Has the Christian Purity Culture Gone Overboard?

Sheila is a columnist for Faith Today magazine, Canada’s premier evangelical magazine, which publishes six times a year. Here’s her column for May on the Christian purity culture.

Christian Purity Culture
What is the Christian purity culture?

Four Duggar girls–teens from the homeschooling reality show family 19 Kids and Counting–have just released their first book. Garnering the most press attention is the little tidbit that they will save not just sex, but also their first kiss, for their marriage.

I have several friends who have saved the smooching for the ceremony, and they’re very glad they did. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, though the thought of hundreds of people watching me kiss for the first time is more intimidating than romantic. But I still find the whole Christian purity culture a little perplexing.

My mother grew up in a very conservative rural Manitoba community. They kept the Sabbath sacred; they didn’t wear makeup; they certainly didn’t dance. But kissing, at least when you were engaged, was fine. Today, though, large swaths of Christianity are more conservative than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were.

What’s going on?

I think it all started with Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Good-Bye. That book spread like wildfire through the church, and all of a sudden dating, which had been one of the main attractions of youth groups for decades, became an anathema.

Yet while I agree there’s little benefit to high school relationships (an opinion I am so glad my teenage daughters shared), Boy Meets Girl, Harris’ follow-up book about courtship, still left me a little uneasy. He and his now-wife didn’t kiss until they were married. They really only did that famous “Christian side hug” that every evangelical teen has perfected. And Harris has a list of strict guidelines they followed so as to not feed lust.

Are Christian teenage girls growing up ashamed of their sexuality?

Lust is a real battle, yet this movement to grab lust by the throat and throttle it until it’s dead seems a little like overkill. We have purity ceremonies where we ask girls to stand with their dads and pledge not to have sex until marriage. We give endless talks on modesty, discussing hemlines and cleavage and how high T-shirts should be (two finger widths below the clavicle, apparently). I do believe in modesty; the world would be a much better place if everyone agreed that leggings are not pants. But in our eagerness combat the sexual revolution are we doing more harm than good?

That’s the question Amanda Barbee asked recently in her viral article “Naked and Ashamed.” She says that the evangelical church has made teenage girls ashamed of their sexuality, and this causes much sexual dysfunction later. As a sex and marriage author, I certainly see where she’s coming from. We spend so much time telling girls, “Don’t do it! Don’t even think about it!” And then they get married and suddenly some switch is supposed to go off that lets them see sex as a positive thing.

What makes it especially problematic, though, is the way we frame the whole issue. “Boys are walking hormones who will lust all over anyone in a tight sweater. It’s your job to keep him from lusting!” Girls’ sex drives are barely mentioned, while boys are presented as testosterone-induced drones, rendered helpless by cleavage. Girls become responsible not just for their own purity, but for boys’ purity, too, and sex becomes something boys want but girls have to fight against. No wonder so many girls grow up ambivalent about sex!

Unfortunately, Barbee didn’t offer an alternate approach. Yes, we’re shaming girls too much, but purity is important, and sex before marriage damages you both spiritually and emotionally. We do need to teach our kids to wait.

Or do we? Maybe that’s the fundamental problem with our current approach. My teenage girls’ biggest complaint about youth events is that they always centre around three messages: don’t have sex; don’t drink; and don’t cut yourself or starve yourself. But if we really want kids to make good choices, maybe we should stop teaching them to do the right thing and start introducing them to Jesus.

I was recently talking with a 19-year-old young woman who didn’t date in high school, but is now in quite a serious relationship at university. When she and her boyfriend were first discussing boundaries, they decided not to define “how far they should go” because as soon as you draw a line, you immediately rush to that line and start flirting with it. Instead, they decided that they would start every time that they’re together by focusing on Jesus. Make Jesus the centre, and the rest will follow.

We have become so scared that teens will have sex that we have created a purity culture that is centred around rules and shame rather than centred around Jesus. Yes, we should be modest, and yes, we should be pure. But we’ll achieve that much faster by having a relationship with Christ than by memorizing a bunch of rules.

I’m convinced that Christian kids often rebel because we put too much energy into teaching rules and not enough into showing them how to love Jesus. Rules don’t win people to God; Jesus does. And He’s the only one who can help us create a purity culture anyway.

For more on the Purity Culture debate:
Jessica at The Beggar’s Daughter linked up a great post this week on exactly this subject that I wanted to show you! She’s a young, single woman who writes a lot about purity. And in her post “Kissing is not Sex“, she says this:

If you listen to some teachings today it would seem as if letting a man wrap his arm around you is just as bad as letting him sleep with you.  It would seem that being alone with a man will automatically lead to fogged windows out on Lover’s Lane.

What happens when we take young women from this sex-obsessed approach to purity (because that is exactly what this is), and we brush them up against a guy and nothing happens? When holding his hand does not lead to petting or when having coffee does not lead to a slumber party? If a girl has grown up believing these are boundaries and that all roads lead to sex, the temptation is going to be to throw all of her ‘boundaries’ out the window.

Nothing happened when she held his hand, so why should anything happen when they snuggle? Nothing happened when they were alone for coffee, so what’s the big deal if she rides in his car?  She starts thinking, “What’s the big deal?” and that is the last thing you want her thinking! What we need to be doing, instead, is encouraging young women to establish their boundaries and to come up with guidelines that help them.

Great point! Read the whole thing.

Now tell me: how do we set boundaries and maintain purity WITHOUT shaming girls or becoming legalistic? I’ve been exploring this on the blog all week, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Christian purity culture.

Comments

  1. The key is, I believe, to stop focusing so much on sex and to start focusing on healthy relationships. It does little good to “wear white” at the wedding, if you end up in divorce court shortly thereafter. And no, being virgins when you marry, while a good thing, is no guarantee of a perfect marriage. (Can we PLEASE stop this harmful “happily ever after” myth? Sadly, some couples “race to the altar” so they can marry before they have sex, only to find that the marriage was ill-advised. Besides, what about widow(er)s?)

    Young people should have healthy same-sex friendships and opposite sex friendships. Teenage girls are perhaps too young for exclusive dating, but it’s healthy and normal for them to have boys in their circle of friends, and vice-versa.

    I was in college when I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out and it and similar books gave some people some very warped ideas about male-female relationships. The Purity Culture approach is to isolate boys and girls from each other. Unfortunately, this also deprives them of the picture of what a normal relationship looks like. Some may get the idea that any sort of opposite-sex friendship must be destined for marriage, whether it is a healthy relationship or not. This attitude of interaction=sex continues after the wedding, which only serves to undermine the marriage when, for example, a man has a project with an interesting and attractive female co-worker.

    What we should be teaching our children is not a list of “dos and don’ts”, but teach them how to set appropriate boundaries and self-control. Both are as necessary in marriage as they are before it, although, obviously, the boundaries are different because the relationship is different. The most important question in a “dating” relationship isn’t “how far have you gone?” but “what are your boundaries and are they being respected?” Someone who truly cares for you will respect your boundaries, while someone who doesn’t won’t.

    • Sheila says:

      Great points, James! Thank you!

      I hadn’t thought about it specifically in the realm of not being able to relate to the opposite sex, but you’re so right. And your comment about work colleagues is spot on, too. I’ll have to think about that some more.

    • Personally I don’t think we need to isolate the sexes. It’s more about keeping teens from so much one on one. Groups are great and they can get to know each other in a group. But single boy/girl is not what I would want at that age.

  2. You raise a lot of good points in this article. I was a teenager when the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” book came out, and my youth group leaders were all about it. And then I had a pushy college boyfriend whom I didn’t have sex with, but he did push me on a lot of my boundaries, and it took me a really long time to get over the guilt of how far I’d let things go. It was really damaging to my relationship with God, to be honest. Even now, growing up in that purity culture is affecting me–six months of pre-marital counseling wasn’t enough to undo the years of thinking of sex as something to feel guilty about (or in my case, feeling guilty about wanting to have it during 8 years of date-less singleness in my 20s). I’ve been married for 11 months, and have since been diagnosed with vaginismus. I’m trying to work through it with the program you recommended in your post on it (thanks for that!) But there is no doubt in my mind that growing up with this mentality is at least one cause of it.

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, Becky, I’m sorry you’re going through all this, and I have been there! I pray that you’ll learn to relax and that sex will one day be super easy (it is possible, really, even if it doesn’t seem like that now). This is exactly what I mean, too–I think we do shame people a little too much, though I know that wasn’t Josh Harris’ intent, and that this isn’t inevitable. It’s just that it’s happening more and more, and we need to be really careful that we’re emphasizing the right things. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Natalie says:

      I never read Harris’s book, but was very influenced by the purity culture. When my husband and I were courting, we wanted boundaries, but we asked our parents to set them. Our parents weren’t quite sure what to do, though I think my dad was trying to respect our efforts, but still thought we were overdoing it a bit. It was he who said “give her a hug already!” when we were saying good bye. It was just sort of assumed that we wouldn’t kiss until our wedding day, and I never really thought it though. That ended up being the worst kiss of my life, and it took half our honeymoon to actually enjoy kissing! I too had vaginismus, but was too embarrassed to ever talk to anybody about it, we felt like such failures when we got back from our honeymoon without being able to fully consummate our marriage. Because I didn’t know what was wrong with me, nor did I know that there was something I could do about it, the vaginismus didn’t become completely resolved until after my second child was born, 3 years into our marriage. These issues have caused tons of stress and problems for us, and now my husband has become the one completely turned off by sex because it’s taken me so very long to work though my issues. I don’t want to live the rest of my life with these regrets, and am definitely going to raise our daughter differently.

      • Sheila says:

        I’m amazed at how many people on this thread have mentioned vaginismus. That would be such an interesting study–to see if the incidence is correlated with the purity culture movement.

        I’m sorry it’s taken such a toll on your marriage. I understand some of what you’re going through–I did, too. Just keep talking, putting the relationship first, and give it some time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I saw an object lesson once that really stuck with me. The presenter put duct tape on the back of her forearm and had a teen pull it off. When you have sex with someone, you’re stuck to them. If you get pulled apart, it hurts. Restick the tape to someone else and it still sticks but not quite as well as it did the first time. I liked this one because it emphasized the bonding aspect of sex.

    • Sheila says:

      Yes, that’s a great object lesson! I showed that to my daughter when she was younger, too. I actually have a really good two-part guest series coming out next week (I hope) about the whole idea of “soul ties” and how sex does bond you. Purity is SO important–but we have to figure out how to go about it the right way, and I’m not sure we’re accomplishing that.

      I think you’ll like that series next week…

      • No, this is not a great object lesson at all.

        I see what it is trying accomplish, but there are so many ways it can go horribly, horribly, wrong. Sometimes people don’t see the lesson as being about the bonding aspect of sex, but that those who have had sex are like “used duct tape”. Some will be afraid to break off a bad relationship for fear that they won’t be desirable or able to love. Others will come away with a sense of hopelessness, that it is “too late” for them-especially those who are older when they convert. Furthermore, this can be an awful message to victims of sexual abuse.

        Blogger Sarah Bessey wrote a viral blog post about being “Damaged Goods” on this exact point.

        A better metaphor than this is desparately needed.

        • Hannah says:

          Strongly agree with James here. Although I experienced the other side of the coin, which looks like an adolescent who stays pure, judges other girls, and fights fears about how “used up” my future husband might be every time she hears statistics about porn or premarital sex.

          I love these 4 minutes of Matt Chandler on this exact topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLgIecL1IdY

          • Anonymous says:

            Interesting perspectives! I actually saw it as more positive than the purity covenants etc. Instead of it being a lost cause once you mess up, I saw it as it hurting horribly to be ripped apart from that person, but still providing a reason to avoid bonding like that again before marriage. For me, it gave the perspective of being able to choose positively regardless of mistakes that have been made in the past. I imagine it would have a lot to do with how it’s presented. I saw this as a married adult, not as a teen.

            Looking forward to the series on soul ties next week. I read the Ebook about that from the bundle and it was very interesting. It caused me to ponder whether I have any of these kicking around in the closet so to speak. Can a soul tie cause an emotional shut down? I haven’t thought of my previous partners in years but I do wonder if I set up a pattern of disconnect that is carrying over into my marriage.

          • Anonymous says:

            Then again is messing up a handful of times really enough to create a pattern?

            I just read the rest of the comments – you’re definitely on to something here. I agree that specific boundaries are between a couple and God. I haven’t read the Duggar book, but are they really saying that everyone should have that same standard?

    • Laura Brewer says:

      I also really dislike these types of illustrations, I see them as part of a problem permeating the purity culture, the idea that “fornication isn’t as forgivable as other sins”. Especially if the fornicator is a girl–I guess we can excuse guys since they’re out of control of their own bodies–but if a girl has sex before marriage, she’s given parts of herself away and she is much less desirable as a partner. I know women from the purity culture whose partners have told them “I would still love you even if you had sex before me” and were in shock.

