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Anti-Purity Culture

rebellious-teensI am not an advocate of Purity Culture.

Raising four kids helped me reach that conclusion. Two boys and two girls, all now married, with seven grand-kids in tow. Along the way, we had our chances to be Purity Culture reps. We homeschooled our kids and Modesty / Purity Culture was big in homeschooling circles. Huge, in fact. Some of our friends’ kids exchanged purity rings and made public pledges to remain chaste until marriage. This was followed by several years serving as a Youth Pastor, which allowed me to experience firsthand the wreckage and dysfunction that well-meaning Christian parents could inflict upon their kids in the name of Purity.

Despite all this, we continued to believe that sexual abstinence and virginity were important things to teach our children.

We still believe that for our grandchildren.

Which has led me to this question: Is it possible to disavow Modesty / Purity Culture and still hold to the belief that abstinence and virginity are essential to healthy sexual development? Can you teach children that sexual promiscuity and immorality are wrong, and that virginity is a precious commodity, without shaming them and turning them into emotional wrecks?

From my perspective, most of those who denounce Purity Culture would answer No — You cannot teach your child that premarital sex is wrong and that virginity is virtuous without shaming them and disrespecting their autonomy

Take for instance, the No Shame Movement, which describes itself as “a platform to share stories of unlearning purity culture.” In an  interview at Christian Nightmares, the anonymous founder of #NoShameMovement was asked “Can you talk about what it means to ‘unlearn purity culture’ and why you feel that’s important?” He/she answered:

Unlearning purity culture means developing a view of sexuality that doesn’t include shame for having sexual thoughts or desires, let alone acting on them in a safe, consensual way that respects boundaries. Many who have internalized purity culture constantly feel guilty for every sexual thought that comes into their head, for engaging in self-pleasure, or for being sexually active. These are things that are a part of human nature!

One of the most commons lessons enforced in purity culture is that your body is not your own, and that when you engage in any physical activities, you’re “dishonoring” your future spouse (assuming, of course, you want to/can legally/can afford to get married). The other most common lesson is that premarital sex is sinful and dirty and will ruin your life and make you miserable. Well, guess what happens when you have premarital sex? Self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of dictating what people should do with their bodies, they should be encouraged to make healthy supplement and even autonomous choices. This is why exercising is so important.
Before I proceed, let me clarify again that I agree with many of the critiques of Purity Culture. It potentially attaches undue worth to behavior (or abstinence) and tends to present a very non-holistic approach to sex. It can devalue the human person and drastically minimize the grace and mercy of Christ in ones life. So “unlearning” Purity Culture is indeed a necessity for some.

Yet while  the problems with Purity Culture are well-chronicled (OVER-chronicled?), in my estimate, some of those claims seem — how can I put this? — inflated. Nowadays, Purity Culture is blamed for all kinds of things. Like encouraging “Rape Culture,” incest, making some women fat, others afraid of men, shaming victims, and the list goes on. All the while, testimonials or teachings of Purity Culture are commonly mocked and its supporters are often caricatured as narrow-minded medieval prudes.

Which has led me to where I’m at today: Both sides — Purity Culture supporters and critics — have their extremes / extremists. And frankly, I’m not sure that the Anti-Purity Culture movement is any more capable of producing emotionally / sexually healthy individuals than their foes.

One extreme of the Anti-Purity Culture movement appears to make them very much pro-promiscuity. At least, indifferent towards promiscuity.

Which is why the founder of the No Shame Movement can suggest that,

Instead of dictating what people should do with their bodies, they should be encouraged to make healthy autonomous choices.

Of course, those “healthy autonomous choices” have to do with being “sexually active” in “a safe, consensual way that respects boundaries.” According to https://www.stdaware.com, group of diseases can range from benign to life threatening and from curable to lifelong illness. For patients with specific symptoms, consultation with a physician is recommended to discuss diagnosis and treatment for these conditions. For those without symptoms, screening is recommended in certain circumstances, but available to all who desire testing.

Translation: Healthy sexual choices involve

  1. Mutual consent
  2. Using a condom
  3. Not feeling guilty afterwards

As a father of four and grandfather to seven (and a Christian), I consider this approach unhealthy, unbiblical, and just as potentially diseased as the Cult of Virginity.

