There are a lot of wrong messages coming out of “purity culture”, and I’ve written quite a bit about my concerns. One of the things that troubles me greatly is that the message of the gospel is too often being perverted by a false teaching of what purity is. The entire concept that we are born pure and can lose our purity should seem like jarringly false doctrine to evangelical Christians who believe in original sin and the power of redemption. It should, but all too often it doesn’t.
Another troubling aspect of “purity culture” is that it’s all about what one shouldn’t do, and doesn’t give a hope-filled message of what one should do. Furthermore, it’s a message that becomes meaningless the instant one marries…or at least the instant the marriage is consummated. The message is also skewed heavily towards young women, especially when the emphasis is on an intact hymen and the vehicle is father-daughter “purity balls”. Purity is seen as less important for young men.
This is not a Christian ethic, no matter what one tries to claim.
There’s an old-fashioned word I don’t hear very much, at least not in Protestant circles, but it’s an important one to use in discussions of sexual purity. That word is chastity. Sometimes chastity is thought to be synonymous with celibacy; however, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches otherwise:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
…either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.
This flies in the face of what is taught to too many girls within “purity culture”, where purity is equated with virginity marked by an intact hymen. This emphasis is so out of proportion to reality that I’ve known girls who agonized over whether using a tampon would cause them to “lose their virginity” and thus sacrifice their “purity”. I’ve read of a growing number of young brides who grieve the loss of their virginity on their honeymoons when they “give up their purity” to their husbands. What now? they wonder. The most valuable thing about them is gone forever. The precious gift has been given, sometimes to a husband who acts more entitled than appreciative, and now what do they have left?
Chastity, on the other hand, is a lifestyle. It is not something we are born with and must guard lest we lose it to the wrong person. It is, instead, a virtue we must cultivate with the help of the Holy Spirit, and it is just as important, if not more so, after the wedding night as before. Chastity is the healthy, God-honoring expression of our sexuality in a way appropriate to where we are in life, whether single or married. It is one way in which we present our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice. It is one of the outworkings of sanctification.
By the grace of God, one can begin living a chaste life at any point. Even the most sordid past sins can be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit can empower the weakest of the weak to walk in repentance, in purity, and in holiness.
That’s the power of the gospel.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)