      The fact is, forgiven means forgiven. Yes there are still consequences to sin, be they jail time for crimes, lost job opportunities for unethical behavior, hurt relationships, STDs, etc., but all our sins are nailed to the cross with Christ. Why make some more “unforgivable” than others?

  4. Honestly, as believers, the only voice we should be hearing is God’s. Especially because man-made rules will always fail somewhere along the line. When we stop listening to the myriad of opinions and get our hearts right before Him–and keep it that way–our motives will be right, and our actions will follow. We’re the only ones who know what our weaknesses are, and what we need to do to prevent sinning before God. We just need God’s grace and raw honesty before Him to obey no matter what.

    Personally, I’m fighting hard to keep from becoming jaded and cynical of anything to do with sexuality these days (Christian or not), simply because it all-too-often feels like the hope of ever realizing the biblical medium between the “sex is everything” and “sex is evil” mantras are getting louder. I fully believe in the biblical truth; it’s the fallout of reality I see all around me that I’m really struggling with.

    • Sheila says:

      “it’s the fallout of reality I see all around me that I’m really struggling with.”

      I think that’s the story of so many of us. We live in a fallen world, and there are days when we feel that fallenness much more acutely. I know I’ve been there this week, though for a different reason–hearing the story of the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped. I can’t get it out of my head, which I guess is a good thing since it drives me to prayer.

      But this world is an ugly place.

      It is ugly outside the church, and all too often it can be ugly inside the church because we will never represent God fully.

      I guess all this is just meant to give us a greater thirst for heaven and for Jesus, and if we allow that to happen, then that ends up being a good thing.

      • Agreed; it’s just admittedly disheartening (but nevertheless true) when you get to the point of wishing you were a eunuch or otherwise permanently asexual to be free of the frustration/tension, misconceptions, expectations, and confusion about sex and interaction between men and women out there.

  5. This is one of the main reasons I love working with best-selling children’s author Jennie Bishop, who is also the founder of PurityWorks. Jennie emphasizes training and teaching the PRINCIPLES of purity – creating a pure heart even from preschool age – so that, when faced with issues of sexual purity, it’s not even a question. It’s a matter of pure character/pure heart instead of a list of rules to follow. Morality based in relationship and purity of motivation will always trump morality that requires adherence to rules for rules’ sake, IMO. (Go to purityworks.org if you want to learn more about Jennie.)

  6. Yes, I think this is an important topic that we as parents and leaders need to be intentional about (as we think about it and act on it). I think considering this all in light of the larger culture/society is also important. Remembering that “I kissed Dating Goodbye” came in response to the culture of dating where you only saw the guy (or gal) on dates and set up times. I didn’t read the book (I was in college at the time), but I remember talking to my folks about the ideas. I think you, Shelia, are right that we must stop with the ‘sex is bad before marriage’ message, but at the same time, society is pushing the ‘sex is only physical’ in our faces. We need to be intentional about teaching ‘here is healthy sex’, as parents (mom and dad) enjoying each other, with others showing proper respect and distance as is appropriate to that relationship. Yes, we need to be sure that the message that its your relationship with Jesus (not the rules) is what is priority. At the same time Jesus himself (and God) gave us rules to follow that keep us safe and in relationship with him.

    This important stuff, I’m glad you are spending time on it. Thank you, Sheila.
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  7. I’ve always believed that what we make a huge deal, becomes a huge deal…whether or not it is…
    If we freak out when our kid falls down, THEY freak out and start to cry. If we WORRY about going too far, chances are, we’re creating an environment for focussing on THAT part of a relationship and even FAILING in our estimation of the details of what’s important to avoid. There’s so much more to a relationship than sex…I think the mark is missed and the union may suffer if the rest of the relationship is under-developed due to a micro-focus on sex…and the avoidance of it before marriage.
    Saving sex for marriage is an important boundary, however, simply deciding together with God and deciding TOGETHER where the line will be and enjoying each other up to and not over that line, can work very well…and is all that God requires of us. The bible does not speak to “side hugs” or saving kissing for marriage.
    Once the boundaries are established, If one of you doesn’t respect the line agreed upon, maybe that is a sign of a deeper issue…selfishness, lack of respect, low self esteem…and THAT issue can be addressed or perhaps the person you’ve chosen isn’t ready for a serious relationship, much less marriage.
    I have a daughter that attends a bible college. This is a HUGE issue. There are the “no kissing before marriage” kids and the “kissing is fine” kids. The no kissing crowd looks down on the others. The kissing group thinks the no kissing group is legalistic. Bottom line, it’s a unity breaker…and that’s one of the enemy’s most powerful tool against believers…
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    • Sheila says:

      Yes, Heather, I’d agree. My daughter always says, it’s about reasons and relationships, not about rules. We shouldn’t let rules–of any sort–become the main issue.

  8. I definitely agree with many of your points in this post, and especially what James said. My father is a minister and I think the huge widespread message is that if only you’ll wait until you’re married to have sex then your marriage will be perfect. After all, it’s “better to marry than to burn”, right? I think that we should be teaching that there is more to making a marriage good than whether or not you had sex before you were married. I sadly will have to agree with your daughter’s that the main messages youth groups receive is don’t have sex and don’t drink. Oh, and don’t get tattoos. Service after service, youth conference after youth conference, that’s the message we send. I will celebrate my one year anniversary with my husband this month. We grew up in the same church and we did have sex with each other before we were married. But over the past two years, I could probably use one hand to count the number of times we have had sex (including the year we’ve been married). That doesn’t change what we did before we were married, but we did decide that we needed a fresh start and began waiting again. But then, we got married and we rarely have sex or any kind of sexual contact at all. Even before I had sex I thought it was bad. I was so confused as to how if God made sex and God made my body the way it was, than why was I so ashamed of it? You would think that as much as we talked about sex in church, that now that we’re married we would feel comfortable talking (and doing) it. It’s really hard to make the switch that it’s ok now. Your blog has helped me with this topic so much and I have learned so much more about what a positive thing sex can be and female sexuality, because God made it that way. I really don’t have a solution to not getting kids to have sex before marriage. I learned not to my whole life in church and still did. But, I think there are better ways it can be presented instead of in a shameful or “just don’t do it it’s bad” way.

  9. I should add that although my husband and I did get married after being each other’s only sex partner, it doesn’t make it right. While we were dating and I was a teenager, I tried to justify it by telling myself we would get married and it wouldn’t matter. But at 24 (my husband’s 26) I can say that it does influence our marriage and it did harm our dating relationship, bringing in a whole slew of things (jealousy, etc.) that we had to deal with and do a lot of growing up about before we got married.

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, Bee, I’m sorry you’re walking through this! If it’s any consolation, in my research for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I found that the best years for sex in marriage are years 16-20. So they’re not the early years! Lots of people have problems of various sorts when you’re first married, and as you grow together, and grow individually spiritually, often those problems go away. Marriage can actually be very healing. I’ll pray that this is the trajectory you’ll take!

  10. As an adult in a marriage with serious sexual disfunction that relates to purity, I can totally see how a radical view of purity would be attractive. The problem is that a radical approach is going to cause a swing in the polar opposite direction. What we need is biblical balance.

    • Sheila says:

      Yep! That’s what I find difficult about this. If I advocate something in the middle, I’m often called out by those on either side. Yet in most things, the answer IS found in the messy middle.

  11. I grew up in a very conservative Baptist home, and my first kiss was at the altar. I think strict physical boundaries (i.e. no touching, no hugging, no kissing before marriage) are wise. As my dad used to say, “You don’t draw a line and then try to get as close as you can; you try to stay as far away as you can.”

    My parents never treated sex as something to be ashamed of. The message I grew up hearing was that sex is good and fun, but that God designed it to take place only within marriage.

    I never had boyfriends, and ended up married at age 25 to the only guy I was ever serious with. While single, I tried to focus on getting to know God rather that on finding a man. I agree that a lot of messages from Christians to young people seem to only be about following rules, rather than about the larger purpose of life — knowing God. And I think messages about purity should be directed equally toward boys and girls. Some girls are just as visual as boys.

    This post states that the focus of courtship/dating should be on Jesus, not on each other. I think that’s praiseworthy. But didn’t you tell us in a post just a couple days ago that when you and your husband were dating, you were most drawn to him physically when he was praying or doing spiritual things? Please don’t think I’m trying to be contentious. But that’s why my husband and I drew strict physical boundaries — to keep ourselves from acting on impulses that might cause us to do something wrong.

    • Erin, I do see where you’re coming from, but that’s why I think the boundaries should be more we won’t be in a position where we would fall–ie. being alone in a room together at night, hanging out in the bedroom, etc. And again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to save the kiss for the alter–not at all! I just think that it needs to be up to every couple and between them and Jesus, rather than being based on rules that apply to everybody. It should be about living by the Spirit, not just rules.

      There was an awesome comment left yesterday just on this; she said:

      When my husband and I were dating, I pushed him early on to set up boundaries and rules so I would feel “safer” knowing we were on the same page. Boy, I was stunned with his response!

      He brought up all the conversations we had had about grace and the Law – about how we as Christians are not to put ourselves back under the Law (Galations 3:3) but instead “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16)

      What we decided, and have seen in our Christian friends again and again, is that boundaries and rules draw your attention to what is “off limits” and we all naturally find loopholes. The other person’s body becomes a threat and a temptation, (which of course is supposed to magically reverse once you get married!) Exactly as you say, Sheila, all the attention is on the physical.

      My then-boyfriend read Colossians 2:20-23 to me, which speaks of man-made rules and regulations that SEEM wise but “have no value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Then he turned to chapter 3 and said “This is how our relationship needs to look.” That chapter is ALL about our new identity, and clothing yourself in righteousness.

      I’ll wrap up my story… How did this look “practically”? We really focused on helping each other see who they are in God’s eyes – yes, the spiritual focus made us more attractive to each other, but causing one another to sin would stand out so starkly as wrong against that backdrop, it just didn’t belong.

      Looking back, I see that there were things we intentionally never did – we ended our dates early in the evening because it just didn’t seem like “us” to stay up after dark together, he never set foot upstairs in my house where my bedroom was, and there were lots of physical lines we didn’t cross. But we never really talked about those things as “off limits!”

      We were also really surrounded by people in our church. He was part of an accountability group, and I had several women I could talk to, so don’t hear me saying we didn’t need help or didn’t struggle! We just looked at it as more of a flesh vs spirit issue with rules being something that stirs up the former rather than aids the latter.

      Now that we’re married, I can happily look back and say that the BEST thing about it is that all those ideas have translated seamlessly to our marriage, where we’re still invested in each other’s sanctification and we have a million more ways to go about it! :)

      I think that’s a great explanation. And if, as working through it together, you decide to wait for the altar to kiss, that’s great. That’s you and God and him together. But I just don’t think those “rules” will look the same for everyone. That’s uncomfortable, of course, because it’s scary to let people be guided by the Spirit–what if they hear wrong? Yet I do think that this is what we’re called to do.

  12. I think another issue that should be addressed is vulnerability/attachment. If a teenage girl (for innumerable reasons) is not in a close and healthy relationship with one or both of her parents, or at the very least extended family, like grandparents, she has an attachment void, which makes her vulnerable. The same applies to teenage boys. Trying to remain pure with this type of emotional starvation going on is next to impossible. He/she may wish very much to save sex for marriage, may fully agree with all the purity teachings of the church, may love Jesus deeply, but as soon as that physical contact triggers feelings of bonding and attachment, they’ve already passed the point of no return, even if all they’ve done is cuddled. It’s not even a lust issue with this type of vulnerability, it’s just the starved longing to be loved, to be intimate with another person, and to be attached to someone. So, in this case, instead of parents only focusing on trying to teach their kids purity principles, why not first and foremost make sure they have a close bond with their teen, and that’s there no attachment void?
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    • What a great point! Thank you.

    • Amen and Amen! Apparently I had a minor reputation as a flirt in highschool/college which completely confused me at the time because I couldn’t see that I was running around trying to fill a void in my heart. Fortunately I was a Good Girl flirting with Good Guys, so ultimately it was all rather innocent and innocuous. With a pushy, more experienced guy though? I could have gotten into trouble fairly easily. The good Lord had His hand on me there for sure.
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  13. I think we, as a culture, WORSHIP, sexual purity! I think sexual purity is what we should strive for, to honor God and our future spouse, but I don’t think those that made mistakes before or after they became Christians are doomed. I think this purity culture begin out of good intentions but has left out essential elements like grace, forgiveness, change, etc.

    (1) we have turned the focus of purity to US. I have several friends who think they are “owed” virgins — they waited, so they deserve a virgin. Although I think that sex should be saved for marriage and God intends this for our protection and happiness, I think that we should remain pure because that’s what God wants and we are honoring Him.

    (2) we have created tiers of sins — people who have sex pre marriage (even if they quit having sex, turned and repented) are worse than those who struggle with gossip, worry, judging, anger, etc. We have decided certain sins are worse. I agree that sex may have more consequences for others than some sins, but it is not a “worse” sin. I was a virgin when I got married and I think I was able to view others as “not as good as me” which was false and sinful!