So I have a question for my Anti-Purity Culture friends: In what ways is teaching our adolescents and young adults to act upon sexual thoughts “in a safe, consensual way” ultimately healthy? I mean, should your teenage son “feel guilty… for being sexually active”?

Personally, I hope so.

In fact, I’d even go so far as suggest that some guilt is a sign of a healthy conscience. Of course, most Anti-Purity Culture advocates would not agree.

Like this sex therapist whom I corresponded with on Twitter:

 

 

As I responded, if having no shame is our highest ideal, then we’ve abandoned absolute morals for relativism. If the absence of “pain” or “shame” is the barometer of what is “healthy,” then tweaking our moral compass is the path to health, not compliance with any sort of sexual standard. And this, from my perspective, is the big problem with Anti-Purity advocates…sexual purity is optional; in fact, there is no standard for sexual behavior other than what the individual freely chooses. Which means that the ultimate goal is not to align ourselves with what the Bible says but to redefine “purity” in terms that suit our chosen lifestyle.

Has Purity Culture accurately portrayed biblical purity and what a healthy sexual identity looks like? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, we can’t over-correct by removing all the sexual stops. Sure, shaming our kids into compliance and foisting upon them silly ceremonies and pledges can be bad. But is the answer to pass out condoms? Is the answer to downgrade virginity and abstinence in favor of “a safe, consensual way that respects boundaries”? I think not.

My sons’ and daughters’  value did not lie in their virginity. They were / are loved despite whatever decisions they made / make.  However “dictating what [your children] should do with their bodies” seems like a reasonable goal of parenting. Especially when it comes to something as important as their sexuality.

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Travis Perry June 12, 2014, 6:28 AM

    When I see people bash “Purity Culture,” what they attack is so far outside the realm of what I’ve actually seen that such attacks seem like strawman arguments to me. But let me imagine for a second that they aren’t.

    Even if I were to except “Purity Culture” is always damaging to the young person that practices it, if forced to choose between 1) Feeling guilt you don’t need to feel, and 2) Feeling fine about doing what is Biblically forbidden (a.k.a. evil), I’ve got no hesitation in saying 1 is better. Better emotionally damaged with a moral compass that feeling great without one.

    But I don’t really believe those are the only two choices.

    • Beth Steury June 12, 2014, 11:39 AM

      I’m with Travis. I’ve not seen anything even close to the behavior mentioned. And yes, ATTACK is the right word. Telling your kids the best option is to save sex for marriage is wise on so many levels–their physical health, their emotional and mental state, not to mention their future dreams and plans.

  • Alan R Joiner June 12, 2014, 6:57 AM

    As a Biblical parent, it’s been my experience that our job as parents is to promote a relationship with Jesus Christ– to enable them to form that relationship as real, and as their own. This includes Biblical teaching as spiritual truth, but that is always within the context of a relationship with their risen Savior, current Mediator, and empowered/instructed by the Holy Spirit who can direct their lives from within.

    I want them to be every bit as informed of grace as they are of the standard they are called to. I want their decisions based in a response to grace, as opposed to a desire for acceptance. Yes, there is shame in missing the mark– especially if one has a true, loving relationship with the Person that you don’t want to offend. Healthy shame is part and parcel with healthy relationship. If I value someone’s opinion, I will be ashamed of myself at times. That’s part of Biblical, Godly, Spirit-inspired conviction. It’s part of the job description of the Holy Spirit. I will immediately question any ‘movement’ that seeks to minimize the convicting power of the Holy Spirit as a good thing, just as I will question any movement that minimizes grace and promotes condemnation of Christians who miss the mark.

    It’s a balance between grace and sanctification/holiness. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. We are accepted because of what He did. We are loved because of who He is, and not who we are. We are sanctified by His power, and our cooperation as a response to the above.

    Any time my kids have approached me with something they are struggling with, or have confessed sin, my first question has always been: “How is your relationship with Jesus?” Everything else is secondary to that, because everything works out from that.

