Do you have false or warped views about sex because of what you were taught growing up in the church? As Christians, our sex views are often shaped by the principles we’re taught in the church and what the Bible says. Purity culture is a concept that has been taken from the biblical instruction found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. In this passage, the apostle Paul is talking directly to the church at Thessalonica, instructing them to live a life that is pleasing to God. To do this, you must refrain from sexual immorality.
The Bible says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before, for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Though purity is not mentioned directly in scripture, instructions on living a pure life can be found there. So how exactly is purity culture toxic? Are there characteristics of purity culture that are damaging?
There is a great deal of pressure when it comes to purity culture. One of the messages purity culture sends young people is that you are not good enough if you fail. It also compares your level of faith to others. The truth is, a person’s sexual past does not determine their level of faith, no matter what the culture tells you. What happens is, Christians aren’t known by their relationship with Jesus but by their virginity. When purity becomes the measure of a believer’s faith, abstinence becomes the focus. When we spend all of our time focusing on resisting temptation, we lose sight of where our focus should be, on Jesus. We inadvertently make purity an idol. Nothing is wrong with having a close and healthy relationship with God, but pressuring young people to stay pure out of fear of going to hell will end up harming their relationship with God.
One big thing that purity culture teaches is that having sex before marriage will leave you damaged. That means those who have premarital sex aren’t whole, clean or pure. If you have sex before marriage, you are presenting your spouse with a ruined version of yourself. That makes you damaged goods. This lie is particularly harmful to those who have been victims of sexual abuse and rape. You aren’t less than, broken or undeserving of love if you aren’t a virgin when you are married. This also doesn’t mean you are unworthy of a blessed marriage or a godly partner. The beautiful thing about God is that He is forgiving and full of grace. God doesn’t withhold grace or forgiveness from people either. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. God always wants us to embrace his grace and all the promises he has for us.
Purity culture also teaches that women are obligated to fulfill men’s needs. This generally comes from the Bible misinterpretation that sex is an act done purely for a man’s pleasure. When sex is viewed this way, the sexual needs of women are not a focus. The truth is, sex isn’t about fulfilling a man’s needs solely but men and women fulfilling each other’s needs. The most important aspect of a healthy sex life is communicating about sex. Purity culture can make conversations about sex so uncomfortable that you don’t know how to even address sex when you find yourself in a healthy-committed relationship.
One of the most damaging things that purity culture is that sex is a shameful act. Purity culture teaches that sex is a dirty word, and it can make talking about sex uncomfortable or even off-limits, especially within the church. The Bible questions a man’s lust over another man’s wife. Proverbs 5:18-23 says, “Why, my son, bed intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and He examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline, they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” Many of those who have been sexually sinned against will carry that sin. While many view sex as a shameful act, scripture reminds us that we should not view it this way.
On the other hand, purity culture teaches that your sex life will be incredible when you wait, but there is no guarantee that will be the case when you’re married. When couples who abstain wait until they are married, these thoughts can lead to disappointment and frustration. This is why young and newly married Christians need to receive the proper communication, preparation and education. If they don’t, they can develop false expectations about sex and their relationship may suffer. This is not said to diminish the value of waiting, but we shouldn’t have false expectations about waiting either. Popular culture teaches that it will be fireworks the first time we have sex. Getting to this point will take love and commitment. Truthfully, amazing sex won’t just happen because you waited.
Christian purity culture can be toxic. It doesn’t teach the full truth about what we’re waiting for, and this is something we should be clear about. Abstinence isn’t about getting the perfect person to spend the rest of your life with. It isn’t a movie, fantasy or a fairytale. Waiting is about Jesus and striving to live more in His image each day. God loves us and wants us to follow His teachings, including His teachings on purity. We should remember that choosing abstinence should be about our Christian values and our biblical perspective. It shouldn’t be us thinking we aren’t capable of forgiveness or finding love if we don’t follow God’s instructions.