    (3) we have lost our focus on grace. By emphasizing purity so much, we have determined that whether one is a virgin on his or her wedding day as paramount to a happy holy life. When others turn from former sexual sins to pursue purity, we should show grace (as we have been shown) and encourage them along this hard path, not label them as damaged goods! We have forgotten to apply grace to this situation. Through God’s grace, those who were once living impure lifestyles can grow in their faith, turn from sin, and focus and serving and obey him. Those who made mistakes and sinned (sexually and non sexually) can still grow into godly men and women and be used by the Lord.

    (4) our culture of worshiping purity can actually encourage people to remain sexually active pre-marriage. I have had many friends say that they continued to have sex because they thought that they were already damaged goods, so no need to stop. I never want my words about sexuality to make others think that they can’t leave behind the past and move forward in purity. I don’t want them to think they are already doomed. And likewise, I want those who are struggling to feel they can approach Christians for help.

    (5) also, along the lines of grace, our culture of worshiping purity takes the focus off of God and places it on our own actions. I want to worship God alone and rely on Him for salvation, not my good works.

    (6) Purity is a direction, not a line. Just because you crossed one line doesn’t mean you can’t continue to strive for a lifestyle of purity. We have made purity certain lines — don’t do this, you can do this, etc, etc. It’s so much more. Plus, NONE OF US ARE PURE. We have all failed in purity in some way– thoughts, actions, etc. Thankfully, we can repent of our sins and continue to strive to lead a pure and holy life.

    • Also, I’d like to add that I married a man who had been more physical than I had…but had repented and loved the Lord. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t an issue I had to work through, but the whole sum of him was far better than any past mistake. I almost married a self righteous man who was far more pure, but was hateful, jealous, controlling, manipulative, selfish.

      If it came down to choosing someone who made a mistake but was an amazing guy and choosing a virgin, I would hands down chose the amazing guy. [Editor’s note: I edited this because I think you said the opposite; you said you would choose the virgin, but I’m pretty sure you meant the amazing guy, so I changed it. If you meant it the other way, let me know!]

  14. I would love to respond to that question! As the author of The Princess and the Kiss (in which a princess saves her kiss for a prince – not an actual kiss but portrayed as a ball of light in a bell jar), I’ve explained many times that purity is not about a physical kiss but about the heart. That’s why we guard the heart above all (Prov. 4:23).

    When I give Planned Purity seminars for parents, we use a concept called the Five Doors of the Heart, based on Proverbs 4:20-27. We consider the five senses as “doors” that we open or close to keep our hearts clean. This allows us to discuss purity of heart even at the preschool age with a simple poster showing a heart and five doors that open to show an eye, and ear, etc. (sight, hearing, breath, speech, touch).

    We talk about how we guard the five doors physically (sunglasses, earplugs, mask, mouth guard, oven mitt) and how we guard them as doors of the heart (choose carefully what we watch, listen to, how we respect life, what we say, how we touch).

    What’s cool is that as a child grows and experiences more, learns more about our culture and moves from friendships into attractions, we can return to the five doors and discuss them again as they relate to relationships. How do we look at the opposite sex or fill our minds with objectifying images? How do we choose what we listen to and honestly gauge popular music that is overwhelmingly sexual lyrically? How do we respect relationship instead of “kleenex dating” (getting our jollies and breaking up)? How do we speak with respect and courtesy and not mislead someone’s feelings? And, of course, how do we make choices about innocent, affectionate touch, and touch that begins an arousal we aren’t yet ready to satisfy?

    As you can see, all of these are conversations, not rules. That’s because purity is not just about sex or teens, but about who we are becoming as people. People who don’t care about having a pure heart care little about sexual integrity. And the most basic transformation of the heart, of course, comes through One who died to make us whole. When we ask for that new life and start with the heart, we can begin the conversations that draw us all closer to purity (the old word is holiness) on a timetable that is ours alone, with guidelines that are different for each household and individual. Now all that’s left is to respect each other in our different, intentional choices. Living in a beach culture, I face that challenge all the time. I believe it’s a worthy battle to love and respect each person well on their journey towards wholeness. :) Thanks for allowing me to share – visit http://www.purityworks.org to find out more.

    • Sheila says:

      I like how you don’t actually define purity in terms of sexuality. It’s so much more than that. I think it would be healthier if we saw it that way.

  15. I didn’t read everyone’s comments but I definitely feel Becky’s pain because I’m in the same boat. I was very involved in my church youth group and the leaders pushed books like that all the time. Now after six years of marriage to an amazingly gentle and kind Christian man, I’m just now feeling like I have finally kicked vaginismus to the curb. (Not saying it’ll take that long!! It took me years to find out what was even wrong.) I’m now 100% convinced that the purity teachings I received as a teenager created a huge mental roadblock for me when I did marry. While I do believe in purity and modesty, I think it’s important to teach kids and teenagers about what the Bilble truly says, not what people have interpreted and carried overboard. The emphasis should be on healthy Christian relationships, and we should teach that that takes works from both girls and boys. Not all physical touch leads to sex, even after marriage. That’s just one of the important lessons that I think gets lost in the Christian purity culture.

    • Sheila says:

      Great points! I’m glad you’re starting to recover from vaginismus, too. Such a hard thing.

    • Hopefully it won’t take me that long, lol! It helps to have a name to what’s going on, at least, so I can work on beating it.

  16. Absolutely spot on again!

  17. Isabella says:

    I also think there is another side to the coin of the way purity culture can portray men as raging piles of testosterone who are only stopped from crossing the line into impurity by the women who resist them… it is incredibly damaging for wives who experience a higher level of desire than their husband.

    With ‘secular’ culture holding up the idea that men just want sex all the time, and some branches of Christian purity culture doing the same, I can share from my own experience how difficult it is to accept when your husband experiences lower levels of desire. Personally, I have spent a lot of time blaming myself, or feeling there must be something incredibly wrong with me, because my husband only wants sex maybe twice a month (when I’m lucky).

    • Sheila says:

      Oh, so true, especially with the porn culture we live in! We’re really setting our girls up to believe that all boys are totally disgusting, or to expect that sex will always be a certain way. Great point!

  18. Sheila D says:

    Great article Sheila, I couldn’t agree more! I grew up feeling (although I’m sure my parents didn’t mean to come across this way) that sex is dirty and taboo and not to be mentioned. And yes, my parents read and forced me to read Josh Harris as well. I rebelled as a teen unfortunately, but after I repented at 19, I went back to the way of thinking I was familiar with. My now-husband and I decided to set the boundary of pretty much never touching at all or mentioning our attraction for each other at all soon after we met. Our first kiss was at the alter and I was not at all happy about that, I thought it was extremely awkward and did not want to kiss him for the first time in front of all those people. We were just trying to do the right thing and while I’m glad we were, I wish we had done things a bit differently. We have an extremely strong friendship and I think the world of him and I think he’s very attractive but after 6 years of marriage we still struggle with how to show affection or attraction and how to flirt. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it really is. Although I’m glad that we did what we thought to be right at the time, I really wish we had done things differently. I don’t know how I want to advise my kids exactly, but I think you are really on the right track with the focus being on God and being in a good relationship with him rather than on a bunch of arbitrary rules.

  19. I remember when I first began to understand what covenant meant and then marriage as a covenant and how the breaking of the hymen and the blood symbolizes the covenant between God and the man and wife…. thinking…every teen needs to understand this! Kay Arthur has a book written mostly for the female called Return to the Garden; Embracing God’s design for sexuality that I think does an excellent job of helping young women (and older ones) understand Gods purposes for the sexual relationship and how the act of intercourse is symbolic of our covenant. http://store.precept.org/p-704-return-to-the-garden-embracing-gods-design-for-sexuality-workbook.aspx
    sharon recently posted…Surprised by MotherhoodMy Profile

    • FYI the websites description of the study…this interactive Bible study is an honest, redemptive call to recognize and return to God’s standards for purity. Kay’s straightforward lessons from Scripture focus on love, sex in marriage, purity, modesty, and examples of how men and women should relate to each other. These timely messages are for women, whether married or single, mother or daughter.

      There are probably other good resources out there too…but like you said we need to get back to focusing on God and His designs for our sexuality.
      sharon recently posted…Surprised by MotherhoodMy Profile

      • I 100% agree, the focus should be on what God says in his Word about sex, purity, and marriage. God’s way is going to look drastically different than the world’s way. But it is the right way.

  20. Oh I love this! thank you Sheila!

    The whole obsession with modesty is driving me NUTS! I consider myself to be a modest person, but it’s not everything. We should be JUST as concerned with teaching our guys about dressing modestly themselves AND teaching them not to objectify women, instead of making rape culture that much worse by writing about girls needing to cover up to serve men.
    Somewhere our focus has slipped off of Jesus and onto “making sure every one follows our rules” and that is tragic on so many levels.
    Paula recently posted…Dear Moms: With and Without PhonesMy Profile

    • “We should be JUST as concerned with teaching our guys about dressing modestly themselves AND teaching them not to objectify women, instead of making rape culture that much worse by writing about girls needing to cover up to serve men.”

      Paula, is there a blog or post that talks more in-depth about this concerning men, and in what specific way(s) they can avoid becoming a temptation to women? This seems to be a pretty rare topic that I would encourage women to speak up more about, and I would love to add it to my “Respecting Women” page.

      • Hi Greg,

        I was just meaning to say that it goes both ways. People of both genders should be taught to dress appropriately, and (in my opinion) neither gender should be held responsible for the task of “not causing the other gender to stumble”. It’s all quite arbitrary as each person has their own opinions on what is “modest”. We’re each responsible for our own choices, in what we wear and what we think about. We all have the ability to look away, or to wear more (or less) clothing according to our personal convictions.

        Personally, men’s clothing be it little or lots of it has no affect on me. Shirtless guys don’t cause me to lust or stumble. I’m an extremely “visual” person, but it’s still not an issue for me personally, and I wouldn’t be one to say some one should wear this or that anyway ;) I can’t direct you to any specific posts on it from the women’s perspective (sorry). I am working on a post for my own blog on a similar topic. Will probably be published in the next few weeks (but it still won’t say what guys should or shouldn’t wear, mainly that it should go both ways. Both genders should dress appropriately, whatever that means in the scenario they are in).
        Paula recently posted…Dear Moms: With and Without PhonesMy Profile

      • Greg,

        I actually plan on tackling this at some point. I may even write it up for Covenant Eyes, but we do need to start talking about how men can be immodest and drop the whole ‘don’t cause men to stumble’ line. The purity culture as a whole puts too much weight on the women, weight that God distributes evenly.
        Jessica Harris recently posted…Kissing is Not Sex: Part 2My Profile

  21. I LOVED THIS POST!! AS ALWAYS:) I read it out loud with my hubby and we laughed out loud at points of how true this is! The Christian culture is like a caricature to the world and understandably so. We are legalistic and fear based and the gift of sexuality is completely lost. It was revolutionary when I read that sexuality is indeed a good thing 10+ years into marriage & now I’ve been writing like crazy and living like crazy;) because sexuality needs to be re-claimed by the Church & Christ-followers. I am working it all out, writing parts of my story, now, but I know that the journey is far from done & my hope and prayer is that we can talk like we haven’t so that we can learn to live like we never imagined possible. All for His Glory…yes, especially sex & sexuality too! {Thank you again Sheila for EVERYTHING…I am soooo thankful for you!!}
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  22. Thank you for posting this! I grew up in a church that taught sex was bad before marriage but they focused on the “sex is bad” more than the “before marriage” part. They also pushed the no dancing, no smoking, no drinking, etc… It ended up making me look down at others & feel sorry for those who weren’t as righteous as me. All at the young age of 16! When I got married at age 20, I had a real hard time shifting gears to the “sex is good” side. Fortunately, God blessed me with a very patient man & I can now say sex is awesome as well as marriage!

    Now that I have kids quickly approaching the teen years, I am determined to teach them differently than I was brought up. I’ve been teaching them that God’s Word is our guide & we need to spend our time learning who God made us to be. Focusing on our relationship with Christ & discovering the talents He has made us with. I believe if they do this, they will make the right choices. Also, I want them to focus more on becoming like Christ & focus less on the “man-made rules”. I feel that if I had done that as a teen, I would have been better equipped to become a wife & mother. I’ve felt like I have had a lot of catching up to do. I also feel like I would have had more grace towards others! And I would have enjoyed sex & my marriage a lot more in the beginning of our marriage.

    I’ve loved all the discussion on this topic! Sheila, thanks for challenging us with these topics!!
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  23. Good food for thought. Humans are notoriously known for falling in ditches, and it seems our greatest effort needs to be avoiding those ditches and learning to think rightly and biblically about all areas of life. There’s one quote in the article, though, that still leaves me with a big question, and I think, sums up why we may tend to “go overboard.”