  • Jill June 12, 2014, 8:41 AM

    We should all be striving for purity. It’s sad that a term that is essentially Christian should be corrupted by people who are freakish in their cultural practices. By freakish, I mean dads who give their daughters purity rings and go through a wedding like ceremony with them because daughters are to be their daddy’s helpmeet until daddy marries them off to the men he chooses. They also make a big deal over ridiculous non-essentials, such as “giving one’s heart emotionally” to a boy who won’t become a husband. They treat passing teenage crushes as if it they were the same as giving up one’s virginity, rather than just a part of growing up and learning about oneself. And, as per usual with these cultural movements, the focus is on the girls. Girls are controlled; they are owned by a father and then a husband. The whole thing has such a creep factor that I wish it weren’t being held up as “purity culture”…..because it isn’t. It is a new tribal practice of marriage based off old tribal practices–old being apparently better or more pure.

    • Mike Duran June 12, 2014, 9:00 AM

      Jill, I pretty much agree. But that still doesn’t speak to the extreme on the other side, which I’m speaking to here.

      • Jill June 12, 2014, 10:10 AM

        I’m simply lamenting the fact that “purity culture” means what I just stated above. Otherwise, why on earth would anybody be opposed to purity? In all our thoughts, in all our interactions with other humans, it’s what we should be striving for (even though we fail miserably). If we were pure of heart, we wouldn’t go around shaming people, anyway.

        • Robert H. Woodman June 12, 2014, 4:52 PM

          Purity is a good and godly thing. I’ve seen some really good people come out of Christian families that emphasized purity. Unlike others who have commented, though, I have also seen children grow up to be damaged adults by an excessive, dictatorial focus on purity using shame to drive the children to a desired end.

          And, Jill, your comment that this modern “purity culture” is tribal is spot on. It also smacks of magical thinking and superstition, IMHO.

  • Tim Akers June 12, 2014, 10:53 AM

    As far as “purity culture,” I’m for abstinence and anything that helps kids make good choices. Emotional entanglements are messy and hard, and produce far more “baggage” than not having a lot of relationships. Just because something is taught poorly doesn’t make the subject bad, just the teacher. The “purity culture” folks seem to assume that all contact between male and females is “sexual” and to be avoided so you don’t “sin”. That is an unfortunate and inaccurate attitude.

  • Tim Akers June 12, 2014, 10:55 AM

    On a side note. I’m new to your blogs. Read a couple of them, but I must say I’m not a fan of getting a picture of some girl giving me “the finger” in my personal email. It’s one thing to put it on your blog, where I can read or not read, but in my email box? Come on, Mike. You might consider a more “respectful” approach in the future.

    • Robert H. Woodman June 12, 2014, 4:48 PM

      Tim,

      I agree with you. I was going to put in a comment on the subject, but I’ll just tag onto yours.

      Mike, for shock effect, the picture worked. But for me to forward your email of the post to several people who needed to read it, I had to delete the picture, because they would have seen the picture and ignored the message you were trying to convey. I wish you had chosen a different picture to convey the idea.

      • Tim Akers June 12, 2014, 8:13 PM

        Mike, just fair warning. Gaining access to my email and attention is a privilege. You may not feel that way, which is fine, but there are far better things I could do with my time than read your blog. So in the future, please be considerate of what pictures you put in my email box.

        Another thing Mike, I teach college composition, creative writing, and lit. If you made uncredited statements like you did about the well-documented negative effects of Purity culture, I’d fail your paper. Who documented the effects and are they reputable? Yes there are naysayers, but that doesn’t make them right.

        If you really want me to take you seriously in the future, show some integrity and present both sides. Not all people find the “Purity Culture” bad. I know people who really liked going into their marriages without the past baggage of sordid affairs and backseat groping.

        Respectfully

        Oh, by the way, watch your transitions. I had to read this thing three times to try to figure out your specific viewpoint.

        • Jill June 12, 2014, 9:03 PM

          Writing blogs like college papers is a very bad idea. I know this from experience. It completely shuts down the conversation, and that’s not what you want in a blog post.

        • Christian Jaeschke June 12, 2014, 11:39 PM

          Respectfully? Don’t make me laugh.

          • Jessica E. Thomas June 16, 2014, 9:45 AM

            Too late here. I already laughed.

            Good post, important stuff to think about. And your transitions seemed fine to me.

  • Beth Steury June 12, 2014, 11:57 AM

    I’d like to know who coined the term “Purity Culture” and with capital letters no less! The term irritates me because it makes purity sound like something bad. IT IS NOT. But more so because it’s spouting only the most extremist views and lumping everyone who is pr0-abstinence in one basket.

