Let’s Talk about Purity Culture

**TW: sexual abuse is talked about in this post.

Hello dear readers,

I’m sorry about my infrequent posting, life is getting busier and it’s hard to always gather up my thoughts and get them out of my head and onto my laptop.

Today I wanted to talk about purity culture because even in the Lord’s church, I think we have some harmful ideas and things we say about sex, virginity, our worth, and forgiveness.

I. The Problem With Our Attitude Towards Purity

“What are your thoughts about dating someone that isn’t a virgin?” I’ve asked this question to a few people and a few groups, curious about what answers I would get.

“It’s not fair.

That’s the common theme of the responses.

“It’s not fair that I’ve waited and then am going to marry someone who didn’t wait and can’t share that first time with me.

Another concern people have expressed to me is about the emotional baggage a partner like that could bring.

The attitude in those statements is the real issue.

Let me set the stage for another example:

The lights in the room are dim as the speaker takes the stage, he’s holding a rose up for all to see.

“Who wants this rose?” he asks, arm extended out towards the audience of young adults and pre-teens.

A ton of people raise their hands, and proudly, the speaker leans down and hands it to one of the youth. Then, he tells them to touch it, maybe pull off a petal or two and then pass it to the next person to do the same.

He then stands and begins to compare the rose to purity. Each hand it goes through symbolizes a relationship, a kiss, sex, giving away pieces of your hearts, etc.

Finally, the rose makes it around the room and is handed back up to the speaker, torn, wilted, crumpled, and missing the majority of its petals.

“Who wants this rose?” he repeats like before, but unlike before, no one raises their hand. The room is silent and grim, and it’s full of hopelessness because those kinds of speakers never said what they should have said to us next:

God does.

Our worth has never been found in how pure we have been sexually, it’s found in Christ and in the fact that God made us in His image.

I know purity talks such as the one I described above are to warn us, and overall I agree with the message–God created sex for marriage, going outside of God’s design is sin and we are told that in the end, those who are walking in sin will be condemned.

“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.“-Hebrews 13:4

However, I think so often we focus on the “don’t fall short” which should be something we strive not to do because we are told to walk in the light, that we forget the “if you’ve fallen short” .

Ephesians 5:3 tells us that there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality among us as Christians, and that is true, like Joseph in Genesis 39:12, we need to always flee from sin.

When the adulterous woman in John 8 was brought to Jesus, He didn’t compare her to a torn rose, he didn’t call her dirty water, chewed up gum, or any of the other metaphors we use to make people feel like our worth is merely found in our bodies and physical purity.

Jesus didn’t do any of that, instead, he said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

So, with all this in mind, what attitude should we have?

We need to understand that sex is for inside a marriage, not outside of it, and that we shouldn’t be living in sin, including sexual sin.

However, we also need to understand that like all sin, when we repent and turn from it, that God forgives us and others. God blots out our sins (Isaiah 43:25).
We need to get rid of the idea that someone is filthy for having sex in the past because that’s not true. Sin is filthy, and we’ve all sinned, thankfully we know that there’s a way to be cleansed from our sin.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”-1 John 1:7

II. The Ones We Hurt With This Attitude

Now that we’ve talked about the wrong attitude that we often have when it comes to this issue, let’s talk about the people we hurt, alienate, and silence with our metaphors and purity talks that only focus on “Don’t do it”. Who do we hurt when we misplace worth with sexual purity?

a. The Survivors

What message are we sending to victims of sexual abuse?

What do they hear when they listen to sex talks or overhear conversations about how it’s unfair to the people who have stayed pure to date or marry someone with a sexual past?

Do they hear that they have lost their worth? That their “baggage” is not fair to their future partner and will be a burden?

It’s terrible. When people compare sexuality to a rose losing its petals or to dirty water, or say things like: “why would you want something stale when you could eat something fresh?” I don’t think we stop to realize how awful, untrue, and damaging our words are, and that we may be speaking in front of a sister or a brother who may have had a lot of things stolen from them.

“I think it goes even beyond fear, for so many children, especially in sex trafficking. It’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like, ‘Who would ever want me now? I’m worthless.’

That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other. And that’s how I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow: that when I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex.

After that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone.“-Elizabeth Smart, a survivor who was kidnapped and raped at age fourteen

Elizabeth also went onto talk about how purity talks hurt her as someone who had gone through abuse, “I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that?”

How awful and untrue of a thing for her teacher to say, yet, sadly metaphors and allegories such as that one aren’t uncommon and are often used, even though it’s inappropriate and harmful to compare people to gum, flowers, or any other object without a soul.

b. The Forgiven

Sadly, the world is sinful, and most people who didn’t grow up in the church and converted later in their teens or adulthood aren’t virgins.

Sadly, sin and temptation are hard and even people raised in stable Christian households can stumble and fall.

However, it’s not our past that matters, it’s our present. We are not defined by our past mistakes, and I think that’s something we’re all grateful for, so why would we try to define a brother or sister on their past that has been forgiven and forgotten by God?

c. The Silent

Growing up, I knew many “silent kids” as heartbreaking as it is to write. I knew kids who were struggling with being attracted to the same gender, kids who felt guilty and lost for giving in to the sexual pressure of their significant other, and many things along those lines.

When one of my denominational preachers gave us the typical purity talk, my heart broke for the ones I knew were in the sin he screamed about, I watched as they flinched, and I quietly despaired as I realized that a lot of those kids would never speak up to get the help and support they need to go in the right direction. I silently begged the preacher to tell them about how our sins are washed away when we repent, how Rahab, a former proustite, became a direct ancestor to Jesus Christ and was mentioned for her faith in the New Testament.

Sometimes we pounce on issues such as this one and just scream “Sin!” and that is the truth, but we forget the important and needed “if”

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”-1 John 1:9

III. The Conclusion

We have been shown time and time again in the Bible that there is hope and forgiveness, and we should never forget that when it comes to ourselves or anyone else.

If you are struggling with a sin that falls under sexual immorality, or if you have committed one in the past, you are not lost. You are not broken beyond compare. Your worth isn’t gone because it’s always been in Christ.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is the message repeated in most of the purity talks and books I have listened to and read and it’s usually the overall tone of the message, but it’s not the end of the verse.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”-1 Corinthians 6:9-11

And such were some of you.

Past tense.

How powerful is that?

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new.”-2 Corinthians 5:17