Inspired by Is masturbation a sin?

This is a tough subject that I've grappled with my whole life. It's clear in God's word that sex outside of marriage (adultery) is a sin.

But, what is acceptable if sex isn't?

More clearly, I expect that kissing isn't a sin. But how far beyond kissing is allowed? How far is "too far"?

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    I know people who would actually argue that kissing is a sin (these are hardcore penecostals), but I'm not knowledgable enough on the subject matter to post an answer. Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 23:07
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    Matt 5:28. If it involves some kind of sexual desire or lust, it would be equal to adultery. From my personal experience, the question in itself is easy, but accepting the answer and applying it to your own life is another matter. That's why the question is thought of as a difficult one.
    – Shathur
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 8:53
  • See my answer which I posted on October 11, 2013. Let me know what you think. Don Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 1:59

8 Answers 8


This is a very difficult issue. And for someone trapped in the chains of sexual sin, there is no easy answer - but there is the stunning grace of God for freedom.

I would answer this question by starting with another question: Do you want to live your life seeing how close you can get to sin without actually crossing the line? Are you motivated to be the most Godly person you can be (growing daily in Christ-likeness), or are you motivated to "get away with" as much as possible without actually going to hell?

When Jesus said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" in Mat 5:28 he was addressing the inclination of the heart.

In my opinion, when you indulge in sexual lust you are sinning.

We then have to define "sexual lust". Generally, lust is any desire which elevates your needs over another's. A good working definition for sexual lust might then be, any thought or action that seeks to use another human for your personal gratification without love or respect for their person.

So if you apply the spirit of this to your treatment of your girlfriend/boyfriend, it becomes "is doing X with this person bringing both of us closer to God, respecting them as a person and expressing pure Godly love?" If not, I think you have your answer.

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    According to the stated definition, "Sexual sin [...] occurs when you seek to use another human for your personal gratification without love or respect for their person", therefore sex with mutual respect is not a sin? (I agree with that!)
    – Andrew Vit
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 9:45
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    @Andrew: Sexual lust is sin, but it's not the only measure of sexual sin.
    – user32
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 18:57
  • oh, whatever. I'm done with this site anyway since there's no room for honest debate here. If you look at the edit history on your post, I did not misquote what was originally written in 2011.
    – Andrew Vit
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 22:01
  • @AndrewVit: You are right; I stand corrected and offer my sincere apology (and I've deleted my comment). I must've edited my post in response to your comment and forgotten about it in the 2 year interim. It was an honest mistake on my part; nonetheless, it was my mistake.
    – user32
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 19:01

1 Corinthians 6:18 comes to mind which says "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body"

I think this is telling us that asking "where is the line and how close can I get to it" is not the right way to think about it. Rather that we should be seeking to avoid sinning sexually.

We are all tempted in different ways so fleeing means different things.

  • I'd Eph 5:3 in here too.
    – Ray
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 2:21
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    To play devil's advocate (perhaps too literally), Jesus condemned the Pharisees for fencing the law. Can you explain how this is different?
    – Ray
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 2:22
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    @Ray: He also said, in the Sermon on the Mount, that anger is not so different from murder, and lustful thoughts are close to actual adulterous acts. The general idea is that it's best to avoid so much as taking the first step on any path that will lead to serious sin, even when that step is "just" a thought. The Pharisees, on the other hand, fenced the law by forbidding actions that may appear to an outside observer to be related to transgressions of the law. Jesus's commandment is for each person to make their own "fences" based on their own knowledge of themselves.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 3:04
  • So, it may be better not to go to church if the service is frequented by (too) many (or any, for that matter) attractive women? Because seeing them may lead to sin? See where this can lead? Like, to ripping out your eye... we all (I hope) would see that as "being crazy" (in the medical sense). But: Jesus said exactly that. Hmmm... Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 20:15
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    You could always just sit in the front row
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 13:41

You are asking the wrong question. Even tempting your mind to follow that line of reasoning will leave you open to temptation and making mistakes that need not have been made.

Don't imagine that there is a line in the sand that you magically cross if you do one action too much. Don't see how far you can go. Instead, flee. Run the other way. See how far you can get from the 'line', how far away from temptation you can place yourself. A man is told to stand against many things, and when all is done to stand firm still1. Yet when it comes to sexual temptations the Bible says to flee2.

The Bible counsels us over and over to be above reproach3. It instructs us to avoid anything even resembling evil. It calls us to be holy even as God is holy4.

The right question is, "How can I best keep myself and my partner as pure as possible?" When you find answers to that question, act on them.

  1. Ephesians 6:13 (ESV) Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
    1 Corinthians 16:13 (ESV) Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

  2. 1 Corinthians 6:19 (ESV) Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
    Genesis 39:12 (ESV) she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

  3. Colossians 1:22 (ESV) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

  4. 1 Peter 1:16 (ESV) since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”


I think Matthew 5:27-28 sums it up well, by setting the standard not at sexual immorality, but even at the thought of sexual immorality.

Therefore, if lusting after a woman is sin, then surely "less than sex" outside of marriage in a lustful context, is also sin. This means that even kissing, holding hands, or hugging could be sin, if it is done lustfully.

I suspect you're driving more at issues like heavy petting, oral sex, etc. For these things, I think Tom's answer is great, when he quotes 1 Corinthians 6:18. Fleeing from sexual immorality would suggest getting as far away from immorality as possible--not flirting with it as closely as possible without "crossing the line."

