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Just a kiss

By Michelle Lehnardt


7:30 a.m., girls’ hair twisted into messy buns, boys shirts looking more than a bit rumpled. I don’t blame the kids for dozing a bit at the Stake Youth Meeting. But when the visiting General Authority began to discuss dating, heads popped up from their neighbors’ shoulders as every eye focused on the podium.

Most of his message echoed For the Strength of Youth (forever and always hereafter known as FSOY) as he outlined guidelines. But then…

“You know what would be really great?” he enthused, “If your very first kiss was over the altar at your temple marriage. Not that I did anything like that, but wow, wouldn’t it be neat?”


As a rule, I respect anyone’s efforts to be righteous. When one friend confides she never reads magazines, even in doctors’ offices, in order to keep her mind pure and another discusses her five-year supply of food, clothing and fuel, I think, “Good for you.” But when someone, even a General Authority promotes their faux-orthodox ideas over the pulpit I tend to bristle.

And kissing? Kissing is simply glorious.

Modern research proves what humans have always intuited, you can tell a lot about a person by a kiss. As Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote in The Science of Kissing, “Beneath the surface, a kiss serves as the ultimate litmus test for every relationship. It can urge us to pursue a deeper connection with someone special or act as a warning to back off when something just doesn’t feel right.”

Women especially receive all kinds of subconscious cues from a kiss– his feelings about women, potential loyalty, immune system compatibility and even if he is a good genetic match for future children (interestingly, women tend to choose exactly the wrong sort of man when they are taking birth control pills). And besides the science, kissing (non-passionate, keep your hands where they belong) is just plain fun.

The FSOY is great, but it’s strict enough. I’ve met one too many girls who is absolutely paralyzed by the standards– is it still a group date if he takes me home alone? what if he tries to hold my hand in public? Oh, I know there’s all kinds of moral debauchery going on, but in our efforts to teach morality to the masses are we cheating the “good kids” out of normal, natural dating experiences?

Melissa McQuarrie wrote an excellent post a few years ago on the death of dating. If anything, our teens seem even more confused. In high school they are told repeatedly, “Only group dates. Only group dates.” only to be kicked into a single’s ward immediately after graduation with the charge, “Get married!” How, after dating experiences consisting of ice blocking and cookie decorating parties in a group of fifteen are they equipped to form close personal relationships?. How can they learn to deal with good days, bad days and the whole messy realm of life when they’ve scarcely held a one-on-one conversation?

Now don’t get me wrong. I love FSOY, use it for Family Home Evenings and would not want to raise children without the support of the church. But I also see room within it’s bounds for my boys to truly get to know a girl, puzzle through girlfriend issues with my husband and I (while they are still at home) and learn the qualities they want in a spouse before the consequences become eternal. And if there’s a little front porch kissing involved, that’s good too.

Sigh, now that I have this written and ready to post, my sister and son tell me I’m going to be attacked from both sides. The hazard of writing, yes? Of course the General Authority had every right to make such a suggestion, and I have benefited from extra-doctrinal suggestions pertaining to all kinds of subjects from scripture study to food storage. But I’m especially sensitive to dating advice since in my little microcosm, I see teenagers who are paralyzed by the FSOY and not dating at all. Can we puzzle this out together?

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

34 thoughts on “Just a kiss”

  1. This topic will definitely spark a discussion!
    The suggestion from the General Authority was just that, a suggestion. But because he is a GA it makes it hard to explain that to kids. I wish he'd just stuck with doctrine. Your first kiss over the alter? That's absurd. (In my humble and maybe unpopular opinion. )

  2. I have heard other absurd things from members, like you should not allow yourself to feel any sexual attraction to your fiancee until they become your spouse. Kissing and physical attraction is natural and good. It's dangerous to suggest you wait until you are married to explore these things. There are boundaries before marriage, yes, but within reason!

  3. I agree with the previous posters. Physical affection is such an important part of marriage, how is it responsible to be dumped into one with no sense of how you feel about your spouse? Also–I have to say, I really do think high school dating does prepare you for dating to marry. You learn a lot, and hopefully don't kiss too many people–but a few is probably going to help you make better choices once the stakes get raised. Thanks for the post!

  4. And we wonder why there are so many disillusioned newlyweds! Many young women have gone from the "gotta be good" school of thought and have scarcely allowed themselves to acknowledge sexual feelings. And then in the matter of a few sentences and a brief temple ceremony it's ok to not only acknowledge but to act on those feelings.

