When the Purity Push Does More Harm Than Good

Words by Megan Sheahan from her blog The Thoughts.

Let me premise this post by saying that I am in no way promoting promiscuous behavior. In all my posts, I am seeking to promote health, truth, and self-love. My point in raising questions regarding this topic is to question whether purity culture actually promotes self-love or fosters guilt and shame.

Now that we are clear, let’s begin.

Growing up immersed in Christianity, purity is a topic that can’t be escaped. At school, it’s in womanhood classes, in youth group, it’s in a five-week dating God’s way series, at home, it’s in a purity ring. I honestly never completely understood the whole point, but the analogies where enough to scare me into wearing my purity ring.

“Every time you give yourself to someone, you have less of yourself to give to your husband.”

“You are like a rose, if you keep giving the petals away to other men, what will you be able to give to your husband?”

“When you stand at the alter, you want to be able to give your husband all of you, not just what’s left of you.”

“I waited until I was married and it was incredible.”

“I didn’t wait until I was married but I wish I did.”

This may be temporarily affective in deterring early teenagers from sexual behaviors, but what happens after the lines that seemed so clear to a twelve year old are suddenly blurred when she is sixteen and finds herself in a relationship? When everything no longer seems so clear and then things led to other things and bam.

She gave some of the petals off of her rose.

She has less to give to her husband.

She is damaged goods.

She didn’t wait until she was married so she won’t get to experience the amazing experience they all speak of.

Right?

Wrong.

Or what about the girl who is in college and is still saving her first kiss for marriage, but she feels guilty because she cuddled with someone who she is not dating and now she feels she cannot give all to her husband. Or she tries to find loopholes so she and her boyfriend will give each other hickies, but they haven’t kissed on the lips so it doesn’t count. Everyone is so impressed by her “self-control” in saving her first kiss for the alter, but she has gotten to the point that she feels so much pressure to maintain this promise she made to others that she feels she can’t even kiss her boyfriend and feels guilty and shameful for even wanting to.

That’s healthy and free Christianity that we all want to be a part of.

Right?

Wrong.

Or what about the couple who is a month away from their wedding and the walk into a counselors office saying, “we messed up. now what?”

They have less to give to each other on their wedding night.

Right?

Wrong.

Or the married couple who can’t even have sex because it has for so long been associated with shame or guilt that even though they want to, subconscious issues block them from physically being able to.

All these scenarios are real, whether they are experiences of people I personally know, or scenarios my professors have talked about in psychology classes.

In one of my classes, my professor asked us-

what are you going to say to your twelve year old son when he comes home from school and says, “dad, my teacher dropped her eraser and bent down to pick it up. Why did I get turned on by that?” (which he claims was a question his son really asked)

The answers baffled me

“Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.” Really, you’re going to tell a twelve year old that who currently has no control over his hormones or physiological changes?

“I’d say ‘you shouldn’t think about your teacher like that,’ and then change the subject.” You don’t think he’s already confused as to why he’s starting to think about his teacher like that?

People continued to give answers, and my professor continued to give challenging responses. He asked us to think about how we are going to handle the topic of sex with our children in a way that is biologically respectful, emotionally healthy, and still honors God.

I still have no answer to that question, and I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that for at least another decade. But in the meantime I’ve been thinking about it. Why is the purity push fostering shame and guilt? That’s the opposite of what Jesus meant for us, right?

I don’t think that the point in Jesus saying “if you look at a woman with lust, you have committed adultery in your heart,” was his way of condemning lust, but rather saying that everyone is equal, whether physically being sexually active or not, sexuality is a part of human nature and those who haven’t had sex cannot think they are above those who have, because there’s not way they haven’t thought about it.

I think rather than families and youth groups focusing on abstinence, they should focus on fostering a generation of girls who have standards and self-respect, and guys who will respect girls. So that decisions they make, whether before are after marriage, are decisions that are healthy and self-loving, and they don’t have to be followed up with shame or guilt.

Also, let’s look at the fact that the divorce rate is highest among 2 separate groups, people who are married under 23, and Christians. It’s not a secret that Christians are driven to get married younger so they don’t have to wait have sex. What causes more damage, premarital sex, or divorce that possibly breaks up a family?

So, not only does purity culture foster guilt and shame in the short term, but in the long run, it’s repercussions can be even greater.

I’m not saying to throw all purity-topics out the window. I’m simply asking to consider the negative ramifications of purity-topics. My professor said the struggle is in balancing the topic of sex in a way that is biologically respectful, emotionally healthy, and still honors God. I don’t think God’s law shouldn’t contradict what is biologically respectful (since he created us) or what is emotionally healthy (since he wants us to be whole). So maybe if the way purity is being presented clashes with either of those two topics, I don’t know how it can be of God.

If Jesus was about living life abundantly and being free from the law, I think he wouldn’t want the push to be toward wearing purity rings and telling girls they are withering roses, but rather teaching them to be emotionally healthy and trust their choices will reflect their health.

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