    It’s true parents use many different approaches to teach their children about sex–some more effective than others. There are extremes on both ends. Teaching nothing OR portraying sexual promiscuity as the norm is far more harmful, in my opinion, than pushing abstinence until marriage.

    I’m a huge proponent of abstinence and “renewed abstinence”, meaning a person who is not a virgin chooses to not have sex again until marriage. SO many people mess up once or twice and adopt the attitude “What does it matter now?” It’s never too late to begin making healthier choices about sex.

  • D.M. Dutcher June 12, 2014, 12:54 PM

    Problem is that the criticizing of purity culture is tied up with an individual’s rejection of Christian culture and even Christianity altogether. This is why you get these extremes; the people who reject that culture are at risk of the world coming in and filling them up with its values. Or they may regret the things they feel they were denied and compensate by this.

    I think this is why it’s dangerous to have too strong a Christian culture. You set up kids to rebel if you separate too much or use strong means of keeping them in check. And when they rebel, they rebel hard because they conflate the faith with the dictorial and isolating parent/culture they really are rebelling against.

  • Thea van Diepen June 12, 2014, 1:07 PM

    When it comes to the anti-purity thing, there are a few areas in which I agree with what people have been saying:

    1) Kids shouldn’t be taught to feel shame about having sexual thoughts or desires. These things are totally natural, and partially hormonal during puberty (I say partially hormonal because, aside from occasional uncontrollable sexual thoughts that can pop in from time to time, the rest of it is, in fact under their control). Sexuality is part of how God made us. Repressing it, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist, isn’t going to do us any favours.

    2) Kids should not ever be taught that their value as a human being is tied up with what they’ve done sexually. That is in no way biblical. Our value is not defined by what we do, but by who Jesus is, because we are in him.

    4) Sexuality, whether male or female, is not a thing to be feared. When we fear things, we try to suppress them, control them, let them control us, or exaggerate them. We get the excesses of both sides out of a fear of human sexuality, and that is what makes them harmful. Sexuality is, instead, as entirely natural as breathing and, just like breathing, is healthy for us under the circumstances in which it was meant to operate (because try breathing water sometime and let me know how that works for you. Oxygen, on the other hand, is extremely beneficial when sucked into our lungs).

    Here is where I disagree with them:

    1) Acting on sexual desire in a way that is unbiblical is not, in fact healthy. While I do not believe that it should be a cause for shame (the feeling that there is something wrong with us), I do believe that guilt (the feeling that there is something wrong with what we have done) is an entirely appropriate reaction.

    2) It is entirely possible to behave sexually in a way that “society” considers appropriate without being inauthentically yourself. Purity doesn’t limit people or try to crunch them into a “one size fits all” box. It simply allows them to live in a way that is healthy for them and also helps to foster healthy social connections and interactions. This point has more to do with my ideas about modesty, but it does intersect with sexuality as well, for obvious reasons.

    In sum, I support and seek after a more biblical understanding of sexuality, one that includes both Paul’s words on the benefits of remaining single and celibate, and also the sensuality and passion of Song of Songs. And, underlying that, a strong sense of who we are in Christ and that is where we find our true value.

  • R. L. Copple June 12, 2014, 1:42 PM

    Proper guilt moves one to Christ and repentance, and the sharpening of one’s conscience. Shame is a subset of guilt that ends up allowing our sin to define who we are, and denies hope of redemption. Shaming someone ends up sinking the person into the sin further, because that’s just who they are. So why try to oppose it? Thus fostering the extrem anti-purity culture.

    The extreme of the purity culture ends up downplaying grace. The anti-purity culture downplays God’s moral teaching. The balance between the two leads to healthy relationships.

  • Robert H. Woodman June 12, 2014, 4:56 PM

    Mike, overall (except for the focus image, see my reply to Tim Akers, above), this was a well-done post. Purity is the goal of the Christian life. Purity culture is a perversion of the means to obtain that goal. The anti-purity culture has some valid criticisms of purity culture, but it is also a perversion of means, and the end it seeks to obtain cannot be reached by the means it advocates. It’s a tool of evil; it’s license disguised as liberty.

