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Clearly some physical activities (like shaking hands, a kiss on the cheek) are not inherently sexual. A great way to judge the sexual nature of a physical activity is to consider the activity against the backdrop of the nuclear family.And other physical activities (oral sex, fondling) are clearly sexual. We call it the “family test”: if I wouldn’t engage in x activity with a biological relative because it would be sexually inappropriate to do so, then that activity is, by definition, a sexual activity. There’s more to sexual purity than this, but framing things in this way provides a good deal of clarity regarding appropriate sexual boundaries. We mark these as distinct relationships based on the observation that each relationship carries with it an explicit sexual ethic.
It shouldn’t surprise us that evangelical teens and singles are struggling to maintain sexual purity; we’ve basically said it’s OK to begin having sex, just as long as they don’t finish. In addition to exacerbating sexual impropriety, you also argue that dating relationships tend to create unhealthy emotional expectations. A primary concern of the book is to help pre-engaged couples keep their wits about them.
Our typical line goes something like this: “The Bible doesn’t really speak about sexual boundaries in dating relationships, so you’ll have to prayerfully develop your own standard.” But this has been a disaster in our Christian sub-culture.
Telling teens and singles to develop their own sexual ethic is not pastorally responsible.
The great compromise of contemporary evangelical sexual ethics is that we have justified foreplay as a legitimate part of pre-marital relationships.
This doesn’t hold up theologically or scripturally, and it certainly doesn’t work pragmatically.