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June 07, 2006



Hugo, do you have any idea how much your views on things have liberated me this semester? Thank you, thank you, thank you! And to think that I thought you would be disappointed in me for being an "anything but" girl. Foolish me! He writes a blog about it that makes me smile instead. :-)

Your stance on this issue makes me weep with relief inside. I had never thought of doing "anything but" in this way - I always assumed that I had lack of self-control. I even wrote to Focus on the Family and explained that I was in a long-term relationship and didn't know how what I should do with my hormones and love for my boyfriend. "Self-control" they advised. And sent me some more purity books, books that only made me more guilt-ridden inside. (I thank them for their time and concern, though!).

So I always looked at being an "anything but" girl as something to be ashamed of, as if it marked a lack of self-control. But, come on! After four years with my boyfriend, I was sick of feeling like a sinner after we had, well, done something. I was sick of feeling like my choices weren't Christian. I was tired of the guilt, and just wished those hormones would go away and make it all easier! Or my boyfriend and I could win the lotto and get married, and then EVERYTHING would be fine!

And here comes Hugo, who writes this liberating, refreshing, practical and even spiritually renewing blog that aides in changing my outlook on the whole issue of "anything but." You're a blessing. To know that I am making the RIGHT and reasonable choice is downright liberating and just... wow! Thanks so much, Hugo! Thank you.



I think that this position makes a lot of sense for many a young heterosexual, Christian or not. But what of your gay or lesbian students or youth who in general are already given enough guilt messages by Christians simply for existing and need just as much as heterosexuals helpful guides in ordering our relational lives. Vaginal penetration as the creme de la creme of intimacy doesn't quite work in defining how we do "everything but", though I think the notion itself has merit. I might point out also that I know a number of heterosexual young women who had regular anal sex with their boyfriends to preserve their virginity. This too is penetrative, and were I to advocate an "everything but" ethos for gay males, I would say that that is the stopping point, but then not all gay men have anal sex, preferring other expressions of intimacy.

I remember having a long conversation with a good friend of mine and devout Roman Catholic who stood alongside me in my coming out process. He said he'd never had sex, but he had had oral sex with his girlfriends. "I said that of course oral sex was sex." As a gay man, oral sex is still sex, perhaps and perhaps not of the same intimacy level, depends, at least on the level of commitment between the two. I think a question I have always asked myself with regard to sex and relationships is "Where is this going?"


Mermade, I'm so glad that this was helpful.

Christopher, you're right -- I am writing for heterosexuals. Were I to write for gay or lesbian youth, and perhaps I will, I would write something quite different. BTW, the NCHS report noted much lower rates of anal sex among teens than oral sex.



I have to agree with Christopher on this one, but add that saying "I am writing for heterosexuals." when you are teaching christian teens is a form of self delusion on your part. I was that Christian teen, I went to the Christian school and yes, 10% of us were gay. And every time some Christian teacher talked about how sex was the gift God gives when a man and women are united before him what I heard was "Why don't you kill yourself, cause you're never going to please God (who can read your inner thoughts)."

As it happened, my partner and I, both raised extremely conservative Christians kissed for the first time in our lives when commited ourselves to each other and had sex for the first time when we moved in together. I don't consider that making us special or holier in God's eyes at all. In fact, knowing the fagility of a young lesbian relationship with all the stresses against it - I recommend getting what love a person can, and if it works out evermore - fantastic, but if it works out for 6 months, or 1 year or 2 years then try again.

As for heterosexual christians and thier view the as there isn't vaginal penetration it isn't sex - it is clear hypocracy, and I suprised that you would endorse it. Certainly Christians have and continue to assume that when gay or lesbians hold hands or kiss that it is "sexual" but not when heterosexual christians do it? To stand up and say, "Don't have sex because that is your choice, or because of STD or pregnancy" is something I commend. But to stand there pretending that God somehow cares one way or another if the hyman is broken before a ceremony or after it (when for instance I Corinthians states that every time you sleep with a prostitutes you get "married") or even to fool ourselves that this will be the only person that they ever sleep with is a dream that the previous generation wants to believe (even though they know it is statistically unlikely). Why support such rampant enforcement of desires of "the simple times" parading as values is beyond me.


