**I want to preface this post by stating that much of what I am about to say about my experience with purity culture had nothing to do with my parents. The most they did that could be considered “purity culture” was buy me a purity ring at age sixteen, that came to represent much more than my abstinence until marriage. Their influence in this area served only to benefit me spiritually. I was, and continue to be, a very independent person, especially theologically. My trek through purity culture was brought about by my own curiosity and the influence of people outside my family that I looked up to and saw as spiritual examples. Although they left scars, these experiences were used of God to bring me to where I am today, on the other side, with perspective I would not have had without them.**
It is hard to know where to begin with a post like this. Purity culture is a sensitive topic, both for those who are on the other side and those who continue to be steeped in it. There are many who teach it who are well-intentioned, while others are so wrapped up in doing that they forget our primary motivation in doing: the Gospel. But what is purity culture?
Purity culture can be defined as the teachings that promote sexual abstinence as the definition of sexual and spiritual purity, often characterized by promoting courtship over “dating,” purity balls and ceremonies, and the promotion of specific dress standards as “modesty.” Purity culture tends to focus primarily (or even solely) on the actions of young girls and women. Girls are held responsible for keeping their male peers from engaging in the sin of lust, often to the point that they are held to very strict dress standards such as long skirts, high collars, and certain sleeve lengths. Girls are expected to be shy and quiet, letting boys come to them, and avoiding male-female friendships. Should a romantic relationship occur, it must be approached with extreme caution and only with the goal of marriage. Girls are taught that having a romantic relationship with any man that does not become their husband makes them liken to chipped teacups, roses stripped of their petals, or stained dresses: still beautiful, but not whole.
There are varying levels of extreme-ness to purity culture. I have encountered many levels. I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Emotional Purity, sat and listened to special “modesty/girl talks” at TeenPact events, heard all of the “tragic stories” of girls who gave their heart away too soon, and watched men shrink away from close friendship or even a relationship with me once they knew I had experienced heartbreak. And I know I’m not alone. I am not the only woman who has wept over her own broken heart, not because someone broke it, but because she was certain that no one else could ever love damaged goods like her. It’s horrible, wrong, and so incredibly damaging.
The problem is, purity culture started where all legalistic and/or heretical views start: a valid, biblical place. Aspects of purity culture relate directly to very biblical commands, especially the command to leave the marriage bed for marriage alone. It also stems from a misunderstanding of verses found in 1 Timothy. I write this post, not to demonize anyone committed to purity, but to warn them. Like any genuine belief, a commitment to purity can be – and has been – taken too far.
The problem with purity culture is not its commitment to raising children biblically, but rather its execution of this commitment.
When we take our focus off the gospel and put it solely on making sure we – and everyone around us – behave a very specific way, we go from freedom in Christ to binding ourselves up in legalism. When our focus becomes is she modest enough? Or, how many relationships has she had? Or, dating vs. courtship, we miss the point of being part of the body of Christ.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying – obedience to God is very important. I have a post on this very thing coming soon. James wrote in the New Testament book named for him that faith without works is dead. But by the same token, works without faith amount to nothing. Our good behavior does not grant us entry to Heaven. It is only through the blood of Christ that we will spend eternity there.
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Everything we do must stem from this. Everything in our lives must be done for the purpose of bringing God glory, and in light of the gospel, that is, Jesus Christ crucified.
In purity culture, the reasons for adhering to its teachings are the furthest thing from God’s glory and the gospel of Jesus Christ. According to purity culture, modest dress must be worn by women for the purpose of preventing men from lusting. Choosing courtship over dating is for the purpose of not coming to your spouse as “damaged goods” or with pieces of your heart missing. Remaining a virgin until you reach the marriage altar is for the purpose of being pure and whole before your spouse (and God). This mindset is where purity culture gets it wrong: putting how we must be before man before how we must be before God.
Purity culture seems to especially target women with this mindset. Women are responsible to keep men from engaging in the sin of lust. Girls go to purity balls, sign abstinence contracts, and wear purity rings. Boys are told to watch out for “wild” girls and told to look for a quiet, shy girl (often labelled the ones with a “meek and quiet spirit”). Women who are any sort of leaders are pushed down and told to remember their place. Girls who have had past relationships are told that they are damaged goods (although phrases like “chipped teacups” and “soiled napkins” are used to make this belief seem more tidy), and through this led to believe that they are no longer worthy of a romantic relationship. If you have been kissed before your wedding day, you are no longer pure. If you build a close friendship with a boy, you are trouble. Men have little, if any, responsibility when it comes to remaining pure – besides keeping women in line.
This mentality is not only harmful, it is extremely unbiblical. But, those of us who have broken away from the poison that is purity culture tread a fine line. The Bible does have a lot to say about purity. Sex is intended to only take place between a man and his wife. The Bible warns against promiscuous women who seek to seduce men. Paul does write in his first letter to Timothy that women should not focus on being the best dressed, but rather on a Christlike demeanor. So there is some validity to purity culture’s teachings.
However, far too much stock is put into abstinence equaling physical and spiritual purity (do we become impure once we make it to the marriage bed?) and making sure women do not show too much skin. There is so much more behind keeping sex within marriage, dressing “modestly,” and choosing your romantic relationships wisely than just making sure you aren’t damaged goods. Our motivation should not be man’s approval (all the things purity culture strives for with its teachings), but rather God’s. As believers, we should not be motivated to be obedient to God out of fear of punishment or being considered unworthy of human love. We must be motivated by our salvation through Jesus Christ and the desire to glorify God.
We obey the commands of Scripture, not so we can get enough “good little boys and girls” points, but so we can glorify God for the grace and mercy he has bestowed on us. Obedience to God is not the bondage that purity culture creates, but rather freedom. Freedom to live for Christ without fear, because the love of God has cast out that fear. Freedom to strive for obedience to God and his Word, knowing that when we fall, the blood of Christ has covered our sins (not that we sin so that grace may abound).
There is freedom in knowing that we are not victims of our pasts – whatever they held – but rather victorious through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. He paid a debt he did not owe that we could not pay. His robes were exchanged for ours, and, if you are in Christ, God views you as without sin and without debt. We have been redeemed, purchased by the blood of Christ. In Christ, our lives become so much more than rules and regulations. They become free.
In purity culture, stepping out of line is unforgivable. You become broken, damaged goods, never to be the same. In Christ, your sins are forgiven. You have been made new, whole, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.