This post has been a long time coming. I started mulling it over after I read Sheila Wray Gregoire’s 10 Things That Scare Me About the Christian Purity Culture back in January. Since then we’ve talked to a number of people about purity, and I’ve read or heard several Christian authors/speakers do rants about this issue.
Let me start by saying I’m sure those who created the purity movement had the best of intentions. Sadly good intentions can result in real disasters. I’m sure what the movement has become and how many on the receiving end of it see it are not how it was initially intended. This does not change the harm the purity movement has done.
All or Nothing
Apparently there is no grace or forgiveness for the sin of sex outside of marriage. God marks your forehead with a red S (for slut) and you’re condemned for life. Aside from being bad theology, this has some nasty consequences. We’ve talked to many women who felt their purity was right up there with their salvation. It was certainly the second most important thing to have and maintain and many felt you could not have salvation without pre-marital virginity. This leads to some horrible things if a girl “loses her purity” in a moment of passion or at the hands of someone who forces her. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and nothing can fix it. I can’t prove anyone has committed suicide over this, but I have no doubt it’s happened. More common is for a no-longer-pure girl to fall away from God and/or become extremely promiscuous.
Can’t Let Go
Imagine a young bride crying because her husband “took her purity” on their wedding night. Or a young groom a week into his marriage who hasn’t had sex because his wife who has fought to preserve her purity for years can’t switch gears and become sexual. These things happen far more often than you could imagine. Even worse is the couples who can’t consummate their marriage because her body refuses to allow it. Her vagina clamps down painfully and even if he were willing to use undo force intercourse would be impossible. This is called vaginismus, and until recently, it was usually only seen in women who had been sexually abused. I’ve read several reports from professionals now seeing vaginismus in women with no history of abuse who grew up in the purity movement.
For every woman who can’t enter into sex with her husband because of “purity,” there are a dozen more who do it but don’t enjoy it. It’s not easy to go from suppressing every sexual urge to wanting and enjoy sex. While it may not be the intention, many women taught to stay pure come to see sex as nasty, dirty, and wrong. Men are selfish pigs who use women for sex. Desiring sex is dangerous if not wrong, and enjoying it is horrible and unacceptable. Some women do okay till they have their first orgasm with their husband, then the freak-out. As a necessary part of marriage they can manage sex, but having pleasure makes them feel dirty and unholy.
The Virginity Line
A subset of those in the purity movement have decided purity is about not letting his penis into their vagina. One couple told us the tip went between her labia but did not enter the vagina, so they were virgins when they married. For some reason they felt this made them better than if he’d gone half an inch further. I know the movement is opposed to any premarital sex (possibly including kissing and even hand holding) but it’s not what some hear. It becomes justification to do everything but.
It’s All on Her
The focus becomes her keeping boys out. Again this may not be the intent, but it’s how it shakes out. He knocks, she says go away. He’s expected to try, and she has to prove she’s a good girl by saying no. This is not at all biblical, and it lets boys run unchecked. His asking should be seen as wrong, regardless of how she responds. A man who sees women as sisters in Christ does not approach them for sex. A man who sees women as a receptacle for their lust is a bad husband in training.
The ugly side of this is the women who remain silent about abuse because they don’t want to be seen as damaged goods. From boyfriends who put a hand where it shouldn’t be to girls repeatedly raped by a family member, the shame of “not being pure” helps those who wish to violate a girl.
A Better Way
Let’s tell our kids sexual restraint before marriage is part of the path to the goal, with the goal being an awesome married sex life. Let’s tell them sex, done right, is the best thing they will ever experience. Let’s also tell them it’s easily messed up and not easily fixed. A bit of fun before marriage can turn a lifetime of sexual bliss into years of frustration and a limited amount of poor sex.
I’ve heard people say we shouldn’t discuss sex with teens lest we give them ideas or cause them to think about sex. The reality is they think about sex all the time and are bombarded with ideas about sex daily. We can add a godly voice to what they hear or we can abdicate and let the culture teach them about sex. I find one of those wise and the other evil.
The Elephant in the Room
Teens are sexually mature adults, with as much and more drive and desire as any of us. Pretending this is not so may make us feel better, but it just leaves them out there to be picked off. Expecting them to cross their legs and ignore their raging sexuality for the ten to twenty years before they get married is beyond wishful thinking. Ninety-nine percent of boys and almost as many girls are going to do something to get at least occasional release. Again, denial of this fact may feel good, but it leaves kids with no good options.
Lori and I are convinced masturbation is not inherently sinful. On the contrary, I think it’s the way of escape from premarital sex God promises us in 1 Corinthians 10:13. Sure, it can be coupled with porn and wrong thoughts, but it can be done apart from those things. If we don’t teach it can be done apart from sin, it’s unlikely our kids will stumble on that by accident.
Telling kids masturbation is sin (something God went out of His way to avoid saying) leads to all kinds of problems. It sets them up for failure because virtually all of them will do it before they finish high school. Some come to doubt their salvation or that God cares about them because they pray to stop but cannot. Some figure if they can’t avoid sin they might as well have sex with someone else, and some actually seek out sex because it provides release with less shame than masturbation.
Yes, I want feedback on this, but more than that if you have children you need to do some serious thinking and praying about this. Most we’ve talked to who were taught “purity” have nothing good to say about it or how it messed them up*. You have to decide what you will teach you children, but I pray it’s not purity. I’ve provided a number of resources below to help you work through this. Some of these are difficult to read because they show the pain and suffering of individuals harmed by something meant to do good.
~ Paul – I’m XY, and I hate what “purity” has done to women and marriages.
* The Other Side
After I wrote this, but a couple of weeks before it was to run, Lori and I spent the afternoon with Keelie and Austin. Keelie does the Love Hope Adventure blog, and she’s I am the sex talk lady. Keelie and Austin grew up with Love Waits, and have taught it to teens. They have a very positive view of the version they received; a version which differs from what many have told us. What they learned sounds a lot like the “better way” I suggested above. I softened this post a bit because of what we heard from them, and I asked Keelie to offer us her experience and understanding. Please check out True Love Waited- and How Purity Hasn’t Ended Now That I’m Married
- How the Purity Movement Causes Symptoms of Sexual Abuse | THANK GOD FOR SEX
- I Can’t Remember What It Feels Like to Be Aroused | Hot Holy and Humorous
- Vaginismus: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My Wedding | to Love Honor and Vacuum
- RUDE AWAKENING | Awaken-Love
- How Moms Teach Sexual Integrity | Hot, Holy & Humorous
- How Purity Can Become a Problem | Boundless
- What the Purity Movement Didn’t Tell Us | Evangelical Outpost
- The Problem with Purity (When Christian Values Distract from the Message) | Culture War Reporters
- Breaking Shame: Why Purity Culture Works | RubySlippers
- Three Problems with Sexual Purity | Psychology Today
- How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story | Homeschoolers Anonymous