Dear Miss Emily:

I am 28 years old, and I have been dating my boyfriend for 9 months. We have a healthy, balanced relationship, and communication is one of our strengths.  We are both in love, and both very happy together.  We've had a couple of conversations about the possibility of marriage.  While I don't know how soon that would happen, I think it is likely in the future.  I am writing because I have questions about the physical side of our relationship.  So far, I have been comfortable with the level of interaction we have had, and from talking with him, I think he is too right now.  It has progressed slowly over the course of our relationship with talk about what feels good, what doesn't, and if it's time to try something new or not.  I do not want to have sex before marriage, and my boyfriend has known that since even before we started dating.  He doesn't see marriage as a prerequisite for sex, but he does think that sex should happen in a committed relationship of at least a year where both partners are deeply in love. When we've talked about sex in general, he's always supported my decision to wait until marriage, so I feel good about that.  What I don't really know is how far to go in between.  I am so confused because it seems like people are either conservative Christians who say you shouldn't do anything, or they think it's fine to go all the way.  I don't know how to find a middle ground.  I don't know what's okay for me and when.  When my boyfriend and I have talked about this, he said that we will only do what I'm comfortable with and nothing more.  I just don't know what I'm comfortable with, and I don't know people who have tried to find a middle ground.  My friends that I've talked to have either just kissed or they have no qualms about sex.  As I think ahead, what makes me a little nervous is that little by little we are doing more together, and I wonder what would happen if we decided to stop progressing or what if we just keep sliding and accidentally do too much.  Does this make any sense?  I guess I should also say that we have progressed further than I have before in relationships, so I'm in new territory, and that my boyfriend has had a previous relationship that included sex, so he's not. Can you help? Thanks.

----------------------------------------Miss Emily's advice---------------------------------

I know it can be a slippery slope if you're doing everything but intercourse. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about this because it's your life and that's the bottom line. My advice comes from neither a religious perspective, nor one from my own ideas of how I think it should be. Again, the only way it can be done is your way if you are wedded to the idea of no intercourse before marriage. It's a fact that your boyfriend would "hop on the bandwagon" (the little devil) if you changed your mind and decided your version of premarital sex was, suddenly, okay. He's as much told you that, and nothing in his past has proven otherwise. So my dear, it's all up to you. Sexual urges are one of the strongest forces in nature, but I don't need to tell you that. And more than once, it appears, you have gotten close to the tipping point. Decide where that is, and don't get close to it -- if possible. Restraint is the name of the game, because you two are putting yourselves in sexual situations where there's no other way to handle it! And if for some reason you do go all the way, please don't let this destroy your relationship, or beat yourself up about it. Sit down, talk it out, approach it with maturity and find a solution that works in order to get on with your relationship. You love this guy, you think the relationship is leading toward marriage, and making love is a pretty natural thing to do when all is said and done.