Physical Boundaries
The Right Paradigm and Purpose of Purity

Unless you have really good reasons to motivate you, maintaining physical boundaries in your courtship will crumble like the walls of Jericho when you really like someone and have become emotionally close to them. I’ve known the most conservative, Bible believing, sincere, godly people get pregnant before marriage because the temptation to be physically intimate overpowered them.

Knowing the “what” or the “how to” of anything can be pretty worthless without the frequent reminder of the all important WHY. Going through the motions of something because you faintly remember learning it was the right thing to do, will eventually leave you feeling frustrated and tired of not being “authentic” (doing what you’d really rather do). Success in this area especially must have the right motivation to bring the essential conviction for following through.

In order to provide a complete foundation for applying appropriate physical boundaries, we must first answer the following questions to establish a healthy paradigm about purity. Here are the questions I hope to answer in this page:

  1. What exactly constitutes “pure”? How far is too far?
  2. WHY should we remain “pure” before marriage? (As long as you don’t have sex, what’s so bad about messing around before marriage? And does oral sex count as sex?)

1. How far can I go and be pure? A Paradigm Shift
Recently the concept of purity has received a lot of attention. Purity rings, pledges, and even dances and balls have been designed to exalt the virtue in the minds of youth. There have been a plethora of books, seminars, and conferences devoted to teaching physical purity (saving sex for marriage) and emotional purity (guarding your heart).

But how pure is pure?

  • If you kiss, have you compromised purity?
  • What if you have been sexually abused as a child? (1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse) Can you ever be considered pure?
  • Or what if you’ve masturbated?
  • What if you regularly have impure thoughts? 

The word "boundaries" naturally imply a line. Which physical boundary is the one we should avoid?

There is no answer to these questions because purity is an issue of the heart, not conduct.

This concept is taught by Jesus in Mark 7:1-23 when the Pharisees saw the disciples of Jesus eating without washing their hands. They grew up with good strict mothers who said, “Johnny, go wash your hands before coming to the table.” If they had touched something unclean at the market and then ate without washing, they would transfer that uncleanness to themselves. We see this as a common trap today. Christians believe they can keep themselves pure by observing certain rules designed to keep them away from evil things. “If I’m a Christian, I shouldn’t do such and such. I should avoid certain situations.” Aren’t rules necessary to maintain purity among believers? Is it by living by certain rules that distinguish someone as a Christian?

When it comes to physical boundaries in courtship, we will become just like the Pharisees if we don’t understand the message Jesus tried to teach them in Mark 7. The issue lies in our paradigm of purity and how to obtain it.

The Pharisees were trying to take an outside in approach to fixing problems.

But we can’t measure a person’s spirituality on the basis of a set of rules designed to govern behavior. It is not a measure of one’s closeness to God. The problem is we are more concerned on whether our behavior conforms to a certain code of conduct than we are the issues of our heart. The root of the problem is not our behavior but our heart. Out of the desires of the heart come the actions of life. Unless the heart changes, all the rules you design for physical boundaries will be useless because we don’t need any outside stimulus to lead us to evil.

If you think about the story of Cain and Abel, you see that they lived in a perfect world. They never watched murder on TV, they had parents who loved them, and nobody was around to create peer pressure, and yet it came naturally to Cain to kill Abel.

Eli’s sons (Hophni and Phineaus) were the “pastor’s kids”. They probably lived close to the temple, were actively involved, and yet they were so corrupt. Samuel grew up in the same environment and he turned out to be a godly man.

James 1:13-15 teaches that everyone is “drawn away of his own lust and enticed…” The devil could drop dead today, and we would not get any better. It wouldn’t make any difference. It’s not the outside temptations that defile us. The problem is with the heart. The evil is already in the heart, the only thing the outside stimulus does is stir up the evil already there and make it come out.

If you are courting someone and you are alone in a room together, is it the privacy that causes you to stumble with your physical boundaries? NO- it’s the lust in your heart! 

Mark 7:14 says “NOTHING outside can make a man unclean, but what comes out.” Did Jesus really mean NOTHING? Are we to take this literally? That has some interesting implications. Does that mean that a Christian can do anything he wants without fear of being defiled? YES – Because a Christian is one whose heart is filled with love for God and he wouldn’t want to do anything that would be contrary to glorifying Him.

