What’s in a kiss?
That’s the question Amy and Leon Kass posed in their
commentary on Erasmus’ colloquy on courtship in their edited book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar (a great
resource for readings on courting, love, and marriage).
The Anscombe Society at Princeton used this reading recently as part of a discussion series on dating. The question is a simple one without a very simple answer.
Most young adults committed to abstinence understand the big picture (it’s healthiest and most fulfilling to wait until marriage to have sex), but are lost when it comes to the details. “How far is too far?” they ask. Books have been written answering this question. But perhaps a better way of answering it is to rephrase the question: “What’s in a kiss?”
Now, this isn’t the type of question a young woman committed to chastity can answer by going out and conducting field research! So, what I offer below is an honest look at human biology and emotions, as well as a summary of the advice given by abstinence advocates (see, for example here).
From my perspective, a kiss communicates a message: either a message of affection for the other, or gratification for oneself. What do I mean by “gratification for oneself”? Often, when kissing occurs outside of a committed relationship between two people who mutually care about each other, people kiss simply for the fun of it. They kiss because of the personal enjoyment they get out of it (self-gratification), rather than to convey any sense of real and lasting affection. This is not to say that enjoying a kiss is bad. Indeed, a man and woman in a relationship who kiss out of genuine and mutual affection for one another inevitably enjoy it and appropriately so. The problem is when the primary purpose of the kiss is for personal pleasure or satisfaction. Because of the more self-centered nature of such kissing, those who engage in it are not being fair to themselves, their partners, or their future spouses. Any type of behavior that generates a habitual attitude of detachment and self-centeredness is never healthy for a relationship.
Rather, kissing is meant to be a sign of affection that naturally and honestly manifests the nature of the relationship. For example, truly affectionate kisses between an unmarried man and woman in a committed relationship would be loving, selfless, and simple. These kisses can also exist between a married man and woman, but the intimate nature of their relationship would also make it appropriate for their kisses to express a greater intimacy. (Similarly, sex is only appropriate within marriage because it communicates a level of intimacy and union that is only honestly present within a marital relationship.)
Consider passionate kissing. Passionate kissing by definition arouses the man and woman; otherwise, it would not be “passionate.” Now, what is arousal but the body's preparation for sex? Two people committed to chastity should avoid making kissing an "activity," because passionate kissing easily escalates and arouses. The couple then finds themselves in a confusing and difficult position of saying no to sex when their bodies are physically preparing for it.
Now, some of you may be thinking: “Give me a break! You mean abstinent people should avoid making out too? Isn’t waiting to have sex enough to ask?” That’s exactly what I mean. Ask yourself this: If you value sexual intimacy so much you want to save sex for marriage, doesn’t it only make sense to value sexual intimacy in this way too? If passionate kissing initiates that intimacy, then surely it is only good and fitting to save passionate kissing for when you can follow through on the sexual feelings and intimacy it arouses – namely, to save it for marriage.
Speaking more practically, why would you want to put yourself through the torture of saying “no,” when your body is saying, “let’s go!”? Better to avoid the situation altogether by keeping kisses simple: affectionate but not passionate. Nobody is saying this is easy. But if sex and sexual intimacy are important to you, don’t you want to protect yourself and that special someone from a difficult and tempting situation, rather than bring each other to the edge of a cliff only to hope you don't both fall over? I know I do. Ironically, it’s actually the more loving thing to do.
Now maybe this all still sounds incredibly radical to some of you. But I think “what’s in a kiss” is a very powerful thing.