Physical intimacy in a dating relationship is a complicated matter. It’s not simply a matter of dim lighting and romantic music. It’s also not a matter of personal preference. Relationships can die a fast and horrible death when there are mistakes made in this one dimension of the relationship. However, when used appropriately, it is an essential part of any romantic relationship. What should it look like for a dating couple?

First off, physical intimacy isn’t necessary in the dating relationship. Believe it or not, a dating relationship can grow and thrive without any physical contact whatsoever. Sure, most people will say that such a thing is impossible. It’s not impossible; it’s simply not been attempted very often. Although our physical urges may be strong, they are not irresistible. Physical intimacy is plausible in a dating relationship, but it is not necessary.

Secondly, physical intimacy isn’t a matter of personal preference. No matter how religious a person may or may not be, physical intimacy is a moral issue. Neither person’s personal preferences about physical intimacy should be “primary” in the dating relationship. If the couple is going to be physically intimate, then they should both agree to be under a superficial, legal, moral, and/or religious standard that transcends them both. (This would be an appropriate conversation to have after/during the first DTR.)

Thirdly, physical intimacy is a gift – not a wage. Those couples that do choose to incorporate certain elements of physical intimacy into their dating relationship must do so without trying to earn it or feeling obligated to pay with it to get something else. Neither the man nor the woman should feel entitled to physical pleasures from the other person during a dating relationship. Neither should the man or the woman pressure or flat-out take from the other person simply to pleasure him or herself. In fact, physical intimacy that is stolen, pressured, or earned isn’t intimate at all.

Bearing those principles in mind, these are some practical ways of approaching the dimension of physical intimacy in a dating relationship:

  • There should be no physical intimacy prior to the first DTR. Physical intimacy shouldn’t be initiated between a dating couple until it has first been discussed. I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, but if a couple just begins without first reaching an agreement – they will likely violate all three principles above (having never talked about it).
  • Since the DTR is all about talking about what the “next level” of the relationship ought to look like, physical intimacy can be one of the ways the relationship advances. However, it doesn’t have to be. If they do decide that physical intimacy will be okay, they need to agree upon a standard that will govern the limits of the physical intimacy (it should be a standard that transcends the man and the woman).
  • Since the couple will be having regular DTR’s every 3-6 months, the topic of physical intimacy should be addressed each time (if the couple has chosen to implement it). The couple should discuss how comfortable they feel with the physical dimension of the relationship in relation to the standard they are living underneath.
  • At any point after an agreement about physical intimacy is reached, the woman should never be put in a position where she has to tell the man to stop. The man is primarily responsible for keeping the boundaries of the physical relationship at or beneath the agreed upon standard. If he is too weak to do this by himself, it is his responsibility to ask for help.
  • The steps a couple takes forward in physical intimacy should be slow. It is far easier to take steps towards deeper physical intimacy than it is to take steps backwards if things get too intimate.
  • Sex, of any kind, should be saved until marriage. Religious and moral considerations aside, relationships that engage in pre-marital sex typically do not survive until marriage. Why? A relationship that enjoys the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment will deteriorate simply because one or both persons in the relationship are more enamored with the ‘benefits’ of intimacy for themselves than they are with the person with whom they are being physically intimate (See chapter 4.1).

Personally, as I look back on my inglorious dating history, at least 95% of my regrets from those relationships come from mistakes I made with regard to physical intimacy. If I had the chance to go back in time and have the chance to live my adolescent and young-adult life over again knowing what I know now, I would easily abstain from all physical intimacy until after I was married. There are lots of reasons why, but the main one I keep coming back to is that my desire for physical intimacy back then was purely selfish. I thought I knew what love was (especially the feelings of love), but I didn’t. All I really knew was lust & how to gratify myself with other women who, frankly, had the same problem.

Best wishes to you as you pursue the man or woman of your dreams. As you do, remember that the physical dimension of your dating relationship will be a very tricky road to navigate. You would be wise to not walk down that road without a guide who can safely guide you to the altar without getting lost along the way.


What standards for physical intimacy do you/have you used in your dating relationship? Why?

Do you think it’s possible to go from stranger to married without ever being physically intimate? Do you think it’s a good idea?

Author’s note: My time to write posts is greatly diminished these days due to my duties as the director of Pine Cove’s Forge program. Nevertheless, I’ll still be posting articles from time to time. If there are other stand-alone articles you’d like to see, please leave a suggestion below.

[back to the Table of Contents]