Pairing Off: Pairing Off: Counsel for Latter-day Saint singles on kissing

Published: Thursday, April 14 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Kissing has been prostituted and has degenerated to develop and express lust instead of affection, honor and admiration. To kiss in casual dating is asking for trouble. What do kisses mean when handed out like pretzels and robbed of sacredness?”

If you're like me, your first response was probably, "Who goes around handing out pretzels?" The answer is, of course, pretzel vendors. Which means that President Kimball was simply giving a much-needed reiteration of the Biblical ban on prostitution.

Actually, I put some thought into this, and I believe President Kimball’s point was that pretzels are a trifling snack attributing no emotional significance. For example, suppose I had this bag of pretzels, which is nearly as endless as my capacity to kiss. Unscrupulously, I would gladly share this bag with anyone. Shucks, I’d share this bag of pretzels all evening with a stranger I fully intended to never see again. I believe this is the attitude President Kimball meant to discourage us from applying to kissing.

How is one to avoid prostituting kisses or using them to express lust rather than affection? LDS.org uses the term “passionate kissing” to describe kissing that crosses the line. But, like President Kimball’s kissing quote, I’m not sure we all know what “passionate kissing” means. After much Googling, I mainly came up with revealed definitions for what passionate kissing is not.

President Kimball’s quote goes on to explain the bounds of appropriate kissing: “Even if timely courtship justifies the kiss, it should be a clean, decent, sexless one like the kiss between mother and son, or father and daughter.” Advising us on how to put this into practice, an institute teacher once said a couple should share no more than three kisses per night for no more than three seconds each. As no kiss I have shared with my mother or any relative, actually, has even approached three seconds, I’m not quite sure how to connect those two bits of advice.

Elder Richard G. Scott counseled youths to “keep your expressions of feelings to those that are comfortable in the presence of your parents.” I ran this by a newly temple-married friend of mine who told me that her parents had never seen her and her husband kiss except over the altar. (Although, she forgot to mention her engagement photos, in which their passion for kissing was advertised to us all.) The application of this counsel seems to depend on how comfortable you are with public (or familial) displays of affection.

I was recently explaining the LDS dating standards from this site to a friend of another faith who instantly picked up on the ambiguity of the term “passionate kissing.” “I don’t think I’d like to be kissed in any other way,” she protested. This led to a discussion on how the word “passion” ought to be defined.

The dictionary provides us two slightly different definitions for "passion" that I think are worth differentiating: 1) "any powerful or compelling emotion, as love or hate," and 2) "strong sexual desire; lust." I would posit that powerful and compelling emotions such as love are and should be an important part of romance, courtship and eventual marriage. In fact, I believe that a kiss devoid of compelling emotion toward the other party might be the epitome of casual kissing. To quote President Kimball directly: Dont just dip into your bag of salted kisses willy-nilly, guys. Put some meaning into it. Lust and sexual desire, though, are to be avoided.

Some LDS dating standards seem to be created less because the activities are wrong in and of themselves, and more because they help us avoid next-step wrong behavior. For example, we’re counseled not to lie down with a date. But I presume that simply lying down with another person isn’t the problem or necessarily wrong. I believe the point is that if you never lie down with your date, you two are much less likely to have sex.

The same is true with passionate kissing. If you keep your kissing free from lust, you’re very unlikely to experience a hormonal override of rational thought. Additionally, your relationship is more likely to maintain a balance of emotional, spiritual and physical aspects. I think this is sort of the point of Jesus’ admonition that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Physical attraction is, of course, all well and good, but lending undue gravity to physical attraction can shift a relationship’s focus and stunt its emotional and spiritual progress.

I’m not going to go into any more detail or define lust for you. What I will say, though, is that I am grateful to have a prophet who cares enough about young single adults to provide us with dating standards. What a blessing it is to have guidelines that help us keep the spirit of the Lord with us in such weighty matters as dating and marriage.

Julia Shumway grew up in Centerville, Utah, and is studying maternal and child epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Her column, “Pairing Off,” explores the intricacies of the Mormon YSA experience. She’d love for you to contact her with your dating stories, questions and complaints at jshumway@mormontimes.com.

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