[God] forbids adultery, and all irregular and unclean carnal lust, and likewise all that may tend to excite unlawful desires…
—The Holy Standards
It is extremely unsafe to hug a pretty woman. I expect most men to scoff at this notion and ignore it, but a hug with someone you’re attracted to is a form of intimacy, and intimacy before marriage turns on the treadmill of lust and sets the speed to a brisk jog before steadily ramping up to a sprint. One “innocent” hug can begin a course of heavy temptation that entices you into sin and blocks your ability to properly evaluate a woman for marriage.
There is nothing wrong with a platonic hug, the form of which you’d give to an aunt or grandmother. It features minimal contact between bodies, only the shoulders and upper chest around the collarbones, and is often completed with a comforting pat on the back. It is important to physically touch those whom you care about to give support and show affection, so there is no need to deny someone a platonic hug that may be what they need to feel loved and get through the day.
An intimate hug, however, is simply a variant of horizontal bedroom embrace. Your body and her body are so firmly pressed against each other that you can feel the cushion of her chest and the fat and muscle of her thighs. In such an embrace, you can perceive the exact proportions of her feminine curves as if you measured them with a ruler. With this description alone, I’ve entered into the realm of the pornographic, not from my imagination but from the reality of an intimate hug, the type of which fallen men innately crave with women whose bodies they incessantly daydream about. The fact that she’s wearing clothes matters little, because is the mind not capable of removing clothes? Unfortunately, many women already exist in a state of semi-nudeness, especially during the summer, so even for the dull-witted man, imagination is not required. When you add the emission of feminine scent from her neck and hair, whether pheromonal or chemical, your slavery to her body is sealed. This one “innocent” hug will amplify your passions to such an extent that lustful thoughts, a sin itself, become only the beginning of your fall.
Beware of lust, my son, for lust leads to fornication. Likewise refrain from unclean talk and the roving eye, for these two can breed adultery. —The Didache
I’ve lost count of how many Orthodox couples I’ve seen using secular behavior in their courtships. They drink alcohol together. They give each other googly eyes. They hold hands. They hug incessantly. They use secular vocabulary like “boyfriend,” “girlfriend”, and “dating.” They position themselves so close while seated that they can feel the heat of each other’s breath. They even kiss! They do all this and say they are in “Christian courtship”! They are dating like any secular couple dates, but moving slowly enough so that they can deceive themselves that they are courting when in reality they are in a veiled seduction. Many couples will succumb to mortal sins if they think all that I have listed is permissible, and the very first step of physical intimacy is the hug. If their courtship happens to end, they have caused so much real damage to their souls with the attachment that came from their rationalized sexual foreplay that they will have to repent for months before considering another try, all because they started with the wrong notion of what a hug can do. A hug does not smother passions, but lights them like a spark.
Before I converted to Orthodoxy, I was in a pre-courtship with a woman (the relationship has since ended). I could see that she liked me and craved a bit more affection than merely talking to her as if I were conducting a live stream. As a consolation for her needs, I decided to give her a hug. So passionate was that hug that I remember it more vividly than many of the most vile sexual sins of my past. It took place at night, outside the house she lived with her parents. If they were watching, they would have seen nothing that offended the virtue of their daughter. It was just a hug, after all, but through that hug I gained a detailed blueprint of her body and the signature of her pleasing feminine aroma, and because of that I had to use all my willpower and faith to fight the temptation to keep from hugging her repeatedly and doing just a “little” more. Thankfully, God was with me, and I did not fall in the flesh, but I learned my lesson: if I am considering a woman to be my wife, I will not hug her outside of the awkward platonic hug, hunched over so that only the tips of my shoulders touch her body, whose shape and softness will remain unknown to me until our wedding night, and if that’s too extreme for her, there is a long line of men who will be happy to hug and hug and hug her and serve the physical needs of her body. It’s also not fair to my future wife that I so vividly remember the hug with that woman, and it surely isn’t fair to me if my future wife remembers hugs and much more that she had with other men. Not hugging a woman is the best way you can honor your future wife.