  5. I really do see both sides of the issue. Having kissed a few other guys besides my husband, yeah, it's fun and usually a good thing. On the other hand, it's really easy to get caught up in the physical part and not get to really know someone. Looking back, I realized there were some guys I did not know AT ALL (because we had too much fun kissing) and a marriage would not have worked.

    As for a General Authority saying it, it was intended for that group of people, and was a suggestion. Honestly, I think it is neat when people wait until they're married to kiss anyone. It shows they know each other outside the physical relationship. It's not for everyone, though. It's not something anyone is commanded, or even expected to do.

  6. Hmm. It's a tough one, because I grew up slightly paralyzed by the thought of sex and etcetera. I don't tend to blame Church culture for that, as such, but it played a part I'm sure.

    When my husband and I were dating, we kissed quite a lot. But our courtship lasted 2 years, and we decided to cut out kissing for the majority of that time because we were often alone and didn't want to cross a line. We acknowledged that the standards we set for ourselves were personal and have never preached that others should do the same. It worked for us, but maybe not for others.

    I have always envisaged group dates to be 2 or 3 couples, but with people pretty much paired off within that group. Is this an incorrect assumption?

    For my kids, I would rather they held off "going steady" or whatever they call it these days, until they are in their late teens. There have been studies I've read that show the younger a teenager is when he/she pairs off exclusively, the higher the odds of premarital sex, pregnancy, STDs, and lower self esteem. Teens don't need to enter into a serious romantic relationship with one another when they are that young. It's just not necessary, and I know this by experience.

  7. A kiss is a token of affection. (Making out being an expression of sexual desire.) I'd be concerned for a couple who has never kissed prior to becoming husband and wife. Of course, every couple and circumstance is different yadda yadda.

  8. I agree with you here Michelle. I do not see anything wrong with kissing. I think it is important for parents to discuss standards with their children of what is appropriate and not.

  9. I think ultimately, this is an issue that should be prayerfully decided by teens with their parents' help. I certainly was not an "altar-kisser" (as we like to refer to it in the South, where it is very popular among evangelical Christians!), but I also didn't date in high school. I decided pretty early on that I wanted my high school years to be about me, about developing my interests and passions, and not about obsessing over a boy. When I got to college I made the transition very naturally to dating more seriously, dated a few guys, found my husband, and got married two days after I turned 20. (So I certainly don't feel like my marriage was delayed because I had to learn dating!) Were there things that were slightly more complicated for me because I did it that way? Yeah, sure. For instance, when my husband and I became official boyfriend/girlfriend/going steady, it took me a LONG time to get used to not being my own single and fancy free self. However, I never had to worry about getting too intimate with somebody who wasn't worth it, and I never had to feel like I'd wasted my time on dumb relationships. In my experience, after watching most of my friends, the majority (not all, but a lot) of high school relationships are born of insecurity rather than real affection. I'm not at ALL sad to have passed that by. I feel like I had a vibrant, wonderful high school experience and got to college with a lot better idea of what I wanted to do with my life than many of my friends.

    Like I said – I think that it is a decision that is personal and individual… just speaking up and saying that I do think it's possible not to really date in high school and still have wonderful relationships later. πŸ˜‰

  10. For me personally, I didn't want to kiss anyone while in high school because for me, a kiss meant a lot of commitment and I didn't want to get involved in that prematurely when I felt like the guys I wanted to date still had missions to go on. But after that, I was most upset when guys would kiss me way before I was ready, and actually, that was usually the death of the relationship after that.

  11. I have two wonderful teenage daughters and sons 13 and 9. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this very issue. I had a steady, non-member girlfriend and we had a very enjoyable personal and physical relationship in high school that was within Church standards. That relationship was a blessing to me. My wife also dated a lot before we met and married. She clearly know how to kiss when we started dating, and it was great! What has surprised me is that, although I have thought about this a lot, my children don't really seem to care about the "wisdom" I have as much as I believe they should. Of Course. I wholeheartedly agree that it is dangerous to set two many rules over and above FSOY. Still, I can imagine inspired parents setting specific boundaries for their children. I think that it is also valuable to teach correct principles, show love for them and faith in them, and then, as Joseph said, let them screw up for themselves. (I'm not sure I got that quote right…)

  12. Good points and it sounds like most readers are in agreement. I have shared this quote with my young women, though it was actually delivered to a group of RM's so perhaps that would make a difference. I like it though. It's from President Kimball (interestingly, in 1959!) "… a kiss is an evidence of affection. A kiss is an evidence of love, not an evidence of lust — but it can be. Don't ever let a kiss in your courtship spell lust. Necking and petting are lustful; they are not love. I don't mind your kissing each other after you have had several dates, but not the 'Hollywood kiss,' not the kiss of passion, but the kiss of affection and there won't be any trouble. Now remember these things." An address delivered by Elder Spencer W. Kimball January 2, 1959.