    This: “Yes, we should be modest, and yes, we should be pure. But we’ll achieve that much faster by having a relationship with Christ than by memorizing a bunch of rules.”

    I would surmise that the modern day church focuses a whole lot on Jesus without specifically addressing how we live out our faith. And yet, 80% of evangelicals are committing fornication (having sex before marriage) and an alarming number (though difficult to establish) are having abortions. A cursory glance at the modern church also reveals (no pun intended) a disregard for much to do with modesty.

    So, unless we decide that most churches are preaching a false gospel, what are we to conclude? Honest question leaving me stumped.
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  24. Such great points, Sheila! I also believe it’s so important to set up an atmosphere that allows children to discuss dating, relationships, and sexuality with their parents. When they have questions, where do they go? Are we parents open to discussing, explaining, studying, citing Scripture? Or do we pale every time the subject is mentioned and just come out with a list of “don’ts”? Do our kids know what values underlie our expectations? Do they feel comfortable turning to their parents if/when they struggle? Can they confess and get comfort and help from us if they mess up and are hurting because of it? Do they see the examples of purity in our speech and actions with others and intimacy in how we treat our spouse?

    I only brought up the subject of sex with my parents once, and it was an incredibly awkward conversation. I want my own kids to see me as always being in their corner, helping them to understand and properly care for their heart, their bodies, and their souls–including when it comes to sex.
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  25. I don’t have an answer to how – because if we did it would become another formula.
    However, this post conveys my thoughts around the whole purity movement, particularly this line: I’m convinced that Christian kids often rebel because we put too much energy into teaching rules and not enough into showing them how to love Jesus. Rules don’t win people to God; Jesus does. And He’s the only one who can help us create a purity culture anyway.

    I have grown daughters and a son and I think what works is being authentic, them seeing Christ in us; them owning Christ and wanting to be obedient and communicating.

    That’s all I got. Great post – hope you don’t become a pariah!
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  26. I think you said a lot of important things. Personally, my husband and I didn’t kiss until we got engaged. We started “not dating” (Thanks, Josh Harris) my freshman year of college, so we knew we had a ways to go until we could type any potential, hypothetical, “can we pretend we aren’t actually talking about this right now” knots :) For us it was just a matter of trying to keep things to a slow simmer. Everyone draws the lines a little differently. I remember reading a book where the author’s boundaries were “Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do on the front steps of the library.” Made sense to me.

    On the other hand I do think Christians need to be wary of older women who come to the church in their 30’s after partying and sleeping around for the previous 15 years. While I’m not doubting their repentance, I think some young people can get the idea that having “fun” while you’re young and repenting later is a valid strategy. (Ditto for the ex-druggy tatted up guys they bring in to give testimonies.) Sexual purity is a real and valuable thing, and if we shame Christian men for generally preferring to marry chaste women I think we do the church as a whole a disservice.
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  27. The sad fact is that extremism begets extremism. History shows this. Neither extreme is healthy. The sexual revolution and the licentiousness and irresponsible behavior it has given rise to has clearly done damage to individuals and collectively to society as a whole. But, the other extreme that gives evidence of a hatred towards anything sensual is equally damaging and harmful.

    This question you raise Sheila is really not new. The sexual pessimism and hatred of pleasure entered Christianity from ancient pagan schools of thought at the time of Augustine (died 430 A.D.). Our sexuality is part of our humanity. Jesus calls us to live a moral, human life, not an ascetic one. Marriage is good. Sex is best saved for marriage. But, here is one part of the problem. Children are experiencing physical sexual maturation (puberty) earlier and earlier. This is happening at the same time that the structure or our education system and our economy requires them to postpone marriage later and later. Thus, both culture and biology are working against young people being chaste before marriage. Parents need to take an active role here and talk to their teenage children regularly.
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  28. Alchemist says:

    Americans are weird.

    I dunno. My mom certainly never shamed us. She just kind of created the atmosphere where it was almost unthinkable to not save sex for marriage. We also talked about it A LOT. Why culture is doing it all wrong. Why do we protect our hearts? Why are we modest? Why are we dating? etc. etc. etc. And we pretty much can ask her anything.

    Also including our boyfriends into the family. We rarely did “date” things on our own. Boyfriend wants to stay the night? Sure, he goes in the front end of the house in the guest room and we’re in our room at the back of the house. Boyfriend wants to go on vacation with us? Sure, same deal. Boyfriend want to see you at dinner time? He’s at the table with the rest of the family. He helps cook and clean up too. Boyfriend wants to go out and the house needs cleaning first? He helps clean. They get treated as sons of the house. Apparently this culture and expectations are intimidating. It weeds out boys with questionable intentions. It also makes it harder because the boys also knows that our parents love them and would be super disappointed in them as well as us.

    The most helpful books I’ve read on the subject growing up was Captivating, 60 Things God Said about sex and Joshua Harris’s apparently less well know book Sex isn’t the problem, Lust is. (I read I kissed dating goodbye and Girl meets boy too.)

    Also sometime along the line, in early high school I think, I discovered that “what’s sin for you isn’t necessarily sin for another” is a real thing. It’s been terribly twisted by society, but it’s a real principle. As in God doesn’t care so much about outward actions as attitudes of the heart. I guess I discovered the practical meaning of Christian liberty. There are hard moral boundaries. But there is lots and lots of grey you need to navigate with the Holy Spirit as your guide. God isn’t going to ask whether your skirt was always x cm below your knee. He wants to know what your heart was when you put on that skirt. This obviously extends to all other areas as well. Not just purity. But all of Christian life. What is in your heart? What is eternal?

    • I LOVE this family approach to teenager’s relationships and dating. No shame but very clear expectations and lots of parental involvement. THAT’S what a lot of teenagers are missing: parental involvement. Attentive parents can’t prevent everything but the chances of producing responsible adults is a lot greater.

  29. Sheila, I love this post. I actually read something similar recently in Relevant magazine.
    Its interesting, because growing up (I’m in my mid 30s now) some of this was already present, but not nearly as hard-core as now. And you know what, while I was a virgin until my wedding night, I also have a lot of issues with sex. So, I do feel poorly for the young people going through all this craziness. My own kids are still young, but I already worry about what to teach them in this regard. While I do believe sex should be between a husband and wife, I certainly don’t want to cause damage to their future sexuality with their spouses by freaking them out too much about it. It really is very concerning to me, and I hope through blogs likes yours to figure this all out in the next few years as they grow up.
    One thing I think I will teach them, is something our pastor says a lot “God hates the things that break your heart.” And I think that is how I may teach this to my kids. Its about having their hearts broken, and trying to prevent that.
    What is scary about the purity lessons, is that they really do take roots in your heart and mind that are ever so hard to pull. One of the things that was said a lot when I was a teen, is how once you have sex you are emotionally tied to that person forever. OK, so I waited. But guess what? I was heartbroken that my husband was not a virgin. A lot of counseling and prayer later and there are still times where I feel awful because those “lessons” just pop back into my mind.
    Another things is that these lessons about it all resting on the girls shoulders are really disturbing. I will teach both my son and daughter the same lessons about sex and hopefully they will both learn that they are responsible for their own choices. I read a really interesting article recently that talked recently about how our view of men as having the bigger sexual appetite is really just a cultural things. That there were other times in history when women were viewed as the more sexual beings.

  30. not everybody regrets have sex or is spiritually and emotionally scarred. I quite frankly enjoyed it, am still good friends with someone I’ve had sex with even thought I opted not to marry him. I don’t feel as if every woman my husband ever slept with is a part of my bed, nor am I concerned that I am being compared to them. I don’t care that the person I’m to spend my life with had sex, I don’t judge. Christians live together and do a variety of things. Yes, purity is a good thing but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I will teach my kids they are bad for having sexual desires or chastise them for mistakes.

    I just think it’s insane to tell people they will be damaged by sex because the only sex I know of that leaves scars is rape!

  31. The whole sex crazed culture that we see now is a direct result of overdoing purity and making sex a bad thing for so many generations. People revolted against the uptight upbringing that made them terrified of sex or feel that it was a sin, even within the bounds of marriage. So the sexual revolution happened and we are at the far end of the pendulum where anything and everything is okay in macroculture. There must be something in the middle. I want my kids to wait for marriage, but if they don’t, their world won’t end. They won’t go to hell because God forgives all sins for those who are believers, and they won’t grow up to be dysfunctional damaged people. Waiting until marriage does not guarantee and good healthy marriage or a good healthy sex life. Teach your kids purity with LOVE and with Jesus at the center. Guilting them, scaring them and shaming them only causes harm, to your relationship, their self esteem, and ultimately you are damaging them for their future spouse.

    • Erika, I couldn’t agree more with your statement. I do think a lot of our current ‘sex-obsession’ in society stems from the fact that as a church, we are relatively silent about sex beyond, ‘Don’t do it.’ The problem is, we should be the ones with the greatest and most powerful message about sex. We should be advocates for it! We left our post, and now it has been overrun.
      Jessica Harris recently posted…Kissing is Not Sex: Part 2My Profile

      • Jessica is absolutely right! The CHURCH needs to step up and be front and center in the discussions about sex. Umm, we remember who CREATED sex, right? GOD! He intended it to be a GOOD thing–a very good thing. He also created boundaries to protect the sanctity of sex and to protect the hearts, minds and bodies of those having sex.

        I remember one of my friend’s parents using guilt in a major way to try to keep their kids away from sex. Didn’t work. But I’ve not experience the issues many have posted about what they term the “purity culture.” Purity of heart, mind and body are very important but we shouldn’t use GUILT or SHAME to teach purity. Stress that sex is GREAT within the confines of a committed marriage. WAIT for the best sex–the way God intended it to be.

        Of course not everyone waits. That’s a fact the church needs to embrace. “Renewed abstinence” is gaining in popularity and I’m SO EXCITED about that! So many, many people mess up once or maybe a number of times BUT that doesn’t mean they have to continue down that path. It’s never too late to stop and choose to wait. Not easy by any means but it IS possible. My “Waiting Matters… Because YOU Matter” at bethsteury.wordpress.com stresses the hope of renewed abstinence.
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        • “Stress that sex is GREAT within the confines of a committed marriage.”

          No offense, but my understanding from reading many blogs and testimonies (even people who waited for marriage) is that this message really needs to be tempered with “…can sometimes be great from the onset, and was designed to be great by God, but sometimes may not be that way right off the bat for every couple.”

          • “Sex is GREAT within the confines of a committed marriage…”

            Rather than use the “sex is bad” approach to encourage abstinence,we need to emphasize that sex isn’t bad when practiced in the context for which it was created. Then it’s a very good thing. I wasn’t referring to how adept or not a couple may be.

            So, it may take some practice or even counseling to make it great, that’s no reason to discourage WAITING or to encourage trying it out before marriage. WAITING for marriage shouldn’t get all the blame for a less than stellar sex life once the ring’s on the finger.
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  32. This must be something unique to Canada or perhaps parts of the US other than the southeast. I live in a medium sized city in the heart of the southeast US. I have never met teens in the churches I’ve attended with purity standards even close to what is outlined in this article. I think there may be a SMALL slice of Christians living and/or promoting this high level of purity before marriage, but I do not think these folks are in the majority. I see more girls coming to church in sexy clothing that makes me blush and bringing different guys to church often. I wish someone would have taught me purity when I was a teen. I got into a relationship with a much older man and I was damaged physically, emotionally, and spiritually in some ways permanently. Each family and person is unique. Some may not want to kiss and that’s ok. I see nothing in the Bible that indicates maintaining such a level of purity is damaging to a marriage. I think we need to use the Bible as our guide and directive for what we do in a relationships, not culture or feelings of what is “too far/not enough”. I hope no one ever feels bad for being as pure as they see fit based on what they’ve studied for themselves in Scripture.

    • Laura Brewer says:

      I also live in the Southeast and I see this as part of the conservative Christian culture here. Look up “Purity Conferences” in your area, or really any conferences aimed at young girls. I know for a fact there are several that take place yearly in Nashville. I think it depends on the particular crowd you run with, more conservative denominations, homeschoolers, etc. focus on this.

      While you’re right that there’s nothing wrong with sexual purity, hyperfocusing on a woman’s virginity, a father’s “responsibility” to control his daughter, specific and arbitrary modesty guidelines (I have been in crowds in which no godly woman would EVER wear a bikini, and have been confronted when I did wear one, to the swimming pool, with my husband), and conveying the idea that sexual sins aren’t really as forgivable as other sins, are all doing more harm than good. As many have pointed out, many of these “conferences” or “Youth group lessons” aren’t actually teaching our children who Jesus is, but a list of rules.

