That’s a difficult question and one that my FI and I have struggled with, too. I guess all I can do is share my own experience.
I was pretty conservative growing up and only dated one other guy besides my FI. For me, sex was always taboo until marriage. But growing up, I had no idea how fuzzy that line could get between what was okay and what was not okay (I always thought that you either had sex or you didn’t, and that was all there was to it :-P). I thought there was kissing and there was sex and that was about it (no idea the progression between those two). I had heard about people waiting to kiss until their wedding day and I thought that was really neat, but it wasn’t necessarily for me. When I started dating my first boyfriend, though, I thought about it and decided I wanted to save that for the man I was going to marry. I went through this whole progession of trying to decide when that would be okay: when I knew he was “the one”?….when we were engaged?….and finally, after seeing how things escalate physically, deciding I wanted to just wait until my wedding day. So my first boyfriend and I never even kissed.
When I started dating my FI, we sat down and discussed those boundaries. At that point I told him that I didn’t want to kiss until my wedding day and that all I was okay with at that point was brief hugs, and he gladly agreed. As our relationship progressed, though, the physical side of it did, too (which I guess is natural), and at one point we kissed, even though we’d decided not to. That brought on all sorts of guilt and I struggled for quite a while on whether we should just go ahead and kiss then since no matter what we did, my wedding day wasn’t going to be my first kiss (honestly, I grieved a lot over that and regretted crossing even that line). We eventually decided to stick to the no-kissing rule. But about a month after we were engaged we decided together that we were okay with kissing at that point.We decided that things that showed affection were okay for us, but things that aroused were not okay (and while that may be a fine line to walk, I think most of us know when we’ve crossed it).
What we discovered, though, was that, for us, kissing really opened the door for things to escalate physically, and once we’d compromised on that, we had trouble drawing the line anymore (I understand better now why Song of Songs says “Don’t awaken or arouse love before it’s time”). The more we compromised, the easier it was to compromise further (isn’t that how sin works, though?). We have not had sex, but as my FI said once (we confessed all this to an older couple who’s been mentoring us): “Our clothes have stayed on, but that’s about the only redeeming thing.”
For us, our engagment has been marked by a lot of struggle and guilt because of the physical side of things, not just because we do things that others say are wrong (like kissing), but even more so because we set boundaries for ourselves and then compromised them. And when I see my FI’s guilt over this, I know that allowing or encouraging things to go past those boundaries is the most UNLOVING thing I could do for the man that I truly do love.
So at this point we’ve decided not to kiss anymore until our wedding day. Not because I think it’s wrong or a sin, but because for us, it led us to places that were sin and bound us by a lot of guilt and we want to protect each other from that. We’re not perfect and we still struggle — and sometimes fall — in our efforts to stay pure, and we have to fall back on the grace and forgiveness of God. But we’re trying to trust that God forgives us and knows that our hearts are to honor him and each other with our actions and our bodies.
So I guess all that is to say, it’s up to you and your FI (with the help of God) to decide what’s okay and what’s not okay for you, but I’m an advocate for saving as much as you can for marriage. And I say that as one who didn’t save all that much and regrets it.
Some good advice I read once by Joshua Harris (the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” which challenges the typical dating model in our culture) was to keep in mind that the longer your list of things that are okay before the wedding is, the shorter a list you’ll have for whats special for just marriage.