Recently in my Pastoral Care and Sexuality we were fortunate to have a true pioneer speaking to our class in her field of expertise. Dr. Joyce Penner and her husband Dr. Clifford Penner ended up as Christian sex counselors and educators. Their careers started when they accepted an invitation to teach on sexuality to a MOPS (mothers of preschooler’s) class. They were surprised that that sexual lives of the women involved actually changed for the better. They continued accepting invitations to speak, teach and counsel, after diving into education for their new found role with gusto. They now teach, speak and write a holistic understanding of sex based on God’s plan for our sexuality. (http://www.passionatecommitment.com/)
At break somehow the topic of couples refraining from kissing until they were married came up and this exchange happened…
“No kissing before marriage is the most destructive teaching ever.” – Dr. Joyce Penner
“Thank you!” – Kevin Gonzaga
After posting this on Facebook I stirred up a hornets nest so I clarified her statement twice and will try to present the rationale for what she said here.
The Penner’s believe that a couple considering marriage should be passionately kissing. To this end the couple should discuss and mutually set externalized boundaries for this passionately kissing and abide by them, so as to not creep forward in their physical affection beyond what they intend to before marriage.
Before I explain this more I should make it clear that the Penner’s were not advocating that a couple that has just started dating be lip-locking on the second date. The Penner’s think it is important for a couple that is considering marriage to be passionately kissing. Passionate kissing also did not mean anything that would leave the participants as “technically virgin” (such as oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, etc.) they meant lip on lip passionate kissing. This was not a general term for serious physical affection.
The rationale for their statement is two fold:
First, passionate kissing before marriage can expose barriers or problems in the relationship that might otherwise go undetected. Passionately kissing requires communication to establish boundaries, a supportive community to help externalize those boundaries, mutual respect to abide by those boundaries, and intimacy to communicate one’s needs and desires to one’s partners. In this way passionately kissing provides a check to many aspects of a serious relationship that holding hands, kissing on the cheek or not kissing at all simply do not provide.
Where passionately kissing is absent a couple could get married and only after committing to marriage find out that they should have stayed as friends (because they completely lack physical chemistry), that one or more of them struggle with serious intimacy or sexual dysfunction (possibly from a previously unidentified abuse in their past) or at best simply be incredibly behind the curve when it comes to relating in this one area.
Second, passionate kissing is a way to practice relating physically and develop healthy attitudes towards sexuality. Dr. Penner put it succinctly that the attitude that “I’m not going to kiss before my wedding night” might as well be phrased, “Sex is really dirty, so I’m going to save it for the one I love.” We should not seek to deny or devalue our God given sexuality but should practice viewing our sexuality as integrated with our spirituality and our relationship. To compartmentalize our sexuality and avoid it at all costs is to demonize it. The Penner’s believe it is better to engage in it in a limited and morally appropriate way than to try to cut it off from ourselves, expecting that at the wedding night two persons who have denied their sexuality at all costs will be able to relate sexually to one another.
In this light a couple that avoids passionate kissing, and for whatever reason avoids any problems that would have been highlighted by that activity before marriage, is starting at zero at best when it comes to relating and possibly have very negative attitudes towards physicality and sexuality that are not going to dissipate anytime soon.
I believe I actually listened to a podcast where Penner and such were speaking.
No-kissing before marriage is probably a recipe for the most awkward wedding night ever. How does one go from “don’t kiss me on the lips” to “come into the holy of holies” in 24hr period on one of the most stressful and emotionally turbulent days of your life?
When I hear about couples that hold to that rule, I can’t help but suspect that neither party is comfortable with their sexuality in any degree. Its amazing they even manage to be in a relationship at all, really.
Hey Kevin, thanks for the blog. This is my first visit and first comment.
I guess we beat the crowd on this one.
My wife and I did not passionately kiss before our wedding day. We did not feel that sex was dirty. We had a GREAT honeymoon…I mean, you know…REALLY GREAT! We never had an awkward sexual moment. We have a great marriage. We are not stuffy and unhealthy and repressed. And married life has only gotten better the older we get (gag, I know…but it’s true…old sex is way better).
The attitudes you describe in this post simply weren’t there with us at all. We have never encouraged another couple to do what we did. But we love what we did. We chose our path out of love for one another. We were and still are (17 years later) best friends.
We did not choose to do this as a rule. We chose to do it because we loved the idea. and not to be on moral high ground. It was not difficult. Once we decided we wanted to, it was fun for us.
Part of our reason was one of protecting one another’s heart. We did not kiss early on in our relationship as we had observed that the greater the physical relationship, the more hurt there is if things do not work out. When it became evident that God was bringing us together, we had come that far, we just decided to keep going and make our wedding kiss something special.
Honestly, I think the doctor’s statement about not knowing if you have physical chemistry is poppycock. You know, you really, really know when it’s going to work. It’s the same logic that people use to have sex before marriage. “We want to see if we’re compatible.” Well, if you’re marrying your best friend, is that even a question by that point.
And “at best starting at ground zero”? Nope, that’s not how it works. You know…tab A goes in slot B…you figure it out pretty quick and then you get to learn how each other tick together. Sooooo fun.
