I was just wondering, in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship what is considered "too far?" I'm referring to touching breasts, genital touching, oral sex, and the like. Is touching OK if all clothing is still on? Is seeing one's undergarments a sin? For me, personally, all forms of sex are sex and are forbidden, but touching one's breasts does not seem to be a big deal to me. These are things that don't seem to be clear in the Bible and many other churches and Christians have multiple opinions on these issues. It has me really confused!
It doesn't happen too often, but you managed to write your question just generically enough that I can't conclude whether I'm addressing a male or a female. I usually tailor my answers to emphasize my points, but in this case, I will be limited to a generic response.
It is not that the Bible isn't clear on these matters. What generally happens is that people ignore what God has said because it doesn't match what they want to be told. You can always find someone who tells you what you want to hear. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4). So, let's focus on what God has said.
"Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband" (I Corinthians 7:1-2).
Because the context deals with sexual immorality and sex within marriage, the type of touching Paul is referring to is sexual touching -- that is touches which one or both people involved find sexually arousing. Males and females find different events to be sexually arousing and frequently are surprised that a person of the opposite sex doesn't see matters the same way they do. Males tend to be more visually oriented; that is, things that they see are more likely to set them off sexually. Females tend to be more verbally oriented; that is, what a person says, especially combined with a person's body language is what they find arousing. Both men and women find touch to be stimulating, though a woman's body responds to touch more slowly than a man's.
Frequently people tend to discount anything that they personally have not experienced. Two people could ride a roller coaster and one comment, "I was scared nearly to death!" And the other person will say, "You're kidding! You couldn't have been scared. That ride was great!" The second person doesn't accept or believe the first person's feelings as being honest because he did not feel the same thing.
I've run across a lot of women who respond the same way to men's sexual reactions. Because it didn't cause a sexual response in them, they assume that the men are exaggerating or lying about their own sexual feelings. Men do the same thing with women, but it is usually over a situation, such as a "chick flick." They can't figure out why the women are swooning over the lead man. He doesn't look all that handsome and the plot was so boring! So where are the women finding romance?
To claim that nothing happened because I didn't think any improper thoughts or feel any improper emotions is a selfish view of your responsibilities. Cain once asked of God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). The answer he didn't want to hear is, "yes." "Doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
When you state that you see all forms of sex outside of marriage as wrong, but then ask about sexual touching while still clothed, or seeing someone in their underwear, it tells me that instead of trying to stay as far away from sin as you can, you are curious where is the line and how close you can get to the line without crossing over. What you don't consider is that there is someone with you and you aren't considering whether you are pushing them over the line.
All regions of the body are sensitive to touch, but there are certain regions that trigger sexual connotations to that touch. The genital area between the legs is obviously one of them, but it is not the only one. The nipple region of the breasts is another one, especially for women because they have a lot of nerve endings there. Men have some sensual feelings in their nipples, but not nearly to the extent women do. It is the highly sensitive regions which we keep covered (or I should say, supposed to keep covered). That is why the Bible refers to the exposure of those regions as "naked." That is why Adam and Eve hid from God even though they were wearing "mini-skirts" of fig leaves (Genesis 3:10). It was why God stated His altar could not be placed above ground level, in case someone might see up under the priest's robes. "Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it" (Exodus 20:26). Even the exposure of the breasts, for women at least, is considered nakedness (Ezekiel 16:7).
Sexual acts outside of marriage are sinful and are covered under the word "fornication." In Greek, the word is porneia. It is from this word we get our word "pornography" which literally means acts of fornication depicted in a visual or written way. Many new translations use the vaguer phrase "sexual immorality" or sometimes just "immorality" to translate porneia because they believe "fornication" is an outdated word that people won't understand. As Glendol McClure notes, "The term 'fornication' generally refers to unlawful sexual intercourse between the unmarried, but the term is also applied to include illicit sexual intercourse between two people who are married. The term fornication would include incest, prostitution, lesbianism, homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, and adultery" [Living in Adultery]. Thus when Paul states, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10). The word "fornicator" becomes the catch-all for all other types of sexual sins which are not more specifically stated in the other terms.
If we stopped there, people would conclude that as long as you didn't go up to the act of sexual sin, anything less than that would be acceptable. That is what the Jews in Jesus' day had concluded. They emphasized the wrongness of the actual act but ignored what leads up to that act. Jesus pointed out the fallacy of their position. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Sin doesn't start when you actually do something wrong, it also includes contemplating sin, such as looking at a woman wondering what she would be like in bed. "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:20-23).
Therefore, acts that cause you or the person you are with to contemplate having sex even though you are not married it is also sinful. And even though it doesn't affect you, you still share responsibility when you encourage sinful thoughts in others. (This is how porn manufacturers try to relieve themselves of responsibility, "We didn't make these people lust. We just provide material. If people abuse it, that's their fault." No, it is both parties' fault.)
To make it clear, in the New Testament there is a discussion of the problem of sensuality -- sins of the senses. It is sometimes translated as lasciviousness or lewdness. The Greek word, aselgeia, means someone who acts without a sense of shame or acts as if they have a license to sin. It is typically tied to acts of a sexual nature because it is such a strong desire in the body. In speaking of false teachers, Peter charges, "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error" (II Peter 2:18). In other words, while they speak empty words, they allure followers through sex appeal.
Two other words which also factor into this discussion appear in the following passage:
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified" (I Thessalonians 4:3-6).
Let's first define the terms:
- Sanctification: Set apart for a holy purpose. Something or someone dedicated to God.
- Abstain: Hold yourself apart from. Not participate in.
- Sexual Immorality: This is the word porneia again; that is, fornication.
- His own vessel: Your own body, viewed as the container for your spirit.
- Honor: Treating someone in regards to his true value to you.
- Passion: Strong desire for something, usually unlawful. From the Greek word, pathos, it means a desire that makes you feel like you are suffering because of it.
- Lust: A longing for something, especially something unlawful.
In other words, chasing after things that arouse sexual passion in you or others is not what God intends for you in your life. This is why pornography is wrong, but it is also why sexual touching, which also called foreplay, is wrong when used by people who are not married to each other. God puts passion and lusts (here translated as "evil desire") in a list along with other sins: "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience" (Colossians 3:5-6).
It has been a long response to your question, but since you claimed the Bible was unclear on this matter, I wanted you to see that it is anything but unclear. Any touching designed to arouse sexual desire either in yourself or in someone else is wrong. Whether it is through clothing, under clothing, or without clothing, it doesn't matter. It would not include accidental brushing against a person, say as you are exiting a crowded subway, but it would include lingering touches that you know causes sexual excitement.