How do all those evils get into the heart in the first place? Don’t they get in by watching this or doing that? If so, then don’t we need rules like don’t touch, don’t handle, don’t taste? They are born into the heart. That’s the nature we inherit from Adam. It’s a sinful, selfish nature. They are already there. They don’t have to be put in. We are born with a propensity to please self, protect self, and promote self.

As Joshua Harris points out in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, purity is a direction not a line. It is a pursuit of righteousness. He poses the question regarding David and Bathsheba, “When did he cross the line of purity? Was it the moment he touched Bathsheba or when he kissed her? Did it happen the moment he saw her bathing and chose to watch instead of turn away? Where did purity end and impurity begin? Impurity isn’t something we step into suddenly. It happens when we lose our focus on God.” (p 90)

The "pure in heart" are given the promise that they "shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). Maintaining physical boundaries is simply an outward expression of your heart’s desire to flee opportunities for compromise. In Physical Boundaries Part 2, I share practical steps to deal with your heart so that maintaining purity in your courtship is not a legalistic experience.

2. Why should we remain pure

In light of this paradigm shift, you don't need to worship your virginity, (although you should not trivialize it either). As precious as the first time is, too often purity is exalted to idolatrous proportions.

Elizabeth Smart, a 14 year old girl in Salt Lake City got kidnapped by an older man and was sexually abused and raped daily in a forced polygamous marriage for 9 months only 18 miles from her home. She said "she 'felt so dirty and so filthy' having been raped, that she didn’t even want to run. She felt she had no one to run to – her purity had been put on such a high pedestal, that she felt worthless as a person, and as a woman, when it was violently taken from her...“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away” Smart said, referring to what a school teacher once taught her class, in which premarital sex was equated with chewing gum...."That’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value,” continued Smart." (source)

Setting physical boundaries in your courtship has nothing to do with your worth as a person. Protecting your purity has to do with your well being and God's glory.

Keeping Physical Boundaries in Courtship GLORIFIES GOD

If I asked you to house-sit for me, I'd expect you to treat my house respectfully. I'd feel betrayed if you trashed it while I was gone. God has loaned you His house. Your body is called His temple.When you fornicate (have sex when you're not married), you are doing something destructive to someone Else's property. Jesus has purchased you with His blood. Therefore you must be a responsible steward of your body.

1 Cor 6:13, 18-20 Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body...Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. KJV

Crossing physical boundaries in courtship won't hurt your parents, your pastor, your youth group or your friends. It hurts you. "If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself. but if thou scrornest, thou alone shalt bear it." (Proverbs 9:12) And when you hurt, God hurts. He does not want to see his beloved child go through more heartache than need be. He wants to protect you. You can hide the fact that you're messing around with your boyfriend/girlfriend so you don't "set a bad example" or "bring disgrace" to your church or family, but that's not why you should stay pure.

When you say "I do" to the Lord and ask Him to be your Savior and Lord, you are disrespecting Him when you treat your body in a manner that He doesn't approve of. Your body is not for fornication. Your body is for holiness. You are the body of Christ and Christ is holy.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 says, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. " NIV

Keeping physical boundaries in courtship reveals your state of conversion. Clearly in this verse, heathen indulge their lusts but Christians have self control. Self control is a fruit of the Spirit which dwells in you if you are born again. You have supernatural resources they don't. When you are sexually immoral you are rejecting God. Using someone else to fulfill a desire of the flesh is selfish and abusive. Even if the partner is willing, you are stealing because you do not have legitimate permission to their body unless you are married (1 Cor 7:4).

Often in Scripture, backsliding and apostasy is referred to as fornication (see Jude 7; Rev 2:20) and is one of the key characteristics of Babylon, the wicked city that received the wrath of God in the book of Revelation. Fornication is certainly forgivable, but not something God takes lightly. It is in the list of sins that characterize someone as unrighteous and prevents them from inheriting the kingdom of God. "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." Thankfully the verse doesn't end there.  "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor 6:9-11)

Physical boundaries are important because they reveal the deliverance Jesus has given over the power of sin. Ephesians 5:3 says, 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.

