Intimacy Before Marriage: It’s More Than Just Sex!

by | Nov 30, 2018 | Sexual Intimacy | 26 comments

Saving yourself for marriage tips! There's more to physical intimacy than setting physical boundaries. Here are two important areas that are being overlooked.

I’ve written at length on the blog about why we should wait until marriage for sex, and why God made sex just for marriage.

But sometimes I fear that in all of our talk about saving sex for marriage we forget that the biggest sexual temptation isn’t always a physical one. Intimacy before marriage isn’t only about sex.

And so I thought today I’d share the BIG ISSUE that often causes couples to fall in the area of sexual temptation.

Here’s the scenario: a couple decides they want to wait until marriage to have sex. Yay! That’s all very good. And so they sit down and they talk a lot about boundaries. Will we kiss? If so, for how long? 10 seconds? 15 seconds? Can we kiss on the neck, too? What about hands? Where can they go? Just on the back? Nothing under clothes? Can we ever lie down together? Can we snuggle on a couch together? Etc. etc. etc.

I’ve read Christian books that talk at length about which of these boundaries you should have. As a teen, I sat through talks that laid out extremely specific boundaries that couples should adopt (right down to how many seconds you can kiss, as if we’re holding a kitchen timer or something).

We add rules upon rules to what we’re going to do physically–as if that should be our primary focus about intimacy before marriage.

And that’s where we make what can potentially be a big mistake.

When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (an awesome book for every wife, but ESPECIALLY for those about to get married!), I divided the book into three main sections: how sex works physically, emotionally, AND spiritually.  All three go into having a great sex life. And, in fact, all three are highly related to our libidos. Like I shared in the book, the times when I feel most like jumping my husband are the times when I hear him pray out loud for our girls. Hearing his heart for our children, whom I love very much, and going before God together, is seriously sexy.

We tend to think about intimacy before marriage in these terms:


Physical Intimacy = Bad

Emotional Intimacy = Good

Spiritual Intimacy = Very Good!

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

What are we doing here? First, we’re portraying physical intimacy as a bad thing–it’s dangerous!–which often does a real number on women once they’re married, because it’s hard to flip that switch once you are married and start to see sex as a good thing.

But we’re also turning sex into entirely a physical thing, and forgetting that it is so much more than that.

We’re actually cheapening sex.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying together before you’re married. In fact, I think it’s a very good thing! We need to know that we can pray together and have a spiritual life together.

But here’s the thing we also have to know:

It is precisely WHEN we are praying together that we are most likely to fall sexually. It is WHEN we are spiritually and emotionally close that we are most likely to experience real sexual temptation.

And all of this applies especially to girls.

Many girls can “turn off” the sexual cues they get when they’re kissing, and can resist. We know that we’re not going to have sex before we’re married, we decide that in our heads, and we don’t let it go too far.

But when you’re praying together and feeling close, all of a sudden those sexual feelings will come on, full blast, when you didn’t really expect them. And if you, as a “good Christian girl”, have drawn up all of these physical boundaries, and have been concentrating on spiritual and emotional intimacy, you may be very surprised when all of a sudden you find yourself in a compromising situation you never dreamed of.

So what am I saying? That we shouldn’t be emotionally or spiritually close?

No, I’m not saying that. Here’s what I’m saying:

Intimacy is a wonderful thing, and intimacy in its fullness is meant to be experienced only in marriage.

It is wonderful to start to feel intimate before you’re married. But be aware that sexual temptation is often far more tied up in emotional and spiritual intimacy than it is in sexually “fooling around”. If you draw all kinds of lines that you “will not cross” physically, but fail to talk about what’s going to happen when you’re praying together or sharing deep memories or crying together and all of a sudden you feel tremendously drawn to each other, you’re likely setting yourself up for a fall.

Are you ready for the honeymoon you always dreamed of?

The Honeymoon Course is here to help you plan the perfect honeymoon and start your marriage (and your sex life!) off with laughter, joy and fun!

Don’t make the same mistakes other couples have–get it right from the beginning! 

Certainly talk about what you want to do physically, but I think a better conversation to have is this one: we are going to feel really drawn to each other the closer we get–closer in every way, not just physically. So let’s just set some boundaries like we won’t be in each other’s rooms late at night, or we’ll try not to hang out in an empty house too much, or we’ll have a friend that we text constantly for accountability.

