Goodbye “Sexual Purity,” Hello “Sexual Wisdom”


On Monday I wrote a post called, “Why Christians Should Kiss ‘Sexual Purity’ (As We Know It) Goodbye…” (Find Here).

Let me be clear: I believe that sex before marriage is wrong in the sight of God. I believe saving ourselves for marriage is worth the fight, but I do not believe sexual sin is worse than any other sin. I also think it is very hard not to get sexually involved prior to marriage, because sex is a very natural response to human romance and love.

With all this said, “sexual purity” is non-sense as we know it in the evangelical church.

There are no hierarchies of purity or holiness among Christians, no matter our sexual past, present or future. A Christian who has never even been kissed by someone is no more “sexually pure” than a Christian who is having sex outside of marriage. Both Christians are as holy and as pure as they are ever going to be, regardless of what they do or don’t do sexually.

I used to explain the “scandal of grace” like this to my middle school class:

Jesus’ blood and sacrifice on the cross is what makes us pure as Christians. If I had a bucket of Jesus’ blood and poured half of it on the worst-behaved kid in the class and the other half on the best-behaved kid in the class, the two would be equally holy because they were both covered with the same pure blood. 

When we give our lives to Jesus, He covers all of our past, present, and future sins (sexual or not). Our human struggle as those who are in Christ is to let go of judgement of ourselves and others. We want to be Jesus. We want to do as He did in the popular Bible story (John 8), and say “go and sin no more.”  But we are not Jesus. Forgiveness of sins is not ours to offer and neither is throwing the first stone. In the story, every human (Christian or not) represents the woman caught in the act of sexual sin.

Religious people are not comfortable with the complete justification of other people’s sins. We want people to pay for their sins, so we shame and control them and say things like “you are forgiven, but go and sin no more.” All the while, our own sin chains drag and clang on our own dirty ground. Sure, we may not struggle with the same sin that we are pointing out, but everyone is struggling with some sort of sin and if you think you are not, you are struggling with the sin of pride.

The problem with the evangelical purity culture is that it was an extreme reaction to our oversexualized culture. We, as the Church, climbed up on our high horse and began to tell young people to fight for purity that they already had in Jesus Christ. We began the whole conversation on bad doctrine that was loaded with pride and striving apart from the Holy Spirit.

We told Christian girls that those who maintained their virginity were more pure than those who did not. We told Christian boys that those who did not masturbate or watch porn were more pure than those who did. We unintentionally lied and distorted the Gospel in an attempt to “inspire” teens to save sex for marriage.

The result is what we are seeing now – Millennials who grew up in the evangelical church who are angry at the Church and are more sexually confused than ever. Any doctrine built on the foundation of judgement, legalism, and shame is not a Christ-centered gospel, and it will devastate souls.

The Holy Spirit is always pushing us towards our truest identity in Christ. If someone is a real Christian, they don’t need humans pointing out their sin and shaming them. They don’t need us smacking them on the head with our overly religious responses and quoting Bible verses to “help” them overcome their lack of knowledge or sin condition. What we need is Christians who are “sin experts” to love people and keep their mouths shut. We don’t need to convict people of their sins. That is Jesus’ job. How easily we forget that we are ALL sinners.

The Holy Spirit gently works with every Christian’s heart and inspires us to pursue who we already are – completely pure and completely justified no matter what sins we commit or don’t commit. This is the Gospel and is the beginning of teaching “sexual wisdom.”

We must be honest with our young people about sex and dethrone it in the evangelical Church, once and for all. If we save ourselves for marriage, that does not guarantee an awesome sex life or a happy marriage. Sex is complicated after marriage, whether people save themselves or not. It can be tricky to navigate, as one person may have a higher sex drive than the other person (this is almost always the case after the newness wears off).

Also, sex becomes less important over time or it becomes strategic as we enter our baby-making seasons. In other words, sex is not always sexy. It is messy – both literally and emotionally. It takes work, just like all good things in life. It’s time to get real.

