Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule

six inch rule

Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting in the pew of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. You are 16 years old and sitting next to you is your 17-year-old girlfriend. As with any normal teenager, you are sitting as close as possible to your girlfriend and the two of you are holding hands.

The pastor is getting ready to preach and he asks everyone to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1,2. With a thunderous voice, the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)

and THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS:

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

All of a sudden, the pastor turns your way, looks at you and your girlfriend, and then slowly turns back to his sermon notes. You feel guilty, so you unclasp your hand from your girlfriends and you scoot a few inches away from her.

Welcome, to just-another-Sunday-morning service at First Independent Baptist Church of Bible, Believersville, Ohio.

In the real world, teenage boys and girls hold hands, put their arms around each other, and kiss each other. We also know that some of them engage in intimate sexual activity. But at First Independent Baptist Church, any physical contact between unmarried teenagers or unmarried young adults of the opposite sex is strictly prohibited.

The thinking goes something like this: fornication, the intimate sexual contact between unmarried people, is a SIN. Committing fornication requires touching, so the best way to avoid fornication is to keep unmarried teenagers or single young adults from touching each other.

Over the years, I told countless teenagers that no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first. I repeatedly told them that holding hands leads to familiarity and before you know it you’ll be having sex. So the answer is, no touching.

When I was a teenager, my pastor preached against boys and girls touching each other. Now, this doesn’t mean we didn’t touch each other, it just means that we did our touching away from the sight of the pastor, youth director, deacons, and other church adults.

We turned it into a game. The pastor said we couldn’t touch each other, so while choir practice was going on we would find out-of-the-way places to neck. It was almost like a challenge: we dare you to catch us.

From the age of 14 until my wedding day, I kissed a few girls, put my arm around them, and held their hands. But, that’s where it stopped. Both my wife and I were virgins when we married in 1978.

Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan. The college had a strict no-touch rule. The rule was called the six-inch rule. (about the width of a hymnbook) Young men and women were expected to keep 6 inches away from each other at all times. Failure to do so resulted in severe discipline.

Living in a dorm filled with normal, hormone-raging, heterosexual men and women made the six-inch rule a real challenge. Most of us learned how to discreetly break the rule, and when we went out on double dates we learned to double date with couples who were six-inch rule breakers as we were.

Sandra, a regular reader of this blog, shared in a comment about her time at Hyles Anderson College:

About the gateway issues with card playing . . .I’m not psychologist but I do believe if you restrict normal human behavior in one way, normal human behavior will come out in another. When at Hyles Anderson we were all told to not touch the opposite sex. I mean, no hand holding (which was fine with me and the IFB church I was in before I left for HAC). But no touching through a pen either, like tapping on a shoulder.

We are social beings and I do believe we need touch to stay alive. When at HAC, since all of the women were not allowed to touch a man on his hand or to tap his back with a pen, guess what happened? The dean of woman (Miss Belinda) said she noticed a LOT of petting going on between the women. In chapel, women would sit next to women and they’d pet each other’s hair, they’d stroke each other’s leg. And she was right – all of that behavior was happening. But my question is why? Probably due to the human need for basic touch. Since the women were not allowed to hug their own blood brother on campus, nor to hold hands for 5 seconds, nor to tap a man on the back with a pencil. . .is it any wonder that the women found a way to get physical touch in their lives? It is normal to want a hug and to rub someone’s bad when they are hurting. By repressing opposite sex touching, they encouraged same-sex touching and it was very evident.

Ponder for a moment being exposed to this kind of environment. Is it any wonder that people coming out the IFB church movement often have to deal with emotional, mental, and sexual dysfunction?

When you are constantly told that a normal human desire is sinful, it is bound cause psychological damage. Being normal heterosexuals, we could only suppress our desires for so long, so we found creative ways to get around the rules and the ever-watchful eyes of those charged with keeping us from fornicating.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, February 1978 The irony of this picture is that we were allowed to break the rule while the photographer took the picture.

In a chapter of The Fundy World Tales I wrote:

Another time I was written up for breaking the six-inch rule. The six-inch rule was a rule meant to keep unmarried men and women from getting too close to each other. Six inches is about the width of a songbook or a Bible and unmarried students were not allowed to be closer than a songbook or a Bible from each other.

I was on the college basketball team. One day during practice I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated a finger. I was rushed to the emergency room and the doctor was able to fix the dislocation. I’m left-handed and the dislocation had occurred on my left hand.

Every male student was required to wear a tie to class. I found it very difficult to tie a tie with one hand, so one day I asked my fiancé to tie my tie for me. In doing so we broke the six-inch rule. Someone anonymously turned us in for breaking the six-inch rule and we had to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer the charges against us.

We each receive 25 demerits for breaking the six-inch rule. We were warned that if we broke the six-inch rule again we would be expelled from school. Little did they know that we had been breaking it for quite some time.

Most dormitory students lived for the weekend. Students could only date on the weekends. Double dating was required and no student could go farther away than 10 miles from the dormitory. This was called the 10 mile limit. No physical contact between students was allowed. No kissing. No holding hands. No physical contact whatsoever.

Most students tried to adhere to the rules for a while. Some, like my fiancé and me, kept the six-inch rule religiously until we went home for our first Christmas break. While home on Christmas break were allowed to act like normal young adults who were in love. We held hands, kissed, necked, and pretty much acted like any other couple mutually infatuated with one another.

