are truly close to them, then what you’re doing is OK.”

Like Tim, many high school students —including a lot of Christians—are committed to sexual abstinence. In fact, recent research shows that fewer high school students are having sex today than were having sex a decade ago. Even so, many of these same students miss the point about other types of sexual activity.

“Actually, I think foreplay makes you stronger,” says Jenny, 17. “If you can last through foreplay, and not go all the way with it, you have a lot of self-control, and that’s a good thing. Foreplay is OK for a Christian.”

A Tough Lesson

There are many other Christian students, however, who believe sexual purity is about a whole lot more than just staying a virgin. And some of them have, unfortunately, discovered this truth through painful experiences.

Sarah, 18, is seven months pregnant. A couple of years ago, before she met Kevin, she was committed to sexual abstinence. But when Kevin and Sarah started dating, her values began to crumble. Before long, Sarah and Kevin were going pretty far sexually. Sarah wanted to believe this was true love. If it was true love, she reasoned, they really weren’t doing anything wrong. Eventually Sarah and Kevin were having sexual intercourse.

“I’d talk to this Christian friend of mine and she’d say, ‘Sarah, you’re rationalizing everything just to keep him. You’re making everything that’s wrong sound right.’ My friend was so right, but I’d pretty much pushed God and my values out of the picture.”

A few months into the relationship, Sarah left home to live with her boyfriend. Then she became pregnant. It was around this time that Kevin became physically abusive.

“Kevin’s abuse was a wake-up call for me,” says Sarah. “I moved out and went back home.”

As she’s recovered from her relationship with Kevin, Sarah has renewed her commitment to God. She’s also changed her attitude about sex.

“Sexual purity isn’t just about sexual abstinence,” says Sarah. “People who think that it’s just about virginity are headed for trouble. They are so wrong. I was so wrong.

“Sexual purity includes the things you think, as well as the things you do. Your thoughts lead to actions. And if you’re thinking a lot about sex, and if you’re fooling around with petting, you’re playing with gasoline and matches. You are going to get burned. I know from experience.”

Committed to Purity

“A lot of teens believe that if they haven’t had sexual intercourse, they haven’t had sex,” says Cynthia, 17. “I don’t buy into that thinking for a minute.”

Cynthia is a member of TYGR, Today’s Youth Getting Real, a group located in San Antonio, Texas. Through skits and talks at local high schools and churches, TYGR wants to encourage students to practice sexual purity. The group also seeks to educate students about the consequences of premarital sex.

“We want students to understand that sexual activity can lead to some very serious consequences, like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,” says Cynthia. “We want students to understand that sex, and this includes any kind of sexual activity, affects a person emotionally, physically and spiritually. Sex is a wonderful gift when practiced according to God’s plan. It is very harmful and destructive when God’s plan is abused.”

TYGR is just one group among many that challenges students to take a stand for purity. Probably the largest student-led, pro-abstinence organization is True Love Waits. Participants sign pledge cards stating they will remain sexually abstinent until they get married.

“I signed the True Love Waits card when I was 13,” says Lisa, now 17. “I’ve headed up True Love Waits rallies at my school. I’m committed to sexual purity, and I want to help other students stay committed too.

“True Love Waits isn’t just about not having sex. It’s about doing exactly what God wants for your life. And what God wants is for you to remain sexually pure, both in the way you act and in the way you think.”

Yet Lisa is the first to admit that sexual purity isn’t easy.

“It’s easy to sign a card and say, ‘I’m going to keep my True Love Waits commitment,'” says Lisa. “But it gets really tough when you’re faced with a date who wants to go further than you want, or when you’re pressured by friends to follow the crowd. It’s a daily struggle.”

Getting Practical

To deal with the struggle, say Lisa and others who value sexual purity, you’ve got to avoid situations that could compromise your values.

“I was in a situation a few months ago I shouldn’t have been in,” says Matt, 18. “I was alone in the house with this girl I was dating. We were close to having sex when I looked at my ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bracelet. I knew Jesus wouldn’t be doing this!

“I told her I wouldn’t go any further. Then I got in my truck and drove away. After that experience, I decided to stop dating that girl. And I’ve let her know I’m sorry for what I did.

“I’m glad to say I’m still a virgin, although I’m not proud to admit that I went as far as I did.”

Matt says he no longer puts himself in situations where he’ll be tempted to compromise his values—or his sexual purity.

“I’ve decided to pretty much just go on group dates. I think it’s better to get to know girls while I’m out with groups of friends,” says Matt. “I just make sure I’m not alone with a girl I’m attracted to.”

Other students who are committed to purity also say they’ve taken practical steps to make sure they remain true to their commitment.

“A friend and I hold each other accountable for how we act on dates,” says Daniel, 17. “We give each other permission to ask questions like, ‘Where did you go? What did you do?’ Knowing I might be asked these questions helps keep me from doing something I’ll be ashamed of.

“I think accountability is so important, and so is prayer,” says Cynthia. “My good friend Amy is my prayer partner. We pray about each other’s purity. We also talk to each other about guidelines for what we will and won’t do. Then after one of us has gone out, we’ll talk to each other about the date.”

“My girlfriend and I have also set limits,” says Daniel. “We will only hold hands and hug briefly. Kissing, for us, is out. We just don’t want to be tempted to go too far.”

Daniel doesn’t believe he’s being hyper-legalistic. He simply wants to protect himself and his girlfriend.

“I gotta admit,” says Daniel. “I sometimes feel like staying sexually pure is not worth it. Then I realize I really do want to enter marriage as sexually pure as possible. I’m saving a very special gift for the one person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I want to save myself for the one I know I’ll always love the most.”

Christian students who value sexual purity realize that the happiness of their future marriage is more important than satisfying any current sexual desires. And they understand the potential consequences of sexual impurity. They also understand the most important reason of all for staying sexually pure.

As Lisa says, “Sexual purity is not simply my plan. It’s God’s plan. It’s what God wants. That makes it the best plan possible.”

*All names have been changed

True Love Waits is a nationwide student movement promoting abstinence and sexual purity. For information on how you and your friends can get involved, check out the True Love Waits website.