Q: In recent conversations with both my guy and girl friends, there has been some debate about this question: is it right to spend the night in the same bed with a member of the opposite sex? This would mean only sleeping, not engaging in sex. In addition, there was debate about whether or not cuddling or taking a nap with a member of the opposite sex has the same effect as spending an entire night with someone – is there a difference?

A: So there’s this prayer, and we pray it all the time. There’s a line from it that’s on the tip of my tongue… What WAS it? Oh, wait, it’s coming back to me – “and lead us not into temptation.”

And your question is… is it okay if we run smack dab into the middle of temptation?

If we’re striving to live the virtue of chastity, and be pure in all of our relationships, there’s something to be said for common sense here. As it gets late, and the room gets dark, and the couch (or bed) is so comfortable, we lose a little mental clarity and become more likely to make poor decisions. And if you’re sleeping in the same bed of a member of the opposite sex and you’re NOT experiencing sexual temptation, then we’ve got a different issue for another blog…

Look, whether you’re in a committed relationship, or just crushing on someone, or whether you were up late watching a movie and it just got so late and you accidentally fell asleep… I know all those circumstances. I’ve been in all of them. And it was never fun to wake myself up, get it together, and drive home in the wee hours of the morning – or shake him awake and kick him out. It would have been much easier, and way more comfortable, to just stay.

But it was more important to do what was right than what was comfortable. After all, Pope Benedict XVI said we weren’t made for comfort. We were made for greatness.

When I was dating throughout high school, college, and most of my twenties, I had plenty of ideas of what I wanted my wedding to be like. I imagined the church, the bridesmaids, the colors – and after the reception was over? A fancy hotel, getting carried over the threshold, putting my suitcase down next to his…

And then, for the first time in my life, I would fall asleep beside – and wake up next to – the man I would spend the rest of my life falling asleep beside and waking up next to. And I wanted him to be the only man I would fall asleep beside and wake up next to, forever.

That’s not to say I always did this perfectly (especially in college, when it was so easy to be hanging out in someone’s room or apartment, whether that was in the next building, or just down the hall, until the wee hours of the morning). Was it technically spending the night if I was back in my bed before the sun rose? We really did just watch the movie and fall asleep… Look, we know the difference between right and wrong.

Right would have been tucking myself into my own bed at a reasonable hour, ignoring the temptation to go over to start a movie at the time I was usually brushing my teeth. I don’t want to make excuses. I knew better, and there were times I messed up. And when I did, I went to Confession, talked about it with the guy, checked in with my supportive girlfriends, and gave myself a curfew for next time.

There’s another issue to consider here – even if nothing impure was happening, even if we really were just asleep, there’s a huge potential here to cause scandal. I know it was only sleeping, so does he… but what is the person stepping out of their dorm room at 6am for a sunrise run (rumor has it there are people who do this) supposed to think when they see me stumbling bleary-eyed down the hallway in the same clothes I was wearing yesterday?

The Catechism clearly states: “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged” (2287). Not my responsibility, you say? I can’t control what other people think? True, I can’t. But I can control my actions, and no one is going to be scandalized by my sleeping alone in my own bed… and even giving the appearance of sinful behavior can seriously mess with others’ holiness. If people make assumptions that I’m sleeping with my boyfriend (or hooking up with a guy who is a friend), then they might also assume it’s okay to sleep with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Jesus said it: “Whoever causes one of these little ones* who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin!” (Matthew 18:6-7)

That wasn’t who I wanted to be. So why is it so tempting to sleep – simply sleep – next to someone you like? A big part of that temptation is our legitimate desire for human contact. We crave it, more than ever, in a world where so many of our interactions are digital. There are many, many credible psychological studies that talk about the human necessity of physical touch. Newborns can die without it – they actually stop growing. We may not need it to survive, per se, but we definitely need it to thrive. A hug, a pat on the back, a touch on the arm, a handshake… they all have positive effects on our mental and emotional health.

So does cuddling. So does sleeping next to someone. None of these things are bad things – but is experiencing them outside of marriage the best thing?

With all things, virtue is somewhere in the middle, with the vices being on either side. The excess of physical touch violates chastity: having sexual contact with someone who is not your spouse. But the defect isn’t any healthier – never touching anyone, ever? What, are you going to run away screaming when someone reaches for a handshake, or asks if you’d like to hold their baby? That’s unrealistic, unhealthy, and one of the main reasons solitary confinement is such a severe punishment.

Virtue strives for pure, healthy physical contact with others. No intention to arouse, no temptation to stir up desires. So, when it comes to living virtuously (which, it turns out, is the path to sainthood…), we need to recognize our legit needs for physical touch, without placing ourselves in tempting romantic situations – or using members of the opposite sex for cuddles without any romantic interest (which can lead people on and be incredibly hurtful). I’d encourage you to have pure physical contact with your friends – give each other hugs when you arrive and leave, high five, shake hands, place a supportive hand on their arm when they’re talking to you about a struggle. There’s a lot of ways to meet our physical touch quotas without any sexual intent, which will protect everyone from impurity.

Having healthy physical contact with others can alleviate a lot of the loneliness and frustrations that lead us to sinful behavior in the first place. So for romantic situations, where we often get the question ‘how far is too far?’ I’ll simply say this: If you’re hanging out until the wee hours, or cuddling up and taking naps, or ‘falling asleep while watching a movie,’ or even intentionally spending the night because you don’t think it’s a big deal… I’d take another look at the Our Father, and mean it when you pray it. Don’t let temptation crawl into bed with you.

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Do you have a question about dating and relationships you’d like to ask David and Rachel Leininger? Email them at Itscomplicated@lifeteen.com and your question could be the next blog post!

About the Author

Rachel Leininger

I work for a retreat ministry called the REAP Team, where it's my full-time job to talk about sex, love, dating, and chastity (which can sometimes lead to some awesomely awkward moments). I love being Catholic, my bearded husband, watching movies, and browsing antique malls. The only thing I have against winter is the fact that there's no baseball. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @raleininger

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