Can the purity message end up backfiring, making our young people too nervous about sex?

I’m actually taking a down week this week, away from my computer, but some wonderful people have agreed to step in and share some thoughts they’ve been having.

I’ve written before about how sometimes our emphasis on purity can be misplaced–we talk so much about purity that we make girls especially ashamed of sex. I often get pushback from readers, saying that I’m talking about a problem that isn’t widespread at all.

But I get so many women on this blog writing me letters about experiencing vaginismus (pain during intercourse) when they got married because they were paranoid about sex. And I get so many women who do say that they have a hard time relaxing and believing that sex is good. So I think we do have a problem on our hands.

Today Pat from PatAndCandy.com  joins us with a story about how she and her friends had the best of intentions teaching their kids about purity–and yet they never foresaw the negative repercussions with the way they framed the purity message. Here’s Pat:

When the purity message backfires: let's make sure we're talking about sex in a healthy way, not making kids scared of it.

In the circles I run in, guarding our children’s purity is a big thing. We teach it, we model it (try to, at least), we encourage modesty and exhort our kids to be careful with what they watch, what they read, what they listen to, what they do…

Especially when it comes time to sex.

But a recent incident made me wonder if that purity culture and emphasis on modesty can backfire.

A friend of mine’s daughter got married. She had been raised in the aforementioned fashion, was quite the model of virtue for her younger siblings and friends over the years. And she was quite proud of the fact that she was a virgin at the altar. What a gift of purity she had to offer her husband!

Then came the honeymoon.

Without going into information-overload for you, suffice it to say that things didn’t go too smoothly. Upon their return, it prompted my friend to share this heart-felt note with her daughter (*names and identifying information edited to protect their privacy):

I (vaguely and uncomfortably) remember my first experience with sex, and suffice it to say: it wasn’t pretty.  For the most part, “the first time” isn’t anything spectacular for many people. Think about it: all of your life you have been determined to stay pure until marriage, and that’s quite a feat. But in the process the thinking becomes “sex is wrong”, or “bad” or something “good girls don’t do.”  And then you get married! Your body is like “Whoa! Hold up–we aren’t supposed to be doing this!!”  And what happens?!  It shuts down.

And yet, this is what you were saving yourself FOR!!  But that paradox means the first time (or two, or three) may not be easy, or fun…just as many people, and I think you, have discovered.

However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing!  (Nor will it last forever!)

My first experiences were awkward and uncomfortable, to say the least, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work through any of it with someone who truly loved and cared for me.  I had been totally vulnerable with someone who just up and left.  And it happened more than once.  And I’m just sharing this to show you what a different scenario you’re in!

Yes, it may require work…but it’s going to be work on both your parts! It will mean patience…for both of you: with each other and your own selves. It’s the beginning of a journey that you are both privileged to be on together – and therein lies the beautiful nugget in the whole mess.

You get to learn about yourself and your husband: how to give and receive love in a love language that you speak with nobody else! You get to live out what it means to be truly one with someone as you will with no one else in your life. You get to live out in the flesh what Scripture uses as a metaphor for Christ and His bride, the church.  Don’t know about you, but that blows my mind!

(The email went on with some practical tips, such as finding a doctor that she would be comfortable with, and ended with some personal encouragement.)

But this little exchange got me to thinking, since we’re raising our kids in the same vein:

What happens when the purity message “backfires?”

More specifically, what happens when protecting our children’s innocence and raising our kids to live modestly and model purity almost becomes a hindrance to a healthy married relationship?

While my husband and I have 2 adult marrieds, and 3 middle- and high-school aged kids still at home, I don’t know if I have any solid answers. But I can propose these 5 thoughts to consider:

1. Always, always be available as a sounding board for your kids. Watch your temper…guard your tongue…don’t bully with your own attitudes (at least when you’re engaged in a topic of conversation they brought up!) If they don’t feel they can talk to you about serious stuff in 3rd grade, they won’t come to you with serious stuff later on, either.

2. Talk about sex as your kids grow up. At the very least, take their questions seriously, and answer them! And if you don’t know the answer, gently look it up with them, and engage your acting skills (if you must) by not looking uncomfortable in the process.

3. While, generally speaking, you don’t want to teach “situational ethics,” do remember to present concepts such as sex, modesty, innocence, etc in context. For example sex itself isn’t wrong or bad, but outside of a loving, committed relationship…well, that’s when it can be unhealthy and pose negative consequences down the road.

4. As your kids age, even if they are a little uncomfortable with discussing sex, give a little push-back. Especially if they’re engaged and heading towards marriage! If they don’t want to talk to you, at least encourage them to find some other adult – mentor, minister, counselor, or happily-married friend – with whom they can address their questions, issues and concerns.

5. Pray for them…earnestly and often. Perhaps at the end of the day, this should really be #1. We all make mistakes as parents, and yet the Word reminds us “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve” (James 5:16 CEB). Remember that parenting with the best of intentions doesn’t guarantee we won’t goof things up, but human beings are resilient, and no mess-up or hurt is beyond God’s reach.

Finally, however, realize that there is a real and serious problem called vaginismus, which makes intercourse painful and sometimes prohibitive in the beginning. Sheila’s written about it on this site, and her information is very helpful. Honest and clear communication can help you steer your adult daughter towards finding real help in determining what the situation is, and working towards a solution.

Good Girls Guide My SiteSheila says: I’ve also covered vaginismus at greater detail in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. I talk to so many women on this site who experience pain during intercourse, and you are not alone! And it honestly can get better. It did for me.

It may be running counter to the culture these days to be protecting our kids’ innocence and teaching abstinence, modesty, and purity. But doing so does not have to doom them to a boring, or awkward, or maladjusted life, either.

As Christians, we should trust God to be generous in sharing His wisdom and grace with us (and our children!) as we stand firm in parenting with love and truth.

Pat FennerPat Fenner has been homeschooling her brood of 5 for almost 20 years. With a passion for encouraging moms in their parenting and homeschooling efforts, she shares experience-inspired wisdom with her friend Candy over at PatAndCandy.com. Sign up at their site for a free printable reminding you just how important you are to your family, and keep the conversation going over at Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

What do you think? Has getting a healthy view of sex been difficult for you? Let’s talk in the comments! I won’t be around to participate much today, but comment away, and maybe you all can have a good conversation without me.

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