  • David James June 12, 2014, 7:03 PM

    I am always amazed at how people claiming to follow God speaks out against doing things which makes you feel good. As if God just wants us to constantly feel bad.

    When God created Adam and Eve he told them right away to get to eating and get to f*ck*ng. “Repopulate the earth” “Eat everything except what comes from this one tree” They never “felt bad” about their sexuality (or anything else) until they ate from the one tree.

    Abraham did it with many women and had many children. The church mainly teaches just Isaac and Ishmael, but I challenge you to read about his other descendants.

    Not to mention how good ol’ Abe prostituted his wife to Pharaoh as if she was his sister. His son Isaac did the same thing. Jacob (Israel) also had more than one wife to get ‘er done with.

    Skip ahead some and the prophet Samuel was the son of a woman that was, at the time, one of two wives. Who knows if the guy didn’t get more wives later?

    The man after God’s own heart had multiple wives and gobs of concubines. The only time God sent a prophet against him the prophet even declared these multiple wives and concubines a blessing. The criticism was that to get his latest wife he had the former husband killed. He wasn’t criticized for having a big libido. He clearly had some satisfied women and God didn’t send any prophets telling him to quit satisfying all of them and just pick one.

    Solomon chose wisdom and God blessed him with money and women. Some of these women led him astray spiritually by wanting idols in God’s temple, yet Solomon stayed faithful in the end and is well known among many cultures to this day.

    Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute and for when she leaves him to go a whoring again to take her back in.

    There are some historians and theologians that say Mary was one of a few wives for Joseph based on some historical writings. The four gospels neither disproves nor proves this.

    Paul is actually the first to really deviate from things and he goes in a completely opposite direction and encourages people to stay away from marriage to follow God. He was reportedly bald, so he could be considered the first monk.

    I think we should do as much as possible to feel good. And wisdom comes in with this. For example: I feel good being alive. I also feel good having sex. Now, if I go out and have sex with some strange woman there is the possibility I may catch a deadly disease that can end my life a lot sooner than I would want it to end. So, even though I feel good having sex, I would rather stay alive as long as possible than have sex indiscriminately and risk having something occur to cut my life that much shorter. And AIDS still goes through condoms like water goes through a chain link fence, so “protection” really isn’t such.

    I think you can explain things to kids as much as you want, and you should teach your children the morals you have – whatever those morals may be, but in the end the decision will be theirs to make and if they do something you don’t like they are still your children and need your love the same way you need the love of the Father which never goes away.

    All the shaming from parents is outrageous. People – whether they are children, teenagers, in their twenties, or even older – should be encouraged to recognize mistakes and not make them again, not be shamed over them even before they make them.

    God is love, first and foremost. He is our Father. He is our big brother through Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our counselor and teacher. The first part of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned is “Love”. “Perfect love casts out fear.” If adolescents are living in fear while being taught appropriate views about sex, then something isn’t right. Also, indiscriminate sex without thinking of future consequences is equally wrong to teach. If you put your finger over the flame of a candle and leave it there long enough you should expect pain. It may be neat at first, and if you pass the finger through it quickly it can be a fun trick, but in the end once you’re burned it only leads to cold running water. And some things cannot be washed away.

    • Alan R Joiner June 13, 2014, 7:41 AM

      David,

      You seem to indicate that everything that happened in the Bible was condoned by God, and every individual command was given to everyone, everywhere. You also misrepresent some of your Biblical references. I’ll speak to a few.

      God told Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply because the earth was empty and needed to be filled; it doesn’t look empty today. He gave the gift of sex within the context of one man and one woman. In other words, His command was for a husband and his wife to partake in this intimate gift. Jesus reinforced this in Matthew 19. One man, one woman, the two becoming one. To list what OT people did– even patriarchs– when Jesus expressly defined the pattern, is disingenuous.

      Abraham did what he did per Sara and the kings out of fear and lack of faith in God. (The Biblical text actually makes a point to show that God protected her sexually in the situation Abraham wrongly put her in.) It’s not the best example of the Christian life. He also left many descendants, only one of which was the child of promise. The rest were his attempts outside of God’s plans, and they generally became thorns in Israel’s side. Still not the example of God’s plan for humanity.