God is as a Father or a Mother who only wants the very best for his or her kids. A parent who tells their child to obey them simply because they don’t want to be “sinned” against is an arrogant parent. No, God tells His kids to save sex for marriage because He cares about us. God designed people for monogamous relationships. When we don’t get married, it is too easy for one person to walk out when times get tough.

Trust me, times will get tough. Sex will not be perfect. Financial struggles will come. Some couples will deal with miscarriages and infertility and even the death of children. Someone will get chronically sick. We will lose jobs. I am going to be straight honest with you, if Luke and I had not gotten married almost 7 years ago, I am almost positive we would have broken up.

There is wisdom in getting those legal papers signed and letting friends and family hold you accountable to try and stick it out. I believe that sometimes divorce is necessary, but those legally binding documents make it harder, so people won’t go through with it unless they absolutely feel they must. I am thankful that marriage is legally binding. It made me stay, when I wanted to go. It made Luke stay, when he wanted to go. As a result, we worked it out and have a happy and healthy marriage (something we fought hard for).

Marriage is a beautiful mess, just like our relationship with God. Our marriages represent a unique promise that God has made with His beloved Church, and we are wise to value sex within the context of marriage.

As Christians, there are times we want to give up on our faith, but we don’t and even if we do, God doesn’t give up on us. God’s promise to us is forever and He sees us as spotless, no matter what sexual or nonsexual sins we are struggling with. There is no shame or fear in the perfect love of Jesus Christ.

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  • “Religious people are not comfortable with the complete justification of other people’s sin…” I love this post but especially find so much truth in this specific paragraph. How easy it is for Christians to hop on a soapbox and spew judgement over other’s sin simply because we may not suffer from some or all of the same sins. Another great read. Thank you, Jory.

  • The evangelical sexual purity culture is deeply embedded in evangelical patriarchy and therefore the roots are anti-shared trust between men and women not just in romance but in friendship/community too.

  • I can remember hearing when I was teen in the 80’s that if you are having sex before marriage, “you are already married in God’s eyes.” Of course I didn’t see that for the LIE it is, and so in my early 20s, when I was at a crossroads with my then fiance, I remember standing in his parent’s house knowing full well I needed to take off that ring and walk away. But I didn’t because we were already having sex and so I had to “make it right” by getting married to a drunk and an addict. 21 years and 2 kids later, I got sober and he was steadily getting worse. So that lie I believed about sex didn’t just damage 2 people, but 4. And I think it was probably a whole lot more painfully gut wrenching to kick out my husband of nearly 22 years over his addictions than it would have been during our engagement. For both of us.

    • Sadly, there are many couples who got married simply because they were having sex and they wanted to make thing right, only to end up divorced. You are not alone in this. Thankfully, God will redeem all that has been lost for you and your children.

  • One reason I dislike the term “sexually pure” is because if a person sins once and has sex before marriage, they are made to feel “impure” for the rest of life. It’s just not true. Jesus’ blood covers all sin!

    Now, as a parent, I am thinking about how to teach my kids sexual wisdom in a way that is full of grace and truth.

    Thanks for this article!

    • I am struggling with this very thing…that what I taught my children is/was not entirely correct. I don’t know how to undo what’s been done/not done. sigh.

      • You did your best Rachel, and that is all anyone can do. It is in God’s hands now, as I am assuming your children are now adults?

  • Thank you for speaking out on this Jory!!! From my experience there is always an emphasis on the “purity” of the young woman. I believe at the heart of it, women are viewed as a commodity. It’s as if as a woman you have a one-time usage quality. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to not bring shame on yourself, or your family or your church or your community by becoming “damaged goods”. The whole “Purity Culture” was/is impure in so many ways. It sets a hierarchy among women: The virgin who has never even kissed is most valuable, and the young single mom is the most looked down upon. Worst of all, as you so brilliantly remind us, it takes away the power of the blood of Jesus. We are made pure by His blood. What I’m really saying is -PREACH PREACHER!!!

  • And truthfully… if Rick and I had not gotten married almost FORTY FIVE years ago… we would have broken up too… Marriage is not what it’s cracked up to be, and then again, it’s more than it’s cracked up to be… what you make of it, is what it ends up being, and the road is bumpy and hot and hurtful… but in general, it’s doable.

    Bless you guys in your marriage…

  • My wife and I were just discussing this topic this morning! I was always confused by the term “purity” when applied to sex. As a scientist, I am very literal with the meaning of words, and “pure” means “not mixed with other things”. How, I wondered, could it be said that having sex was “mixed” while abstaining was “unmixed”? One day I was reading “Right from Wrong” by Josh McDowell, and an answer occurred to me. If you think about sex as something designed by God primarily for (a) bonding and (b) starting a family, then casual sex is “mixed” with a lot of concerns never intended to be part of it. Does s/he really love me? Is s/he just using me? Will s/he stay with me? Will I get dumped if there’s a pregnancy? Am I going to catch a disease? A lot of doubt, insecurity, and room for heartbreak are reflected in these questions.

    Fast forward to sex without all those questions, the way God meant it to be. Now suddenly it’s not “a thing meant for bonding, love and family” mixed with “a bunch of gnawing doubts and fears” anymore. Now it’s back to just being what it was meant to be. I know my wife loves me; I don’t have to wonder. I know she’s in it for the long haul. When we got pregnant, we didn’t have to worry about winding up alone. It’s “pure”.

    So I really agree with your point that the way some folks use the term “pure” as synonymous for “virgin” is an incorrect usage. When I was single, I ultimately left sex behind and embraced abstinence for a time because it was frankly so much easier and less complicated. That was because it was “pure” then in those circumstances. Now inside the bounds of marriage, it’s actually the sexual bond that is “pure”. At this point, it would be abstinence that would be “impure” and raise a lot of worrying questions, like “Aren’t I as attractive as I used to be?” and “Am I being cheated on?” As you mentioned, about the most complicated thing now is figuring out how to balance our drives when they don’t match up, but that doesn’t really feel like an “impurity” the way all that other junk used to when I was single B.A. (before abstinence).

  • I am not sure where to start with the folk theology of this article.
    First of all, all sins are an offense to God because we reject the goodness of God with our independence, however, not all sins are equal. It is biblical to divorce our spouse if they commit adultery, but on the same token would it be biblical to divorce a spouse for a lustful thought?
    Jesus often evaluates the sin of the pharisees to be greater than other sins..”You strain out a gnat while you swallow a camel” If all sins are equal, Christ’s rebuke does not make any sense.
    Yes, a person partaking in adultery or premarital sex is acting impure, while a person who refrains faithful to their spouse or “has never been kissed” is being pure and holy.
    If sexual immorality doesn’t make a person impure, the message of immorality and impurity is painted with the image of a harlot while the picture of faithfulness is painted with a virgin.

    Our laws don’t reflect purity because we are no longer a Christian country. In Canada, there was an infamous court case where a few women accused a public man of rape. The man was quite desirable and ladies found him attractive, however, he was into 50 shades of grey type of sex. The women cooperated with the man’s sexual desires as long as they thought the relationship would develop into something substantial, but, once dumped they felt used and humiliated. The man was found not guilty because the women clearly perjured themselves when pictures and texts showed they were willfully participating in the acts and even talking about marriage. In all fairness, they should have been tried and sent to prison for perjury, but the legal system didn’t hold them accountable for their crime because they were women. (hold back from patriarchal chivalry we have exploited)
    But injustice was done because the women felt violated and used as sexual objects. If we lived in a patriarchy the man would have been held accountable for disregarding the women’s purity. He would have been charged with a number of crimes like assault or sodomy. (cant use sodomy because sex has been redefined)
    It is a post modern world baby!

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