Satan Loves Parts of The Purity Movement

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. 

Woman afraid of sex © TonyRecena |

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.

Your Turn

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 


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27 Comments on “Satan Loves Parts of The Purity Movement

  1. Yeah, the version of purity I got was not near as, um, bizarre as what you and Sheila describe. (The rape / purity thing is really odd to me. It would be like Dave Ramsey claiming that if you’re robbed, it’s proof that you can’t handle money. They’re just not the same thing. I’m not saying someone doesn’t say that — or that victims don’t believe that! — but it does seem like a weird thing to put into teaching on purity.)

    And I see the point, honestly. I see significantly more heartbreak from people living promiscuous lives than from people with warped views of purity. A lot of it is perspective, having been raised a Christian and now being in a social group that is largely very much not Christian. They are broken and because of the lies about sex that are in the world, they don’t even realize why. Broken in body and relationship and spirit. They are literally doing things that are killing them and being told by the world that there’s nothing wrong at all.

    That is not to minimize any pain that people have gotten from condemnation! That is real. But I do understand *why* there is a purity movement. When you see the outcomes of that lifestyle, it really makes you want to fight hard against it to protect the innocent.

    • @sunny-dee – I’ve certainly seen a ton of problems from premarital promiscuity, and I’ve seen plenty of marriage torn apart of the fallout. I think in part the purity movement is an OVER reaction to that. They address a real problem, but they don’t always do it in a wise, godly way. Some might argue the result is less of a problem, but I don’t think less horrible is what God would have us do. There has to be a way to avoid the problems of the world without adding our own burdens to people.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Who Speaks Into Your Marriage?My Profile

      • Sort of like MAAD and drunk driving*. Puritanism may be better than what it’s purifying, but it’s still far short of ideal.

        * And I say that as someone who despises drinking in general. :)

  2. There is so much negative power in the term “purity.” “Pure” means unadulterated, free from contamination. So the message is to wait until you are married to be adulterated and contaminated.

    There are so many sex-related issues to process, it would make sense to have regularly-scheduled discussions at home, church and school from age 9 through graduation. Also, boys AND girls need to learn about boys AND girls and their perspectives. Consistent, open conversation among family and friends would help alleviate shame and empower young people to treat one another with respect. The approach should be to accompany them through the maze of adolescence with compassion and grace.

  3. Regarding the A Better Way section: Yes, yes, yes!! Unfortunately, if this is all that is said, it can be just as damaging as the purity movement. I’m pretty sure you were trying to be succinct here and intend the discussion to go much further than “sex done right, is the best thing they will ever experience”, “it’s easily messed up and not easily fixed”, and “A bit of fun before marriage can turn a lifetime of sexual bliss into years of frustration and a limited amount of poor sex.”.

    If this is as far as the discussion goes, aren’t you sending the same type of damaging messages as the purity movement? Primarily: “If you wait, sex will be great!” “Because you waited, sex will come easily and not require work.” “You’ll immediately love sex.” So, what happens, when on the honeymoon they discover sex isn’t the best thing they’ve ever experienced?

    Adolescents need to understand the “whys” behind the one-liners. Knowledge is power. In this case, the more info they have, the more power they have in making the decision to wait or not. They’ll understand waiting doesn’t mean everything will necessarily be roses when they do get married. Ideally, wouldn’t we want young people to know sex can be one of the hardest parts of marriage to navigate, but with hard work and communication, it can generate the greatest rewards?

  4. Thank you, more than I can possibly say, for this post! You’ve said what I’ve thought for years, and what I’ve never gotten anyone in the Christian community to agree with me about. No one I’ve talked to up to this point will acknowledge any of the problems with the purity movement that you’re speaking of here. But I swear I’m a walking testimony to those problems. I was given and proudly wore a purity ring when I became a believer at 15. But then I was sexually abused at the age of 17. When I brought the abuse out, my abuser, (who up to that point had been my biggest adult mentor in the faith), actually did pull the purity card on me, and verbally branded me with the scarlet S. He let me know that no good christian man would want a girl who was anything less than pure. Being made to feel like I was now damaged goods changed my view of God from a loving, forgiving Father to a rule-book, and Judge who would only look at me and see a dirty, impure woman who couldn’t possibly be any use to Him. If I was going to have to live with that already, then I may as well take it all the way, so went the lie of the Enemy that I bought at the time. I shed hot tears as I removed my purity ring, only a badge of shame now, and threw it in the trash. I lived in extreme promiscuity in my twenties, hating myself all the while, but figuring there was no forgiveness, no way back. Certainly not from any of the Christians I talked to, who gently but unknowingly echoed the words of my abuser, no true Christian man would want a woman anything less than pure before marriage, and certainly not with the sexual history I had acumulated by that time. So my choices, it appeared from the Christians I spoke with, were to continue sinning, or to live a sexless life because I would not find a Christian husband. I’m sad to say that at the time, the choice I made was to continue sinning, because I didn’t know how to go the rest of my life sexless. It wasn’t till I met my now husband a few years ago that I learned that yes, in fact, a good Christian man could see past my history, show me that both God, and he, loved me, and that I no longer had to live with that scarlet S. God used my husband to bring me back to Himself, and to reshape my image of who I am as a child of God, and now as a wife. It’s more of a comfort than I can say to know the years of shame are over, and the only man I will ever be with now is my husband. I take real issue with the word purity. Abstinence, refraining from sex, whatever word you want to put on it, but the word purity just sets a woman who either gives it away in a heated moment or has it taken from her up for a real mess, sometimes lasting for years. It gives me hope to see a fellow Christian finally acknowledging all this. So again, thank you!!!