    • Laura Brewer says:

      Sheila, thank you for addressing this issue.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your concerns about purity culture. Here are some of my ideas:

      – Instead of addressing modesty as a list of rules (anyone who wears a skirt shorter than fingertip length is sinning, anyone who wears an ankle length skirt is a saint, bonus points if it’s denim), let’s talk about what it really is – an attitude. Modesty as described in the Bible (in all of 2 verses) has little to do with dress. It’s much more about our attitude. If I pull up in my tricked out, financed Mercedes and park in front of the church door for everyone to see, it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing hijab. That’s not modesty at all, true modesty applies to both men and women.

      – Modesty is cultural. This is something that the purity culture in which I was raised would NOT budge, but it’s the truth. After spending time in one of the most diverse zipcodes in the US, I have a much better perspective on this. For example, traditional Indian and Nepali women would never dare to insinuate that they have legs, much less show them at all. Floor length skirts are the only way to go. However, an exposed belly is just fine, even for grandma. We ought to respect the culture that we are in, and teach our children to as well. This means that when I visit my muslim friends, I try to cover as much as possible. I have the liberty to wear a knee-length skirt and a short sleeved shirt as a Christian, but I want to respect those that I am around. However, at the beach in the US, where the rest of the world is in bikinis, it’s fine for me to be in one too. It’s also probably fine for me to wear a belly shirt in a Nepalese context, to go topless in countries/cultures in which that’s okay (although I don’t think I could do it!), but those aren’t fine in our US culture. Respect for others is modesty.

      – Empowering Christ followers is better than controlling them. One aspect of this culture that makes me sick is the idea that a girl/woman could never be trusted to find an acceptable mate, so their fathers must choose for them. Of course, men are smart enough to choose who they want to pursue, their mothers don’t choose for them, but we just can’t trust those silly women. This is not only disgusting, but shallow. What happens when that woman leaves home, or parents pass away? How can she make a decision? I would much rather raise a child (male or female) who knows how to make Christ honoring decisions, than one that is dependent on me to make those decisions on their behalf. While it would be nice if my daughter’s boyfriend were to talk to my husband and me about marriage plans, just as it would be nice if my son and his girlfriend were to talk to us about the same, I don’t believe “asking permission” to marry someone is necessary for an adult. A nice formality, if we recognize it as that, but ultimately, this idea that men should control their wives/daughters is dangerous.

      • Laura Brewer says:

        My apologies, that was supposed to be a general reply to the article but I apparently haven’t got this internet thing figured out :)

  33. Carrie says:

    Jane and Bekah, you had the best replies.

  34. Thanks for addressing this, Sheila. I have problems with both “purity culture” and “modesty culture.” In certain segments of the Christian community, “purity” and “modesty” are reduced to rules – do this, don’t do that, wear this, don’t wear that. I think you are exactly right – our focus instead needs to be on knowing Jesus, growing our relationship with him, and following Biblical principles, not man-made rules. And I do think the brunt of the rules orientation falls on girls and women – in some corners of Christianity, they are presented as “the problem” and are taught that they are responsible for the thoughts and sins of the boys and men around them. In my opinion, this is an approach some groups use to shame and control women. And for many young women, it leads to a negative view of their bodies and their sexuality, and to sexual problems in marriage.
    Gaye @CalmHealthySexy recently posted…Welcome to the Let’s Get Real Party #38My Profile

  35. Great article. It seems we have put so many things above Jesus, things that seem good like rules, political theories, culture issues, scientific debate…etc… I put so many “good” things ahead of Jesus in my own life to my peril. However, if pushing youth towards a good balance between rules and relationships is to point them to Jesus wouldn’t the same apply to married women? If keeping a woman from being too sexual before marriage takes Jesus, doesn’t keeping a woman from being too un-sexual during marriage take Jesus as well? I love your blog and would recommend it to anyone. But I sometimes wonder where Jesus is in your writing. This is not to say that you aren’t a wonderful teacher. I hope that I one day have the wisdom and poise and grace and compassion you show on your site. Maybe you are using your wisdom to point to Jesus as the ultimate answer and I don’t realize it.

    • I think Sheila is pretty clear about Jesus in this post – “I’m convinced that Christian kids often rebel because we put too much energy into teaching rules and not enough into showing them how to love Jesus. Rules don’t win people to God; Jesus does. And He’s the only one who can help us create a purity culture anyway.”

      • She is pretty clear in this post but I was referring to her writing in general. Sometimes it seems like we over-blow something, like rules, and once we realize our mistake we then demonize it and run to other things. Sheila’s posts are filled with good advice, encouragement, facts, relationship guidelines…etc.. all good things. But rules can be good things as well. If pushing only, or mostly, rules more than you point to Jesus won’t change a person, then doesn’t the same thing apply to only pushing other good things?

  36. Thank you for this article. As for my history, I thankfully only dated one guy- my now husband. Our first kiss was after he asked me to marry him. We had wonderful premarital counseling. I think it is so important for older women to talk to girls getting married so they are prepared for sex. The Christian culture does make it seem bad and girls need to know how good it is and not to be afraid. I didn’t make a bunch of rules for myself when I started dating. I dated someone who I knew would respect me, and he did. I have no regrets. I think dating should only be used as a route to marriage, not for fun. Girls and guys need different talks about sex. I’m so tired of all the high school education about purity when they don’t talk about the why.

    • YES to older women talking to young brides-to-be! And I vote for older men talking to the guys too. Pre-marriage talks are a great idea BUT so are “dating” talks. As Christians, we need to be involved in the relationships of the teens in our lives–our own children of course but other teens too. Our kids friends, teens in our church, young people we work with, etc.
      Beth Steury recently posted…The HOW of Preventing Teen PregnancyMy Profile

  37. Well…

    After reading many of the comments, the answer of purity going too far is obvious. Many people have been affected and damaged by this extremism. This is a classic case of truth going overboard. And one of life’s greatest principles is “Truth Taken To The Extreme Becomes Error”. A balance education of remaining pure for God with a dose of “The God’s gift of grace for when (not if) you do fall into sin should be the main message taught. In so many people’s comments, I got the impression that their purity teachers didn’t leave no room for error. But, brothers and sisters we must remember that even before the first man Adam’s fall, the lamb (Jesus) was slain from the foundations of the world (Revelations 13:8). Remember GOD NEVER HAS A PLAN B. For if he did he would cease to God. Your life is past or present is going according to the plan of God. If you fall into sex sins okay fine Just “Go, and sin no more”. In fact, while writing this I just received revelation. The woman caught in sex sin (the one I just referenced) it was her getting caught in her sex sin that brought her to Jesus.. Why? Because everything that happens to you is either God Sent or God Used for your growth in him.

    Great Post! And be blessed all.

    M.D Henderson
    Christian Married Men Brotherhood
    M.D Henderson recently posted…Sir, Are You Marrying The Wrong Person?My Profile

  38. This was so insightful. I have never considered that raising girls as strong Christians who love Jesus is the key to making them strive for purity and modesty and all of the things valued by God. Rules are guidelines but unless your heart is in the right place rules mean nothing except control.

  39. This article was very encouraging and something I have been thinking about a lot lately, so it’s great to know I’m not alone. I read a lot of purity books, including the Joshua Harris ones, and really think the people had good intentions and was all for it at first, but over time I just questioned if it was too much overkill or not. I struggled with not knowing if I was going to save my first kiss for marriage or not because just like you said I didn’t know if I wanted that first intimate moment between me and the person I loved to be in front of an audience. It seems to be more romantic and special to me not out on display. Now I have nothing against others wanting that and committing to that I just don’t think that is what everyone’s journey will look like. The Bible doesn’t have this standard anywhere and if God would have wanted that level He would have been clear about it. I think God has different plans for all of us and we are all unique. So the purity culture’s hype on no touching and especially no kissing started to frustrate me a little because they made it seem like any other viewpoint was promoting lust, and it made me feel so ashamed if I questioned it or thought differently. While I think we should have boundaries and that a kiss is special, and should not be taken lightly at all, I think they are just being too legalistic about it. I really like how you said, “We spend so much time telling girls, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t even think about it!’ And then they get married and suddenly some switch is supposed to go off that lets them see sex as a positive thing.” There’s no journey, their view is to have nothing then “boom” have it all, and for me I think life should be more balanced and gradual.
    Another thing I don’t like about the purity culture movement is that it makes it seem like no sex before marriage is the most important aspect of the relationship and that being a virgin is the most important aspect of a person. It’s like if you’ve made mistakes in the past you’re not going to have this wonderful, perfect wedding night, it’s lost forever. While I know saving sex before marriage is a very good thing and God desires this for us and has very good reason to, to me it is not the most important aspect of a relationship. Some more important aspects are if you put God first in the relationship, if you treat each other with respect and sincerity, if you bond with each other’s family, if you’re values on life are very close, if you are responsible and mature adults following your own goals & passions, etc. Now saving sex for marriage is a part of putting God first and respecting one another, but it is definitely one way of MANY to do this. Putting “no sex before marriage” on such a pedestal is letting other more important things fade in the background. I think we should focus more on “what to do” instead of on “what not to do,” turning from negative to positive.
    They also put being a virgin on such a huge pedestal, and make it seem like if one is not a virgin you won’t have this “perfect wedding night.” I struggled with this because the man I’m interested in, is not a virgin and made some mistakes in his past, while I am a virgin. This was really hard for me and made me feel like my dreams were crashing down and now we couldn’t have this “perfect wedding night” these books talked about. I knew I had to decide if I cared more about being with a virgin or being with him, and after much prayer & thought, he won out. Some people will only want a virgin if they are a virgin, and that is a wonderful thing but it just doesn’t seem to be my journey. I realized that being a virgin is a valuable thing and that I value that about myself, but it is not the most important thing about a person. There are so many other things, the most important things to me in someone is that they have the same values, beliefs, someone who is confident and loves themselves, someone who is honest, vulnerable, trustworthy, respectful, and reflects Jesus’ love. I realized there is no such thing as a “perfect wedding night” because there aren’t perfect people and for couples who really love each other I’ve heard sex only gets better. The first time will probably always be a little awkward and little unsure, getting used to each other, it’s not going to be like the best sex ever the first time. What used to excite me was “oh the first big night it’s going to be the best sex ever”, but now I look forward to getting better and better at sex with one partner and even more than that I look forward to growing old with them and growing in all ways with them. People who took things for granted in the past and made mistakes, can cherish it even more now and I don’t think we should ever give up hope on them that they can create something better for themselves now. I realized its ok when our “ideals” don’t come true because then I rely on and need Jesus more. I have to seek more of Him in order for His grace to outpour of me and this allows me to bring more of Him into the relationship. Without this situation, I wouldn’t have needed Him as much. And I think His plan always comes out better in the end.
    As for my journey, I’m a girl in her 20s who waited to have her first kiss until she was 21 with someone I had been friends with for 3 years, we are still together, and I am still waiting for sex until marriage. I haven’t been perfect in my purity walk especially in heart and mind, but I have kept the marriage bed pure. As for me, I’ve come to a place that showing physical affection to another is not a bad thing, it’s just all in what the expression is saying and what the reason behind it is. For me, I’ve found things like holding hands, arms around each other, and a kiss are genuine signs of affection in a committed adult relationship, they send a message of care and love. I don’t think they should be taken lightly and should be kept special and meaningful and given to someone after a period of time. But I found things such as touching inappropriate areas and making out on top of one another send a more sexual message. To me it’s all about the message of the expression, whether it’s genuine affection or sexual, and this is different for everyone. I love what Alchemist said, “As in God doesn’t care so much about outward actions as attitudes of the heart. I guess I discovered the practical meaning of Christian liberty. There are hard moral boundaries. But there is lots and lots of grey you need to navigate with the Holy Spirit as your guide. God isn’t going to ask whether your skirt was always x cm below your knee. He wants to know what your heart was when you put on that skirt.” It’s all about our intention and reason behind it. I think what we really need though as you said is encouragement to Jesus and not a set of rules. An encouragement to love ourselves, others, and God, to be our own person, find what we love in life, and be the most genuine and loving person we can. The message of saving sex for marriage should not be to shame, but to encourage that that is going to give us the best life, and that if we do make mistakes God’s grace can wipe us clean. Virgin or not, we are all imperfect and all have different strengths and weaknesses to offer, and we all need Jesus just the same as the next. Our world won’t end and we won’t be dysfunctional people if we make mistakes, and saving sex for marriage doesn’t guarantee a great marriage or sex life. Whether we are successful in saving sex for marriage or not, none of us are damaged goods we are all gifts to be cherished and can be made totally blameless by the blood of Jesus. With regards to sex what we need to share with young adults is the why behind saving sex: what God intended for it, why He made it, the consequences if we decide not to save sex, and the comfort that God’s grace can cover all our sin if we make mistakes. We need adults who won’t shame us, but be vulnerable with their own mistakes and weaknesses and the lessons they learned in life and to know that when we make mistakes we can go to them because we know they will still love and accept us no matter what we’ve done.

    • “Renewed abstinence” is the message this world is literally dying to hear! So many have the attitude “I already didn’t wait so what’s the point? It doesn’t even matter anymore.” Very damaging in every respect.