  13. We have lots of puzzle-like discussions as a family because I think it's CRITICAL for kids to learn how to process what others say, to know that they will hear a lot of different opinions through their lives. I think it's a bit of a skill they can develop to try to get to the heart of the matter, to get to the principle, and then prayerfully figure out how to best apply that principle with God's help.

    So, actually, I don't think the answer here is to promote kissing to counteract the GA's comments, but to encourage, as you say, focusing on the standards as they are taught, and then to seek personal revelation and wisdom. Imo, if we acknowledge that they will run into this kind of thing their whole lives it doesn't have to be that big of a deal. They can learn to discern general principle from personal opinion from specific, inspired guidance via someone with stewardship (e.g., inspired bishop's counsel or local leaders' invitations/counsel given in a local meeting, etc).

    FWIW, on the subject of kissing, though, interestingly, such personal interpretation can go the other direction. On this issue, my parents went the other direction, so worried about me 'freaking out' when I got married that they encouraged me to 'not worry about it so much.' I was a good girl (the hyper-conscious kind – I know, it's a shocker) and so I never got into trouble, but I pushed lines even with 'just kissing' that I wish I hadn't. Kissing IS fun — sometimes way too easily can become too much fun very quickly! Pres. Kimball's teachings were always with me, but my parents' counsel didn't square with that and it was confusing. It took me a long time to finally learn from experience that I was happier when I decided to follow my conscience rather than my parents' more lackadaisical attitude (which was the attitude of most of the people around me…my husband's caution in this regard was one of the things that attracted me to him).

    Anyway, that's a roundabout way of saying it can go both ways. I want my kids to know the standards (as you mention in your post), and then learn to trust themselves and the Spirit to help them figure out specifics.

  14. I think that kissing is something that can be taken to the extreme in either way–either with too much kissing or none at all. When my husband and I started dating, he expressed the wish to have that first kiss over the altar. I absolutely didn't agree. (That is a lot of ground to cover on the wedding night. . . )

    We compromised with kissing, within reason, and following rules that made sense for our relationship during our courtship.

  15. I agree… But. Is everyone commenting from Utah? I spent my dating years in Utah where kissing and not much more was possible. Now I have a dating age daughter and live far from Utah. There are not many options in the range of intimacy. My daughter has stepped away from dating entirely because her peers date exclusively and intense intimacy is assumed. Even the few boys in our ward/stake/school that would uphold good dating standards have girlfriends or don't date at all. I would love my daughter to have an opportunity for just kissing, but the kind of dating atmosphere that allows for it (where we live) is nearly extinct.

  16. Jendoop–I grew up outside of Utah and this sort of high school dating culture was already extinct 20 years ago when I started high school. I didn't date in high school, group or otherwise. There were only a few LDS kids in my high school and we didn't go out. The non-LDS kids didn't really 'date' in the sense of going out to do stuff with other people; they 'hooked up' or 'went out', which mostly meant hanging out with each other and engaging in sexual activity. I went to BYU, but no one there asked me out either. I was 23 before I ever had a boyfriend and ever kissed anyone, so my ex-husband was the only person I have ever dated or kissed. I do wish that I could have had more dating experiences and more experiences just interacting with boys in general, but there's not much I can do about that now. I hope my kids have more opportunities than I did to just be friends with other people and to date, and maybe even to kiss a few people too.

  17. I had a guy I was dating break up with me on part because I "shouldn't kiss until I am ready to date exclusively." There is no real middle ground with people any more. If you date more than once, it's exclusive. I have decided no more exclusive until I am essentially engaged. Which is probably why I'll be single from now on.

  18. Jessie – your comment made me feel better cause I said "Oh good! I'm not the only one!" I was also shy in high school and didn't date much. (Overcoming shyness was so hard!) I had my first boyfriend and first kiss when I was 24. I was delighted that I'd made it before I turned 25. Phew.

    Personally, I love kissing. I don't see anything wrong with it and I wish that I'd had more experience in high school and early college years. (I'm 27 now.)

