3 Dangerous Myths of Purity Culture
- Amanda Idleman Contributing Writer
- 2022 19 Apr
Who else grew up being gifted "purity rings," making 'true love waits' pledges, and enduring many long discussions about the need for girls to be modest for the sake of all the boys in their lives? I wonder if these talks made the same impact on the young men that came of age in the 2000s in the church as they did on me, as a young faith-filled woman? I will never forget the strong impression these talks had on me and my view of sexuality.
To be clear, I don't think any of these initiatives came from a bad place. The purity movement was a rally cry against the increasingly sexualized culture. This church-wide push was a desperate effort to guard Christian youth's hearts, minds, and bodies. Many of the messages shared with young people were filled with truth and affirmed the God-given value of teens and unmarried young adults. In less well-managed scenarios, these conversations, messages given from the stage, and back-room-talks inflicted shame and spiritual damage on the youth they were trying to protect.
Now as a Mom to children who are becoming pre-teens, I see how hard addressing sexuality can be! Today sexuality is more tricky than ever as the conversations are not just about purity but about identity, doctrine, loving people where they are at, and navigating a culture of rampant sexual confusion that has become commonplace in the Middle and High Schools and beyond across our country. As the now grown-ups in the room, we must reflect on what mistakes those raising us may have made in these important conversations and prayerfully consider how we can make sure conversations on this topic with young people are filled with God's grace and truth.
What Is Purity Culture?
"Purity culture" refers to an evangelical movement that promotes a biblical view of purity. It discourages dating and focuses on promoting virginity before marriage. Common tools used to encourage purity include pledges, symbols such as purity rings, and even events like purity balls.
One example of a pledge that many may have made comes from True Love Waits (1993), which states: "Believing that true loves waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage."
Purity rings are sometimes worn by those who have made such pledges. These rings even had a time when they were worn by many famous celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and the Jonas Brothers.
Purity balls are formal dances, usually attended by fathers and their daughters to promote sexual purity. Often, the fathers would sign a pledge to exemplify what sexual purity should look like for their daughters. The dances were originally thought up in 1998 by a California couple, Randy and Lisa Wilson, to " celebrate God's design and life's little growth spurts."
What Does the Bible Say about Purity?
The Bible is a guidebook for how to best live our lives. God cares about our relationships and sets many guidelines for how to best interact with the other people in our lives. Sexuality is one very important aspect of our relationship, our God-given identities, and how we use our sexuality is relevant to our spiritual lives.
Some of the Scriptures that help us know how to best honor God with our sexuality come from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. This passage encourages believers to abstain from sexual immorality. God encourages us to use self-control when it comes to our bodies. Hebrews 4:11 says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."
1 Corinthians 6:18 says, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." Psalm 119:9 says, "How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word." To truly understand all God has to say about purity, we have to take the time to study the whole of his Word so we can strive to live by his commandments.
What Are Common Myths of Purity Culture?
Some of the messaging behind purity culture led to the development of some unhelpful myths around how Christians view sexuality and the Bible.
Myth 1: The Spiritual Value Myth
This myth communicates that your spiritual value is directly connected to your sexual purity. This myth tells us that purity is one of the most important ways we can measure our faith in God. For women, this can look like reducing our value down to what we have done or not done in the bedroom.
Purity as a measure of spiritual well-being leads to shame and inappropriate judgment among believers. This steps away from the truth of the Gospel that tells us we are saved by faith alone! While our faith compels us to action, our action is not what qualifies us as Sons and Daughters of Christ.
The bottom line is that our salvation and value comes through Christ alone! Our place in the kingdom is not dependent on our purity. It's God's grace that leads us to repentance if we are in a situation that is not healthy for us. He redeems even the most broken of stories. Our sexual choices do not change how loved and treasured we are by our God.
Myth 2: Fairytale Myth
This storyline promotes the idea that if you get this waiting-for-marriage thing right, then you will live happily ever after with your spouse! For many, God becomes almost like a fairy Godmother that provides our Prince or Princess that we are surely worthy of because we have remained sexually pure. Another part of this myth is the idea that sexuality won't be an issue in your marriage because you waited until marriage.
My husband and I both waited until we were married to have sex. We have been married for almost 15 years, and we still have to work on sex in our relationship. Honestly, because we come in so naive on this subject, it took many years to learn how to effectively talk about sex because we were so uncomfortable with the topic!
We both have daily to guard our hearts and minds to ensure we remain sexually pure because sexual temptation does not end the day you get married. Sadly, we did not deliver a picture-perfect marriage just because we waited to have sex until our wedding. Sadly, neither of us are picture-perfect spouses. We've gone through many tough seasons where counseling and lots of hard work were required to keep our marriage together.
What I do think that waiting afforded us was the mindset and a practiced commitment to sexual purity as a couple. It also gave us a strong sense of trust for each other because we have witnessed each other deny our desire for the sake of honoring God and each other.
When we talk about sex, purity, and marriage, the narrative has to change to help us see that this God-given advice isn't about bringing us a prince charming or about a struggle-free future. Still, it's just the start of practicing the work of maintaining a sexually pure life before the Lord because that work truly never ends.
Myth 3: Damaged Goods
A sad by-product of the purity culture is the message that you are somehow "damaged goods" due to sexual sin from your past. What a lie from the enemy of our souls! There is no story too tragic for God to redeem. Our choices from when we were dead in sin do not determine our value or ability to live out beautiful love-filled stories. When we surrender our lives to the Lord and to His good plan for us, we are redeemed! Our sin is washed away, and we have every ability to live out a beautiful love story in our lives.
Is Purity Culture Dangerous to Young Believers?
The purity culture is missing some important messages that young believers so desperately need to hear.
First, they need to know that God loves them and they are valuable no matter what their life has looked like before giving their lives to the Lord. They are not damaged goods. God has offered us complete healing and redemption.
Our culture is having an identity crisis that is wrapped up in a story that has to do with love, sexuality, and fierce individuality. Truly the reality is that this storyline is about a generation that is lost and seeking and are finding identity in a pronoun, the LQBTQ community, or solely through their sexual orientation/relationships. Thankfully God offers us an identity that is so much more secure, meaningful, and purposeful than who or what we may be sexually attracted to.
If the church keeps at this narrative of purity at all costs and neglects the message of truth that confirms every person's heavenly value, we are missing a huge opportunity to reach a very confused generation. What young believers need is an invitation to find freedom and identity through a relationship with the true and living God.
As long as we (the adults in the room) introduce the next generation to Jesus, who is the giver of grace and truth, young believers will find freedom from the sexual sin that the church has been afraid of. When we focus on seeking first the Kingdom of God on behalf of the next generation, then we don't have to use gimmicks, scare tactics, or half-truths to convince them that God has created them for a love so much greater than the love they have been chasing after through inappropriate means.
God gives us guidelines on how to express our sexuality because he knows that even a gift so good as sex is not meant to define us. It's a gift that men and women who enter into the covenant of marriage are given. For some, this kind of marriage is not possible. If that is the case, then God gives other good gifts, and our sexuality becomes secondary to loving God and our neighbor. No matter your story, God is meant to be the main character. It's loving Him that should define our lives. This is the message the next generation needs a Jesus-centered faith built on a strong unshakable foundation. Our identity, value, and purpose truly come through Christ alone.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Photoboyko
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.