These statements are at best a generalization that are not true in our case.
Sorry for this to be my first comment here but, I respectfully and through a great 17 year experience, disagree.
Hey thanks for the comment and no worries about this being your first comment. This is a discussion not a monologue and I appreciate the input of anyone, especially when that someone happens to be a legit Christian minister who I greatly respect, such as yourself.
I, due to space limitations, left out a lot of information from the four hour class and and hoped some of it would come up in my response to comments, so I’ll begin here.
The Penner’s (to the best of my knowledge) are against the rule of “no-kissing” being applied to all relationships as a de-facto way to ensure purity or to keep the relationship moral. One main vocal proponent of this several years ago (if I recall correctly) was Joshua Harris with the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” craze that hit Christian circles. I read his book and basically he communicated that 1) physical relationships always increase and will inevitably end up in pre-marital sex that the couple is hurt by and ashamed of and 2) to avoid pre-marital sex the couple should not be physically affectionate at all until after a season of intentional courtship and marriage. In their experience the Penner’s have found this, and similar teachings, to be incredibly destructive and erroneous.
However, they are not trying to simply replace the “thou shalt not kiss” rule that applies to everyone with a new “thou shalt kiss” rule that applies to everyone. When given examples of specific couples who choose to not kiss before marriage (such as a pair of divorced recovering addicts considering marriage) they were not outright against it. They seemed to have understood that for specific couples passionately kissing might be a mistake and counseling and/or other ways of communicating are what is needed. Their desire for couples to kiss is a general truism gleaned from their years counseling Christian marriages that is not without very specific exceptions.
They also would not suggest where passionately kissing doesn’t exist the negative beliefs about sex must or will exist, they only suggest that where passionate kissing is absent negative beliefs about sex and intimacy can exist and go unnoticed. People can be healthy and integrated in their views towards sexuality and not be passionately kissing. The danger is when passionately kissing is avoided because negative ideas about sex do exit such as negative ideas promoted by less healthy churches, fear-based paradigms used to teach sexual ethics, and the mixed messages of our culture (both inside and outside of the church).
As for passionate kissing being a litmus test for physical/sexual chemistry I understand and have alluded to how people have argued for pre-marital sex being used in the same way. “We should have sex before marriage to ensure we are sexually compatible.” This is an erroneous binary view of human sexuality and I’ve argued against it elsewhere.
The Penner’s suggested that any couple who could communicate and abide by mutually established barriers and be intimate in kissing could probably communicate and abide by mutually established barriers and be intimate in sexuality. Again, this does not mean that if you don’t passionately kiss before marriage you are doomed to have bad sex, it is that where passionately kissing does not exist sexual dysfunction and intimacy disorders can exist and go undetected…until the wedding has already happened.
Personally, I am inclined to take their extensive experience in this field for what it’s worth and it seems to have been an affirmation of my reaction against some of the more legalistic and inherently anti-sexual teachings regarding sexual ethics I’ve received over the years. Which basically have amounted to the mixed message of, “Sex is dirty, save it for the one you love.”
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Masturbation I’m sure will be a topic for debate and discussion on this blog in a little bit. Considering what the Penner’s had to say about it today among other things.
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Perhaps Christian couples should reflect on whether they *want* to be physically intimate with the person they’re dating. You can tell whether you’re physically drawn to someone or not without kissing. So, I do think that physical attraction can be discerned without actually being physical. But I also agree that absent any physical contact, some serious issues can slip under the radar. I feel that people with such issues generally know they have them, though, and are not fessing up–like women who deep down feel that the idea of sex is gross but never say anything.
I would totally agree that a couple should reflect on if they want to be physically affection in their relationship. I do not think every date should involve serious physical affection. However, I am reacting against a legalistic statute that many Christians adhere to that uncritically bans certain forms of physical affection before marriage (kissing and making out are the two most common culprits) as if they were tantamount to sexual immorality, which they are not.
I would disagree that “people with such issues generally know they have them.” In my experience people are incredibly blind to their own faults, character defects and even the reasons they hold to deeply held beliefs. These issues often come up in relationships where people are just acting out fears, beliefs, and presuppostions they could not even articualte in words. I would suggest any serious exclusive relationship considering marriage should involve some physical affection to avoid there being any unwelcome surprises later in the relationship.
Thanks, as a teenager this really clears some things up for myself. I was just trying to figure out If, and how often me and my girlfriend should kiss. My upbringing was don’t you dare touch girls. So I am trying to teach myself otherwise. We are definitely not the type who just kisses around because its fun. Also at our stage I don’t want our relationship to turn exclusively into a physical one. Not kissing before marriage explained here proves it doesn’t make sense… you do nothing but hold hands until your wedding night… then you have sex? That is like going through steps 1-6 and then skipping to step 27! Thanks again, and any advice or comment would be appreciated!
There is no rule that says you MUST have sex within 24 hours of saying “I do.” You can take a few weeks to get comfortable with each other if you have agreed to practice total abstinence during engagement. That would be a prolonged and enjoyable honeymoon.
“Where passionately kissing is absent a couple could get married and only after committing to marriage find out that they should have stayed as friends” – Stupidly