the way in which we imbue intercourse with a deeper meaning that other forms of sexual intimacy is fascinating to me. on the one hand, i can see a lot of logical reasons for it: a religious basis, a procreative basis, and pop-culture basis, and probably more.

on the other hand, in my own experience, i ended up finding that i didn't respond emotionally along those same lines. though this is probably (as the kids say!) TMI, i had intercourse years before i ever gave a boyfriend oral sex. i was far less comfortable, personally, with the idea of giving a blow job than i was with the idea of penetration! i found it funny even then, but i couldn't shake it, so i had to allow myself more time to get comfortable with the idea of oral sex than i did for intercourse.

i don't really know what that means in the context of the elevated position of intercourse in society today. i just wonder if more people maybe personally find, when the time comes around for them, that the hierarchy doesn't really resonate with them? (now, for me, i wasn't also dealing with competing fidelity to living according to christian tenets, so it was pretty easy for me to just invert the order and move on! but for others, i'm sure that would be more difficult.)


Kate, I wonder if that isn't a generational thing! The research suggests that the average age at first intercourse has gone UP since the 1980s -- but the number of kids who have had oral sex has also gone up.


i agree with elizabeth on this one.

esp, if you are going to say one standard for homosexuals and another standard for heterosexuals. if you're straight you can have oral sex, but if you're gay you can only hold hands and get married if you live in massachusetts for the rest?

further, if sex in the context of a relationship is supposed to be more about the intimacy than the act than there seems to be nothing special about vaginal penetration by a penis.

and, as a christian, i think that 'keeping the law' is more about intent than actual acts. if the intent of doing "everything but" is strictly to get around the 'law' of not having sex before marriage, that strikes me as being a bit like a pharisee.


Folks, I wrote this for the kids I work with day in and day out. I was not coming up with an all-encompassing theory of sexuality. I work in "the trenches" with teens and young adults with real questions -- and I wrote this as much for them as for anyone else.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I kind of sympathize with Hugo here, since "everything but" and only for a serious relationship is the rule I settled on for myself, after losing my virginity didn't work out so well. I think it can be a fine place to draw the line outside of marriage, and that the possibility of pregnancy (even with birth control) provides realistic grounds for making a distinction between that form of intimacy and others. And it just plain worked better for me personally than either just waiting till I was really, really in love to have sexual intercourse or waiting until I was married to kiss.

At the same time, "everything but" is a form of sex, and the fact that you're not having intercourse doesn't mean you evade all the other sexual risks and ethics that apply. (And that's not getting into the gay and lesbian issues.) For those other issues, I like *Christopher's "Where is this going" question.


Thanks, Lynn. Let me be clear that I'm not suggesting that "everything but" isn't sex. But not all sex is the same -- and heterosexual sex that stops short of intercourse has its own value, its own meaning, and its own role to play, especially in the lives of the young. Frankly, some old married people might do well to remember the intensity of the time when they did "everything but"! Much to be said for the virtues of making out and heavy petting.


Mixed feelings about this one. I think your realistic, sympathetic attitude about teenage sexuality is great-- you seem to recognize that demonizing the desire for intimacy outside of marriage will neither make it go away nor particularly help those who are experiencing it. I'd be a lot more comfortable with Christian rhetoric about sexuality if more of it sounded like this.

Still, I must admit that I have misgivings about the idea of "everything but" being promoted as just a phase or an intermediate step on the way to full intimacy and sexuality (i.e. intercourse). It may be necessary to set other forms of physical intimacy apart from intercourse in order for this theory to make sense in a Christian context, but I wonder if this can be done without making a superior-inferior value judgment. As someone who really, really doesn't want to deal with a pregnancy situation under any circumstances (mostly for psychological reasons that I don't see changing anytime soon), I've decided that "everything but" is pretty much where I draw the line-- any pleasure or added intimacy that may or may not result from intercourse isn't worth the days or weeks of anxiety that usually follow. (On a related note, I really don't think it's coincidental that the only act we as a society accept as "true intimacy" is one with a significantly higher risk factor for women than for men. The idea that pleasure is invalid unless it involves the possibility of sacrifice on the woman's part is pretty twisted.) And yeah, that's the point I'm at right now as a young unmarried woman, but barring a significant change in my outlook, it may very well be the point I'm at permanently.

