At 2:30 a.m. on a certain night last week, a guy and a girl — strangers — met in front of the Marriott Center. He got there first and sat down on a bench. She arrived soon after.
“So,” he said.
“So,” she said.
They looked at each other for a minute, then she took him by the hand and led him to the tunnel.
They made out for an hour.
He doesn’t even know her name.
Their intimate exchange, previously impossible at BYU, was facilitated by a new online service, The BYU NCMO Page, created and administered by seven entrepreneurial students, and visited by several hundred others.
NCMO, for the un-hip, is an acronym for “Non-Committal Make-out.” It’s also a common Provo pastime and a topic of endless debate among LDS youth.
The creators of The NCMO Page say they are happy to hear stories like the one above.
“We just want to bring the world together, one kiss at a time,” a spokesman for the group said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The main page of the web site, in fact, informs visitors that it exists “to bring those seeking NCMO in contact with others who have the same desire.”
Despite the reported good intentions of the creators, the NCMO site, which has been advertised on campus through fliers generated by fans, is raising eyebrows and concerns all over Provo. University Police are already monitoring the legality of the site, and advising students who use it to exercise caution and common sense when meeting strangers they contact through the Internet. Honor Code Office staff are beginning an investigation and a discussion of whether NCMO is a violation of the letter or spirit of the Honor Code. Bishops are concerned that the site encourages a practice that can easily lead to more serious transgressions. Marriage preparation teachers are concerned about the psychological effects of cheapening physical intimacy.
In the meantime, say the creators, plenty of students are having a fine old time.
“We’ve had a few people write and thank us and say that they’ve set up some encounters and a few have even blossomed into relationships,” the spokesman said. That would seem to violate the “non-committal” part of the bargain, but the creators said they don’t think so. “That’s part of our idea — there’s a lot of pressure here to get married and that puts an added pressure on dating. But if someone goes on a date already knowing that there are no strings attached, then that takes some of the pressure off and in many ways that’s a better way to start a relationship.”
The creators consist of five guys and two girls: Three computer science majors, a communications major, a business major, an elementary education major, and a food science/nutrition major. One member of the group is seriously dating someone, but the rest are single, well-acquainted with kissing, and staunch believers in NCMO as a harmless recreation. They do not use the site themselves, however.
“It just an idea we’ve kicked around for a while and we finally decided to do it. Then it became so popular that we just kept it up,” the spokesman said.
The site has generated approximately 3400 hits since its January 29 debut. It generated so much traffic the creators moved it Wednesday to a new location that can support the traffic, and erased most of the mentions of BYU so the site has a more universal appeal. They said they spend an estimated seven hours a day maintaining the site.
The main page of the site introduces users to the five principles of NCMO: It takes two to be non-committal, NCMO can be repeatable, VL’s (virgin lips) can participate in NCMO, There is NO COMMITMENT involved in NCMO, and NCMO is nothing that you need to repent for.
The rest of the site is a guest book, where users can write a brief message and provide contact information so other users can reach them to arrange a rendezvous.
The 47 current postings on the site are varied. Some, like the message from “an innocent freshman,” plead for a first kiss; others offer experience or “a lesson in kissing you’ll never forget.” Some postings are tasteless (“Time’s a tickin’, will soon go by, so make it passionately under the sky….”), some are cruel (“Average girls need not apply”). Most, it turns out, are jokes.
“I signed it as a joke because no one thought I would actually do it. I find it very humorous, but I would never make out with anybody I met there,” said Nathan Richards, 19, a freshman from Beavercreek, Ohio, majoring in recreational management. “I talked to a couple girls from the site on e-mail and with AOL Instant Messenger, but mostly I’m just making fun of them. I think everybody’s bluffing on this.”
Several other users, most of whom are freshmen, set up meetings and then decided not to go. Others went but never kissed. Many are regularly e-mailing their new friends, so the site is enjoying success as an introduction and dating service.
Only a brave few have actually NCMOed, and not all of them have liked it. Cooper Smith, the 18-year-old freshman who met the girl at the Marriott Center at 2:30 a.m., said that his first experience with NCMO will also be his last.
“It was fun, she was a good kisser, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. I don’t really feel guilty about it, but I don’t feel proud about it either. After participating, I think it’s not very classy. It’s kind of dirty almost,” he said.
And it could also be dangerous.
“We have some concerns because we sometimes deal with Internet date rape, where people use the Internet to create a relationship with somebody they do not know and then they agree to meet somewhere and they’re meeting for the first time, all alone, often in a remote area, and there may be a potential for sexual assault,” said Sgt. Robert Eyre of University Police.
When Smith and the mystery girl met, both took the safety precaution of having friends hide to witness the exchange (they know because Smith’s friends bumped into the girl’s friends as they spied from behind the pillars near the Marriott Center doors.)
But although the majority of the users aren’t serious about indulging in NCMO, the existence of the site itself causes concern since NCMO is sometimes viewed as the LDS equivalent of casual sex.
“It feels to me like two people meeting in a bar and going out and having sex. Not to that degree, but it has that same spirit about it,” said Matt Holman, 19, a freshman from Danville, Calif., who posted a message with the code name “Cyrano” on the site.
Holman’s original post was a joke, but after posting it he logged on again to post a rebuttal to the argument that NCMO is harmless.
“I said that anything that indulges in sensual or carnal sensations is against the commandments and against the will of God, and that we’re taught to love people and to honor them and not to use them for physical pleasure,” Holman said.
The seven site administrators deleted his message. They didn’t want anti-NCMO sentiment on their page.
Brent Barlow, who teaches marriage preparation classes on campus, said it bothers him that the site was started by BYU students.
“It’s healthy for there to be an attraction between the male and the female…, but you can use the physical body for evil purposes. That’s the definition of prostitution, using the physical body for purposes other than that for which it was intended,” Barlow said.
What’s more, an overly cavalier attitude toward physical affection can affect future relationships.
“They’ve identified that people who are sexually monogamous or who abstain have better marriages. That’s not only a religious observation, but it’s been established as a scientific fact. Those who have fewer or no sexual experiences before marriage have better and more stable marriages,” Barlow said.
The real status of NCMO in a religious context is something under constant debate among students.
“If you read what the prophets have said, you’re heading in the wrong direction if you’re getting into that,” said Steve Baker, director of the Honor Code Office. Baker said the Office has not yet fully investigated the matter, but they will try to thoroughly examine it within a week. “Can I see a potential problem once we get to the bottom of this? Yes.”
Baker said he often counsels bishops who wonder how to respond to student queries about NCMO.
One campus bishop, Winston Egan of the BYU 13th Ward, said he hosts a ward fireside at the start of every semester to help students make intelligent choices about intimacy. He asks his students to read talks and lectures by apostles and prophets, including this quote from “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball:”
“Kissing has been prostituted and has degenerated to develop and express lust instead of affection, honor and admiration. To kiss in casual dating is asking for trouble. What do kisses mean when given out like pretzels and robbed of sacredness?”
Generally, though, Egan said students don’t approach him about NCMO, they approach him when too much NCMO has led to more serious problems. The real danger of NCMO, he said, is where it can lead.
“Intimacy turns your mind to mush, so you’re really not able to make good decisions,” he said.
“I think this web site shows that all of us are looking for a certain amount of intimacy, which is an important part of development and human behavior in general. I wouldn’t want to play down the importance of intimacy, but there is a time, a place and an intensity,” he said.