      Dianna is right about sharing the “why” behind saving sex for marriage. Once people get that, they see the value in saving sex “from now on” regardless of what they did in the past. She’s also right that no one is damaged goods.
      Beth Steury recently posted…The HOW of Preventing Teen PregnancyMy Profile

  40. You’re so right Sheila! I recently saw a spoof video that fits it PERFECTLY… It’s hilarious! & exactly what you’re talking about. In fact, the 2nd one is really spot on. (For this post)
    http://twentytwowords.com/the-christian-dating-site-for-those-saving-hand-holding-for-marriage/

  41. Annaryn says:

    As a Christian girl growing up in the purity culture, I was pretty certain my life was over when I was assaulted at age 18. To that point I had remained pure, focusing on my spiritual and educational growth, never taking interest in the thought of dating. I was taught that the greatest gift I could give my husband was that of my virginity, and I found that my identity and self worth was tied to it.

    Unfortunately, this purity culture that had been such a huge part of my growth immediately created a wall between me and the Christian faith after my attack. At a time when I needed to surround myself with the Christian community, I felt like an outsider. My “greatest gift” I could give to my husband was gone and I hadn’t had a choice in the matter. I couldn’t get it back. And in my mind, I no longer had value to a good Christian man. Surely they would want a Good Christian Girl who still had their “greatest gift” to give. Not only do I carry the pain of the assault, but also the shame that “I have nothing to give my husband”, according to the Christian woman who had raised me in the purity culture. Healing from the pain of the assault is one thing, but how do I reconcile my place in the culture?

    I have found great healing through the power that Jesus has. It’s been seven long years since, and I am considering entering a relationship with someone. But the insecurity hangs onto me. This is the culture I have been raised in, and is going to be the culture a Christian man will have grown in, and I wonder if it could work.

    I am no scholar. I don’t have answers and I am still relying heavily on Jesus every day to sort myself out. But I wonder, in the case of the abused, if this purity extreme has caused much, much more harm than good…?

    • Oh, Annaryn, your comment just broke my heart! And I would say an absolute YES to your final sentence. It has done much harm!

      Maybe this is the really crux of the problem, and perhaps this thought may help you in healing:

      Perhaps we should stop talking about sexual purity altogether, as if it’s a special condition of purity, that’s even purer than most purity. It’s not about sexual purity; it’s about purity period. And purity is all about attitude of the heart; it has nothing to do with genitalia. People can be pure after they are assaulted; absolutely. You have not lost your “greatest gift”, because the greatest gift that we can give our husbands is the same gift that we can give God: a beautiful and pure HEART (not beautiful and pure genitalia). If one has a beautiful and pure heart, then one will do what is good and right and holy in all areas of their lives, even sexually. But if something is done to us, that has nothing to do with our hearts, that does not change purity whatsoever, because purity is about the heart.

      That’s what I truly believe, and I pray that that message will go from your head to your heart and the Holy Spirit will bring some real healing to you.

      • Annaryn says:

        Thank you for the reply.

        I like your philosophy here. I hope that I can learn to separate my identity – spiritually, emotionally, and sexually – from that of the abuse, and firmly plant it in Christ. Until then, every day a battle.

  42. Wonderful discussion and article!

    I think the trouble all boils down to focusing on man-made rules rather than God’s rules. Oh, yes, there are things that a mom needs to point out to her kids, there are modesty issues with co-workers, and there are limits we need to set for our kids…and ourselves. But the focus should be the Bible, not rules, because the Bible alone is God’s Word to us.

    For those who have a hard time thinking of physical love as good, I would suggest reading the Song of Solomon. I recently reviewed a sonnet version which is easier to understand: http://anniekateshomeschoolreviews.com/2014/04/review-pure-love-by-george-van-popta/

    I would also refer people to Ann Voskamp’s lovely post entitled The Daily Vow of a 10 Second Kiss for Wedded Bliss: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/04/how-to-unlock-your-marriage-the-vow-of-a-10-second-kiss-for-wedded-bliss-the-conscious-coupling-series/
    Annie Kate recently posted…Defending Life: Let Us Not Become Weary in Doing GoodMy Profile

  43. Shelia! I just wanted to say thank you.. thia was an amazing read and i could not agree enough. I see how many people you are impacting through this. Let me just say that fact that you take time to answer peoples questions shows your humbleness so much! You are truly an inspiration to so many people. Keep going and know that your hard work in the background does not go unnoticed! Wow spechless not just from the article but because you are ministering through your comments! Keep going!

  44. Thanks for your thought-provoking article. I was considered a “good girl” throughout highs chool and college by family and peers because I was so good at hiding what I did privately. I did have sex with a few boys prior to marriage, and I wish I hadn’t. My daughter is almost 13, and I have just spent time sharing with her the fact that her daddy and I wish we had both waited for each other- that God gave us a gift to share and that we shared it too soon. He still loves us but we simply missed out on a great blessing that He wanted us to experience together. I also explain to her that sleeping with others stays with you forever, and will impact your marriage relationship negatively because you will always have moments of self-imposed guilt, comparisons, and wondering if you measure up to your spouse’s past partners (and vice versa). Ultimately it is their choice to make and their decision to live with- and thankfully we have a merciful God who loves us and is able to redeem our pasts.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Ultimately this article is neglecting the topic of sin. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5.

    There is nothing wrong with avoiding sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body”) (Matthew 5:30 “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”), and the writer of this article shouldn’t be shaming couples into being more physical than they should be (Ephesians 5:3 “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”). The point isn’t to get as physically close as possible until it becomes sin, it’s to avoid it all together. Purity isn’t just a physical act, it’s a matter of the heart. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”.

    I feel this article is encouraging couples to conform as closely to the worldly standard of dating while attempting to not sin, which goes against plain biblical teaching. Romans 12:2 commands us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

    Do you need to be bonding in a physically intimate way with someone you aren’t married to? Matthew 5:28 tells us “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”. If our Lord and Saviour is teaching that a man looking at a woman he isn’t married to is a sin, then how is it right to tempt our boyfriends to sin? It would only be foolishness to deny that extended hugs, and kissing, etc, potentially leads to sin. Does kissing your boyfriend bring glory to God? Does inviting temptation into a relationship bring a couple closer to God? I see no foundation for this behaviour in the Bible.

    In short, I reject the view of this article as it has no biblical basis, and it encourages couples to flirt with the boarder of sin. I won’t focus energy in my relationship trying to figure out how far we can go before it’s sin, but I will bring glory to God with my self control, purity, and I ultimately have a good testimony in this world to use for His glory. I will not be kissing my boyfriend before we are married. I will not tempt him or myself to sin. I will not be alone with him late at night since I want to give no opportunity to the flesh. I will not be giving him extended hugs. I will save my love and physical affection for my husband like the bible teaches, and until we are married, no boyfriend is that man.

    • I do respect the choices that you have made before your marriage, and I think that everyone should go before God and pray about it and make those choices.

      I am not, however, comfortable with saying a blanket statement that kissing is a sin or hugging is a sin. The Bible simply does not say that. That is an interpretation that you have put on those verses–and that is entirely your right to do so, and entirely right to live out as you see fit. In fact, we should be living out what our consciences tell us.

      What we should not be doing, however, is creating a man-made set of “one size fits all” rules to apply to other people. Everybody needs to figure out their own boundaries, but let’s be clear that the Bible does not speak of whether or not hugging or kissing is a sin. And I think to start claiming that they are can do a lot of damage to our sexuality, our future marriage, and our witness. To claim that this is a boundary that we are setting for ourselves out of conviction and because we think this is right for us is perfectly good and valid and quite praiseworthy. To say, however, that this set of rules must apply to everyone is not, simply because they are man-made.

      And reading the comments of this article and seeing how much women’s sexuality was damaged by too strict a view of what is sinful also grieves me. I simply believe that there must be another way–a way that is focused on the freedom of the Spirit to convict and to lead us and guide us, and not filled with arbitrary rules. I cannot believe, for instance, how many women have mentioned vaginismus, which is a relatively rare condition, yet seems remarkably frequent for those who did come from a purity or shame background. That is cause for concern, and I do think that we may be making women so scared of sex that when they are married that fear does not just automatically dissipate.

      • Anonymous says:

        I understand the point you are trying to make, but I don’t see biblical foundation for flirting with temptation. As I previously provided scriptural quotes for, the bible teaches the opposite. If hugging or kissing leads someone to impurity or adulterous thoughts, it’s a sin. Sex is reserved for marriage, and sex outside of marriage is sin and that shouldn’t be diminished.

        The focus should be more on what the bible teaches and not what our sinful flesh and conscious teaches. The bible’s teaching on sexual immorality and purity is clear and doesn’t need to be sugar coated or swept under the rug in favour for a more fleshly gratifying message. If someone’s behaviour is leading them or others to sin, it is behaviour that should not be pursued.

        • But there is a difference between saying “this might lead me to sin” and “this is leading me to sin”. If something IS causing impure thoughts etc in a certain person before marriage, then they need to draw a line there, but that does not mean that the exact same action (hugs/kisses/whatever) would be a sin for some one else because it wouldn’t necessarily be causing another person to stumble. That’s where the arbitrary “rules” that we try to set up for one another become hurtful. I thought Sheila’s post was wonderful and very needed in our present day extreme purity culture.
          Paula recently posted…Pin It Party #48My Profile

        • Well, here’s Galatians 5:16: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” When we run to Jesus and focus on living a life that is pure in heart (rather than simply pure sexually), that will have repercussions for all areas of our lives. When you are close to God, you won’t want to sin. Sin will lose its power over us. We are to be slaves to the Spirit, not slaves to sin. And throughout the Pauline letters, “slaves to sin” is synonymous with law and rules.

          We cannot expect rules to keep us pure. We must run to Jesus, not to rules. And, in fact, if we emphasize rules above relationship with God, we end up doing some serious damage to our sexuality.

          Kissing is not sin. Kissing does not necessarily lead to sex. Hugging does not necessarily lead to sex. They just don’t. I kissed my husband and hugged him plenty before we wed, and we both were complete and utter virgins on our wedding night, and we did not sin sexually.

          Again, I am not saying that everyone should kiss or that everyone should hug. I am saying that when we are walking in the Spirit, He will give us convictions which will apply to our own particular circumstance, and those convictions may not look the same as they will for others. And that’s okay, because God knows what we need, and when we are walking with Him, we will hear His voice.

          It is not necessary to try to substitute God’s voice with rules that are largely arbitrary and based on individual interpretation. It is necessary to listen to God’s voice intently ourselves, and then do what God tells us. He will tell some of us to wait to kiss until the ceremony, or even to wait to hold hands. He will tell others that these things are not necessary to wait until marriage. It depends on our own vulnerabilities, and our own backgrounds, and our own temptations. To set up rules on others which are “extra”–i.e. do not relate to an actual sin–isn’t biblical, I don’t think, and nor is it healthy for our own idea of sexuality.

          Great discussion, though!

    • To annoymous,how do you deal with the admonition to “greet each other with a holy kiss?” Romans 16:16.
      nylse recently posted…Women, Exercise and Change of LifeMy Profile

  46. 1Corintjians 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
    2 Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

    • So are you saying that it is sinful for a man to touch a woman who is not his wife? Just trying to figure out the point here, because I think in this context, Paul used the word “touch” to mean have sex, as you can see from the parallel that’s set up in verse 2.

      • Touch doesn’t mean to have sex. “Touch” in this verse in the Strongs is number 681, and it says “to touch, hold, handle, “to touch a woman” means “to get married”.

        So it isn’t a sexual word. It is saying to avoid fornication (which in the Greek in the Strongs is #4202 and means sexual immorality, fornication, marital unfaithfulness, prostitution, adultery, A GENERIC TERM FOR SEXUAL SIN OF ANY KIND.

        In response to your use of Galatians 5:16, just because you are saved doesn’t mean you wont gratify the flesh. That would be like saying “I am saved so I am incapable of sinning”. I think it would be ridiculous to say kissing isn’t gratifying the flesh if it is done with a sinful and lustful heart.

        • Hi Anonymous,

          I would agree–kissing is gratifying the flesh if it does with a sinful and lustful heart. But kissing is not necessarily done that way. And that’s really the point.

          So if “to touch a woman” means to get married, then it doesn’t mean just to touch, does it? So let’s just make sure that we’re not putting more rules on where they don’t belong.

          It’s also important to look at the culture that Paul was talking to. He also said that women should cover their heads in church in the same book–because this was to distinguish them from the temple prostitutes. The vast majority don’t cover their heads today, because the culture has changed. He also said we shouldn’t adorn ourselves with braided hair or gold jewelry–again, to avoid the association with prostitutes. Yet braids are often the hairstyle of choice even in the modesty movement. He also says that long hair is a woman’s glory, yet most women over 40 have shorter hair. The relationship between the sexes was very different when Paul wrote. If you demand absolute literal interpretation here, then you must also demand it there.

