Why I Waited

I was a virgin when I got married. There was no ring or vow involved; like many normal folks, I just did what I had determined to do (or in this case, did not do). But for some, it's not enough to teach their kids how to make good decisions. This is the story of purity culture.

Purity culture is not the same as simply promoting purity. The latter is a natural outgrowth of sanctification and holiness as it applies to our being. It's a very broad approach that encompasses both a blameless mind and body.

In contrast, the former is a product of fear. It's a narrow approach that reduces purity to the economical (teen pregnancy) and political (abortion) ramifications of a single, physical act. In other words, teaching purity is not the primary goal of purity culture; teaching abstinence is.

I'm not saying that abstinence doesn't matter and premarital sex shouldn't be a big deal. Sex is a huge deal. In fact, I've never heard a Christian say, "I'm glad I slept with all of those people before I met my spouse." But I have heard Christians say, "I wish I hadn't waited." When learning feels like a pack of lies, it might be time to revisit the curriculum.

At the heart of teaching abstinence is the little lie that purity is the same as virginity. You may not have heard it said that way, but you probably have heard it this way: to stay pure, you have to keep your virginity.

The obvious problem with this is that it's an inverse fallacy. While it's true that if you lose your virginity before marriage you lose your purity, that doesn't mean that keeping your virginity will protect you from losing it in other ways.

As I've admitted many times before, I was addicted to pornography for a long time. Of course, there's a difference between porn and premarital sex, but that fact doesn't make me pure. I'm in the same glory shortfall camp as everyone else.

And one act can't make or break your purity; if you were born, you've already lost it. Because purity extends beyond the sexual and being awful infects more than just our bed sheets.

That's a scary thought--that our purity is difficult to maintain. And fear makes us want to protect ourselves. So we say things like, "At least I didn't..." or "I would never go that far." But self-righteousness is just false security, and it creates an artificial hierarchy of service with the victorious Christians at the top and the sexually stained at the bottom.

Worse, it suggests that there's a cap on sanctification, a cap insurmountable to those poor souls that succumbed to their basest desires. There can be no victory for them; they will always be second-class Christians.

The victorious aren't immune either. As Lily Dunn writes in Relevant:
Many of us have programmed guilt into ourselves—this is how we keep ourselves in check throughout our dating relationships. And that "red light" feeling we train ourselves to obey doesn't always go away just because we've spoken some vows and signed some papers.
These are the consequences of purity culture: an anemic view of purity, a spiritual caste system, and a lot of impotent marriages. But that's what happens when we try to micromanage sanctification. No one wants to see them get hurt, but if we're teaching our kids that we're responsible for their purity, what makes us think they'll take responsibility for anything else?

Babies may not know when to sleep or toddlers when to cross the street, but sexually-active teenagers know exactly what they're doing. So if you don't want your teens to act like babies, then stop baby-proofing their lives with rings and awkward ceremonies.

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photo credit: early morning (rest your head remix) via photopin (license)