Only hand-holding here!
What is Courtship?
Growing up, dating was the norm for my classmates and I. We dated, kissed, and perhaps more with the (usually) multiple people we dated over the course of high school. I had never heard of any reason not to kiss someone before marriage, and I laughed after hearing a character in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis say "Nice girls don't let men kiss them until after they're engaged!". Until, I discovered the Duggars.
Josh Duggar, the oldest son on TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, got engaged to Anna Keller in 2008. Prior to this, they were involved in a two-year long "courtship", a conservative Christian variation of dating, during which they prayed for direction in their relationship and only saw each other while chaperoned by at least one family member/friend. Once they were engaged, they began physical contact limited to holding hands, and decided to save not only their virginity but also their first kiss for their wedding day.
In the following video, Josh and Anna as well as Anna's parents, describe the basics of courtship versus dating: (follow the link to youtube)
Josh & Anna Duggar: Dating vs. Courtship
Dating vs. Courtship
Josh Duggar: Courtship is "trusting God for the one person that's right for you, versus shopping around trying to find the right one."
Mike Keller: "Dating is training for a divorce mentality, where courtship is first praying and asking the Lord, "Lord, I love you more than anybody, so, is this the person you want me to marry?"
Josh Duggar: "It's such a blessing to know that when you give your heart to that person, that you're giving your whole heart, and not giving bits and pieces."
The History of Courtship
Traditionally, courtship is an exclusive relationship in order for the couple to get to know each other and decide if there will be an engagement. Courtship was common up until the 1920's, when the popularity of going on dates for fun began to steadily increase. After the sexual revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, even going on dates began to look old-fashioned, as hanging out in larger groups of friends and then "hooking up" grew in popularity. Recently, however, the popularity of courtship has began to re-emerge in certain fundamentalist Christian groups.
The reasoning behind Josh and Anna saving their first kiss until marriage was to save all of their love for the one person they were going to marry, and not "give pieces of their heart away" to whoever comes along. It is explained further in this Christian education video, entitled "Pamela's Prayer":
Pamela's Prayer - No Premarital Kissing
Some people going through a courtship take the "hands off" rule to the next level. Kristina of the website Kristina's Keepsakes (http://kristinaskeeps.blogspot.com/) wrote a blog about her courtship with her now husband, Josh During the courtship, Kristina and Josh followed a "6-inch" rule, keeping at least 6 inches of space between them at all times. Kristina explains that she believed even holding hands would lead to kissing and other acts that she did not want to do before marriage.
Courtship from a Secular Point of View
Even those who are non-religious may find merits in going through a courtship rather than dating. As explained in "Pamela's Prayer", the thought of your partner being intimate with someone else before you may be unsettling, and may even result in some issues with jealousy. I know that personally, the thought of my husband being intimate with another person in the past makes me feel uncomfortable, and vice versa for him, leading me to wish that we both saved our virginity for each other. I realize now that sex would have been more special if it was just between my husband and I. Although saving your first kiss for marriage is not for everyone, saving your virginity for the person you marry may work best even for some non-religious couples.