          Also, I never said that if you’re saved you won’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature. I said that if you walk in the Spirit you won’t–which is exactly what Paul said. You can put up all the rules you want, but if you aren’t walking in the Spirit, then those rules can’t save you. And it’s very likely you’ll fall. That’s all.

  47. With my daughter(age 13), I try to approach it from a positive angle. First of all, I started talking at a very early age about the beauty of marriage – age appropriately. Now we talk about God’s best plan for sex is for in marriage. How beautiful it is, wonderful, etc. I also talk about IF a person falls, God forgives and a person can start fresh.

    We approach the boundaries from the standpoint of preserving that best plan so she won’t have any shame attached when she gets into marriage. Part of those boundaries is guarding her mind. For example, what does she dwell on? Does she constantly feed on romance novels/books? Then she starts obsessing about it well before her young mind and body are ready for it. So for her (and this is something she has concluded herself) she needs to steer away from those types of entertainment. Are her friends constantly talking about boys? She knows she needs to guard her tongue or the next thing she knows, she is again dwelling on those things she is not ready for. More boundaries will come as she grows older.

    We talk about modesty. She can be fashionable and not appear to be “offering herself up” like much of the world does. We talk about respecting the men in our life enough to help them by not dressing immodestly. While they are completely responsible for their choices, they already have so many sexualized images bombarding them everyday in the world, why should we add to the problem?

    The biggest thing is our communication about it. I strive to make sure she never feels any shame talking about ANY aspect of sex. Even the struggles she faces in her mind. When we talk, I try to make it a completely safe place. Its not all about rules and regulations for the sake of being a good girl. Its about protecting what God has placed in her so that one day she can have a super fantastic sexy marriage without any shame or false guilt attached.

    This is certainly a different approach than my parents took and I am sure it is not without holes in the thinking. I feel like my daughter and I are figuring it out together as we go. I just pray God will guide her through the minefield this area is in our culture today.

    • That’s beautiful, Angela. Communication is absolutely the key I think, and as we talk to our kids, even if we don’t have it all figured out, we also show them how we’re processing it and how we’re trying to work it out with God. And I think that helps immeasurably.

  48. “But if we really want kids to make good choices, maybe we should stop teaching them to do the right thing and start introducing them to Jesus.”

    Oh, so you are one of those people!

    Preach on, preach on.
    Paul H. Byerly recently posted…When HE Says no to SexMy Profile

  49. I wonder if this is a problem that is a) a western culture thing and b) mostly American at that. I wonder how European and eastern cultures compare in terms of abortion, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, and suppression of healthy sexuality that leads to low marital satisfaction and success and a higher divorce rate?

  50. Shannon says:

    We need more people reading “theology of the Body”. It is not a list of. “Don’ts”. Rather, it is an explanation of how incredible and good sexuality is when in the right context. It is a gift from God, we must use his gifts the way they intended.

  51. Josh Harris’ books gave me a new direction. I, too, saved my first kiss for my wedding day. It was the most beautiful moment in my life. I think the sudden rise in evangelical Christians going “overboard” with purity is it mirable and should be commended. The Bible instructs us to run away from whatever has the potential to be evil, destructive, or tempting. In Ephesians, it tells us that there should not even be a hint of lust among us. So going the extra mile, pulling out all the stops, and diligently guarding our hearts and our bodies is not “going overboard” but rather closely and seriously following the principles of scripture. I’m not talking about being legalistic, I’m talking about pursuing holiness and a set apart life that is in outflow of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

    • Anonymous says:

      Where’s my like button? :-). I need one for this comment and the one from Carnegie Hall below! I think the “going overboard” on purity may also be a reaction to how many of us dedicated Christians have messed up our relationships by pushing the envelope too much. My experience and the experience of most of the couples I know is that it didn’t stop at kissing. We all went further than we should have before we got married – even those who were virgins on their wedding day.

  52. Carnegie Hall says:

    I don’t know. I’m just kinda confused, frustrated and angry to read something like this. Something else for me as a parent to worry about. I grew up in a christian family, learned the whole purity thing, did Josh McDowells course as a preteen and it set me on the right road. Saved myself for marriage, married a man who did the same. Many years later we have 5 beautiful kids and I’m immensely grateful for my upbringing–the marital relationship and the sex that goes with it is difficult enough to navigate without throwing in guilt and other dysfunctions that pre-marital sex can bring. I was about ready to start teaching my own daughters along the same lines as I grew up with and now everyone’s whining that there’s something wrong with it? Just not seeing it. Yes, we love Jesus, yes we have a relationship with him, and yes purity is a part of all your life, not just sex. But I’m not ready to let my 13-14 year old daughter (not saying she’s that age now) start ‘dating’, whatever that looks like, and let her and him decide what their boundaries are going to be–you can be sure my husband and I’ll be doing that. You only need to read a medical paper on the brain of a teenager to know that they NEED those boundaries, no matter how close to Jesus they are. We’re fallen people, and we need standards and boundaries–‘introducing to Jesus’ isn’t going to change that.

    • Oh, absolutely! I think there’s a world of difference between a 14-year-old and a 21 or 22-year-old. My own girls didn’t date at all in high school, and I think that’s wise. I’m really talking more about the whole courtship thing, that’s all. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

    • On that note, though, I think it is important to teach them *how* to establish boundaries (which is what my posts were getting at). Yes, you are their mother, and by all means, you make the choices you feel are right for them. Fact of the matter is, though, there will come a day when their frontal lobes develop, they move away from home, and they don’t have to listen to you any more (to be frank). You want to make sure that you have not just slapped them with a list of rules just because ‘mommy said so’ but to make sure that they understand what you are trying to protect with those rules. If you can show them what you are trying to protect, then hopefully, when they are 28, still single and away from home, they will want to protect the same thing, even if their rules are different.
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  53. Andrea Hicks says:

    I just wanted to say, I feel like there is an awful lot of bashing of Joshua Harris’ books on here, maybe not intentionally, but this bothers me a little. My husband was radically changed through reading IKDG- he went from being a flirt that I didn’t dare admit to having a crush on, to a gentleman who respected me through the majority of our dating years, and continues the same today. Joshua Harris didn’t encourage legalism (which is ultimately the problem you are railing against); he confronted the general trend that Christian young people dated/broke up/dated/broke up til they finally found their way to marriage, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind. He encouraged a better relationship method- Christ-like love and selflessness both before and during dating relationships. It isn’t his fault if some young people took all the advice from the books and turned it into a strict, pharisaical list of rules. He encourages the right attitude toward God and people that leads to healthy relationships- some people just took it as a to-don’t list, and left the soul out of it.

    • As I said in the article, I liked I Kissed Dating Good-bye, and my teenage girls did not date. I just wasn’t comfortable with Boy Meets Girl. I think not dating in high school is a good thing–as I said in the article. I just think extremely stringent rules for what you are and are not allowed to do physically once you’re engaged are going overboard.

  54. Virginia says:

    Sheila,

    I’m sorry, can you clarify by what you mean about the “whole courtship thing”? You only mentioned courtship in passing and that was as describing a book. You don’t mean to say it’s ok for people to be more physical because they are in a courtship do you? I just don’t see what courtship has to do with your article.

    • I’m just saying there’s a difference between the teenage years and the years in which you are with the one you are going to marry. I also think we’re putting a very negative slant on things. I’m not saying, “go ahead and get physical!”. I’m just saying the whole “you are not allowed to touch or kiss or hold hands or do anything other than a side hug before you’re married” is adding a lot of rules and regulations that are not in the Bible on people, when people should be able to walk according to the Spirit and decide what God is telling them. I’m not saying, “go and make out!” I’m just saying that extra-biblical rules are just that–extra-biblical.

  55. Wow. What a topic! I appreciate what you have to say and am saddened by some of the posts that I’ve read and can definitely relate to some of them. I was also greatly influenced by the Harris book when it came out – whether for good or bad I am not sure – but I know that God is perfectly able to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. And I have met amazingly happy and joyful people fully enjoying their marriage – which by all standards should have been ruined because they “did everything wrong.” But God is so gracious and heals our brokenness. I noticed in quite a few posts that it would be nice to have a reference for sex in a positive light for Christians. I snagged a book from my parents (who are now in their 70’s) and it is an old book written many years ago (maybe in the 70’s) but it does have some refreshingly positive things to say about sex in marriage and may be a help to those who have spent their whole lives avoiding sex like the plague and now don’t know how to function with it in marriage. The book is called “The Act of Marriage” by Tim and Beverly LaHaye. I imagine there are newer editions but the one I have I think is either first or second edition. It has really helped me begin to understand how sex can be used as an amazingly positive thing to share with your spouse. Not just some great force to resist before you’re married or to dutifully and frigidly consent to after marriage. It is an amazing and powerful expression of love and support. And I also had no idea how drastically different sex is and what it communicates to the man vs what it means to the woman. Those chapters are especially insightful.
    A disclaimer I would make with any human-written book: It’s a book written by well intending people. It’s not the same as scripture. So understand that. But if God is able to use this book to help heal some hurtful areas in your life then AMEN!

  56. Melissa says:

    I was in high school during the I Kissed Dating Goodbye craze and at the time I was all for it. Then I went pretty much straight from high school into a church internship environment where students in their first year were not allowed to date and there were very strict rules about appropriate male/female interactions. What happened there was they watched the girls like hawks and a lot of the girls got in trouble and were forbidden from speaking to certain boys for periods of time, where the boys pretty much got away with everything. All of that combined led to me not knowing how to have just regular friendships with guys! I didn’t realize that effect until after I was married and I realized how freaked out I felt when I was around other men in completely appropriate situations. I had to really search myself and ask why I felt that way, because it was miserable. It’s better now but I want my kids to learn how to have friendships with the opposite sex instead of just “Oh you have to be so careful around boys/girls because any little thing you say or do could compromise his/her/your purity!!!”

    I have to say here, thank GOD for my husband. He is a crazy researcher and leading up to our wedding (we were both virgins) he did a ton of reading about sex from books and one great website by a Christian couple. Lots of practical stuff. It led to us having a very realistic expectation of our wedding night. And you know what else my relationship with my husband during our dating/engagement days taught me is physical attraction to the person you love is normal. It is something given to us by God. Now that doesn’t mean we can just run wild with it, but we don’t have to be afraid of it either. It’s a gift and a blessing and it’s an indication of the deeper intimacy we can look forward to in marriage. That’s the other thing is where you look. During a driving class I had to take where we did a lot of maneuvering on courses laid out with orange cones was “Do not look at the cones! If you look down at the cones, you will hit them and we have to run out there and replace them and we would really like to minimize that. Keep your eye on the horizon. You will see the cones in your peripheral but you will avoid them. But we guarantee that if you look at the cones, you will hit them.” That is a great life lesson isn’t it??? We kept our eye on the horizon, on God and on what we knew we had to look forward to in marriage. The “cones” – the boundaries of what we agreed we were not going to do before we were married – were still there but we didn’t feel like we were going to stumble over them all the time. And yes, we hugged, we kissed, we snuggled, we spent time alone together. And we kept our promise to save sex for our wedding night. It’s possible.

    And may I just suggest something for women who are virgins planning their weddings? (Okay this goes for all women but I think it’s important to highlight it for those who have not had sex). See a gynecologist before your wedding if you haven’t started seeing one already. Find a woman doctor if that’s more comfortable for you. Get everything checked out and ask whatever questions you have. It’s not something to be scared of, it’s something that should be part of your regular check-up routine. I think that’s another side effect of the purity movement is it has kept girls from going to the gynecologist before they’re married. You should have a good gynecologist that you’re comfortable with, period.

  57. Shelia,
    I will start by saying I love your blog. Your resources have greatly blessed me and my marriage. I totally get your heart with this post, however I am seeing many opposite things where I live. I personally believe we should all strive to be disciples and keep The Lord’s commandments out of love, so I certainly get your heart on showing people Jesus instead of just laws and this helps with purity. However, I certainly believe that people need boundaries. I live in the United States in the “bible belt” more specifically. Everyone here is known as a “christian” and honestly we are just better at using religion to cover things up sometimes. I do not see a culture over absorbed in purity. I see the opposite and where purity teaching could be a good thing. I see a culture going buck wild and saying you can do whatever you want. I see so many who are looking at a marriage license as a piece of paper not a true covenant. My husband is truly a man who lives out his faith and I’m so grateful. However, many of the men he works with feel they are doing their wives a favor by going to a strip club or watching porn instead of “cheating”. It is very sad and they feel everyone does it. I agree that legalism never works, however I do believe as disciples for christ we should strive to live for him out of love. I do believe purity is important, and I know you do too. I am sure in your realm of life you see a different side of this, where rules were played out with no heart intent. However, this is so prevalent in our society as a whole. Jesus said loving him was the greatest commandment. Why? Because if we truly love him and love others we will keep his commandments out of love and truly he is after our hearts not a list of laws. However, just as in the commandments, laws and boundaries are good because they let us know right from wrong. I won’t argue kissing before marriage is wrong. It certainly isn’t. I will however, say boundaries are needed and not just for purity before marriage, but for when you are married, for our children, and in all stages in life.

