Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Re-evaluating the Purity Culture

The following thoughts were spawned by reading a blog post by Sheila Wray Gregoire called 10 Things That Scare Me About the "Purity" Culture. In it she raises some very good points to consider about how we teach purity to our children. 

I was not raised in the "purity" culture in our home. In fact, my mother laughed when I told her I intended to save my first kiss for the altar. However, she always taught me sex was good and that sex was a gift from God for married people only. All the other purity teachings I got were from the pulpit -- never touching or being alone with anyone of the opposite sex at all whatsoever, long and loose clothing, and having a chaperon on dates, to name a few --, and I accepted those beliefs as my own convictions.

However, I don't remember any of my religious teachers even remotely implying that sex was dirty in the context of marriage. On the contrary, they taught us that purity before marriage would lay the foundation for a healthy sexual relationship in marriage. They expected us to have crushes and be tempted. They just didn't want us to do something we would regret later in our marriages. I am thankful to this day after 30+ years of marriage that I listened to them!

Perhaps the problem is in teaching that what is perceived as sinful is actually only unwise and could lead to sin, such as kissing. Women who have had sex know full well that kissing is closer to the final act itself than holding hands and that holding hands is closer to intercourse than just looking longingly into the other's eyes (see Song of Solomon 6:5a).[1]

Also, any way you look at it, wearing clothes in order to incite lust is laying a stumbling block before our brothers and is indeed sinful. Now, what incites lust may be debatable, but as a woman of faith and with love toward my brothers in Christ, I want to find out so I can avoid it. Perhaps that is also why most purity teaching is directed toward girls because guys seem to struggle more with this.

However, we do not want to make the mistake of guarding against all that attracts the opposite sex or making all that is attractive sinful. I think that is the main point Sheila is trying to make.

We taught the purity principles (laws?) to our children as they were growing up. Still we always gave the expectation they would all probably marry some day and that God would give them the gift of sex at that time. However, when it came time to find a mate, they discovered that because we had separated the boys from the girls so well, they were total strangers to one another. We discovered after the fact that we had made a huge mistake. We should have encouraged them to spend more time together in mixed-sex fellowship. What a novel idea.

I am not "scared" about the purity culture, but I am concerned we may have thrown the baby out with the bath water by our too stringent ways. There should be teaching on purity, of course, but there should also be time for them to socialize and put those teachings into practice. If purity is showing respect for others' sexuality, then they need a context for showing respect to those others. Getting to know each other in group settings first is a perfect way to get to know one another without the expectation of sexual attraction. Then, once it is clear there is an attraction accompanying a genuine friendship, dating may ensue. It's time to be alone with one another.

The age and maturity of the children should, of course, be taken into account. But, I've known young people in their twenties who still live at home and are not allowed to be alone in company with someone they are dating. If they choose to have a chaperon, that's one thing; but, if they would be comfortable dating without one, then they should be treated as the adults they are and be given that choice without raising a stink or putting them on a guilt trip.

There was one time when I approached one of our grown children about a situation I thought might be unwise. They and their sweetheart were planning a day trip to a remote, secluded beach. I didn't mean to imply I thought they were planning to "do something;" I only wanted to warn them that it might be an unwise situation that could lead to something they would regret later. They took my advice, but I would have been wrong to reproach them if they had not. There was a mutual respect and trust between us.

Teaching wisdom regarding modesty and purity to your children as they mature is important for their well being and that of their future marriages. Yet, we must do so with the expectation they will one day use those God given attractions and urges to develop a fulfilling holy marriage bed. And remember, without those attractions and urges you won't get grand kids! :)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Were you raised in a purity culture? What problems, if any, did you encounter or still struggle with because of it? What do you wish you would have done differently either in your own views on purity or in rearing your children? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

[1] See Dr. James Dobson's stages of intimate bonding for some enlightenment on why these things may not be wise: