Why Christians Should Kiss “Sexual Purity” (As We Know It) Goodbye…

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I grew up in the thick of the evangelical purity culture. I didn’t come from a legalistic family and my parents were egalitarian Christians, so I did not believe I was responsible for the lust of boys. I dressed how I wanted to dress. I wore a two-piece bathing suit and crop tops. I never showed much cleavage or anything like that; I was simply a normal teenage girl.

I began dating young – 13 years old. I fell in “like” with one of our class clowns. He was silly. I was silly. It was a match made in middle-school-heaven. I was terrified of him french kissing me. What if I did it wrong and looked lame? I would secretly call my mom to come get me at the end of an evening party, sneak out the door and wait down the street for her to pick me up, all in an attempt to dodge my first kiss.

At 14, my boyfriend laid one on me. I guess he couldn’t wait anymore and I was not expecting it. It felt gross having someone’s tongue down my throat. Yet, after time, kissing him became my most favorite pastime. My mom gave me the book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” by Joshua Harris. I laughed and threw it across the room after she left. I was not about to kiss dating goodbye. Dating was new and exciting.

That same year my mom asked me if I wanted a purity ring. I was allowed to pick out a fancy ring for $100. Of course I wanted a purity ring! I also wanted purses, clothes, and shoes. All joking aside, I loved Jesus very much and I wanted to be pure for Him. I also wanted to please my parents. I picked out a gold ring with a rose on it and made a commitment to stay pure until marriage.

My parents did not put an unreasonable amount of pressure on me, but we as a family were embedded in the evangelical purity culture. Christian leaders, authors and ministers locally and afar, all had an opinion on how to help teens to fight for “sexual purity.” The truth is that I, being a perfectionist, internalized all of the information and placed a substantial amount of pressure on myself.

My first boyfriend and I dated for about two years and made out constantly. It went too far once in awhile, but it was fairly innocent. When it would go too far, I would cry. I felt extremely guilty. I was a “church girl” who wanted to be a minister someday. I needed to get it together and fight harder to maintain “sexual purity.”

At 16 years old, my first boyfriend and I broke up and I began dating a boy from another high school. He was the epitome of a “teenage dream.” He was good looking, funny, popular, smart, athletic, and most importantly, wanted by many beautiful, popular girls. I felt honored that he chose me.

We dated for the rest of high school. I stopped going to my own high school’s sporting events and solely supported him. I wore his jerseys with his last name on them. We went to every dance together at both our high schools. We were both raised in Christian homes, so we went to his youth group and my youth group together most weeks.

We dreamed of him becoming a professional baseball player someday and buying me gucci jeans (lol, makes me laugh now). Point being, we were in some kind of love and grew extremely emotionally and physically attached. The whole time we were dating, I struggled with inner turmoil.

It was only natural for us to become physical. We were together constantly and we both had access to cars with back seats. Every time things went too far, I would cry. After about a year of ongoing struggling, he would cry, too. It was ridiculous, but we could not stop fooling around.

Our fights became more intense as our adolescent souls became more and more intertwined. The “ups” and the “downs” became crazy. We were on a rollercoaster ride and we were way too attached to each other to simply stop the madness. We both wanted to please God, but we were trapped.

We were way too immature to consider marriage. We both had our whole lives ahead of us, but we couldn’t simply walk away. After we graduated from high school, I became so stressed out by our sexual sin that I rarely ate and lost a substantial amount of weight. The shame was unbearable, but I loved him in the way that teenagers love – fireworks and all.

One day, I read 2 Timothy 2:22 and found the answer I was looking for.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

This is what I had to do if I wanted peace; I had to run. So, I decided I would go to Bible college over 2,000 miles away. Leaving him was the hardest thing I had ever had to do at that point in my life. It ripped my heart in half, and his as well.

The thing is though, we cannot outrun ourselves. I took both my virginity and my “sexual impurities” with me to college. I made a pact with myself not to date at all until I found the man I would marry.

I was finally ready to “kiss dating goodbye.” I was convinced that I was bad at dating, that I was a horrible girlfriend, that I was difficult, that I was tempted by sexual sin too easily, and that I had to beat my weakness into submission for the sake of my ministerial calling and love for Jesus. I reasoned that God was pleased with me now that I was walking in “sexual purity.”

I stayed pure and barely dated all through college. Dating was bad because dating led to sexual sin and sexual sin led to God being disappointed in me. I could not handle the guilt and the shame anymore, so I avoided all of it as much as possible. My highschool sweetheart moved on quickly and I didn’t.

I became prideful about my ability to stay focused and out of a romantic relationship. I viewed young men and women who “had to have a boyfriend or girlfriend” as weak. I became hyper focused on my virginity because I thought it was all I had left to give.

Christians would praise me for maintaining my virginity and I would eat it up. Unbelievers would make fun of me and I honestly believed they were just jealous. I became arrogant about my “sexual purity.”

I swept all of the guilt, shame, and condemnation from my adolescence under the carpet. It was too painful to deal with. I not only ran from sexual impurity literally; I ran from it emotionally. I would never let my heart get ripped in half again.

I met my now husband in 2007 and fell head over heels fast. It should have been the most blissful time of my life, and many aspects were, but it was also filled with extreme inner turmoil. Almost immediately we began to struggle with “sexual purity” and I became an emotional disaster. All of the guilt, shame, and condemnation that I had swept under the carpet 5 years prior rose to the surface like a whirlwind of uncontrollable dust.

I found myself in almost constant tears. My chronic headaches worsened. I began having panic attacks. I became depressed. I feared God was disappointed in me. I feared God would not permit me to marry my now husband. I feared my heart would break again and I would find myself sobbing in the bath tub, naked, with my heart wounds wide open.

Not only this, but after my husband and I did get married, I believed we would have a next-to-perfect sex life because we both saved sexual intercourse for our wedding night. Our sex life has always been good, but because I believed it should be close to perfect, it never seemed good enough.

I will say this, my husband and I do have a unique emotional bond due to having sex only with one another, for which we can probably thank the evangelical purity culture, but I have decided to walk away from the idea of “sexual purity” forever.

The truth is that as Christian men and women, we are all equally pure in every way because we are bought with a high price and covered by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Even the most “sexually pure” among us is as dirty rags compared to the purity of God (Is. 64:6), which is why we need an unflawed Savior. Likewise, the most “sexually impure” among us is as white as snow due to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our purity is found in Christ alone and it cannot be tainted no matter what we do or don’t do sexually.

Instead, I will teach teens and adults alike the value of “sexual wisdom,” the heart of God as a parent, and the power of grace.

We are wise not to get sexually involved with someone we are not married to because if it does not work out, the heart will show us no mercy and the healing process is painful and time consuming. The only reason the Bible tells us to save sex for marriage is because God designed us for everlasting commitment and promise and God does not want to see His children suffer. Yet, if we do fall down and make a mistake sexually, the beautiful grace of Jesus Christ covers all.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

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48 Comments

  • I have always told my children that you can’t give yourself to someone without leaving part of you behind. We weren’t meant to have sexuality without emotional connection. So, yes, sexual wisdom.

    • Good way to put it, Mary. One of the many problems with sexual impurity in youth is that it robs us of our incredible youthful energy that could be put to great use elsewhere. All kinds of sports, all kinds of awesome skills, all kinds of wonderful learning could be happening if youth (especially young girls) were not being diverted to inner turmoil over sexual issues. So much time rather wasted. And then there is healing time needed. And yes, the residual recovering time in years even insinuating into happy marriages. Young men seem to have a better ability to shake all that off quicker. Perhaps, it is because we expect too much, demand too much, and blame too much on our young women. Maybe we need to do a sort of blame shifting to the young boys. Young men need to be taught that they are equally or maybe for balancing, even more to blame. And then offer more things for young women to be involved in. Let’s use up that energy on learning and skills, rather than waiting to ‘find’ the right marriage partner.

  • So good Jory, you have spoken to so many women, including myself, that have struggled with this same thing. Thank you for being open and honest and sharing this so we who read can also partake in the wonderful freedom that you have found.

