The High Cost of Petting!

“To pet or not to pet, that is the problem.” “What is the fate of the unplanned date?”  In conversations with young people in our churches we have sensed a desire for some plain talk on this serious subject. While searching for information in another field, we came across this article by Rev. Dwight H. Small, pastor of the Warren Park Presbyterian Church, Cicero, Ill., which is taken from his book DESIGN FOR CHRISTIAN MAR­RIAGE to be published early next year by Revell. The excellency of the article both in content and style, prompts us to pass it on to our own young people.

A member of the Federation Board has requested that this article be reprinted because it is as pertinent for the youth of our churches today as it was eight years ago. Darrel Huisken, Editor


What do you know about the high cost of petting? Petting is more than a pleasur­able pastime, more than an exhilarating ex­pression of affection. It is more than a physical act, too, for it affects every dimen­sion of personality. Petting, like all sexual experiences, penetrates to the very depths of a person’s being, and for that reason it can lead to sublime heights of joy as a function within marriage, or drag one down to depths of impurity and misery when practiced out­side the commitment of marriage. Petting is a process of physical and emotional involve­ment, sexually exciting and stimulating. It is physical contact for pleasure as an end in itself, two persons enjoying themselves by means of each other, and with no per­manent and responsible relationship to which they are committed. It is exploita­tion of another’s body for selfish sexual gra­tification. We are to love persons and use things, but one who pets uses a person for the love of a thing. Petting is playing at love in such a way as tends to make the more genuine expressions seem dull and un­satisfying. It is an attempt to find in sex what sex cannot give.



Young people first encounter the appeal of petting in an hour of highly-charged romantic emotion when it is most difficult to evaluate let alone resist. Being alone together in an automobile is conducive to romantic attachment, but this is not a privi­lege. Rather, it is a responsibility which severely challenges one’s personal integrity and self-discipline. How easy it is to ra­tionalize petting as a necessary support for a romantic relationship! This is not love but merely an overpowering emotional attach­ment with a sexual involvement.

Petting is not sexual satisfaction, but stimulation only. As such, it brings about tension and disappointment. Something unique and precious to one’s personal dig­nity is given to another with full expecta­tion that something just as precious and lasting will result. But one sadly discovers that he has given himself for a momentary pleasure. There remains but a feeling of frustration, disappointment, loss of respect, and guilt. Something less than per­sonal love and mutual care has been ful­filled. The deepest yearnings of personality have been sidetracked by the more intense and immediate pleasure of the moment.

As stimulation, petting demands an ever increasing intensity. The point of contain­ment is moved farther and farther, the de­mands becoming more difficult to resist as the progression goes on. Knowing what is beyond makes it hard to be satisfied with less. It is virtually impossible to return to an earlier, less-intense stage; to do so, mul­tiplies frustration. Even to decide to do so in an hour when there is neither emotional intoxication nor sexual arousal is quite dif­ferent from maintaining that decision under such pressure.



For reassurance of a rather empty rela­tionship, and to “prop up” their disappointment in the failure of close physical con­tact to bring about a true sense of intimate sharing, a couple may be led to pet with even greater frequency and intensity. But, the tension created by such habituated pet­ting is often sufficient to break up the friendship altogether! Keyed up under (the emotional strain, a couple will tend to quar­rel over inconsequentials, and to get on each other’s nerves. Dislike for the frustra­tion and emotional conflict is directed as re­sentment against the other person, as though he were the cause of the disappointment. Loss of self-respect also transfers itself to loss of respect for the other one. A crisis invariably arises, usually ending in a break­up.

A girl who pets to be popular is popular only because she pets. She is not sought after for her personal qualities nor liked for herself, but only because she is a more or less convenient means to an end. Petting frequently becomes a consolation prize for one’s deficiencies in personal attraction, or a way of holding a date when other ways fail. But only bitter heartache is ahead for the girl who depends for her dating popularity upon sex and her willing­ness to indulge a fellow’s desire to pet. And how shallow is her thinking if she regards petting as the necessary price for an eve­ning out, a reciprocation for the money a fellow has spent upon her!



Promiscuous petting can only cheapen what God intends as holy and beautiful in its place. It may come to stand for all there is in the sexual relationship of marriage, removing the proper expectations. To make such intimacy a shopworn tiring before mar­riage is to take the edge away, and to leave a sense that more was lost than gained. One will have forfeited the joy of having saved something very precious for its proper time.

A couple habituated to petting no longer anticipates dates with enjoyment as before. Thinking only of what they will do when they are alone, they are bored with the other activities of the evening, preoccupied with the petting which alone seems im­portant. An evening supposedly devoted to wholesome fun is turned into one of ten­sion, boredom, and inner conflict. Each senses that sex life has become a problem affecting the normal pursuits of life. The very tone of the relationship deteriorates for they can only enjoy their least common denominator — their bodies. Every date be­comes merely another occasion for the old routine.



Petting often occurs as the result of an unplanned date, when two become bored with nothing to do. Petting is the easiest and most pleasurable way to relieve bore­dom. It requires no intelligence, and is no challenge to personality. But what starts as an innocent game soon becomes a compul­sive habit when passions are aroused.

Jesus said that lusting begins with look­ing. But one can look with his eyes or with his imagination. Petting gives the imagina­tion an opportunity to look and lust through the sense of touch. Thus, petting has the same moral quality of an act of sexual intercourse! Petting is sufficient to violate an­other’s bodily sanctity and personal integ­rity. One who pets must not only answer for the stimulation of lust in one’s own life, but for the unknown degree of lust, self­-contempt, guilt and spiritual defeat brought about in the partner to the petting.



Chastity rests upon an acknowledgment of the sanctity of sex. For the Christian, the body is a sacred trust and sex a gift of God. Chastity is sexual life ordered according to Cod’s purposes, not man’s desires. When sex expresses love given by God to partners in married oneness, it is chaste; when sex is an end in itself, indulged outside of mar­riage, it is not chaste. The perversion of God’s purpose — more so than the act itself — is what makes all sexual intimacy outside of marriage unchaste and immoral. Thus chastity is far more than self-control; it is the earnest serving of a positive, divine purpose. A chaste person is not concerned with how far he can go with safety and self-respect, but rather, how completely he can serve the purpose of God.

So, sex is a sacred power to be directed by God. Christian young people should pray as did Jeremy Taylor: “Let my body be servant of my spirit, and both body and spirit servants of Jesus.” When this is hon­estly prayed, petting will not find a place in a young person’s life.