    I think that waiting to kiss over the alter is ridiculous. I remember when one of my friends and I tried dating and when we kissed I instantly knew it would never work. He wasn't a bad kisser. There was just no "spark." Since I'd already felt those "fireworks" with my previous boyfriend, I noticed it's absence immediately. Kissing is an important part of a relationship.

    SilverRain – Agreed. I'll probably be single forever as well. :p

  19. I knew a girl who wanted her first kiss to be over the altar at BYU. I thought it odd because her fiance had kissed other girls before, so it was a one-sided thing actually. Needless to say, they had their first child 9 months after their sealing date. I thought that was a bit much physical action for a 12-hour time period! Moderation in all things, right?!

  20. Michelle…I knew I always liked you.

    I once attended a fireside as a youth where we were explicitly told, among other things, that if we had ever kissed someone with more passion than we would use to kiss our mother we had deeply sinned and needed to see the Bishop. I left feeling worthless. I had already kissed a couple of boys with more intensity than I would use toward my mother (who I would not have kissed on the mouth at all or even the cheek when I was past about the age of 6). It was very troubling to me, as someone who was trying to do the right things in my life. As word got out, parents in the ward were frustrated at this fire and brimstone talk from a well-meaning brother who went too far. I learned a lot through that (including the fact that I had not seriously sinned and did not need to hang out with my Bishop).

    My 2 cents is that there are all-people commandments, and personal commandments. It is in our best interest to always uphold and stand behind the all-people commandments, and do our best to respect that personal commandments vary. This means we should follow the ones we receive, and respect the possibility that another solution is right for someone else.

    I think this GA meant well in sharing his suggestion, but I don't think it universally applies to all people, and I bet he doesn't think so either.

    FSOY has the all-people standards in it. Can kissing be a healthy part of teenage dating? Absolutely. We all know the difference between the kind of kissing you are talking about and the getting into trouble kind. Is it possible that someone might feel inspired that waiting for them is best? Sure.

    As for my own 5.5 children…I'm still at a place of denial that they will ever grow up. πŸ˜‰ My oldest starts middle school in the fall and I am terrified to tackle the future dating dramas of four teenage daughters. I hear my son will be the pillar of strength at that time.

    I think the thing more than anything else I want for my children is to help them learn to identify the spirit. I want them to know the standards, but more than that, I want them to know why we have them, and to pay attention to how their heart feels about the choices they make. I think the transition from chaste before marriage to full fidelity in marriage would be easier if we focused on teaching our children that intimacy is a gift and blessing and will bring joy when experienced in the proper boundaries. I'd like to skip the fire and brimstone altogether, and allow room for a little hand holding and kissing along the way.

  21. "We all know the difference between the kind of kissing you are talking about and the getting into trouble kind."

    Hehe. I think you are actually giving more credit to teens than they deserve. (or some adults for that matter!) I think the benefit of the FTSOY standard is that it encourages teens (and adults, for that matter) to understand their bodies and to learn to bridle their passions. My parents, for example, would laugh when I talked with them about the response (ahem) of some of the boys I kissed. (I think they thought they were so open about sex. I was clueless about what was going on.) IMO, they should have taught me to respect the power of these emotions and to not engage in pushing those lines (esp. as a girl where often in teens, by the time the girl is like 'whoa, we're pushing it' the guy is WAY past that point). I justified 'personal' boundaries because I was such a 'good girl' and my parents 'trusted' me. And I feel like they did me a disservice.

    Let me be clear, lest it not be clear. I'm not anti-kissing. πŸ™‚ I just don't think most kids really know what appropriate boundaries look like unless their parents teach them very clearly and are very bold about the standards and why they exist and why bridling passions is good (vs. having passions is bad). To do that in a way that doesn't shame and that can reinforce the beauty of marital intimacy is hard stuff.

  22. "I remember when one of my friends and I tried dating and when we kissed I instantly knew it would never work. He wasn’t a bad kisser. There was just no β€œspark.”"

    Ah, don't be so sure. hehe The first time I kissed my now-husband, I thought for sure it wouldn't work. πŸ˜‰

    (I also had the 'I feel ill when he even gets close to me' experience with a good friend I thought I might be able to get serious with, so I now that sometimes you just *know* it's not going to work. But I will go on record saying that I think sometimes spark can be overrated. I loved the recent Josh Weed story that showed how the sexual passion came as a result of the full measure of intimacy in the relationship, not as something that just 'happened' between them instantly. This is the approach I'm taking with my kids…trying to teach it as part of a whole, not something isolated as its own thing.)

    And yes, I know I'm commenting too much. It's a topic I feel strongly about, obviously.