You may be thinking the following, “Look, we’re humans and we make mistakes. It’s okay if I fall. I’ll confess and repent and everything will be fine.” Many people who fall don’t get back up. Southeast Asia is packed full of European men whose taste of the female flesh has led to carnal addiction and a state of spiritual deadness. Are you so foolish to think that you are strong enough to willingly dance with Satan and walk away unscathed? With such noxious pride, it’s a miracle you’ve even made it this far in my article. Personally, I don’t want to imagine the grace that God would remove from me if I so deliberately transgress His commandments when I was taught of its danger through first-hand experience and the teachings of the Church.
Often, we harm ourselves when we demand of ourselves more than we are able to do. Thus, we have hardly entered the fray, filled to the brim with carnal desires, and we expect that we will be able to prevent ourselves from agreeing to the sin, from accepting the thoughts, fantasies, and feelings of lust. But they exist; they are natural to our fallen nature; they cannot just stop existing. It is foolish to seek that which is impossible. Impure desires have to arise in infected nature, but as soon as they have appeared in whatever form, we must immediately, forcing ourselves, fight them off… —The Field by Ignatius Brianchaninov
Another reason not to hug is that it becomes impossible to properly evaluate and vet a woman for marriage when you are in a state of even mild passion, and if you’re trying to evaluate a woman you’re having sex with—forget it! You might as well marry a woman sight unseen to at least have a chance at a marriage that doesn’t end in divorce! You won’t ever be able to judge a woman you’re sleeping with because your flesh is firmly in the driver’s seat, guided by Satan, and all you can think about is when your pee-pee, your false god, can use her body as an instrument of your selfish pleasure. The same goes with kissing, hand holding, and hugs. While they are not sex, you have an imagination, don’t you? The physical touching paints an immediate and bright picture of her naked body and what sex will be like, completely damaging your ability to evaluate her as a wife. If you think that your courtship is holy because you’re merely kissing on the lips instead of having sex, you’re dead wrong. You’re still corrupting each other and framing your courtship around pleasure instead of spiritual discernment.
The bad news is that even if you refrain from all physical affection during courtship, and she’s beautiful, you still will not be able to judge her properly. Her visage alone is tempting to your dumb flesh, and it’s not hard to construct a rudimentary sketch of her body from incidental touches, but at least in this case you have a chance at proper discernment. For fleeting moments, you can transcend her body and contemplate if she would be a suitable wife for you. However, if you’re intimate, even with hugs alone, it’s close to hopeless! Your discernment is practically zero, yet Satan will have no problem convincing you that you are being wise and prudent with your secular intimacy so that you marry someone you shouldn’t and put your salvation and hers at risk.
If you look at the history of courtship, men never had to make a decision to marry a woman wholly on their own (and neither did women), but involved parents, other family members, and the Church to guide that decision for them. The fact that you are deciding yourself is already dangerous, and if you add physical intimacy, you might as well be gambling in a Las Vegas casino, hoping for a lucky spin of the roulette wheel.
Do not love the world or the things in the world… For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. —1 John 2:15-16
If I am in a courtship with a woman, I will not give her a full-body hug. I will not learn about the contours of her body, I will never get a whiff of her glandular scent, I will be blind to her flesh and ability to please my flesh. If she needs a platonic hug, I will do so in such an autistic manner that the last thing on our minds will be sex. I must do this, not only to obey the commandments of Christ by blocking potential avenues of temptation, not only because I respect her and do not want her to fall, but because I want to be able to see through her body and into her soul. Does she understand what’s at stake with our decision to marry? Is she ready to follow me into Paradise? Is her soul compatible with my soul? I’ll have a reasonable chance of answering these questions if I refrain from all physical contact. Otherwise, I might as well be back in the nightclubs, checking out women with my eyes to see which specimen pleases me the most. That I refuse. The next woman I hug will be my wife, and if I don’t get married, I shall never hug a woman again.
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