Updated: Jan 30
One article could not possibly grasp the depth of insight needed for dating and engagement! If you are beginning to read this article - I want you to know I respect your heart. Your heart to honor God, His design for sex, and for purity. My heart's desire and prayer is that God could use this article to speak to the uniqueness of applying Godly principle to the construct of courting and dating that our culture has defined. Also, within that it is to define where arousal fits into dating and engagement. How should we think of it, how to process it, how to foster rather than shame it, and how to guard and protect it.
Dating is not in the Bible
It would be important to note that we do not see dating in the Bible. We would see engagement in the Bible (i.e. Mary and Joseph), but that it would show up in the Bible as what engagement would look like in a Mediterranean setting. Jesus does not outline for us explicitly what to do and not do in these contexts. What that means is that we are taking something that we have defined culturally and applying God's heart and principles for relationships to it. I think that is part of why this topic is so challenging! There are so many different ways to go about dating and engagement in God's kingdom regarding these topics because it is not explicitly spelled out in the scriptures! This is why I think it is less about the WHAT we do and more about the WHY we are doing what we are doing. It is imperative we are doing what we are doing because we love God, we love wisdom, we love humility, we love God's design, and not because we are scared or ashamed. Two different couples could have the same boundaries in their relationship and one couple do it out of fear and shame and another do it out of love and wisdom. My hearts desire is that we would lean not on fear and shame around sexuality and relationship and more on love and wisdom!
Created for Connection
Before we lean into sexuality in context of relationship I think its important to look at God's heart for relationship to begin with because our sexuality is only a part of God's larger design for intimacy. God wired us for connection with Him and with others. His very nature is relational - we see this in the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible says we are created in His image. He so deeply desires a relationship with us and it is only fitting that we would want and desire that with Him and with others.
The Hebraic word for love in the Bible, ialeph, ayin, is silent. It is actually just a sound -- the sound of inhaling and exhaling. Through Scripture this word is used to describe the intimate connection God desires to have with us and that we can have with our life partners. This kind of love is one in which we are so close to our beloved that we breathe in the breath of the other. This closeness is described as panim el panim, which literally means face to face. God desires breath to breath and face to face relationship with us. This, then, is a model for our love with our partners, (Johnson & Sanderfer, 15 & 36).
It may sound cheesy, but we were created for intimacy and it is much more than sex! If you break down the word (I know this is cheesy), but it literally means "into - me - you - see." Where we are seen and known on our deepest levels and loved we are intimate with one another. Therefore, when we talk about sexuality and intimacy we must understand our sexuality is much deeper, larger, and greater than anything physical. It is deeply emotional and deeply spiritual.
When we think about dating and engagement with this larger truth we must understand the importance of our intimacy with God first. Furthermore, we must understand that ultimately this is what we are fostering in our relationships with each other.
I like to think of sexuality in dating and engagement like a garden. You need great sunlight, consistent watering, and good soil. The relationship is the plant and if it has adequate nourishment from each of them the plant will thrive. Let's break down each of them below:
This is our WHY. Our reason behind what we decide to do during dating and engagement regarding our sexuality needs to be love. If we do anything in fear or because we feel shame it is not from God. The Bible says, "Perfect love drives out fear," 1 John 4:18. We want to set up our boundaries because we feel they are wise and not because we are fearful. If you are setting boundaries because you are fearful - really ask yourself why you are afraid? Consider how you can change your motives to be about love and wisdom versus fear.
Indicators Your Boundaries are in Love:
I have prayed and feel led by God to set these boundaries in place
I feel convinced of what I need to do for my own body and hear to be pure
I have considered my partner and what they need and respected their boundaries
I have sought input because I desire wisdom and not permission about what to do in my relationship
Indicators Your Boundaries are in fear:
I have not really looked at scripture about why I am doing what I am doing
I have not spent time praying about what my boundaries are
I feel constantly anxious and overwhelmed by the idea of being pure
I feel like I am constantly wondering what people are thinking of me
Some tips about our why:
If you notice you are doing things in fear ask yourself why? Consider sitting down with a journal or ask a friend to listen to you as you process what has led you to the conclusions you have
If you are fearful consider really digging into the Bible and reading about sexuality, love, wisdom, and relationships and pray for God to really help you to have His heart and desire for these things
Your fear may be related to something much deeper. If you find you feel fearful because you are someone who generally lives in fear consider seeking a therapist out whom can help you to really learn to cope with fear
The sunlight ingredient is HOW we come up with our boundaries. What do we consider? What avenues do we employ? Again following biblical principles here is key! If you follow God's design for making decisions - God's design will come to fruition.
