Problems with Purity

The youth leader held a beautiful rose in her hand, stated that it symbolized Jane’s purity, and then proceeded to tell Jane’s story.

First, Jane kissed a boy and then they broke up, so the leader pulled a petal off the rose and it dropped to the floor, diminishing the rose’s beauty. Jane dated another boy for a year, but that also ended, thus causing the loss of two more petals.

She did more than kissing with a guy that she wasn’t even dating and caused the loss of yet three more. Her college sweetheart, a relationship that she thought would last forever broke up with her, after kissing her for several years. The diminished rose had only a few petals left, but the story went on.

Finally, Jane found the man that she would actually spend the rest of her life with, but she had only a few petals to offer. Her purity, the most important thing about her, was lost, and hopefully, he would accept her even though she had been with other men.

And this, I was taught, is what happens when you give your purity away to people who are not “the one.” You have nothing left to give “the one” and simply hope he will still accept you.

I recently read another illustration that is apparently used in the Passport 2 Purity curriculum. Instead of a rose, it’s a water balloon. And each kiss is a pin poking a hole in the balloon, until all the purity leaks out and there is nothing left for “the one.”

Really? Is one’s purity so easy to lose, and once lost, never recoverable? And does even one kiss make it so that we have “less to give” our future spouse? Is dating and breaking up so horrible, or could breaking up actually be a good thing? (and I won’t even address “soulmates” or “the one.”)

Is one’s purity so easy to lose, and once lost, never recoverable? Click To Tweet

And wow, there’s a lot of fear and shame in this, no? It seems that there’s fear on the part of the teacher: Don’t have sex (or even kiss), young one—I’m afraid you’ll be destroyed!

And the fear from the teacher instills fear in the young person: I’m scared I’ll lose everything, starting with a kiss! I’m afraid I’ll be unacceptable to my future spouse! And if, perchance the young one kisses or goes further sexually: Now I’m nothing! I have nothing left! I will either spiral into terrible shame, or just have a lot more sex because it no longer matters!

And we’re not just talking about willing sexual encounters. Elizabeth Smart’s story of kidnapping and sexual abuse shows how this attitude about purity can disempower. She shamefully concluded that since she lost her purity, she was now valueless and her life was not worth fleeing her captors or even crying out against them.

But does teaching based in shame and fear truly lead to transformed lives? Or does its success simply lead to conformed ones that follow the rules? Would it not be better to teach young people to make good, informed decisions based on facts and truth, rather than fear and shame?

But does teaching based in shame and fear truly lead to transformed lives? Click To Tweet

Don’t get me wrong—I waited until marriage to have sex, and I’ll encourage my children to do so as well. I just wish that I wasn’t so mixed up about sexual intercourse in general from the teaching I received in my youth.

Rather than focusing on how I’d lose my purity, I wish someone had told me about how early sexual experiences would wire my brain to normalize that sexuality. If I started with pornography or sex outside of a lifetime commitment, my brain would be wired to think that’s normal sex. And rewiring it for sexual commitment in a long marriage would then be really hard. Mark Gungor has a video about this.

Rather than telling me how horrible I’d feel, I wish someone had told me that I might find premarital sex enjoyable, but sexual intercourse isn’t just physical, but more than that. And the bond I’d form with the person I had intercourse with would not be easily broken.

Rather than telling me how amazing sexual intercourse is, I wish someone would tell me that it’s great, but sometimes ordinary. It’s messy and really just a normal act between committed people who love one another. And without “intercourse” on other levels (spiritual, emotional, etc.), it’s missing something.

Rather than prioritizing sexual intimacy as the kind to be careful of, I wish someone also told me to take care in emotional, intellectual, and yes, spiritual intimacy. Some areas are just deeply intimate, and we need to take care with regard to with whom we share them.

And rather than prioritizing only marrying a virgin, I wish someone had told me that marrying a really good person with integrity was more important than whether I’d be the first. Virginity is not what makes someone valuable, as Jessica Valenti makes clear in The Purity Myth.

Virginity is not what makes someone valuable. Click To Tweet

It’s time that we teach young people to think more than to simply follow rules. They are able to think through and interpret a lot more than we give them credit for; and when they think,they may make choices with which we agree, and they may not.

Perhaps rather than talking about sexual purity, we can talk about sexual integrity. (I wrote that, thinking I was coining a new phrase! Alas, my google search proved I was wrong.)

What do I mean by sexual integrity? I mean that we should talk about making informed sexual decisions that align with our values, that we not move forward sexually until we understand the next step and all that goes with it. Sexual integrity means we admit that sexual intercourse usually doesn’t “just happen” as if we had no influence, but we choose to stop or move forward.

Perhaps rather than talking about sexual purity, we can talk about sexual integrity. Click To Tweet

I’m just starting here. Maybe you can help.

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7 comments on “Problems with PurityAdd yours →

  1. It’s true! In Christian culture we put a lot of emphasis on sexual purity (and if it’s lost, in many subtexts, you are worthless). Whereas in Secular Culture there is enormous pressure to be going after numbers and experiences, sexually (this is a generalization, not always true). The amount of shame that comes from the church in this area tends to alienate anyone who has had any kind of sexual experience. Why not talk about the importance of good boundaries? Why not talk about how intimacy is more than just sex? Any who, those are my thoughts, so far.

  2. I think that speaking as a parent, its so hard not to be afraid for our children to make wrong choices. When we begin our journey as a parent, we think we have prepared enough and know so much, but than you go through all these classes and read all these books and you figure ok I am ready. But honestly parenting does not come with a handbook. We dedicate our children to the LORD, we do our best to train them up in the way they should go, and when they get old they will not depart from it. But most especially the most important thing, is to pray without ceasing that they will remain righteous holy and pure and virgins until they get married and their spouses as well. The key is to remember that no matter what our children do, and no matter what parents do, ultimately the LORD is in control . We do the best we can and we leave the rest in the LORD’s hands. HE makes up for our lack. Thank you JESUS for our salvation, and for our children’s salvation, cover them and cover us and with Your loving hand, and help us to remember that when we confess our sins to you we are forgiven, and our sins are as far as the east is to the west. !! Thank YOU JESUS for your love, which is deep and wide and long and high !! Thank YOU JESUS that there is no more condemnation in those that are in Christ JESUS !! And thank you that the old is gone and the new has come and that we are a new creation , and thank you JESUS that your perfect LOVE cast out all fear in JESUS name amen !! I love you JESUS !!

    1. Yes… I’m early in the parenting journey, so it sounds like you’ve been doing it longer! I read a quote recently that disturbed me a little, though. The parent thought the everything would be “perfect” if her child remained a virgin until marriage…. I really don’t think that things are perfect. Ever. Because we aren’t. We hope that following our Maker’s guidelines makes them better, but we all fail at some points. Seems to me that we either overemphasize or under physics the importance of sexual intercourse. Hopefully we can move toward balance!

      And hopefully, the deep trust in God, you confess and knowing we’re not in control will allow us to have less fear.

  3. The church is obsessed with sex. Other things we are blind to. How dare the church scar someone for life.

    1. I was just reading Debra Hirsch’s Redeeming Sex, and she reminded me that there are so many things I can do (gossip, misuse money) that have great destructive effects–I think those effects (greed, for example, which causes hunger and death around the world) might need greater focus.

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