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. Ed.


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 self-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 he 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 break-up.

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 thing 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 activites 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 people 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 the for unknown degree of lust, self-contempt, guilt and spiritual defeat brought about in the partner to the petting.


Chastity rests upon an acknowledgement 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 God’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 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.