  58. Grace71 says:

    In my opinion, the church is just as sex crazed as today’s culture. As teens, we are told don’t have sex, don’t have sex, don’t have sex…it’s evil and will ruin your life! Five minutes after we walk down the aisle, have sex, have sex, have sex and your married life will be great! As if sex is suddenly the be all end all to a perfect marriage. Talk about mixed messages. For years we say it’s evil, and now it’s suddenly great??? Then we have sermon series on sex now that are six weeks long. (I heard of a sermon series titled “Sexual Chocolate/Sexperiment” being preached at a large church recently…ewww really?) While I believe it should be discussed, it shouldn’t be discussed as a sermon for weeks. It should be in a study format for small groups. I don’t want my teen listening to a series like this and then have to go home and say ‘don’t have sex’. That, to me, smacks of hypocrisy. Never mind what the singles, divorced, etc have to endure sitting through it. I truly believe this sexual idolization is causing much of the sexual problems in our church, such as porn, sexual addictions, sexual abuse etc.

    • I agree with you. It’s too extreme on both sides. What SHOULD be taught from the Church (though, certainly not in a series of sermons!) is that God created sex, therefore sex is good. However, it is ONLY good when it’s done in God’s way. Out of God’s will (fornication, adultery, etc) is where it’s wrong and sinful and damaging to your spiritual (and physical!) life.
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  59. I watch the Duggar family’s show “19 Kids and Counting” regularly. I admire and respect them and their values. The kids share openly their thoughts and feelings which I feel are genuine and “owned” by them as individuals. I’m following with special interest the recent shows detailing the older girls’ relationships with guys. While I admit the physical boundaries they’re following are a bit extreme, it THEIR decision to save the first kiss for the altar and to limit physical expressions of affection. Their mom, Michelle, very clearly explained the WHY behind their approach is to encourage the couple to get to know each other on a very deep level that does not include exploring each other in a physical way. That makes a ton of sense.

    There can be NO denying the emphasis our culture puts on physical expressions of affection. Wait. It’s often not even about affection. Too often it’s simply about sex. Messing around, hooking up, making out with little regard for a relationship. That’s not why God created sex. He intended it be an act of bonding and commitment and love.

    The urge toward and desire for sex is so strong that even couples who are not all about the physical, who have a genuine committed relationship, will have trouble putting on the brakes. Creating boundaries can prevent them from spending time on the physical that should be spent getting to know each other deeply in every other way. Let’s be honest–we all know couples who let the physical attraction make the important decisions about their future. “We’ve had sex so we should obviously get married.” “We can’t break up now–we’ve gone too far.”

    There’s on one magic line in the sand when it comes to “how far is too far.” That’s a very personal, individual decision. What seems totally innocent to one person can be anything but innocent to another. I wouldn’t have wanted to save my first kiss for the altar but there’s nothing wrong with people who choose that. I don’t see it as DENYING the existence of attraction but rather the ACKNOWLEDGMENT that attraction is so powerful, it must be contained. We attended a wedding where the pastor announced the couple had saved their first kiss for that day, referencing the verses in Song of Songs that advise: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Well, good for them. That’s what they wanted to do, what felt right for them.

    Back to the Duggars. The parents are very openly affectionate with each and make no secret that they enjoy their married sex life. They portray marriage in a very positive light, making their “save sex for marriage” message that much more effective. There’s no denying attraction or desire or sex, simply strong encouragement for saving all things even related to sex for after the commitment of marriage.

  60. Our denominational magazine, The Banner, just published an excellent article on modesty. Check it out here: http://www.thebanner.org/features/2014/04/on-modesty
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  61. So, I’m an old lady entering this conversation, but I think the way my folks handled our purity (they had two daughters) was brilliant. They emphasized (mom especially) that sex was DIRTY. Now, don’t quit reading there . . . because what they also emphasized was that sex was an entirely different thing than making love. Making love was (and is) a beautiful, God-ordained, communion between man and wife. We grew up with a great desire and healthy attitude to make love to our husbands. “Flipping the switch” so to speak was easy, (though not perfect, for only practice make perfect!) because we had always known that sex within marriage was entirely different than pre-marital or extra-marital sex. We were free to give ourselves completely and unashamedly to our husbands.
    Boundaries before marriage? My husband had never kissed anyone before me (that happened the night before we became engaged). A bit of me has always regretted he wasn’t my first, but I can’t dwell on that. Really I’m more concerned about our 400,000th kiss than the first one – who’s perfect the first time anyway?!
    I believe dating is a cultural thing – it’s neither good or bad. It’s a method or means to get to know each other. We have to get over having rules for rules sake. We have to remember all of God’s rules are for our good. If we look at setting boundaries as for our good, then limits become much more acceptable/livable.
    My only experience with courting was when someone close to me courted. I actually found it to be a sad experience. The whole family very quickly became involved and vested in the relationship and then when the couple decided they shouldn’t get married the entire family grieved – it was way more like a divorce than a break-up – it was devastating.
    That’s my two cents.

  62. tabitha says:

    I’m not sure if this has been mentioned (considering there’s over 100 comments :-)), but another thing associated with this purity culture in the church is sexual abuse. If you’re constantly teaching thing girls, sex is bad until marriage..what happens when a young girl is sexually abused?? The church has unknowingly created an unsafe environment. The young girl continues the self blame because now she knows God is unhappy with her. Trying to reconcile “do not have sex before marriage, it’s a sin”, with a young girl who has been abused is a lost battle before it even begins. The church should be a safe place.

  63. Thank you for writing this article! My husband and I both grew up in the evangelical church and brought away some rather misleading ideas about healthy sexuality from it. Now that I’m pregnant with our first daughter we’re sitting and wondering how we can raise our children to respect their own bodies, to keep Jesus their priority, and most importantly, to never feel ashamed. You provided much food for thought.
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  64. I think that “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was partially a knee-jerk reaction to a growing problem in our culture. Maybe the problem was not growing-how much has mankind really changed in that regard?-but it certainly was more prominent and “out there” in our culture. I thought at the time, the book was over the top, especially the courting thing. Although our youth Pastor taught that, I never did to our kids. When my daughter did find someone she was interested in, he came to us and asked to date our daughter, told us what boundaries they had set up for their relationship, and then asked what boundaries we would want to set up for their relationship. (She married him-thank God!). I have 2 girls and 2 boys. I have always taught them about the dangers of pre-marital sex (i.e. diseases) and that it is only good when done the way God designed it (within the marriage relationship). I also told them it was a wonderful expression of the kind of love God has for us. I have also taught them how to live purely in life. Even today, they avert their eyes from the t.v. during risque commercials. I do think the purity movement has gone too far in some ways, but if I had to choose, I’d rather side on the extreme than the not enough. Both have consequences, but I think that the conservative extremes would be easier to fix. That’s been my experience as a Pastor’s wife anyway when counseling others over the last 30 years. Modesty and Purity are heart issues, not motions that we go through. We ought to be modest and pure in every area of life, both inner and outer. When this is taught, there is less to worry about when it comes to relationships. Although I appreciate Josh Harris’s attempt to address an area of concern in the church, I do think that what became of it has been harmful in some way creating guilt in marriage relationships that ought not be there.

    • Thanks for that thoughtful comment! I think we take a very similar approach. I was once much more pro-Josh Harris. I’m still not pro dating in high school (I can’t really see how that’s a good idea), but I think the idea of courtship that he described is extreme.

      You’re right, though–if we have to be extreme, I’d rather it be on the conservative end. I’d just rather than we all find that happy medium!

  65. Julie Prins says:

    I think if you read books like the ones you mentioned with an open but critical mind (meaning trying to see where what he says matches up with what the Bible says and also your current situation), it won’t do any harm at all. I really like all Harris’ books. His second book there was about their own situation, coming from their pasts. I think he mentions
    the rules they put more as an
    example than a set of rules. Those ‘rules’ worked for them. I was greatly influenced by these books as well as The Bride Wore White and Saving My First Kiss and many others as well. I think it would very likely have been different if we’d studied these in a youth group, though.

  66. Kimberly says:

    Yes. Focus on Jesus and our need to surrender our sexuality to Him, but stop there. Stop right there.

    Let’s point everyone to the beauty of Jesus, to the safety and joy found in His purity that protects us from ALL varieties of painful baggage, and ask Him to enable us to view and experience sex the way He intended and just STOP there. You started to say that, yet then it seems you proceeded to spend the bulk of your writing focus on shaming the “purity people” for shaming.

    This war is hard enough as it is without also making girls – or people who lead girls – feel guilty for their choice to pursue purity or courtship in a way you have decided is too extreme. If they want to save their kiss. Great! If they want to side hug – all right! That’s wonderful! To do so doesn’t have to mean their view on sex will leave them forever traumatized and disappointed. Maybe they simply view it all as an amazing gift to look forward to and they don’t want to open their present early. Period. They CAN have a healthy perspective and choose to pursue purity in this way is all I am meaning – and they should not be made to feel guilty or ashamed for taking this approach, either.

    I am honestly NOT meaning this to be snarky at all. This just really bothers me to keep seeing this flip-side shaming against purity going on.

    • I agree with Kimberly. Too much focus on reprimanding those pursuing purity. Methods may vary. Boundaries may vary. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

      This line sums it up so well — “Maybe they simply view it all as an amazing gift to look forward to and they don’t want to open their present early. Period.” Not nearly enough emphasis is given to this truth. It is a GIFT — SAVE it.
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  67. Okay, first of all I have to just say THANK YOU for taking a balanced approach with your overall title, etc. I’ve seen some blog posts recently that react so strongly against the extremities some people have taken purity to, that instead of speaking out against the extremities they vilify good and reasonable things like teaching our children to be pure (at all)!

    I have wrestled, myself, with the issue of how to properly transition our daughters. To use an example only indirectly related to sex, I was taught to be SO careful about not flirting as a teen (not leading someone on unintentionally, etc.) that I find that I don’t know HOW to flirt with my husband. What bugs me about this is that I watch my littlest ones and I realize that they’re BORN knowing how to flirt! They just innately do. So this is something we are training OUT of our girls, when really it ought to be guarded and properly directed, but not completely squashed. (And I’m pretty comfortable in the bedroom, but I still struggle with this, so we’re not just talking about something that goes together with major hang-ups.)

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have concrete rules/boundaries. I *do*, however, think they need to happen in context. Parents ought not to be handing down a “because I said so”-type mentality; concrete guidelines should spring from that focus on the Lord that you talked about – and be communicated as such. And I think that (in this area or ANY) parents of older teens and young adults need to realize that even if they are responsible OVERALL for their children, at this stage they need to loosen the reigns. Give your kids some credit for having standards, even if they aren’t *exactly* what you would set. If you think two finger-widths is too low, but your daughter is comfortable with three – but she’s not comfortable with anything BEYOND that – recognize that she’s just not all over the place with no standards and consider giving some leeway. Eventually she’s going to be living somewhere else, anyway, and you definitely want her making reasonable judgment calls then! That won’t happen if you always did all the judging for her.

    The other thing I saw in some (‘though not all) scenarios where the rules were really strict is that the focus was negative, rather than positive. Like, “cover up your body because it’s shameful,” as opposed to, “cover up your body because it’s beautiful and precious and to be cherished.” The rules may be EXACTLY the same in either case, but the message our daughters here is radically different. (I wrote about that: http://titus2homemaker.com/2014/02/modesty-motivation-matters/ )

    One more point in my long, rambling post. Our wedding day was not our first kiss. When we first began courting, that was the plan, honestly. (And we didn’t just throw out the plan in a moment of passion or something, in case someone was worried. We sat down and had a whole discussion about it.) But we came to the conclusion that the wedding night would be very awkward for us if we had to suddenly make that jump from, “I’ve never touched you before in any way, shape, or form” to “lock, stock, and barrel.” Maybe that’s not everyone’s best choice, but it worked for us and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of any part of our relationship, before or after marriage.
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  68. I am also amazed by the number of vaginismus sufferers who have been brave enough to step forward on this site.
    I wanted to point you all to vaginismus.com for all kinds of good support and advice. It is truly an amazing website. I can say that from first-hand experience.

    • I totally know what you mean! That was the topic of my post today–I’m amazed at how overrepresented vaginismus sufferers are (as a former one myself). It really makes me wonder if there’s something about our Christian culture that makes it more common.

      When I went through it I really thought I was alone, a freak. I know everybody speaking up here is really encouraging to the silent ones who come and read, and now know they’re not alone, either.

  69. “But if we really want kids to make good choices, maybe we should stop teaching them to do the right thing and start introducing them to Jesus.”

    Best. Line. Ever.
    Keith Schooley recently posted…Marriage, Family, and the Image of God: If It’s Permanent, Make It GoodMy Profile

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