      David and Solomon both broke the law for the kings by having multiple wives. It’s a sign of God’s grace amid sin, and not a license to follow in their footsteps. Similar to your other examples. They are included in the Bible as historical testimony of what happened– not necessarily a list of what God approves of. If we were to expand your logic to everything that is historically accounted in the Bible, you’d have to decide that God approves of incest, rape, etc… Obviously this is not the case.

      Paul stated that sexual sin is a destructive sin– a sin within oneself. His teaching was anything but “do whatever feels good and makes you feel alive”. Your example of his teachings per marriage is misrepresented, and when taken in context, works against your philosophy. He actually said that to remain unmarried freed a person’s time and priorities to ministry. But since few people have a libido capable of chastity, and since marriage is reserved for married people, most people should get married and serve God within that.

      Not trying to be disrespectful, or start an argument. Just thought I’d comment on your thoughts.

      Good day.

      • Alan R Joiner June 13, 2014, 8:02 AM

        Sorry. “…since sex is reserved for married people…”

    • J.S. Clark June 14, 2014, 12:33 PM

      I think others have addressed more here, but I would point out that Adam and Eve were told to “multiply”. Who were these two that were given this command? Man and woman in God’s image. Before sin. Point being the image of God is more than just a body, it is a condition of the soul. As such, having biological babies is not a fulfillment of the command. The earth still needs to be filled, but not just with humans, with people in the image of God. What this points to is why God said he hates divorce, his reason was because he desires a godly seed.

      The point of good sex is not just procreation, but it’s not pleasure alone either. Good sex should be part of the expansion of God’s family, not just a human family. If you take that then as the basis, and look forward to some of the examples you give, you’ll notice a pattern. Abraham not following the one man + one woman pattern, creates Ishmael who is a source of strife. Isaac and Rebecca: you can guess that perhaps his “prostituting” of Rebecca could be why there seems to be a divide between them. Jacob with multiple wives has children that are willing to kill each other, and only one of them shows much of a faith. David, lots of women, how many godly sons? Maybe one. His others include a rapist and a murderer and usurper. And do you suppose his wives were “satisfied” when one of them raped another and then was killed by another? Solomon: many wives, and while you say he ended faithful, I don’t see that. Even so, you have one son, who has the kingdom taken away.

      If you go through the accounts of sexual relations outside of life-long commitment, you find almost inevitably strife and hatred and family problems. I can’t think of one exception.

      And it makes sense when you understand what love and faithfulness is. The problem with having sex with multiple people is not the sex. God has nothing bad to say about marrying one woman, having sex, and then if she dies, marrying again and having sex with another woman. Why then the commandments (and in Moses’s day there were already obvious prohibitions against polygamy) about faithfulness?

      I believe its because we aren’t yet capable of loving one person. Think about it, why does a person sleep with one and then another? It’s because they were not satisfied by the first.

      Moving on is an act of rejection for the first. “You’re not enough for me. I need more than you.” But what did Yeshua do? He gave his whole life for each of us. The image of love is willingness to give a life. That is why, I believe, marriage is important because it says “I will give my life for you. I will never give up on you or walk away. You are worth my whole life. I don’t find you worth less than my own life.”

      Marriage is a training session. Just as when you have a child God grows your heart to be able to love another, so I believe God gives you more once you have learned to use what you had. God can’t give a person more than one woman because they have not learned yet to love the one woman fully. Except in the case of death when you have loved unto death. Then apparently, God says, “Alright, now you can have another.”

      I would not be surprised if in the resurrection, that is why there is no marriage. Because the people there have learned to love more without loving another less.

      Promiscuity is wrong then, not because of the sex, but because it trains and affirms that its ok to use people and not love them fully. It affirms that less than love, less than faithfulness, less than full giving, is ok for the sake of your pleasure.

  • bainespal June 16, 2014, 7:56 PM

    I will not deny the reality of guilt and shame, but Purity culture failed to teach me how to handle shame. (Prayer is NOT the answer, at least not even near a complete answer.)

    Logically, the state of being sexually aroused should not be sinful under any interpretation of lust. Actions can be sinful, but not feelings or biological/psychological states. Granted, the state of being sexually aroused can be a result of having sinned in the past — and that is significant. However, whether the past sin happened 30 second ago or years, the past is past, and we don’t need to feel shamed of present condition.