  23. As I think about the FTSOY pamphlet, I really think that it is meant to be studied with teens and parents so that you can discuss the standards and it becomes a family standard as opposed to an artificial standard enforced by church. I think it serves as a mean to open up discussions about standards and behaviors that teens and parents might not have.

    As much as I adore my parents and think they did a great job parenting, they didn't do such a good job talking about standards, kissing, or sex. For me, the FSOY was really valuable. But I think I need to be more proactive as a parent, and I feel that the pamphlet is a wonderful tool to use to talk with my kids about what I expect from them. It also serves as a way to discuss the topics in a deeper way.

  24. I've only kissed one other person besides my husband, and I really wish I hadn't kissed that guy. That was all kinds of wrong and the relationship with him is one of the few regrets I have in my life.

    That being said, I kissed my husband on our first date.

    I went on three dates in high school. All were forgettable. I went out regularly with one guy my freshman year of college and he was just trying to "fill his canteen" before his mission, so that didn't work so well either. The rest of college was just one date here or one date there. I wasn't paralyzed from dating by standards, I just wasn't that interested in dating. I probably went on 25 first dates in my life, only five ever led to a second date. And considering I got married at 31, those dates were few and far between. But it's what worked for me.

  25. I had a seminary teacher who said he never kissed his wife before they were married. What a couple of girls in class who made a no kissing til marriage pledge missed was the smile when he said it, as before they were married she wasn't his wife.

    Personally I think that going from no kissing to full intimacy in one night is too much. It seems like you would miss the thrill of the first kiss. And yes, I'm from Utah.

  26. I think the Church's general guidelines about dating work fine. However there are sub cultures and distincly different personalities of teens that would dictate adjustments.

    My oldest two are still in primary and while one is super social, the other is shy. They're too young to notice the opposite sex (I think! I hope!) but I know their interactions will be vastly different.

    As far a sub cultures go, I was raised in a community where if two teenagers admitted they liked each other, you were going steady. If a person were to go on multiple dates with multiple people like I've been told the Utah teens do, they would quickly be labeled "easy." I had a handful of "significant others" starting at age 16. I started dating my future spouse at age 18 (we were married when I was 20). So looking back I think if I hadn't dated exclusively in high school, I wouldn't have been prepared to figure out whether I liked DH well enough to marry him at such a young age.

    And these days there is an entirely different sub-culture involving texting, skype, and online dating sites. The rules guiding teens and young singles in the virtual world completely baffle me.

    I guess my point is that what works for some won't work for others. Each member is entitled to guidance from the Holy Ghost in all decisions in life, dating decisions included.

    And to your point about over-the-pulpit comments: It must be incredibly difficult to live life as a general authority when everything one says gets scrutinized. I know if all of my comments (whether casual or over the pulpit) were dissected I'd be in big, scratch that, HUGE trouble!!!

  27. Michelle – Lol. Yes, I know a number of those stories where it went from an "ew!" to an "oh yeah!". For me, the missing spark was just one more item in the list of much bigger reasons it wasn't going to work.

    I still think kissing can and should be a vital part of the decision process. Also, as I'm currently in a dating drought, I definitely miss that physical aspect. πŸ˜‰

  28. Oh, kiss away. I told my 15 year old I'll buy him ice cream after his first kiss. Luckily, he's in a culture with his friends where steady dating doesn't happen too much, and they mostly like to group date anyway (and that's a subject for another time…why do kids need to feel guilty about falling for one in particular?) so it will be a while before I have to buy that ice cream. He still hasn't held hands with a girl, despite having many girls he's liked. There are SOME benefits to living in a sheltered, happy Utah neighborhood, and one of them is that many kids have the chance to grow up MUCH more slowly than I did in Southern California. If my mom had made me the same deal, she would have had to pay out way earlier, and I would never have told her anyway.

    I understand that there are dangers with going too far, too fast, and all that that entails. I really do. I'm not encouraging kissing just for the fun of it. But dang, I liked kissing boys. That first kiss is FUN.

    So there.

  29. Fun post, Michelle. One that sparked a great discussion. I agree that kissing is part of serious dating, of knowing if you and that person are going to have the physical synergy necessary for a happy marriage. I'll never forget my first kiss. It was Doug. And I was mortified. Thank goodness, he wasn't! πŸ˜‰

  30. This reminded me of what my dad used to say "I never kissed my wife till we were married" Us quick witted kids caught on really quick that he did kiss mom, she just wasn't his wife until they were wed. Silly dad. πŸ™‚


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