Once the genie was out of the bottle it was impossible to put her back in. When we returned to Midwestern we realized we could not continue to keep the six-inch rule. So for the next 18 months we sought out couples to double date with that had the same view of the six-inch rule as we did. We had to be very careful. Choose the wrong couple to double date with and you could end up getting expelled from school.

Rules such as the six-inch rule put the dormitory students in a position of having to lie and cheat just to be able to act like normal young adults. Many students ended up getting campused (not allowed to leave the campus or date) or were expelled because they broke the six-inch rule.

Illicit sexual activity was quite common among dormitory students. There was always a lot of gossip about who was doing what, when and where. During the spring of my sophomore year many of us rented apartments in the Pontiac area. We were all planning to get married over the summer, and since apartments were hard to come by, we rented them as soon as we found them.

Unfortunately the apartments turned into a big temptation for some couples. They began using the apartments as safe places for sexual activity. I could give you the names of several well-known preachers and their wives who lost their virginity at one of these apartments. Some of these preachers are now known to rail against sexual immorality. It seems they have forgotten about their own sexual immorality many years ago.

Is it any wonder that many of us who were raised in this kind of sexually repressed environment require counseling?  Being you are told over and over that certain basic human needs and desires are sinful leads to overwhelming guilt and despair (and remember masturbation, self-pleasuring, was also a sin).

This is one of the reasons why I think the IFB church movement is emotionally and mentally harmful. My advice to everyone in an IFB church is that they RUN as fast as they can away from the church of which they are a part. Get out before they so fuck up your mind that it requires years of  therapy to regain any sense of self-worth and emotional balance.

How about you? Did you spend your teenage years in an IFB church? Did you attend an IFB college?  How did you deal with the no-physical-contact rule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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8 Comments

  1. Steve

    Amazing what the lady wrote about her experience at HAC; they were sooooo concerned with keeping the opposite sex from having contact, they were forcing the girls to “become gay”, lol

    Reply
  2. Marlowe

    While teenagers my girlfriend (now wife) and I would kiss, hold hands, pet, and what not at my house. We were always inside and careful not to do those things in front of any religious leaders.

    However every time I went into church, I was overcome with guilt! My heart would race and I just knew the pastor or youth leader had caught us some how. I just waited to be called out on it.

    So many times at church, I confessed my “sin” and vowed not to do it again. Only to give in to temptation again the next time I was alone with her!!

    Reply
  3. Aram McLean

    My ACE school of eight years, from age six to fourteen, had a six inch rule. I went to a regular high school after that (which was a Godsend! 😉 but it still took me a long time to behave ‘normally’ around girls, especially the ones I had a crush on (which was every second one).
    It’s true what is said here though, that other ways are found to compensate. And during my time in ACE I witnessed all manner of sneaky stuff going on in the shadows, especially from some of the new teenage boys coming in for a year or two. The girls who’d been there for longer had no idea how to say no to them basically grabbing what they wanted. It was bizarre to watch how easily they were taken advantage of.
    Another time, one day in church a couple from a visiting youth group were sitting in the pew, and she clearly had a firm grip on his excitement through his jogging pants. I gaped at the sight, like, am I the only one seeing this? But I suppose being as how she kept her touch to just around the straining head, she was still about six inches away from the rest of him. Perhaps it was allowed? 😉
    Essentially these kinds of rules do little to help anything. They’re up there with teaching abstinence, leaving sex education right out, and expecting everything to just proceed swimmingly. Naivete indeed.

    Reply
    1. HeIssailing

      Hey Aram, we did the same thing in my ACE school. I attended Accelerated Christian Education during 12th grade right when I was going girl crazy. I do not remember 6 inches, but I do remember the Bible rule – place a Bible between the boys and girls. This mentality left me aloof and unconfident around girls for years. I did not get up the nerve to ask a girl on a date until I was about 28 years old.

      Reply
  4. Brian

    The sick part of all this is that natural human sensuality, the ability to feel and to be felt, is made an evil thing. Sex is bad because it can lead to dancing! How fucked is that? (Excuse the the ‘f’ word but it is so appropriate.)
    And that the six inch rule still allowed touching among same sex bipeds, only displays how mad the basic premise is, that touching leads to holding and holding leads to more and more… That young women could stroke one another’s hair or hold hands displayed natural human sensuality. Boys did it other ways, in sports and slapping backs and butts and tough-guy touching. All of it is human touch, physical sharing…. Women prevented from touching boys were not being made ‘gay’ by the rule, only prevented from touching boys! They could still touch women and that is what a feeling person would do! It is hardly ‘gay’, unless you are fixed on religious views, views based on fear. It is just being alive, something fundagelicals fear too…

    Reply
  5. Matilda

    These rules may be imposed on physical non-touching but as far as I understand it, sexting is very very common among the young. I’m a grandmother but have a wonderful 16yo god-daughter who confides in me and my hair stands on end when she describes what goes on in the privacy of her phone and social media. Waiting for fundie-dictator-pastors to insist the bible tells them to go through the phones of their teenage members. They might learn a thing or two!

    Reply
  6. Nicole

    My husband and I were newlyweds when we went to a Baptist church for an activity. A lady came up to us and told us “We have a strict no-touching policy for our youth here”, and walked away. She didn’t know we were married, and later apologized of her own accord. We still get a good laugh out of it. 😉

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Hey Nicole, Hearing about the rude woman mouthing off to you in the church, it made me wonder why I have listened to so much similar nonsense over the years when in a church. Why wouldn’t we just respond in the moment about how rude the creep was being and try to delve into her need to control others with such disdain! I usually just listened though, confused and hurt.

      Reply

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