Feminists will hate me for this, but I really love the movie, “The Quiet Man.” Situated in a small old fashioned Irish town called Innisfree, protagonists Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) begin a courtship, chaperoned by the lovable Michaleen Flynn. As the courtship begins, Michaleen gives the young couple a warning of “no patty fingers.” In other words, they were to refrain from physical contact during their courtship.

A lot of Christian families have adopted the “no patty fingers” mentality, and I understand where they are coming from because I used to follow it as well. For many years I believed in the ”no touch other than brief side hugs” rule. I thought it was lovely to think of a young couple refraining from all forms of physical affection until the wedding night. But, just like my thinking has changed from courtship to intentional dating, so have my thoughts on physical affection. So why the flip?

First, let me say that I am a big believer in boundaries in relationships. Scripture is very clear that sexual immorality and fornication are sinful. However, I have yet to find anything in Scripture that prohibits handholding or embracing or even kissing. Christians in general are very affectionate. They often hug when they greet each other, hold hands in prayer, and embrace when comforting one another.   The apostle Paul also tells believers to “greet one another with a holy kiss” and most Christians are fine with at least some of these forms of affection between brothers and sisters in Christ.  But when it comes to young single men and women, some Christians feel that even these simple forms of affection become off limits.

This seems unnatural to me. God made us with a desire to demonstrate our affection through physical touch and when two people are beginning to consider one another for marriage and are sharing their hearts with one another and becoming close emotionally, physical touch is a natural demonstration of their hearts becoming entwined. Holding hands or putting their arms around each other can be very tender and lead to the bonding necessary for marriage, the most intimate emotional and physical relationship two people on the earth can share.

But some of you might be thinking, “What happens if they don’t marry the person they have been affectionate with?” My response is quite simple: nothing. If one of my kids had held hands, or embraced, or even kissed someone and it didn’t work out and then they met someone else who rejected them because of their prior physical affection, I would tell my kids to wipe the dust off their feet and thank God for sparing them from a life with someone who would probably be continually judging every aspect of their behavior. Anyone who would hold up something so simple and innocent against them would probably hold other things against them once they married.

Another argument that could be raised is that physical affection leads to sexual thoughts and sexual thoughts lead to sexual actions. Sometimes this is true. But I have news for you. Young people think and fantasize about sex, and think and fantasize about sex a lot, even if they don’t have any physical contact with one another. God made humans sexual. He gave us desires and it’s a good thing or the human race would have died out long ago.  So to think that refraining from all physical affection in a courtship or dating relationship will help young people not to think about or desire sex is very unrealistic. Instead, we need to teach them to build healthy, affectionate relationships with proper boundaries and to help them learn self-control (something I talked about in my previous post.)

Another reason I’ve come to believe in physical affection prior to marriage is that I think jumping from no physical affection before marriage to a practically anything goes mindset on the wedding night lays the groundwork for awkwardness, embarrassment and ultimate disappointment.  Have you ever watched the video (it has been all over the internet) that shows a couple’s first kiss at their wedding?  I think the poor girl, who advocated waiting for her first kiss, wanted to prove that she could be an expert at kissing the first time out. But the reality was, she couldn’t. She looked like she was chewing off her groom’s lips. The video has over 7,000,000 hits because people are tuning in to see how ridiculously she kissed.

As I watched that video (and it was painful to watch) I couldn’t help thinking that if they had kissed a few times prior to their wedding (and I’m not talking about heavy duty making out) they could have saved themselves a lot of embarrassment and possibly even felt much more comfortable transitioning into the consummation of their marriage.

In conclusion, I’d like to add that just as I have come to dislike the whole “guarding your heart” mentality that makes a young man or woman feel guilty for having loved someone prior to their spouse, I have also come to dislike this idea that if young people have physical contact prior to marriage, even something as simple as holding hands, that they are damaged goods or are less godly, or that their marriage is in some way spoiled or less pure. Yes, God wants his children to abstain from sexual immorality before entering into the marriage state, but we have almost become paranoid when it comes to this whole courtship/no kissing/no touching/guard your heart, mindset.  I know that many people who hold these views genuinely desire to please God and live a holy life, but my perspective is that some forms of physical affection prior to marriage can be wholesome and lovely and pure. My wish is that we would stop turning these precious moments into something guilt laden and impure and instead let our kids enjoy the sweetness and beauty of youth, romance, and love, with a little bit of wholesome patty fingers thrown into the mix.