Keeping Physical Boundaries in Courtship PROTECTS YOU

When you are sexually immoral, Proverbs compares it to playing with fire. "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth into his neighbor's wife; whoso toucheth her shall not be innocent." (Proverbs 6:27-29)

If a fire is in a fireplace, it provides warmth and comfort, just like physical intimacy within marriage. If you take that fire out of it's proper boundary, you will get burned. Here are some statistics to ponder:

  • Couples who engage in sex before marriage are 60% more likely to divorce. 
  • The more promiscuous you are before marriage, the more likely you are to commit adultery after marriage (the sexually self indulgent have not practiced self restraint).
  • If you live together before marriage, you are almost twice as likely to divorce within 10 years compared to those who don't. 
  • Increases your risk of STD (1 in 4 young adults has an STD) and pregnancy.
  • Your sex life in marriage won't be as fulfilling (A poll done by the Family Research Council revealed that married "traditionalists" (those who 'strongly' believe out of wedlock sex is wrong) reported a 13% higher sexual satisfaction than married non-traditionalists. Also, strictly monogamous women experienced orgasm during sex more than twice as often as promiscuous women.) (Source)
  • You lose objectivity. Without physical boundaries, you'll feel closer than you really are. This is due to the

The effect of oxytocin

Ephesians 5:31 says "They two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." When a man and woman are physically intimate, they experience a level of intimacy that mirrors the closeness Christ has with the church. 

When you are are physically touched, your hypothalamus releases oxytocin which induces feelings of attachment and trust. One website called "So Suave" shares how to use this "powerful scientific knowledge" to "reliably get laid." He explains the seductive effect of oxytocin releasing touch and how to use it for manipulative and selfish advantages (which I don't recommend doing). He illustrates his point with a personal experience of a girl he met who just wanted to be friends but ended up sleeping with him because he incorporated gradual touch in the very beginning of their relationship. 

Not maintaining physical boundaries can be dangerous in a courtship because you can be blinded from evaluating the relationship objectively. You will feel so attached and connected to that person, but the closeness is only, deep.  The release of oxytocin has been shown to induce generosity as well. In a 2007 study in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, participants inhaled oxytocin or a placebo through their noses. When given a decision on how to split money with a stranger, those on oxytocin were 80% more generous and the hormone seemed to affect their sense of alturism as well (altruism is doing for others without any expectation of reward.) (source)

What does this mean? It means you can get trapped in a dysfunctional relationship where family and friends advise you to break up and you treat them like enemies because you're so connected to your partner that you're willing to be generous and trust your partner when you really shouldn't.   

On the other hand, if you maintain physical boundaires in courtship so you can objectively discern God's will and know if you are genuinely compatible, when you do finally remove the physical boundaries in marriage, the oxytocin release will provide the necessary bonding you will need to unify and give unselfishly in the relationship. The body will reaffirm the connection the mind has already made.


I had a couple ask my husband and I if they should break up because they violated their physical boundaries. They felt they had lost God's favor in their relationship and he could no longer bless their union. Their consciences were flooded with guilt and shame for their lack of self-control. My husband's response shocked them a little.

"So what's the problem? Get married!"

1 Corinthians 7:9 says that if you "cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn" It doesn't say break up. We explained that if they were to break up, they still haven't dealt with the real problem, lust. Were they to get into another relationship later down the road, they'd struggle with the same thing, only a different person. We encouraged them to address the heart issues first and then determine if they should break up if they found that they were not suitable for one another. (Please note that we knew this couple and understood their relationship and compatibility level).

Even Old Testament law recommends marrying, not breaking up, when physical boundaries are crossed. "And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife." (Exodus 22:16) It should be noted that they don't HAVE to get married. The next verse says the father can veto the marriage but the man should still give the family a dowry.

The point was that sometimes guilt will tempt you to go to extremes and make you try and "atone" for your sin, somehow "proving" to God that you really are repentant. Remember, your worth is not dependent upon your purity. God still loves you, wants to bless you, and most of all he wants to sanctify you. He does this by revealing to you His mercy and then asking you to present your body as a living sacrifice so you can experience His good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

It is in this context that you should set and maintain physical boundaries in your courtship. Doing this will glorify God and protect yourself and your marriage from the enemy of compromise.

Here is a funny and straight up 12 minute video about why sex before marriage is wrong.

Learn in Part 2 what safeguards you can establish in your courtship so you do not cross physical boundaries.

Back to Physical Boundaries Part 1

Read also Part 2: Practical Guidelines for Purity in Courtship

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