    Purity Culture can’t teach this while they’re also showing videos depicting the “water bottle metaphor” and encouraging kids to brag about virginity while making them live in fear of the consequences of sex. Because sex is made out to be such a big deal, any discussion regarding it will be painfully awkward at best, terrifying and confusing at worst.

    If when I was teen a youth pastor had tried to tell me that it’s not necessarily bad to think about sex, and that waking up with semen on your shorts doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve sinned, I would not have listened. I would have been upset. If pressed, my reaction would have been, “NO! I KNOW IT’S WRONG!”

    The talks that I regularly experienced as a teen made out all sexual thoughts or feelings to be temptations that could lead you down the road to premarital sex, which was essentially equivalent to apostasy in my mind.

    These were some of the warnings:
    * Don’t hold hands with anyone.
    * Don’t flirt.
    * If you’re female, try not to wear v-necks or short skirts.
    * If you’re male, try not to notice the females.
    * Don’t date until you’re ready to be married.
    * When you do eventually date, still don’t hold hands or kiss — not until your wedding day.

    Were these things we weren’t supposed to do sins, or were they just really good suggestions that you definitely need to follow if you don’t want to succumb to temptation and never again be a Christian-in-good-standing? They didn’t even acknowledge the massive gray area.

    I made it a duty to agonize in silent shame over sexual arousal. And then I got cynical and depressed, and I have damaged myself by lust. The thing is, you can’t just stop. You might want to stop, you might pray about it, but it can keep coming back.

    What are you supposed to do 10 minutes after you’ve sinned? Do you punish yourself? Do you vow earnestly to God that you’ll never do it again? Then what do you do, ten minutes later, when you’ve just gone back to the porn or the masturbation again? You didn’t want to do it, and you know you should hate yourself. You know your repentance isn’t genuine if you keep doing it. But you do it again, because it’s such a big deal that you can’t not freak out and fail. It’s such a small stupid thing, but it’s also a huge mountain. You try to break the cycle — you kneel with your forehead against the floor, trying to pray — you slap yourself, you hit your head with your knuckles, you stab yourself with a compass needle or a mechanical pencil. Nothing works — you keep doing it again, until morning arrives, and you haven’t slept, and you can’t pray anymore.

    This is not a specific situation, but it’s also not hypothetical at all. I’ve experienced it, more or less.

    • J.S. Clark June 17, 2014, 3:39 PM

      I think you make some great points in there. In scripture, God promises the power to overcome sin, but he never promises power to overcome violation of tradition.

      The bottom line is if you search the scripture, sex before marriage is not a sin. Certainly, kissing, hugging, holding hands, are not sins. Kissing, embracing, etc… were common parts of their culture. Perhaps touch wouldn’t be such an issue if we had more of it without sexualizing it.

      But sex before marriage isn’t sin, I say? That’s going a bit deep, but fornication does not equal sex before marriage because sexual sin is defined not by tradition but by what the standard given by Moses was. There sex before marriage is “frowned” upon for certain because it is unwise and of course would be dishonoring to the parents and that would be a sin. But the solution to sex before marriage in God’s economy was to MARRY!

      People will object to that, but God’s way seems to make sense since it handles what could be a foolish act by proposing abandonment. Imagine if God thought that way, “Oh, you reached out to me in desperation at the end of your rope, but you didn’t really think through everything that it would mean to be my follower? Well, I think I’ll just ‘move on’ and try to forget you.

      But the bottom line is, I think we have built walls of tradition around the sex thing and made it an idol in that way. Rather than telling children what not to do physically, we should be telling them what to do. God wants truth in the inward man, that is the solution to every problem.

  • Mysterious Bibliophile June 17, 2014, 4:37 PM

    I am a homeschooling parent of teens too, and I don’t agree with the “purity culture” movement either. There is nothing wrong with premarital abstinence, of course, but emphasizing one aspect of sexual morality — chastity — at the expense of others seems disproportionate to me. I talk to my teens about healthy relationships, mutual respect, commitment, and contraception — they’ll make their own choices about whether the first sexual experience should happen before or after the wedding.

    Of course I realize other families have religious and personal values that are different from mine, and I absolutely respect that. This is just where I stand for my own family.

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