One definition of sin is "anything that does not glorify God," and as such, a simple test I often use in my life to decide if something would be sinful or not, is "Would __ bring glory to God?" In this context, "Would [whatever sexual act, outside of marriage] bring glory to God?"


I would answer Matthew 5:27-28 sprinkled in with the stern warning of Matthew 23:25-26. The later reminds us external observance, or doing the minimum to get by with is not enough, it is what comes from the heart. The former passage speaks to the urges of the heart given at the Sermon on the Mount.

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    Well, I was sort of leaving individual Bible version preference to the reader, but ok I will link to both verses.
    – demongolem
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:33
  • This is really a nice answer!
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:41
  • @demon: the linked site lets one select the version one prefers :D Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 13:38
  • 27-28... why leave out 29? Difficult, this one, isn't it? If not, why do you think it isn't? Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 20:18

Without even turning to a scripture (I could pull many out of my hat so to speak), it comes down to simple logic for me (personally).

If you were a fish, and you saw tasty food attached to a line, knowing it could lead to you getting hooked and potentially becoming someone's dinner, would you go for the tasty food, or avoid it to save your life?

Similarly, would you engage in activities that could lead you to the "hook" of crossing the line, just because it makes you feel good? Or would you rather avoid taking such a risk, and wait till you are safe to go for what satisfies?

A logical answer would be to wait until it is safe, and avoid going for what would put you in danger.


I have two points to make. The first is that the sexual act is one of the most amazing gifts God has given us. It brings two people closer together both physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It ties hearts and minds together and helps build unbreakable bonds of trust upon which stable families can be built. It is not the end-all and be-all of a strong marriage, but it is one of the most powerful tools we have been given to use for this purpose. Let me reiterate: sex inside the marriage covenant brings about an intimacy and trust between the two that is unmatched by any other experience.

My second point to make is this. You have to understand what sex is. It is not simply the act of intercourse. Sex begins with flirting which communicates that the two find each other attractive. Sexual tension and desire begin to develop and the two people find ways to be near each other, enjoying the rush of the endorphins and such that flood the brain. When they begin becoming physically intimate, they spend time in foreplay allowing the sexual tension to build. Intercourse is the culmination of this process of bringing two people so close together they are willing to share themselves so completely.

When did the sex begin? Intercourse was at the end, and it was only part of the whole experience.

My concluding thoughts: If you are married, when can you tell your spouse is interested in sex? Often it is when they are playful and flirty with you. Sex starts with the flirt. If you are married, then flirting outside of marriage is off-limits. If you are married, seeking or enjoying sexual stimulus without your spouse is wrong, because it weakens (or destroys) the trust and intimacy shared between only you two. This is why Christ said that even lusting after another is adultery.

But what if you aren't married yet? Well, flirting is ok, because that is how we signal the other person we are interested in moving the relationship in a more serious direction than just friendship.

Now when you do meet and fall in love and marry the true love of your life, do you want to say to them (or do you want to hear them say), "I have already shared this sacred gift of intimacy with others before you. What we have is wonderful, but it won't be unique in my life because of my past decisions."

Sex is ordained of God between those who are married. Flirting is part of courtship. But anything that stimulates you sexually must be avoided unless it is with your spouse. If you don't have a spouse yet, then continue to avoid it.

                             "How far is 'too far'?"

In the days of horse-drawn carriages, a wealthy man was looking for an expert driver to take him on his many business trips. Looking for only the most experienced drivers, he narrowed the applicants down to the two most experienced men. All that was left was to have each man demonstrate his prowess with the prospective employer as a passenger.

The first man was certainly expert, and his handling of the horses and the carriage was deft and flawless. When driving on a narrow path with a sharp drop-off, however, the driver, as if to show off his superior skill, steered as closely to the drop-off as he could.

The second applicant's skill and expertise were also quite apparent. Driving on the same narrow path with the sharp drop-off, however, he appeared to steer the carriage as far from the drop-off as possible.

Guess who got the job?

  • While that's an interesting parable, I'm not sure that it's quite as useful as it initially seems. Basically, using this parable, you could say that avoiding all contact with women should be avoided (eg sharia law). After all, "better safe than sorry". I believe that there is an answer to the "is this a sin?" question and this definitely doesn't address it.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 12:58
  • @Richard: I'm sorry if I've offended you. I've modified the answer in response to your comments. Any parable (< Gk. root, "to throw alongside") worth its salt gets a person to put his life side-by-side with the story and then apply its point, if need be, to his life. If for you the parable has no convicting power, then perhaps its point is neither applicable to you nor to your question (viz., "How far is 'too far'?"). That's OK. Perhaps the parable is a lousy one, which is a distinct possibility! In my defense, it SEEMED apropos at the time, but then I'm hardly objective. Don Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 16:24
  • Oh there was no offense. The comment just seemed self-righteous. I've dropped my -1. :)
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 18:57
  • @Richard: No offense intended. While I've never committed fornication, during my courtship years I certainly struggled with my sexuality (and still do). The virginity I offered my wife in 1973 was certainly tainted by having gone "too far" with previous girlfriends. Were I to do it all over again I'd draw the line at holding hands! I paraphrase what a wise man of God once told me: "How nice it would be if each of us met his wife as Adam did. He was in a deep sleep until God opened his eyes to Eve, and there she was!" That's the ideal, I suppose! Our lives are far from ideal, however. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 19:37

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