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.”)
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?
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.
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.
I’m just starting here. Maybe you can help.