The root of temptation is often not sexual, and if we make everything into something physical, we set ourselves up for inadvertent failure (and a whole lot of shame), and we also don’t present the full picture of who we are sexually.

Does that make sense? Let me know in the comments if this is something that you experienced when you were dating/engaged. When did you feel closest? How did you handle boundaries?

Saving yourself for marriage tips! There's more to physical intimacy than setting physical boundaries. Here are two important areas that are being overlooked.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Ketsia

    Everything you said is TRUE Sheila! It’s when we got engaged that we found ourselves constantly having to reset our boundaries (and ask God for His forgiveness). Because what were we doing while engaged? Talking about the future, reading books on marriage together, opening up about the past, etc etc. It naturally follows that spiritual and emotional intimacy will lead to physical intimacy. So yup, you’re spot on!

  2. Emily

    I have watched people struggle through long engagements (up to 2 years in one case!) and I’ve nearly never seen a compelling reason for them to be waiting.
    So mostly we coped by having a really short engagement.
    Four months.
    Just long enough to plan a wedding and find a place to live. 🙂

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yep that’s what we did, too–6 months for us because we were in school and wanted to wait until we had been together 18 months before we got married (psychology research on love and all).
      I think we shame people too often for getting married quickly–as long as they’re going towards the decision with wisdom and lots of prayer, quick engagements really don’t seem like a problem at all to me–and actually seem pretty biblical when you read 1 Corinthians 7!

      • Josh

        To see the other naked before wedding is wrong?

    • Lillian

      It’s a huge struggle and strain on my relationship as well. By the time we get married will have been a 6 year engagement (counting from when we know for sure we would get married). I honestly think It’s the strength of God that’s been keeping us from becoming too physically intimate before marriage.

      • jenny

        i really don’t know how i feel about this. i love the fact that my boyfriend is trying to get closer to God, but i honestly feel like we need to feel some intimacy for the relationship to work? i love this man but i honestly don’t feel loved anymore. everything innocent we did, he stopped doing it bc he thinks it’s wrong. he’s probably right but i really don’t know.. we stopped holding hands, no kissing like not even pecks, and this man doesn’t even call me “baby” anymore bc he believes it’s wrong?? again, he’s probably right but at the same time i just don’t know!!

  3. Natalie

    You make some great points! I was taught to not touch physically before marriage (side hug was the limit and maybe a peck for a kiss if you were serious/engaged) and also not to pray together until you were engaged because that can lead to sexual immorality. Like you said above, I put up those boundaries and mental blocks (which were extremely difficult to tear down once married. 5 years later and I’m still working on it). We didn’t pray before we were married. We talked about spiritual matters, we were both Christians but we didn’t pray together. I really wish we had. I didn’t know till after we were married that my husband had never prayed out loud (he was a new believer) and that that was something that made him feel self conscious (being feeing vulnerable and exposed is something marriage entails). He’s still working on getting the courage and feeling comfortable enough with praying together out loud as a couple, just like I’m still working on connecting my physical body to my thoughts sexually so I can finally orgasm and enjoy sex more physically. I think I spent so many years detaching my natural physical sexual responses from sexual thoughts that that’s one of the main reasons I haven’t orgasmed yet.
    Anyway, it sucks being in this place in marriage. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like had we had different approaches and ideas on these matters 10 years ago when we met. Perhaps it would’ve saved us some struggle and headache in our marriage.

  4. nylse

    Why do we waste time defining all of those physical boundaries to the nth detail? When you do that it actually becomes burdensome, and it’s totally unrealistic – so I never did this. It never made sense to do so.
    Intimacy takes time to build and it’s something that’s being built throughout your lifetime.
    Echoing Sheila’s sentiments.

  5. Anon

    So true! In our case we had sex before we were even officially dating. We had become very close friends a few months earlier, and talked incessantly, sharing intimate secrets with each other. We thought we were just friends but one day we ended up having sex. It felt natural but we can’t explain why it happened. It just did.
    First we were in shock and stopped seeing each other. After three weeks we couldn’t stand to be apart and decided to get married. It was all due to emotional intimacy, not touching or kissing that led up to intercourse.