  • You hit it on the head — shame and guilt are harmful, while grace is everything. I remember when I first met my husband, I had a guilty past, but it was so freeing for me once I realized that I was 100% pure going into marriage, not because of my great efforts, but because of Christ.

  • I hope there is going to be a follow-up article – fleshing out one of your last statements – ‘Instead, I will teach teens and adults alike the value of “sexual wisdom,” the heart of God as a parent, and the power of grace.”

  • Jory, I’m sorry to hear about your guilt and fear and shame. I’m sorry no one stopped you from dating so early in life. It saddens me that you felt as if you needed to date and have the “it” guy so soon. God’s grace is amazing and deeper than we can imagine. It sounds as if you have had a tough time forgiving yourself for your failings. When we are genuine with Him, God’s grace is immediate, but often ours isn’t. As a parent of a teen and a pre-teen I struggle with how to help them walk that tightrope. My story comes from another element of God’s grace. I didn’t get the guys when I was young and felt as if I wasn’t interesting and wasn’t valuable, yet God enabled me to remain “pure” while teaching me the confidence to stand on my own. Only when He had taught me to value being on my own and being okay with it, did He also open the door for my to find my best friend and husband of the past 18 years. Your struggles are real but that doesn’t mean they were invaluable. I thought you should know that.

    • Thank you Paula. Actually, my mom did try to get me not to date so young, but I was very strong willed and I would not listen to her. It is true that it took me a very long time to forgive myself, but I believe God allowed all this to happen so I could help other girls and women who have similar stories. So I find these experiences very valuable, though they were tough. My story will help many others. 🙂

  • Jory, I am going to show this to my daughter, who recently turned 13. I’ve showed her examples of getting sexually involved with someone before marriage… From my own experiences and it is very painful and not worth the emotional and sometimes physical damage it can do. Maybe if she sees other examples, it will help her deal with any struggles she may face.

  • So I read the article, I read the comments. What’s the point? What’s the solution? Your article does not match the title either. Okay kick sexual purity away but what about dating, is that a bad idea? I see you have a few ideas, but there is no conclusion.

    • I feel the same way. I don’t disagree that people can be forgiven but what do I do with all this information? What do I kiss goodbye about sexual purity?

    • My conclusion is that purity is found in Christ alone – not in what we do or don’t do sexually. There are not different levels of purity. We are all equally pure under the blood of Jesus. The purity culture did not teach this – it taught levels of purity/holiness. It was dependent on our acts, not on the purity, holiness, and righteousness of Christ.

      The message of saving sex for marriage is biblical, but many of the surrounding messages in the evangelical purity culture were not biblical and caused a lot of shame and damage. Sexual purity is found in Christ alone, because all purity/holiness is found in Christ alone. It cannot not be tainted no matter what we do or don’t do.

      This is why I said to teach “sexual wisdom” instead of sexual purity.”

  • Jory,

    I’m having difficulty understanding what exactly you’re getting at here. You acknowledge that sexual purity is good and God’s best for us. This makes sense. After all, God created us so He knows what is best for us and He’s not going to give us commands for no good reason.

    What exactly do you plan to change then? You never really say.

    From what I’m reading, seems the issue was less sexual purity and more an issue with guilt. I think it’s easy for us Christians to fall into this guilt trap. It comes from good intentions after all, wanting to be Christ-like. However, the Enemy uses that to trap us into a perpetual guilt cycle and we never feel good enough or feel like God is mad at us or maybe we’re not really saved after all. Studying grace is the cure to this in my experience. My pastor started preaching really hard on grace a while back and it was a life-changer for me. I’m no longer worried God is mad at me or that I’m not really saved. Really just delving deep into the fact that God has forgiven my sins, that nothing I do can change His love for me, that He’s even forgiven sins I’ve yet to commit, it’s hard to put it into words. It sounds so trite and cliché, it’s really something you have to read, pray, and live for yourself.

    Anyway, I hope I don’t mean to be disrespectful however it seems to me it would be better to emphasize grace without losing the sexual purity rather than abandon teaching sexual purity (not sure if you’re advocating that, again, I find your conclusion vague).

    • My conclusion is that purity is found in Christ alone – not in what we do or don’t do sexually. There are not different levels of purity. We are all equally pure under the blood of Jesus. The purity culture did not teach this – it taught levels of purity/holiness. It was dependent on our acts, not on the purity, holiness, and righteousness of Christ.

      The message of saving sex for marriage is biblical, but many of the surrounding messages in the evangelical purity culture were not biblical and caused a lot of shame and damage. Sexual purity is found in Christ alone, because all purity/holiness is found in Christ alone. It cannot not be tainted no matter what we do or don’t do.

      This is why I said to teach “sexual wisdom” instead of sexual purity.”

      • You’re right about purity, I believe you cited in the original article the verse about how our righteousness is as filthy rags to God. So yes, ultimately we need the blood of Jesus to be pure. That doesn’t mean we should sin though. Which, again, I’m having trouble following what you’re advocating here so I don’t want to misconstrue what you’re saying.

        So, in regards to sexuality, yes, of course one could be forgiven if they fall outside of God’s will sexually. Whether that be having sex before marriage, going to pornography, engaging in same sex relations, etc. However, one shouldn’t use the fact that God has given us grace as an excuse to sin, Paul is clear on that (see Romans 6:1).

        So the operative question here is, what is the difference between “sexual wisdom” and “sexual purity”? What does it look like when I teach “sexual purity” vs teach “sexual wisdom”?

  • Great blog, Jory! I haven’t considered the purity culture in the evangelical church today very much so I’m glad to have it pointed out to me! I think it directly relates to the church culture of strongly enforcing dressing modestly on women as to not let men stumble, but not even considering the reverse of women also stumbling. Women aren’t immune to men’s shirtless bodies just because we’re female, and men shouldn’t use their maleness as an excuse to not practice self-control. The modesty standard in the church is something I feel strongly about so it’s awesome to be able to relate it further to the purity standards.

    • Thank you for this comment Mikayla. Many women want sex just as much as men. I agree – it is a myth that women are not as sexual as men.

  • Interesting article, but the Hong I have trouble with is he idea I believe you put forth is that it really doesn’t matter whether you have sex or not before you’re married because God’s grace covers you. While this is true-should we continue to sin so that grace may abound? He Bible says God forbid. I understand it’s a tightrope obeying Gods Word due to legalism rather than love, but we have to identify Gods standard clearly and strive to meet it rather than justify our actions. There are consequences to disobedience. Very good article for discussion and perspective.

    • Thanks Kendra. I know that we should not simply “go on sinning…” as Paul teaches us in the Bible. I understand that. Yet, the scandal of grace is that we really are completely and 100% justified as Christians even if we do continue to struggle with sin. I believe that holiness is not something we earn – it is something we already are if we are in Christ no matter what we do or don’t do. The Spirit is always pushing us towards who we already are – so holiness is something we pursue with the Spirit – but the Spirit is gentle in Her dealings with us so I believe in being gentle with our dealings with ourselves.

    • It’s true we need to grow in holiness ; but there are plenty of other sins besides sexual ones — rarely do we consider people “damaged goods” for lying, gossip, cursing ; why the focus on sexual ones?

      • I’m guessing because virginity is something you give once and it’s gone. There is more gravity attached and more to lose emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. It’s not for nothing that God reserves it for marriage as a unifier, a bonder, an instrument of oneness. God forgives but we have more to lose personally and He desires to protect us from those negative consequences. Gossip, lying, cursing are not sins against my body like sexual sin is. I have more to lose if I engage in sexual sin. Positionally in Christ, I am a new creation but He doesn’t necessarily take away natural consequences (STDs, pregnancy) of choices that go against His design.

  • I think that we place too much emphasis on VIRGINITY rather than purity. If you enter into “youth group culture” that is heavily centered around “saving yourselves for your future spouse” and you aren’t a virgin anymore- (being compared to a used car, a crumpled up flower…) it is easy to feel worthless. Which is a whole other problem.
    Your worth as a human and as a child of God is so much more than your sexual experiences or lack thereof.
    I don’t have any solutions on how to better go about a discussion which I do think has a place, especially around teenagers- but nevertheless I’m so thrilled that we are in a place where we can open the dialogue and hopefully find some reasonable solutions.

