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.