How do I start a conversation about physical boundaries?

advice header image
John Thomas

How do I start a conversation about physical boundaries?

Apr 23, 2007 |John Thomas

I have an odd situation on my hands and would like some advice on how to proceed from here. My boyfriend and I have taken our physical relationship further than I would have preferred and not having set definite boundaries prior to our time together makes it difficult to draw the line once in the moment. We are both still virgins in a literal sense but have ventured into other areas of physical intimacy that I still believe crosses the line of what is appropriate outside of marriage.

I want to back up and create a new line now that we have gone too far but I don't know where to start the conversation. I love this man with all of my heart and will be marrying him within the next two years but am afraid that this kind of conversation will create a chasm in our relationship that will be painful and difficult to cross. I want to do what I know will honor God but am still afraid that I will get some resistance from my boyfriend.

How do I start a conversation about limiting our physical actions together? And how do I stand firm on what I believe to be the right choices without making him feel like I am steering our relationship in a direction he might not agree with? I know that in order to make this work he has to be willing to abide by the new boundaries as well. I am just scared of what he will say and would appreciate some guidance on the best course of action from this point forward.


Thanks for writing and being so candid about your situation. Let me share a couple of thoughts that I think will help you.

First, let's use the proper vocabulary for what's going on. What I mean by that is, your statements like "further than I would have preferred" and "what is appropriate" soften the seriousness of your behavior. If God has convicted you about what you're doing, then it's much more than a personal preference or question of appropriateness. It's sin. Call it what it is, and then you'll know better how to deal with it and move on. Preferences are merely personal choices that tend to have little moral or ethical weight to them. I prefer a cheeseburger more than I do Brussels sprouts, but I'll live with whichever one is available when I'm hungry.

Do you see how vocabulary makes a difference? You place yourself, by your own choice, in a sexually revved-up situation, and at some point you prefernot to be there, but you're there, so you live with it. Now, call it sin and you have a whole different paradigm to consider. If it is sin for me to eat Brussels sprouts (my wife would say I act like it is) then it's no longer a matter of preference. The sprouts are now absolutely off limits. If someone offers me either a cheeseburger or some Brussels sprouts, the action is clear; the choice was made before the two were ever set before me. One is sin and the other is not.

So here is what I need to ask you: Is it merely your preference to change, or have you been convicted by God's Spirit, knowing that Scripture lays out clear guidelines about sexual intimacy outside marriage? Your answer to that question will make all the difference in your ability to "go back" and draw a new line of behavior. If it is merely personal preference, it will be very difficult to draw new boundaries, because they're arbitrary. But if what you're sensing is godly conviction, then there is hope for change, and your reaction should be repentance, not a change of preference.

So let's call it sin. If that's the case, then your reaction is clear cut: repentance. Repentance means confessing your sin to God, asking for and receiving His forgiveness, and, empowered by His Spirit, changing your mind and behavior to that which honors God and brings Him glory. Viewing your situation this way gives you the most hope for change that sticks. Calling it what it is also impacts how you address it with your boyfriend. He might try to talk you out of a "preference," but if he's a serious Christian he'll be more likely to understand the weight of your decision if it is borne out of godly conviction.

As for how to address this with your boyfriend, you need to approach him with the same grace God approached you with it, but with a strong resolve about your conviction. More than likely, he's had some of the same convictions, but just hasn't acted on them. But remember, you are responsible for your sin, your actions, not his. And that's just what you need to say — that God has convicted you about your behavior and that it has changed (not in the process of changing, but changed — that's repentance). He needs to understand that this is not a judgment of how you feel about him, and that, in fact, the intimacy you've shared has been enjoyable — you're human and God made it for enjoyment — but that you are going to wait for the biblical context — marriage.

Here's the crucial part for you. Your concern and desire to respond to God's heart on this issue must be your highest goal — higher than your concern about your boyfriend's reaction and higher than your concern about the future of this relationship. If you're waiting to see what his reaction is to decide whether you stick with this, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Yes, it might be painful and yes, it might be difficult, but that's OK. It's right, and that is what matters.

On a practical level, now that you know what your new standards are, don't do anything that moves you in the direction of lowering those standards. If you don't want to burn down the house, don't build a campfire in the living room. If you don't want to cross the line of physical intimacy, then don't be alone with each other without any accountability from anyone. That's just common sense. You can have a private conversation or pray together in view of others, so why do you need to be alone? You need to "go public" with your relationship, literally, so that you have accountability for your time together — no more hanging out in the shadows, OK?

No matter how your boyfriend responds, this is the best thing you can do for your relationship. If he doesn't honor or respect your heartfelt conviction, that's a red flag about how he would respond to you similarly in marriage. If he steps up and does the right thing, your relationship will be strengthened, you'll love him all the more and God will get the glory.


Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.


Like what you see?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, will you consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Boundless right now? We’re a donor-funded ministry, and we rely on friends like you to help keep us going! DONATE NOW »

  • .


Sign up for our e-newsletter and receive a free chapter from the soon-to-be-released book The Dating Manifesto by Lisa Anderson.