Helping Teens Draw Sexual Boundaries

How do I help my teenager know where to "draw the line" physically in relationships with the opposite sex? How far is too far?

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We suggest that you talk to your teen early and help him or her set clear standards before dating ever begins. But don’t panic: if your child is already dating, it’s not too late – you can still take the initiative to sit down and discuss physical limits. There are three basic principles you’ll want to stress: 1) sex outside of marriage is not an option; 2) stay in control of your own body; and 3) always show respect for your body and your date’s.

That said, it’s vital to add that there’s a bigger issue at stake here than “how far is too far” – namely, the question of timing. Sexuality is a powerful thing, and sexual intimacy is progressive in nature. Tell your teen that God designed sex to be a process between husband and wife, and that when it is separated from this context it leads to frustration, separation, and pain.

Experts in the study of human sexuality have identified seven progressive stages of physical intimacy: 1) hand-holding; 2) arm around the waist; 3) kissing; 4) French kissing; 5) feeling out; 6) intimate foreplay; and 7) sexual intercourse. The important thing to notice is that conscious, willful control tends to give way to passion after stage #3. After that point, our hormones start calling the shots.

Practical application: prudish as it may sound, we’d suggest that dating teens need to set the physical limit at modest kissing. No French kissing. No lying down together (even to watch TV). Such behaviors encourage the hormones to kick in. We’d also point out that the longer two teens of the opposite sex are together and the more physically affectionate they allow themselves to become, the more difficult it will be to resist temptation. At that point, any rules and guidelines we might be able to lay down aren’t going to be of much help. As a general rule, adolescent couples should also avoid being alone. If they want to be together, they should do it in a setting where other people are present.

Naturally, your teen won’t be able to put all this into effect unless he or she can muster up a certain amount of assertiveness and self-determination. Remaining pure means taking a stand. Kids have to choose for themselves between wisdom and foolishness. To encourage the right choice, you might buy your child a “purity ring” to represent his or her commitment before God to abstain from sex until marriage. Present the ring as part of a formal ceremony. Talk about the importance of staying true to the promise it represents. And when you discuss the reasons for resisting temptation, don’t dwell on the negatives. Instead, emphasize the positive benefits of waiting: deeper trust and enjoyment of sex in marriage, enhanced physical and emotional health, self-respect, and a strong relationship with God.

If you would like to discuss this matter at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you’ll feel free to call our Counseling department.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Boundaries in Dating

The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age

A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex

Articles
Talking About Sex and Puberty

Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family.

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