  6. Lyndall Cave

    This article made me flinch, and not in a good way. As a teen I was steeped in a Purity Culture that was just as concerned with emotional purity as physical purity. That meant no feelings about guys. Period. No dreaming, no media with romance in it, and definitely no crushes. I thought my feelings were evil and my heart was a wild monster I had to beat into submission. I was a very emotionally repressed teen, which is NOT helpful for good mental health.
    Anyways, I think there’s a huge difference between “Don’t have crushes because that’s emotionally impure and you’re on your way to sin” and “emotional and spiritual intimacy leads to a greater closeness and attraction between people” as a fact of life. Because of my past, I read most of the article in the tone of the former, hence my flinching. But I really appreciate the comment that greater spiritual intimacy does make physical intimacy more desirable.
    Our goal in life is not to avoid sin. Our goal is to love God and love our neighbour as ourself (which means that we don’t want to sin anyway). I wish we as Christians focused less on telling people what not to do, and more on how to love and be loved.

  7. Lynn

    I wish I had understood this while I was dating. We actually didn’t kiss on the cheek until we were engaged, and not on the lips until our wedding but we were emotionally and spiritually “married” long before that. You’re right about how that effect us women – it made sexual temptation really tough, since we are so relationally oriented. I think it was exacerbated by me going through a faith/mental health crisis that began shortly after we started dating. It obviously lead us to a lot of prayer and deep, emotional conversations , as well as delaying our engagement longer than we would have preferred. The intensity of our emotional and spiritual connection was more than a dating relationship is meant to handle and the longer wait for marriage only made it worse.
    I guess I couldn’t have planned the timing of my crisis, but to other young women I would certainly strongly recommend 1) not to begin a relationship in a time of emotional or spiritual crisis 2) not to begin a relationship unless you can be reasonably sure that you are ready to be married in 18-24 months. Mind you, I wouldn’t judge anyone for marrying sooner, I think if it had not been for my crisis we could have married in a year. My mom and dad got engaged after a month of dating and were married 3 months later! 🙂
    Our marriage is coming up on 5 years strong and only getting better, so it obviously has worked out alright for us! However I have suffered from severe vaginismus since the beginning and I can only recently say I am getting close to “cured”. I do wonder if this unnatural divide between high spiritual/emotional intimacy vs. low physical intimacy was part of the problem. I’ll be pondering that for a while now.

  8. E

    I think you can draw parallels with a married person having an ‘emotional affair’ with someone of the opposite sex. That is dangerous to a marriage, sometimes even more so than a physical affair. I don’t know what the ‘right’ answer is here, as I do think we need to head into marriage knowing the future spouse’s character, but you are right that getting too close doesn’t only mean physically!


    I have seen this happen before my eyes, the solution is no secrecy and no privacy.

  10. Christina

    I agree with this! What my husband and I found while we were dating/engaged is that it was easier to come up with physical boundaries because those were more measured. My question is then how do you choose what to share/what not to share emotionally and spiritually? Those don’t seem to be able to measure as much. Don’t you want to share personal things so they can get to know you better and you feel closer? From my experience, we wanted to guard ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually without being legalistic but I think we were really only taught how to with physical boundaries because those seem easier to set than emotionally and spiritually. Like we didn’t purposely try to make the physical boundaries more important, we just honestly weren’t sure how to progress the relationship without getting too emotionally invested. We are both very open people and wanted to share things with each other to feel closer. So how do you know what is too much you have shared emotionally & spiritually before it is too late and you’re more drawn to each other intimately? I’m hoping this makes sense.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I don’t think it’s that you don’t seek emotional and spiritual intimacy, it’s that you need to be very aware of the impact it has.
      We don’t want to add extra rules to the dating phase, but wisdom, information, and education on what intimacy really is can help people make more fully informed choices.

  11. Nicole

    My husband and I definitely struggled before we got married and ended up in sin. We were surrounded by people who focused primarily on physical boundaries or the lack thereof, so that was where most of our focus was unfortunately. We grew closer and opened up to each other, and as that happened we slipped further into sin only to justify our behavior. I wish we had done things differently and I feel that may have happened if there hadn’t been so much focus on external behavior. Nonetheless we are still together happily married, but I definitely don’t want our kids to make the mistakes we did!

  12. Ashley

    Also, sex isn’t the only way to form soul ties. How tragic to be tied to someone you don’t marry just because you shared everything emotionally and didn’t hold anything back, even though you didn’t have sex. I had never even heard of that when I was a teen.

  13. Kiwi girl

    Short engagements have their advantages but it is important have a long enough time as couple to get to know each before you get married. As the old saying goes “Marry in haste and repent leisure. ” If you find out the person you married is abusive, has an addiction, is a serial cheater or similar; it won’t be easy to sort out or get out the marriage if it can’t be resolved.