    • @Alicia – So sorry you understand this from the shamed side of it, but glad you found a man with a brain and a working understanding of grace.
      The sad thing is most of those men who won’t touch an “impure woman” have done as much or more. Double standard anyone?
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Who Speaks Into Your Marriage?My Profile

  5. That was one of Sheila’s best blog posts, IMO. LOVED IT! And I love your take on it, too. The “Better Way” is a brilliant way to think of it and describe it to kids! Great job with this one.

  6. Good stuff. I know this is directed at women, but I think some of this purity culture stuff is what leads to the demonization of stereotypical male sexuality that sometimes gets in our head.
    I would agree with most of this. Like Alicia, though, I don’t think I want to push the “sex outside of marriage will ruin your future married sex life” stuff. I’m not sure just how true it is. Even if it is substantially true, done wrong, the message still leaves out the part about God’s grace overcoming even this “setback”. There are plenty of examples of people with promiscuous pasts who figure out how to have respectable, monogamous, married sex lives in spite of whatever past they’ve had. I certainly want to teach them that God wants them to save sex for marriage, but I don’t know that I want it to come across as too “all or nothing” either.

    • @MrShorty – There are people who are very active before marriage and manage a good sex life in marriage, but most of those folks do struggle at some point in some way. However, the fact some struggle very little and others get past it does not change the fact it usually causes problems.
      We do seem to oversell the point, but it’s a valid point and it would be unfair to not mention it.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Fancy FoliageMy Profile

      • I think you are right about overselling it. It is true that many (most?) with promiscuous pasts will struggle at some point. I would point out, though, that most (almost all??) couples — even if they did abstain until marriage — will have troubles in the marriage bed. Sexual differences and the difficulties that arise from those differences are a common problem in marriage. On top of sexual difficulties, every marriage (is “every” overstating?) will have some kind of difficulty to overcome. If it isn’t sexual it may be a problem with money management or time management or in-law management or … (you’re a marriage blogger, you almost certainly don’t need a long list of all the possible difficulties a couple can face). There is probably real value in talking about it like, “here are some problem that sexual experience before marriage usually causes. You can prevent these be being abstinent until marriage, or you can deal with these problems after you get married”. I know that some of you marriage bloggers have discussed the “what if I/we had sex before we got married” (J at hotholyhumorous comes immediately to mind), so there is not a vacuum there. Maybe it is just about balancing messages again, or knowing your child or your youth group well enough to know which messages they need that day/week.

  7. Wow…just wow…your post made me see purity in a new light and your comment about masturbation caused me to stop and pause too. Thank you for your bravery in writing this post!

  8. There wasn’t a specific Purity Movement when I was growing up, but many of these ideas existed among Christians. What I think we lacked was biblically based, honest teaching about sexuality. The purity movement tried to fill a lack of communication on this subject, and some of went awry. But I’d say much of the erroneous teaching was passed around on a smaller scale for years and years.
    J. Parker recently posted…The (New & Improved) Sex Book You Need for Your MarriageMy Profile

  9. I did not come from a strict household in terms of purity culture boundaries, but i did come from a family where Purity = Virginity but we didn’t talk about it much. When I first had sex at 15 it became a devastating and embarrassing family affair (inc grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc). I was so ashamed. I even began projecting things from my family (like disappointment) into my relationship with the Lord, so I became convinced that He was disappointed and ashamed of me.
    I am 22 and single and last year I ended up dating a non-believer and *trying* to have sex with him. After seeing my OBGYN and a therapist, I was diagnosed with vaginismus, which i believe is partly from the conviction I felt in sin but also from the shaming of purity culture and scars from sexual abuse all mixed together.
    Thankfully (so thankful), the Christian circles I run in did not shame me for my struggles (except a few leaders). In a way I am grateful I discovered vaginismus now though, so I can hopefully conquer some of it before I married one day.

