The purity culture has been with us for a while–but some super interesting things are happening.
And I want to share with you 10 trends that I’m keeping a watch on.
But first–what is the purity culture?
It’s hard to define exactly, but it’s a trend that, while it didn’t start in the 1990s, it exploded in the 1990s with the True Love Waits movement, I Kissed Dating Good-bye, etc. I was very involved in Christian youth groups in the 1980s, for instance, and we NEVER talked about modesty. No one ever thought about waiting until the wedding to kiss. Dating was normal in our youth group. But fast forward to the late 1990s, and legalism had crept in. Modesty was all the rage. Girls were told they were stumbling blocks for boys, so they had to watch it. Dating was frowned upon. And things snowballed.
I wrote an important post a while ago on 10 things that scare me about the purity culture, and it can explain everything for you!
As I’ve shared before, I’ve gone from being a big advocate of the purity culture to firmly believing that it’s one of the biggest culprits in robbing marriages of great sex. And so I’m quite passionate about bringing a more balanced view (and hopefully a more Christ-centric view) on the whole thing.
Here are 10 things I’m watching:
Trends in the Purity Culture I’m Celebrating
1. Key figures in the purity culture are changing their minds
Do you know what really, really impresses me? What makes me leap for joy because it’s so evident that God is doing a mighty work?
When someone admits they’re wrong, especially about something they’re famous for.
This year I’ve been talking a lot about Josh Harris’ journey disavowing his book I Kissed Dating Good-bye. I actually participated in the crowdfunding for the documentary that they’ve produced. And that documentary is now LIVE, and it’s totally free to watch. I watched it over the weekend, and I’d encourage you to watch it, too!
You can find it here. (Once you sign up, it may take a few minutes to get emailed the link for the film. But it’s coming! And it’s worth it).
Imagine the courage it takes to say, “the biggest thing I’ve ever done with my life was a mistake.” That’s a man who is putting Jesus first. I know some wish that he had gone further, and had addressed the Sovereign Grace sexual abuse scandal that he was in the middle of. I wish he had, too. But that does not stop me from saying that I really respect Josh Harris, and I thank him for being honest. And I’m excited to see what God is going to do with him next!
2. New books are being written PRAISING dating
I love Deb Fileta’s book True Love Dates. It’s all about how healthy dating can prepare you for a healthy marriage–and how to go about dating in a healthy way. Increasingly there’s recognition that you need a way to get to know someone before you pursue marriage. And, especially when you’re an adult and away from the youth group crowd, the only real way to do that is to date!
She was featured in Josh Harris’ documentary, and you can watch the extended interview with her here.
3. Courtship is being reconsidered
Thomas Umstaddt was the one who blew the internet up with his post on why courtship wasn’t working. After being an advocate of courtship, and writing a blog on courtship, he started to realize two things: many of the girls especially who grew up with the courtship model were not getting married. And many who did get married young were divorcing at really high numbers.
Something was wrong in courtship land. In Josh Harris’ documentary Thomas is talking about this, and it’s fascinating. You can watch his extended interview, too!
4. Christian online dating is really a thing
I know so many people who are taking the initiative to find someone that they want to marry. Sometimes you just can’t find anyone in your church or your social circle, and you need to branch out. I think that the trend towards online dating is a positive sign. I know we believe that we should wait on God’s timing, but I also believe that online dating may be the tool that God wants to use to help people find a mate!
5. Sexual abuse in churches is starting to be taken seriously
I’m not sure if this one should really go under “things I’m celebrating”, because the church is not doing nearly enough in this realm. Scandals keep coming out, week after week, and most churches are trying to cover their reputations rather than help victims appropriately. That makes me sad. Nevertheless, the fact that these scandals are hitting the news at all is a positive step. It means that it can’t be ignored forever. And I hope and pray that over the next few years we’ll see churches getting better at recognizing the wrong they have done.
(Sovereign Grace Churches and Southern Baptist Mission Organization–I’m looking at you specifically–though you’re hardly alone).
6. Churches are embracing talking about sex in a healthy way
One thing that totally delights me is how open churches seem to be to my Girl Talk! It’s an event that I’ve been traveling around North America (and Australia now too!) where I talk about sex, rather graphically, answer a Q&A, and point women to what a healthy, passionate marriage looks like. And on the whole, pastors are so happy to have that resource for something that, for obvious reasons, can’t be addressed thoroughly from the pulpit. (Interestingly, it’s only in Tennessee that it’s been virtually impossible to book anything. Churches in Tennessee seem to have more problems with this! Anyone want to explain why?).