Despite the fact that I know this is the right decision for me, I still struggle with uncertainty about whether what I'm doing "counts" as real intimacy, whether I'm "missing something," if my partner is really satisfied/if possible future partners will be satisfied with it, etc. Though I can't say for sure, I really doubt it's biological, not when there's so much out there saying that sex = intercourse and everything else is just foreplay/a placeholder/"everything but"/etc. So I can't help wincing when that particular discourse is perpetuated, even if it's for a comparatively good cause, and even if I can't really think of an effective way to justify non-intercourse sexual intimacy outside marriage in a Christian context without setting up intercourse as "special" somehow.


Keri, all good points. See my comment above yours.


Yeah, just read that-- I'm still kind of puzzled, though. You say "not all sex is the same"-- what implications does that have in a practical context? Are we talking physically or emotionally here? Physical differences are of course difficult to dispute, but your point seems to rest on the idea that there are significant emotional differences between intercourse and other sexual acts, and I'm not sure how to reconcile that with the idea that they're equally valid forms of intimacy. Wouldn't it then follow that a couple who has penetrative sex has achieved a higher level of intimacy and emotional committment than a couple who does not? (I suppose one could argue that it's a different level, not necessarily a higher one, but then why would it be important to "save" intercourse for the stability and committment of marriage?)

I don't mean to be interrogative here-- mostly I'm just curious about how this plays out. Like Kate above, I find social attitudes about sexuality a really interesting (if often frustrating) topic.



Point taken.

So how would you apply this to your queer youth or students? To not so do is to assume there aren't any among those whom you serve in the trenches. I understand the need to address matters in the trenches, having been a youth leader myself, but by writing this this with the assumption of heterosexuality for all of your youth and students, you assume that you don't have any budding homosexuals or bisexuals amongst them.

Too many queer folk experience this type of stuff in youth groups in Churches and whatnot, self included, especially when the topic of sex and relationships and marriage come up. I can relate with what elizabeth wrote having grown up in Pentecostal circles: And every time some Christian teacher talked about how sex was the gift God gives when a man and women are united before him what I heard was "Why don't you kill yourself, cause you're never going to please God (who can read your inner thoughts)." Yep. Ditto. And it isn't clear Episcopal parishes are generally better on that score in dealing with queer youth.

What I'm asking is how do you know some of the "them" for whom you're writing are not queer or questioning? I didn't think you were writing an all-encompassing theory of sexuality, but I do think that addressing matters this way makes some folks invisible, often those most likely to be feeling alone or lost on such matters.


In other words, what you have done here is assume all youth are heterosexual.


No, I haven't done that, Christopher. I'm writing in response to questions from heterosexual youth. Look, I'll happily put up a post about working with glbq kids, but this wasn't it and it wasn't intended to be it. It's not a deliberate (or an accidental) oversight -- it's a post about straight kids struggling to figure out sexual boundaries. Because of the cultural issues around vaginal intercourse, it's going to be different for queer kids -- and they deserve their own post.

Folks, can we talk about the merits of what I've actually been talking about here? I promise to address gay and lesbian teens and sex sometime soon, but let's leave it out of this thread.

Keri, I do believe that for any number of reasons -- spiritual, procreative, cultural -- there is something clearly "special" about intercourse that separates it from other forms of sexual activity. Many folks will also, for a variety of reasons, see intercourse as fundamentally more intimate than other kinds of sex. Others won't. The point is not to devalue other kinds of genital sexual expression, but to recognize that there is something "different" (and, as you point out) riskier about vaginal intercourse.


Like Hugo, I teach sexuality education to teens in my church. I see where Hugo's coming from and certainly I agree that for some persons "everything but" is the best possible choice.

Fundamentally, I agree with Hugo, but I would add some nuances that feel to me very important.

Our Whole Lives (which I teach) has two workshops specifically about intimacy which invite participants to consider whether intimacy is a process of moving toward vaginal intercourse or whether it can be realized through physical acts that are not explicitly sex acts - e.g. sitting in a hammock together, shopping, conversation, massage. The workshops lead to a discussion about intimacy versus sex acts. The second workshop includes a wide array of specific acts (both sexual and sensual) and asks participants to consider if they would do them with someone they just met, someone they are dating casually, someone they are dating seriously and with their life partner or spouse. Participants are able to explore the idea of intimacy and see that it can be achieved both through sexuality and sensuality, as well as emotional intimacy. At the end of these workshops, participants no longer see sex as the only expression of intimacy, but as one of many valid expressions.

