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Young people often wonder what kinds of touch and affection are appropriate before marriage. They often want a list of do’s and don’ts. Certainly, we could provide a list of behaviors that are not okay or that pose real risk to those wanting to live the standards of moral purity. However, there are quite a few challenges with such an approach.  

Because each person has such different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds, and priorities, it really isn’t possible to list out exactly what types of affection would be appropriate for everyone.

Another challenge with the list of do’s and don’ts approach is that it undermines developing your own self-mastery and spiritual self-confidence or “God-reliance.” What is more important than do’s and don’ts is having your heart and mind in the right place with the Lord. Then you can determine what you personally need to do to keep God’s laws governing sexual purity.

One young man wisely said, “Rules are just rules. If your heart isn’t in the right place, rules won’t hold you anyway.” Instead, the hope is to inspire young people to intentionally strive for self-mastery over their appetites and passions to both enjoy the courtship process and to safely and spiritually prepare for a healthy intimate relationship within marriage.

Developing Sexual Self-Mastery

During courtship and engagement, you’ll develop beautiful and powerful feelings for this wonderful person that you love so deeply. You’ll want to share everything with them. Some rationalize that, given your commitment to this person and the fact that the wedding is only a short time away, crossing boundaries is okay. That may be very tempting, but the Lord has asked us to wait.

Young, engaged couples will need to develop the kind of sexual self-mastery that allows them to maintain healthy intimate boundaries throughout their courtship. Having healthy boundaries is not just important before marriage, but within marriage as well. You will still need to respect your spouse’s feelings and limits in marriage. Marriage is not a sexual free-for-all.

A couple might decide they need to end their night together with one goodnight kiss rather then put themselves in positions where they are making out. Setting boundaries like that will be needed for sexual self-mastery.

Even when married, self-mastery must still be part of the equation as couples learn to attend to each other’s unique mental, emotional, and physical realities. Because of their different wiring, husbands and wives will need to do some negotiation sexually within marriage, since sex will not always be available “on demand.”

God’s Will Help

God created our human intimate passions but has asked that we keep them within His bounds. We are asked to put off the “natural man” through the Atonement of Christ.[1] This means that with the help of our Savior, we can exercise restraint to bridle our passions.[2] We are never alone in our efforts to keep the Lord’s commandments.

To harness or channel our passions in righteous ways allows us to be filled with love instead of lust. The main difference between godly love (or passion) and lust is that love is respectful of self and others, while lust selfishly seeks to satisfy our own wants and desires. The scriptures invite us to make no space “for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”[3] Godly love does not “take” or use others for our own benefit.

God asks for purity of mind and heart.[4] Some helps for developing purity of mind and heart (or sexual self-mastery and impulse control) include making a “covenant with your eyes,” your heart, and your mind to create mental defenses that will guard against indiscriminately fueling intimate desires.[5]

This involves looking away from sights that fuel lust or stopping behaviors when your emotions become too arousing. It includes turning away from unhealthy music and other media so that you can be loyal and steadfast in your faithfulness to your fiancé(e) and your Heavenly Father.

Self-mastery includes mastery of thought. The apostle Paul encouraged the Saints to take every negative or unworthy thought captive and bring them into alignment with “the obedience of Christ.”[6] If we will take the mental mastery or alignment of our thoughts with Christ seriously, we will gain added power to resist temptation and avoid many of the behavioral weaknesses common to mankind.

Make the Decision Now

Make a conscious decision ahead of time to do what it takes to maintain moral purity. Believe that you can do this. If you can’t believe it’s possible to be morally clean for marriage, it will be much harder to succeed. Your thoughts and beliefs are more powerful than you may realize in bringing things to pass in your life. That which you believe becomes your reality. Assume you’ll succeed!

Decide if you really want personal virtue and self-mastery more than the fleeting pleasures that will come along. Determine if you are willing to do all that the Lord asks of you—even in the realm of sexuality. Are you willing to pay the price of righteousness? It’s something you must resolutely want, as you intently say to yourself and God, “I want this! I choose to be morally clean throughout my courtship and marriage!”

As you come unto Christ more fully, He can lift you and enable you to do things that you otherwise couldn’t do on your own. Filling your life with God and godliness can serve as a protective barrier to insulate you from selfishness and the physical temptations that are especially present prior to marriage. When you fill your life with good, there is less room for unhealthy influences.

The feelings of mutual attraction that couples experience are healthy and spiritually designed to bring man and woman together to express their love as husband and wife. May you have the strength and desire necessary to remain clean and worthy before your wedding day and develop the sexual self-mastery that will only strengthen and bring you closer together as man and wife after marriage.   


[Excerpted from Chapter 6 of Laura M. Brotherson’s book — From Honeymoon to Happily Ever After: 23 Keys to Prepare for a Sextraordinary Marriage.]

Other articles in this series include:

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BIO — Laura M. Brotherson, LMFT, CST, CFLE

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist, Laura M. Brotherson is the founder of “The Marital Intimacy Institute“ with a mission to help couples create “sextraordinary marriages.” She counsels with individuals and couples and is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy–specializing in healthy sexuality, sex therapy, and sex addiction. Laura is the author of three best-selling books, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage, and now her latest book — From Honeymoon to Happily Ever After: 23 Keys to Prepare for a Sextraordinary Marriage.

Laura is also actively engaged in providing marriage education through books, online courses, “Couples’ Cruises,” articles, newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, “The Marital Intimacy Show” podcasts, and presenting at conferences and workshops. Laura is a regular contributor to the KSL Television “Studio 5” morning show and is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy to help build strong marriages and families. Laura and her husband, Kevin, are the parents of three grown children and are the founders of StrengtheningMarriage.comyour trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages . . . intimately!

Connect with Laura:

Instagram: @StrengtheningMarriage

[1] See Mosiah 3:19.

[2] See Alma 38:12.

[3] See Romans 13:14.

[4] See 3 Nephi 12:28.

[5] See Job 31:1.

[6] See 2 Corinthians 10:5.