A reader writes in:
Biblically, is communicating your sexual desire to someone you are dating to marry wrong? From the sermon on the mount, I understand the qualifications on what lust is. And premarital sex is wrong I believe, but how do we handle ourselves in communication. I suppose I’m having trouble discerning things. Are we too prude as a culture? Or do we avoid all appearances of sex for a reason? Can I tell my girlfriend the ways she turns me on, etc. Thanks!
I’ve mentioned before how male and female sexual desire is not sinful and why it’s important to talk about sex with your girlfriend and/or fiancee. So to answer the first question, no, communicating the desire is indeed not sinful.
One thing about “lust” in Matthew 5 is that it’s by nature coveting.
Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus is speaking to the men — notice how when preaching to the crowds, only the number of men is counted. In particular, He’s also speaking about ‘adultery’ in v27 rather than ‘fornication.’ So the ‘lust’ or ‘passion’ here is about coveting a woman that is not yours — which is unmarried or married women for a married men (e.g. any woman not their wife) OR married women for single men (e.g. not single women).
Why not single women for unmarried men? Remember, Paul speaks this to the unmarried about their ‘lust’:
1 Cor 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
If you ‘sexually desire’ a member of the opposite sex who is single, you should take the steps to marry. This makes logical sense and does not conflict any of the statements of Jesus and Paul on sexual desire.
The gross overstatement of ‘lust’ in “purity culture” in the modern Church for a single man to a single woman or vice versa is definitely damaging to getting people to marry. It causes a lot of single men and women to shy away from their sexuality, which is one factor in delaying marriage (along with life scripts). This often leads toward illicit ways to express sexuality like porn, romance novels, and so on.
Now, what it looks like in practice can be difficult for many men to do. When I was going out on dates with Christian girls I would ask them a few dates in (read: not the first few dates) about more serious topics. Alternatively, if you’re texting or messaging back and forth a lot and the conversation is leading that way you can ask about topics like that too.
There’s a couple different ways you can do this:
- Ask her what she finds attractive about you, and be ready to answer what you find attractive about her.
- Ask her what she thinks about particular responsibilities of marriage, and move slowly toward 1 Cor 7 about either spouse not denying sex to each other
- Ask her what her parents taught her about husbands and wives, and be prepared to answer the same things about your experiences.
- There are potentially other prospective questions that relate to sexuality as well like abortion. Huge list of prospective questions here.
Like anything you’ll probably usually be uncomfortable talking about these things right away and it could be awkward. If it turns out awkward, you can just say even though it’s awkward it’s good to discuss relationships more in depth. It will get less awkward over time the more you practice.
Overall, there needs to be some discernment, as you mentioned. Things you would say to a 3 date girl would be different than you would say to a 3 month ‘dating’ or ‘courtship’ relationship which would be different than something you would say to a fiancee.
For example, I wouldn’t and didn’t shy away from “that’s what she said” jokes with my now wife for any ‘stages’ in along the aforementioned timeline. However, I did not go up to her right away and say how she looked was turning me on. That was more toward the engagement period. In the earlier to mid part I would say something like “you looked great in that dress or skirt and it makes me want to wrap my arms around her and kiss her” and then actually do it. When we were engaged, I’d say “I want to ravish her.”
I’m also not afraid of hugging and non-sexual contact, and I think that is one of the big things that a lot of Christian men are generally uncomfortable with. Non-sexual contact is socially acceptable contact usually with the back, hands, forearms, or shoulders. Men do it all the time with a slap on the back or fist bump. You can also do this with women, albeit depends on the social customs.
There definitely is some variability and different boundaries. I know some married couples who did not kiss until they were married, so the latter example would not work for them. I think when in doubt you should shy on the less side of things though.
Ostensibly in the relationship you are both there because you find each other attractive. Most cultures tend to find blatant sexual statements too forward and unbecoming and in general the Scripture is like that too on fornication and giving the appearance of evil. However, there is a natural progression from single to engaged to marriage where expression of sexuality grows.
Comments from other married or single commenters to flesh this out for our reader(s) are also good.