  14. Melissa

    Im sorry but I just don’t get this. I get you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage but now y’all are acting like you can’t fall in love before marriage? Is this a joke? You don’t really know a person if you’re only going out less than a year or 2,theyre on their best behavior then and you want people to get married before then while also expecting them to not have a strong bond? That’s why so many boomers got divorced! They all married right after high school and ended up rushing things and split up. I’ll agree that millenials tend to be overly cautious but I’ll also say, in my experience, it’s because our boomer parents kind of force us to grow up slower. I was with my husband 7 years before we married
    I’d have loved to marry him sooner but we started dating when I was in high school so what was I supposed to drop out of school and marry him and live out of the streets? We had horrible jobs all through then the economy was terrible. It took me 2 years post college to even get a full time job because I was “over qualified” and nobody wanted to pay him what his 10 years automotive experience was worth. They all wanted to pay him the same rates he made when he started.

    • Faith

      Melissa I think the article was more about being aware of the impact being so close emotionally. Being aware that it’s not all physical.It never said don’t be close at all or fall in love.

  15. Lillian

    It’s a huge struggle and strain on my relationship as well. By the time we get married will have been a 6 year engagement (counting from when we know for sure we would get married). I honestly think It’s the strength of God that’s been keeping us from becoming too physically intimate before marriage.

  16. J Life

    There is no harm is having sex before marriage but one needs to know that intimacy is far beyond sex. This post has thrown light on these facts which most people hesitate to talk about openly. Thank you for sharing this post and adding knowledge to readers. Looking forward to more such posts regarding intimacy.

  17. Lyn

    Hi Sheila I would love to know more about how you define the emotional and spiritual intimacy and boundaries for dating ? You want to get to know someone to see if they are the person you want to marry, and see their faith in action and sample doing life together. As others have said, physical lines might be easier to draw and maintain or cross, but I don’t really understand about whether there are things you shouldn’t talk about before getting engaged or just when and where you spend together so you don’t end up having sex?

  18. Miri

    My boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 years and are seriously struggling with abstinence. I want to stay a virgin until marriage but he really just wants to go for it. We are on opposite sides and it’s really hurting our relationship right now. This problem arised as soon as we started talking about getting engaged. Before then, it was never even a question.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Miri, that is so tough! It’s natural to want to make love. But if you want to wait until marriage, then if he really loves you he’ll respect that. If he doesn’t, and if he keeps pressuring you, that does show something about his character. How long will you have to wait to get married?

  19. Jordan

    Lovely post, Sheila!

    I think I struggle with this a little bit because I understand where you’re heart is at.

    Exposing the truth! And that’s beautiful and especially on something that flies under the radar and is generally not recognized as a stumbling stone for couples.

    I guess I struggle to resonate with it. I heed the warning, one hundred percent, but I struggle to put it in action.

    For my fiancé and I, it’s such a beautiful thing to pray for each other, especially in times of crisis and in some cases in hopes to turn away from sin. It’s something we use for repentance together when we’ve made mistakes either together or on our own. It’s something we use for interceding for each other in times of lacking.
    For me, it was a huge marker for me to understand how strong of a prayer warrior my future husband is and I don’t think that I would be as comfortable around him NOT knowing that side of him. Nor would he have inspired me to pursue that portion of my Faith had I not known or practiced it with him. Not only that, but we do Bible study together as a way of preparing to set aside time for Jesus together. We attend church together, we listen to sermons together.

    How are we supposed to start a relationship and marriage off in a Christ-Centered way if we’re not allowed to be emotionally and spiritually intimate with our person?

    Some of the biggest breakthroughs we’ve had in our relationship (as dating and now as engaged people) have resulted in me crying, as I’m an emotional person. How big of a shock would it be for him if we get to the wedding night and honeymoon, and our WHOLE relationship I’ve been steely and stoic. Suddenly, the floodgates are opened and I’m this gooey person who’s loving and affectionate?

    I totally get what you’re saying – “Have your guards up, kids; Satan can see you and will use it against you”, but how are we to practically set the stage for marriage if we’re not able to do that in the dating and engagement stage? How can you be completely transparent and go through trials and tribulations and be vulnerable with the person you’re spending the rest of your life with WITHOUT doing those things?


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