A – Thanks for the great questions! I will answer your questions in part
PART I – How far is too far is really the wrong question. If I were to re-phrase the question it could basically be “How far can I go until I do something that will harm the other person or myself?” When stated this way it is easy to see that the question doesn’t take love into consideration. True love is choosing what is best for the other despite the cost to myself. If this is the case, then we don’t love another person when we risk harming them in any way in order to satisfy our desires. Love only wants to fight for what is best for them.
Pope JPII defined love as “gift” and the opposite of love as “use”. When we use another person we fail to see them as a true human, but more as an object for our own selfishness. To ask “how far is too far” is to risk using another person. A better question might be – “how close to God can I bring this person?” or “how can I guard this person from harm?”
I have never met a person who asked "how far is too far" who wasn't struggling with purity. This is because if we are constantly bumping up against a fence, we will eventually break through it or hop over it. The same goes for "how far is too far", we will eventually break the rules if that is all we have. Too often Catholics have only heard "don't do it" when it comes to sex. But, this isn't the best reason not to have sex, and the result is that too many are sexually active outside of marriage.
Sex is something holy and beautiful - when in the right context of marriage. Sex is something intimate and wonderful - between husband and wife. Just like anything good, it can be twisted to be bad. This is what happens in pre-marital sexuality. Pre-marital sex is never about love, but is always about our selfishness. While it may "feel" like love, we would never risk another person's future, virginity, pregnancy, disease, soul, broken heart, etc. if we loved them.
Another way to re-phrase the question might be to ask “where is the line between sin and not sinning?” Well, it depends on each individual. While all sexual activity (not just intercourse) outside of marriage is sinful, lust is also sinful. This is the deeper issue. When we have a control of what is going on in our hearts, then we will easily see where the line is drawn and will do all we can to avoid even approaching it. You might ask your self if you would act the same way if Jesus (or grandma) was sitting next to you. That might keep some wandering hands where they should be. But, we want to try and change our hearts, not just our actions.
I know there are many Catholics who struggle with their sexuality and controlling their desires, but it is worth it. Here is the reason - you can't give what isn't your own. If you don't have self-control, you can't give yourself away fully. This means you can't really love another person by being a gift to them. We can either be in control of our desires or allow them to control us.
Some say that kissing is the problem and many Christians say you shouldn't kiss until you are married. Now, I am not advocating that kissing someone is sinful at all times, unless you are married. But, we have to realize there is something else going on here. If we cannot kiss another person without lusting for them, we must ask what is in control of our actions - ourselves or our passions? We need to be more careful in choosing love through a mature decision-making. Yes, every heart is different and some can kiss another without lusting, but, there are some objective facts to point out – anything “sexual” outside of marriage is harmful to a relationship and sinful.
Sex should be saved for marriage, where intimacy (of all kinds) is supposed to be. Unfortunately in today's world, we give our sexuality, our emotions, our bodies, and our lives to people we our not married to. We have lost the depth to what a "simple" kiss really means. We end up deadening our sensitivity to intimacy. To put it another way, I have never met a person who saved sex (of any kind) for marriage and regretted it, but I have met thousands who didn't keep themselves pure and now do. You will never regret purity. Never. But, you will always regret impurity, eventually. I say, live life without regrets.
Questions to ask:
- Have we invited God's will into this relationship?
- Is everything we do in this relationship glorifying to God's name?
- Why are we dating or engaged in the first place?
- Is it to figure out if you should be married or is it because you really "like" each other?
- Are we choosing true love (wanting what is best for the other person despite the cost to myself) or just the feeling of love which comes and goes?
- Do we have self-control or do we allow our passions and desires to rule us?
PART II – So, is everything ok in marriage?
Not if you mean anything that would be contrary to chastity. Most people think chastity is celibacy, but that is not what it means. Chastity is rightly ordering your sexuality to your station in life. This means everyone, single, religious, priests, and married are to be chaste – though all in different ways. A married couple’s chastity means they have sex, but not that “anything goes”.
Chastity is a virtue that allows us to give ourselves to another…remember the definition of love as “gift”. To give everything means we have no selfishness in our love and chastity frees us of selfishness. So, any behavior that is not free, total, faithful, or potentially fruitful is a contradiction to true chaste love in marriage. So, no. Not everything is ok in marriage if it goes against chastity. If you have more specific questions on this part of the answer, you can talk to a campus minister or priest.
I hope these answers help. See this site for more Q&A on these issues.