    It gets me thinking about today’s youth groups and even my future children.
    I often think about how the church approaches purity. I had church leaders shame me and place unnecessary rules on me because they did not trust Jesus was changing my heart. I was sexually harassed on my way home from school and their response was, “What were you wearing?”
    The legalism drove me into isolation and distrust because I didn’t understand how I could be responsible for other people’s actions. It didn’t make sense and it has since taken much inner healing to recover from those years and relationships.
    With my own children, I would like to impress purity as a posture of your heart, but also instilling the value of sex for marriage and WHY God intended it that way… How marriage is the physical representation of Jesus and his bridegroom and how Family is the ultimate reflection of God on the earth.
    I think a sex-focused purity message is perverted and toxic and I think many adolescents don’t wait for marriage because they have not come to that commitment in their heart.
    I want my life and the way I raise my kids to call people into that place of committing to purity in the heart and out of that overflow comes purity everywhere else (emotionally, mentally, etc). But that’s something I’m clearly still walking through with Holy Spirit…

    I am sorry – I wrote so much

  10. My Mother always told me that sex within marriage was a beautiful thing between two people in love. Which it can be.
    That message didn’t prepare me for any of the negative evil aspects of sex that I heard and saw every day growing up. Just because a person remains ‘pure’ by choice, doesn’t mean they will be sheltered from the everyday messages we are bombarded with on television, movies, magazines, and stories we told. Sadly, most of these things we are exposed to are a negative and evil side of sex.

    I’m sorry, but the messages we learn about sex in the real world don’t always match up with the messages we receive from our parents and the Church. That leaves many of us confused.
    I think many people enter marriage (virgins or not) with a skewed sense of sex just by living in our present culture. No wonder so many of us have trouble with our sexual lives.

    My opinion only: Our cultural sexual attitudes need a huge revision! Until that happens, our kids will be getting conflicting messages if we like it or not.

  11. What I meant to say in my previous post (other than blowing off steam) was:

    Are the sexual problems we are attributing to the Purity movement indeed caused by the Purity movement or are they caused by our cultural sexual attitudes in general?

    • @Jolie – I would say some of both for many. I’ve heard things from some in the purity movement that are wrong, unloving, and contrary to the Word of God. Others do a fantastic job.
      Part of what parents need to do with their kids sex education is sharing the hard and ugly truths with them. This is difficult and tricky, but failing to do it is leaving kids for the world to abuse.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Help Her Set and Enforce Quitting TimeMy Profile

  12. So… No one is going to comment on the fact that in the text It says that masturbation is not wrong?? I would really like an explanation to that because I have always been taught that masturbation is a sin. How is it not a sin? I just wonder because I have struggled with my purity and I feel a lot of shame and guilt because of it. When I was young and single but also now that I am married. And a lot had to do with masturbation. My wife and I don’t have an active sex life. Sometimes it’s just once a month. I recently asked her if it is ok for her if I masturbate while I touch her butt even if she is sleeping. She said that it was ok so I did it. It felt weird but I just felt that I needed it. I haven’t been sure if it is ok but reading this I guess that is ok. Or am I wrong??

    • @A.C – You ask “How is it not a sin?”
      My answer is how could it be sin? God told us to avoid sex with animals and members of the same gender, but He didn’t even hint about masturbation.
      The idea it’s sin comes from a time when anything other than missionary, in the dark was sin. We’ve let go of most of the other “sexual sins” not found in the Bible, but many have held on to this one.
      I’m sorry for your situation. What you are doing is better than most of the other options, and I would not say it’s wrong, but it’s a long way from what God would like you and your wife to share.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Attitude of GratitudeMy Profile

      • Oh ok. I had never seen it that way, it’s a little hard to let it sink in to be honest. Could it then be totally ok if I for example masturbate without my wife being there. Hear me out, i am right now a little frustrated and sad. My wife and I haven’t had sex in a long time as I told you. And recently she was bathing our daughter and she also took a bath. And after that she was preparing to go to bed and put a thong on. And she knows that makes me
        Crazy but then she just went to sleep. I just get so frustrated and angry. It’s like she doesn’t care and it frustrates me so much. And that’s why I ask. Would it be ok for me then to masturbate right now without her here?

        • A.C – My friend The Curmudgeonly Librarian has a great post on this ( Guys, Are You Listening? |

          A Hubs, last year: “I’d rather just masturbate than go through the hassle of initiating.”

          Same Hubs, a year later: “We’re getting a divorce.”

          I don’t think it would be sin, but it may well lead to problems. Your sex life is not what it should be, and the marriage issues go beyond that. Regularly taking matters into your own hands may cause you to be less committed to working out the problems, and that would be a bad thing.

          If masturbation keeps you from sexual sin, that’s good. If it reduces your anger and frustration so you can deal with your wife better, that’s also good. If it reduces the chances of working on your sex life and/or marriage, it’s a bad thing.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Attitude of GratitudeMy Profile

  13. Thank you! I think it is the last one. I awful right now. I have tried to initiate but she doesn’t care but as you say we have to try to fix this. It’s just very hard when she listens but doesn’t care. But I guess I have to forgive and have patience even when things aren’t looking better because Masturbating alone won’t help. Thank you for your answers and for this blog. God bless you!

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