  • Since when is feeling guilty of going against your Christian parents teaching a bad thing. Your post is basically a slap to those who train their children in the way of the Lord. You should not resent your upbringing, you should be proud of it. Busy trying to find ways to fit in with those who are not called- at all. At least they cared to raise you right. Now, here you are telling the world, “well I turned out pretty good, married and such, but the way I was raised with biblical standards was allll wrong.” You know what, I normally hear this from the children that are spoiled, they wear a crown that they earned with suffering but in the same day they disclaim the lessons they learned to get it. Christians need to stop babying themselves. Stop telling the world that you need to be pampered because you found it hard to live up to standards that are higher that your own. That is why it is called a “Standard”! This new pillow talk Christians are doing is making me wonder what they will do when times really get tough, like when folks will start getting beheaded for what they believe. HM.

    • This whole comment is disrespectful. I don’t mind having a conversation with you and you are free to disagree, but change your tone and wording or I will block you from this site.

  • Thanks for sharing, I too have kissed “sexual purity ‘ goodbye in my ministry! Burdening people with guilt is not the gospel!

  • Hi Jory. Thanks for being brave enough to share so much of your story. I read through a stack of comments and re-read the post. I reacted very strongly to it so I needed to think through that. We can all get caught up ‘performance’, the outward signs that show the world – and more often, our brothers and sisters in the church – how righteous we are, but inside it can all be a pride-flavoured mess. None of us is innocent either of sexual sin or judging sexual sinners. God knows our hearts. He knows that what hurts and damages us is intimacy without commitment. If we can only communicate that to our teens and remember what it was like to be a teenager, perhaps we can help them to understand and accept these loving standards and restrictions which will make them distinct from their worldly peers . I relate to a lot of what you’re saying. I think one of the problems with this issue is that it distracts us from the main point, which is our relationship with Jesus. I would also be interested to read a followup about what you call sexual wisdom.

  • Thank you so much, Jory. I am currently in a new relationship, and we both have struggled in the “sexual purity” area in the past months. It is so freeing to know that we are caught in God’s grace and that purity comes only from Him. God bless you!

  • Thank you Jory for your willingness to be vulnerable with your story…your spirituality of leadership is refreshing to your sisters…and brothers.

  • Oh, sorry! I had no idea how to make a comment the first time around. I basically just commented my name. Yikes.

    This post was wonderful and really hits close to home.

  • Thank you for your post! I am grateful for your candor and touched by your story. I too read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and it has impacted me for a long time, in ways I am beginning to question–not on the truth of Christian Sexual Morality, but on the Spirit in which we are invited as Christians to live it. I used it to subconsciously judge myself and others. I am now beginning to see that I used it as a tool to prop my own spiritual ego.

    Without abandoning the truth of Christian Moral Teaching, I have a question: what is the difference between Christian Sexual Wisdom (in my poor understanding–promoting abstinence from sexual intercourse during dating/courtship as part of honesty + integrity throughout a relationship, encompassing all forms of expression, to show where the couple ACTUALLY is–not just feels–in terms of concrete commitment), and Repression/Self-Management/Trying-To-Control-Urges-Fearfully-Or-Arbitrarily-To-Achieve-My-Perfect-Christian-Lifestyle? How do I distinguish maturely between an individual who holds back from an occasion for sexual sin because of ‘his/her personal plan’ (no matter how sensible or externally in accord with Christianity’s) and one who moves past temptation because he/she is following something much more moving and beautiful–namely, Christ? Is repression ever needed at all? Is falling even more deeply and passionately in love with Jesus than with your significant other the solution of approach? This post is too long–but this is the quote that makes me ask the question–it is intriguing:

    “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

  • How did you(practically) uphold purity when you finally got it right? (with your husband). did yol kiss, hold hands,hug?

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