I’m often asked if Christians are afraid to talk about sex, but I’ve never found that to be the case. There’s a deep hunger for open conversation and teaching about this, and so I try to dispel the notion that Christians are “hung up” about sex as often as I can.
By the way–I’m booking now for Girl Talks in:
- Alberta in May;
- British Columbia, Washington state, and Oregon in March;
- Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana in February;
- and along the eastern seaboard in April.
If you have a church that may be interested, just email me! I’d love to include you.
(And if you want to make sure you’re notified if I’m ever speaking near you, just sign up for my emails!)
Trends in the Purity Culture that Worry Me
At the same time, not all news is positive. Here are some things I’m still worried about:
7. Young Christians on social media are still pushing a very legalistic view of relationships
I’ve noticed that some of the younger Christians who are very influential on social media are still pushing a very legalistic view of dating. Even though the “fathers” and “mothers” of the movement have either fallen in scandal (like Bill Gothard and the Duggars) or have disavowed it (like Josh Harris), many who grew up in it are keeping it alive, and they’re influencing another generation to see dating in a legalistic way.
It seems to me that what many of these rules-centered approaches to relationships do is say “follow what we do for relationships” rather than “seek out The Spirit and ask Him”. Instead of following Jesus, we follow people. And that’s not healthy.
8. We’re STILL not talking about the “adult” expressions of the purity culture–and how that damages sex for women
The purity culture tends to be aimed at teens and young adults, saying that sex is so much of a temptation that you must limit all contact; that all boys will struggle with lust, and so girls must change their behaviour so boys don’t lust; and that you lose your purity once you have sex.
What we don’t talk about so much is that these same attitudes are still present in how we talk about sex in marriage. Men are considered to be so enslaved to lust that the only way to stop them from being tempted to lust after co-workers or look at pornography is for wives to have sex on a very frequent basis.
But the WHY matters. When we talk about sex as something that the man needs, or else he’ll be tempted, we make wives feel like objects. We make it sound like only men have sex drives, which makes women think that they don’t. We make it sound like what men really need is physical release, when both men and women were designed to need real, intimate connection through sex.
The purity culture and the “every man’s battle” culture are just two different sides of the same coin. We can’t really have healthy sexuality until we properly address the shortcomings and distorted teachings of the “every man’s battle” crowd, too.
You may also enjoy these posts:
My Series on Why We Shouldn’t Assume that All Men Lust
Why Women’s Sexual Pleasure Matters, too
9. Some are throwing the baby out with the bathwater–thinking that because the purity culture is wrong, then purity isn’t a legitimate aim
I believe the purity culture is off-base, but I also believe that God designed sex to be for marriage only, for very good reasons.
Unfortunately, because so many were seriously harmed by the purity culture, many are calling the teaching that sex is designed for marriage to be at the root of the problem.
I think over the next few years we’re going to see a new battle develop where many in the church will try to redefine sexual ethics so that sex outside of marriage is no longer frowned upon. I hope that I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. I do believe we should have great sex in marriage. I don’t believe that sex before marriage steals something from you permanently that is irrevocable, and I do believe that we should stop shaming people. But I still think that sex is too important to treat casually, and that God had very good reasons for asking us to wait. I hope that people can get the balance right before the pendulum swings too hard the other way.
10. Christians as a whole are not disavowing those who have done evil
As people are leaving the purity culture for a more grace-filled perspective on chastity, many who have believed the purity culture are panicking. And in their panic they have been defending the very people who make their cause look bad. When the Duggar abuse scandal broke, for instance, people were defending the Duggars, even though they didn’t deal with their daughters’ abuse properly. It was largely non-Christians who were jumping to the aid of the victims, and Christians who were petitioning to keep the Duggars on the air.
When your cause starts to crumble, we tend to circle the wagons, instead of recognizing that maybe we need to ditch the wagon. Our response should not be, “how will this hurt the church?” but rather, “how can we purge the church from this evil?” I hope we start getting this right.
What You Can Do to Change the Culture’s View on Sexuality
Culture is never permanent. We’re always changing, and we’re in a state of flux right now. And all of us, together, create Christian culture. So what are we going to do to influence it in a positive direction?
I hope we can talk about that in the comments, but here are a few thoughts I have:
- Watch the Josh Harris documentary, even with some friends, and start a conversation
- When you hear someone espousing the purity culture, push back. Often we’re silent because the more conservative one appears more spiritual. Not true.
- When you hear someone laying the blame for men’s lust at women’s feet, push back.
- When sexual abuse is exposed in the Christian church, stand with the victim.
- Include single people in your social gatherings. Let’s not make marriage an idol in the church.
What other ideas do you have? Let’s talk in the comments!