About a year ago I was perusing books on Amazon when I was struck by the book titled “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” by Linda Kay Klein. I clicked and began to read the description with a bit of shock. Evangelical movement? I went straight to Google for answers. There was so much information. Articles, blogs, books…I had no idea. I called my best friend, whose childhood mirrored mine, and blurted out “Did you know this was a thing??” Purity was a topic that was always on the table at my house. As a teen, I was familiar with the “True Love Waits” slogan and books about courting. I wrapped myself in a blanket of false security, envisioning what staying pure would mean for me: a Godly husband, beautiful children, and an everlasting marriage built on a foundation of giving my husband the best gift possible: my virginity. I wore a ring that one day would be exchanged for my wedding band, and brushed off friendly teasing of others. I held myself to a high standard and was careful not to tarnish the pact I had made.
As a married mom of two, I now realize that purity culture is very much “a thing.”
and entwined is a false narrative. There are various levels of abstinence pledging from denomination to denomination, but overall the theme seems to be the same: your virginity is of the utmost importance, and giving it away out of wedlock not only shows a lack of self-control but will also make you less desirable. No one really wants a girl who has been used, so it’s best to just hold on to it tightly and wait. Even as an adult who is firm in my faith and wholly in love with Jesus, I don’t believe this to be true. I am very thankful that my exposure to purity culture was quite mild in comparison to others I have heard, and I also know wholeheartedly that the expectations that were given to me were done from the standpoint of love and protection. However, I don’t believe this is the case for most. Putting the weight of sexual choices on a teen is hard enough without tying expectations of letting others down and a sense of shame if one doesn’t “measure up” to standards placed on them.
One of the most significant problems is that abstinence-only education doesn’t adequately
provide information on how to protect yourself if you decide to forgo the vow to remain pure. Sex comes with a spectrum of consequences (both positive and/or negative), and it’s incredibly important that a young adult know how to navigate that in the best way for them. Also, just using the word “pure” to describe virginity is hard to take, at least for me personally. Purity indicates a lack of defect, and having premarital sex does not make one defective. If we hold our virginity on such a pedestal, the aftereffects of losing it can be unbearable. At the age of 26, I lost my virginity to my boyfriend (now husband), and the anxiety that I had after of what would happen if we ever broke up was suffocating. I also was not prepared for the emotional toll of giving myself to a man who had not waited for marriage. I never expected to marry a virgin, but I would be lying if I said that even now, I don’t struggle with some level of insecurity knowing my husband has been with other women. However, that is my issue to deal with.
In the same way, we shouldn’t put pressure on remaining pure, we also shouldn’t punish them for engaging in sex. Leading up to meeting my husband, I dated, but men wanted nothing to do with me when they found out I was a virgin. One man actually gave me a list of things I had to do if I wanted to be with him since I wouldn’t give him exactly what he wanted sexually (that was a hard hell no from me). While I’m thankful that this choice allowed me to see what a catch my husband was when he fully respected me and my decisions, it also brings to the forefront that sex is a significant part of a relationship. Waiting until marriage does not allow you to see if your spouse is compatible with you sexually. No matter how much you love someone, not having sexual compatibility is a problem. In the church, a common rebuttal to that is that God will honor you for your choice and reward you for remaining pure. If we lived in a world where all people had the same desires and standards for virginity, maybe that would be the case, but we do not live in a world where everything falls into place nicely, and we live happily ever after.
When it all boils down, choosing to wait is not a bad decision. The most important aspect is making the choice FOR YOURSELF. Remaining pure is holding yourself to a very high standard, and anyone who makes that choice because it is what they truly want should be applauded. This also means in all sexual endeavors and encounters (or lack thereof), you should only do what you are comfortable with. Your body belongs to you: no one else, and it should be guarded the way you are comfortable. As a parent, I will not be preaching abstinence to my children. Instead, I will choose to give them as much information as possible about sex, including the ties that it has to your emotional and mental wellbeing, and pray that they follow their own truth.