There can be no denying that our modern culture is obsessed with convenience. We want whatever is cheapest or easiest, preferably both. This can be seen in the habits of consumers everywhere. I am even guilty of it. Just recently I was selling a product and mentioned, “You can buy on Amazon and get it shipped quickly if you have Prime!”
While convenience can be monetarily cheap if you are hitting the dollar menu at your favorite fast-food restaurant, it always comes at a price of some kind. In the instance of fast food, you are trading your health for a quick, inexpensive meal. It may seem like you’ve snagged a deal, but it is only in the short term for your wallet.
There are unintended consequences to consider as well. With the choice to eat fast food, you may end up paying hefty medical bills due to health problems brought about by insulin resistance and trans fats. While a church potluck usually contains homemade food that is far from quick and easy to prepare, churches are also vulnerable to the draw of convenience. This is especially true when it comes to teaching youth about sex.
Purity Is Good, But Not Puritanism
In the 1980s and ‘90s, several organizations and figureheads within conservative Christian circles, like True Love Waits and Silver Ring Thing, rose up. Literature like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” brought an increased awareness to no-touch courtship and strongly advocated for young people to stay virgins until marriage. This was in response to the secular culture’s obsession with sexual perversion brought on by the Sexual Revolution and rising teen pregnancy rates. This push for purity was a good thing, at least in theory.
There is more to leading a life of sexual purity than waiting until your honeymoon to have sex, and proponents of the purity movement began addressing this as well, arguably very poorly. To say they went a little overboard would be an understatement.
In their efforts to promote purity, they endorsed no-touch courtship, a relationship in which affection of any sort was strictly reserved for the altar and beyond. Not only did this forbid kissing, hugging, and holding hands, but in some cases, it also outlawed private conversations between couples and even having a crush to begin with. The essence of the rules could be boiled down to two beliefs: that attraction was a sin and sexuality was dangerous. If one transgressed Purity Culture’s boundaries, they were said to have “given their heart away” before marriage.
Violating any of these “rules” of Purity Culture made a person the spiritual and sexual equivalent of “chewed gum,” “spit-in water,” and “a de-petaled flower.” If you committed any kind of sexual impurity by the movement’s definition (even if it wasn’t included in the Bible or was a non-consensual sexual encounter), you were “damaged goods.”
While sexual purity is a good thing and something the Bible asks us to strive for, Purity Culture does not advocate for it. Instead, it advocates for a one-size-fits-all model for handling dating and affection. It is a lazy, convenience-based solution to a complex spiritual problem, one that has cost many their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
This model for achieving sexual purity neglects the work of the Holy Spirit to convict on spiritual decisions that are within the realm of adiaphora (a matter that is neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture). This leaves many to rely on behavioral modification rather than acting out of love for their neighbor.
Suppressing Sexuality Is Not a Good Response to Its Misuse
The rhetoric used by the movement to discourage sexual activity conflated the worth of an individual with his or her ability to resist having sex. While this impacted many, it was not overly successful at discouraging youth from premarital sex. As it turns out, most people who wait to have sex do so out of personal conviction, not because they were forced to sign a purity pledge before they even knew what sex was.
As a result of their worth being found in sexual activity or lack thereof, many young Christians suppressed their sexual desires and developed self-hatred over the fact that humans are sexual beings. This suppression and self-hatred led to things like Sexual Aversion Disorder (commonly referred to as “asexuality” by survivors of the movement), eating disorders, self-harm, addiction, suicidal ideations, and spiritual apostasy.
These are side-effects of the movement that I know too well. I struggle with the eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa due to the lack of healthy boundaries and the need for “control” that comes out of that lack. Not only that but, apropos of the above, I have watched volumes of childhood friends slip into depression, self-harm, suicide attempts, and ultimately leave the Christian faith (a decision I briefly made as well) from the crushing weight of legalism within Purity Culture.
Even for those who did no-touch courtships, the ones generally labeled as “good kids,” these problems are present. Many Purity Culture graduates carry shame for childhood crushes, failed courtships, and sexual attraction, which is not easily shaken in exchanging vows.
We Cannot Make Ourselves Perfect
The problem with the convenience of Purity Culture is this: it puts the focus on how sinful human beings can avoid sin. This is a hopeless endeavor because we will never be perfect, even without the extra rules of no-touch courtship and purity culture. The shame inherent within the movement hinders the ability of survivors to bond with a healthy community and God.
While Purity Culture graduates continue to pay the cost of convenience through spiritual degradation and dysfunction of the body and mind, the solution is, and has always been, available to us. The problem of sexual impurity was resolved by paying the highest price that can be paid, the life of an innocent: Christ’s life.
Purity Culture glosses over one very simple fact: We aren’t pure because of anything we do. We are pure because Christ made us so in his death and resurrection. Our worth is not found in what we have done, but in what he has done for us.