Really consider how you develop your boundaries. Spend time deep in prayer asking for God's Spirit to lead you.
Ask the married people in your life whom have deep connections in their marriage how they fostered connection and purity in their dating relationship
Read God's Word - what does it imply about wisdom, love, and relationships and consider how you can apply those to your relationship. Maybe even consider having a theme verse for your relationship that you pray over together
Stay the course. Do not stop considering your how. After you set your boundaries consider following your how again and again and never stop hungering to learn because of your love for learning
This is really WHAT we decide to do. I would encourage you to consider the first two ingredients before you consider the last one. The first two are far more important than the what. What does matter though, so that you can reach your goal of fostering connection and love while being pure! As you consider what your boundaries are consider the following things:
Our goal is to stay pure, but not to avoid feeling aroused!
It is inevitable that you will feel arousal being around someone you find attractive and feel a connection to. God hardwired that response in you and it is GOOD! When you notice the arousal - notice that your body is responding to feeling connected. Validate it in your mind that it is good and is designed to engage and arouse more in marriage. What I have seen many women and men do in this context is feel incredible shame that their bodies even respond and feel aroused. This then trains them to shut down their arousal responses completely and to marry shame with them.
Consider what you will do and not just what you will not do. Consider how you will foster healthy connection in the relationship that will slowly and progressively build into becoming more known and being more known as you build trust
My goal here is not to tell you what to think, but teach you how to think, so that you can foster a healthy mentality for your relationships!
Tips for Engaged Couples:
Such a fun time in a relationship! Following the above principles will be so helpful, but I would encourage you to really build a deeper connection emotionally during this time. Consider how you can foster being more known by each other as you get closer to your wedding day and in the same vain consider what you need to protect yourselves in your purity leading up to your big day!
I encourage prior to engagement considering confessing your sin to one another in depth - again being loved is being known and before you get married is important
Consider reading a book about Sex prior to marriage individually. The following are great options:
Celebration of Sex for Newly Weds by Doug Rosenau
Total Intimacy By Doug Rosenau
Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau
Have sex positive conversations with the person of the same sex whom is married, so you can learn the heart behind sex
Read through Song of Solomon - really focus on the heart He has for her and Her heart for Him. By the way that is a whole book of the Bible about sex :) God put it in there!
Consider having conversations with your future spouse and with those in your life about sex in pre-marriage counseling.
Notice during these conversations if you feel fearful of sex or disgusted or shameful. If you are, consider what could be triggering those feelings and discuss them with the people in your life. If you do not feel resolved, seek help prior to engagement.
There is always a healthy level of nervousness, but if you feel terrified in a way you cannot shake it, seek help!
Have a detailed conversation about sex the week of your wedding with those in your life.
Walk around naked! When you are home alone of course. Notice your body. Validate your body. Being naked and feeling no shame was God's design for the garden. If you notice shame, consider working through a body image workbook or seeking help to work through your body image issues.
Seek help if you get stuck after your honeymoon! If you have persistent pain, struggle to have achieve orgasm, feel shame about sex, have sexual trauma that gets triggered, or feel ambivalent. Seeing an experienced Christian sex therapist would be my recommendation!
Embrace your arousal. You will feel aroused around your future spouse. Again notice this as being good and something you can enjoy with them soon. Try hard to internalize that your body is responding the way God designed it to
There is so much more to be said about this topic and not enough time or words to write it all, but I hope as you consider your boundaries and your relationship that you will do so in love. I will end with this. Allow your boundaries to protect the garden, so that you can truly enjoy the pleasantness of each other and of our King. Your boundaries should not delight in evil, but rejoice with the truth. They should build protection, trust, hope, love, and should persevere until the end. If the heart behind your boundaries is this then they will truly be made in love and love never fails.
"Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." Psalm 16: 5-6
Melissa Abello, M.Ed, LPC
if you want to ask more questions you can reach out to Melissa via email email@example.com or at mycounselor.online! Or via phone call 47-763-3309