The other aspect that is included in the sexuality curriculum I am familiar with is the idea that a just sexual morality does not permit us to hold double standards. So, rather than speak about vaginal intercourse as the holy grail sex, I try to be clear in speaking about sexuality as one expression of intimacy between persons. Certainly, I am also clear that the exact physical aspects of sex between male-female couples, male-male couples and female-female couples may differ due to physiology, but the acts themselves are less intimate. I believe it's a mistake to see and represent vaginal intercourse as the highest form of physical intimacy. Itentionally or not, it sends the message that relationships should be directed toward that single expression of sexuality. I prefer to talk about sexuality as both means to achieving and expression of emotional intimacy and it can expressed in the way appropriate to the persons involved.

I agree with Hugo that there are many gradations of physical/sexual intimacy and it is appropriate to permit individuals to find the level at which they are comfortable. But, I would not suggest that one form of physical intimacy is inherently preferable to others.


An amazing post Hugo!


I guess I'm more willing than you are, Glen, to see vaginal intercourse --for heterosexuals -- as a kind of unique and special culmination. Kids already seem to know this, and not merely because of our culture and our churches, but because it is a nearly universally understood notion. I do ask them to broaden and deepen their understanding of sex -- but I am not going to shy away from the reality that for its procreative potential as well as for its enormous cultural meaning, intercourse is different.

If we teach that intercourse is just another act (albeit one with a unique risk), we risk belittling the concerns of those young people who do passionately believe that it is different and special.


Hugo, it's fine for you to write a post aimed solely at heterosexual youth. But at no point on your post did you say that was what you were doing. At no point until it was brought up in the comments did you explicitly recognise that queer youth exist, and face a different set of issues and challeges when it comes to sex and relationships and religion. Your implication is that if you don't state who something is for then it is just aimed at heterosexuals. And that's a classic example of straight privilege. What you ommit is important, if only because it reveals your assumptions.
You say you'll write another post for 'gays and lesbians'. And bisexuals, please.
It is incredibly alienating to read something, particularly from someone whose opinion that you respect, that ignores the fact that you exist.


I like this way of looking at such a controversial issue. It's certainly very creative, but I wonder if it really works. I wonder if "anything but" would actually work between two people that are in close contact with each other. I think it is certainly a great alternative for relationships that are in the "getting to know you stage."


Addressing the strictly heterosexual aspects - Hugo do you realize that the vaginal/penis as sex model is one which assumes that sex only occurs if the male orgasms inside the female vagina. Do you really see a woman responding to her male partner in prolonged sexual contact by coming to full and repeated orgasms as "a virgin"?


I cannot comment on the religious message of "anything but" as a person working in the HIV/STD field for the last 16 years I would say that "anything but" can be an appropriate risk reduction message for both straight and queer male youth.

It does, in fact reduce the risk of HIV infection and virtually eliminates the risk of pregnancy. It is also far more practical to educate all youth and let them make informed decisions than enforce an abstinence only message and assume that hormonally volatile kids are going to follow 100%.


Lisa, I can think of half a dozen young couples I know who have been "everything-butting" it for years. One couple -- I'll call 'em Dave and Donna -- are both 22 (23?). They are planning to get married in 2007. They have been together since junior year high school (almost six years), they are both Christians (they were in Campus Crusade), and they were both my students at PCC. In the course of taking my women's history class, they shared their "status" as doing "everything but" with me...

Donna and Dave keep in touch, and Donna took my gay and lesbian history class last fall. They are a bright, interesting couple who are choosing to "wait" in their own infinitely creative way. They have my great admiration.


Hugo, I couldn't agree more with your point about the value of "everything but."

However, I'm quite concerned about the gender specificity of your speech about what God wants that young woman to have "inside" her. (Does God object to tampons?) It seems to perpetuate what I see as destructive social messages about the importance of female (but not male) virginity.

How would you rephrase your message for a young man who came to you with the same concerns?

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