When I was growing up in my formative tween/pre-teen years purity aka abstinence became a mainstream movement within the church. I know sexual purity has been apart of church doctrine for centuries; it is one of the topics most denominations agree upon. However, in the late 90’s in my church circle and probably yours, purity rings and father daughter covenant balls became a thing. Maybe it was an over-correction from the Boomers and Generation Y who were now parents of teens. They regretted their own youthful bad decisions and wanted to make sure we were protected. Perhaps it was the rise of internet pornography and how readily available it was to our generation. Secular media has always been anti-waiting-till-marriage this was nothing new; but with outlets like MTV and VH1 we were now seeing soft porn dressed up as music videos in our living rooms. Whatever the cause, for good or bad, this purity movement helped shape all I knew and believed about sexuality and dating.
I was fascinated with the subject and soaked in any and all information I could find on the subject. Mind you this was before Google, so my information came from my mother, Christian books on the subject, Christian teen girls magazine, Christian radio programs, my youth pastor and youth leaders. I was young and had not learned how to separate opinion from fact. I took in everything on the subject as absolute truth and as a result purity became a very literal, legalistic state of being.
Instead of teaching the future generations how to manage themselves and delay gratification we were taught to resist and protect ourselves from the lust and perversion of the flesh. Don’t have sex or commit any sexual acts before marriage. As a matter of fact, don’t date, don’t kiss before marriage and never let yourselves be alone before marriage. Oral sex is a sin, inside and outside of marriage. Masturbation is a sin. French kissing is essentially intercourse with your mouth so if you are going to choose to kiss before marriage make sure you are not french kissing. Do not ever (even platonically) touch a person of the opposite sex; you might incite lust in their heart. Definitely do not let them touch you, it can transfer spirits. Guard your heart with all diligence, guard your mind, your eye gate and your ear gate. Do not dress in a way that could even be perceived as seductive, you don’t want to cause your brother to stumble. We based an entire theology around dating and purity upon what a 21 year old young man (who had never had a real relationship) wrote about in a very cleverly titled book. The author postulated that dating is practicing for divorce and doing irreparable damage to your heart so that you have nothing left to give to your future spouse. We know now the author’s intention was not to create a legalistic doctrine around dating, only to cause us to question why we do what we do. The church, however, took it and ran. Probably because it was the safest option. Cue a generation of young Christians who are scared to define a relationship out of fear that they will end up dating someone who is not their future spouse.
In the Christian world there is a stigma about the topic of sex and very few people are talking honestly about it. If they do talk about sex it is either preaching abstinence/purity, or raving about the wonders of sex in marriage. This is very damaging because it is not the whole story, it is not the full truth and it is not necessarily God’s heart on the subject. Shame hides in the dark, it lies to us telling us that we are the only ones. It causes us to only show our version of the best parts of ourselves, we hide the things we are ashamed of. Think of an infection left hidden and buried deep. It is going to spread, if left long enough it will turn to sepsis and you could die. The best treatment for an infection is to open it up, clean everything out and allow it to heal. The goal of shame is to keep us quiet and separated from others, if it is exposed to the light, it will have no power.
So let’s talk about some of the awkward, shameful lies about sex and purity that I have believed most of my life. The majority of these I did not learn until I was already married. It was then, that I was confronted with how many erroneous ideas I held about sex.
Lie 1: Purity is a physical state of being. The standard of purity is the same across the board.
Purity is a state of your heart. It is a very personal and individual process for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all guideline. If you are convicted over something don’t do it, but you also do not need to put your convictions on everyone else. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Practical application: If you are in a relationship you need to be brave and have the very awkward conversation to make sure you are both on the same page with how far is too far. Respect each others boundaries, protect each others purity
My belief system around purity was that it was something that could be tarnished or contaminated. I lived my life like God was keeping score, turns out it was just me. Whenever people talked about purity they never seemed to give people the whole truth because they were afraid that it would be taken as an excuse to sin. I was taught that God forgave, but you would never be able to erase the scars of your actions. While yes, some consequences might be permanent (a child for example), God is always a God of hope and healing and restoration. No one is too far gone that God can’t restore them, and my sin is not too big of a problem for Jesus’ blood to cover. I worked tirelessly to “keep myself pure” and it was a very hard pill for me to swallow when I realized that I had been striving for years to protect my purity motivated out of trying to earn God’s blessing instead of out of a heart conviction. Not that it doesn’t count or that I regret my decisions; I believe God still blesses us in our ignorance. I wasted so much time and effort when I could have been resting in God’s grace and focusing on other things. When I received a revelation of God’s grace it set me free from trying to have to be good enough, pure enough. Where I looked down and judged others who were not holding themselves to the same standard I was, God reminded me that sin is sin, He already paid the price for it. God does not classify sin, the church has been the ones who do that.
Lie 2: Having a sex drive before marriage is a sin.
God created us perfectly. Yes, we have hormones and desires and urges before we can “legally” use them. It is a sin? NO! Do we need to learn how to manage our appetite and delay gratification? Yes.
I had spent years feeling guilty and condemned thinking I had a problem with lust and perversion. I prayed and fasted for God to take away my lustful desires. Turns out I am a normal human and have hormones. This is one of those tricky areas where people begin to debate what is sin and what is not. Temptation in and of itself is not the sin. When you own the temptation as yours, that is when it could be sin. For example if you have a bad thought, the thought itself is not sin, but there is a point where you will either choose to own the thought by continuing to think and build on the original thought or you will choose to push it out and think of something else.
Lie 3: Sex is dirty and wrong, it is shameful and should not be talked about.
No, no and no. God intentionally created sex, it is not an accident or an afterthought. He is not embarrassed by it, He does not think it is dirty or wrong. In the context of marriage, it is a gift, a covenant, it is an act of worship, the most intimate expression of God’s love for us. Sexual intimacy dispels doubt, creates connection, fosters emotional intimacy, relieves stress, releases oxytocin (bonding hormone), helps you sleep and the list can go on and on. If any of that feels untrue you might want to readjust your mindset. It is not shameful at all. If you feel shame around sex or being sexual, it is a lie. Recognize it, confront it and refuse to partner with it. It might not be an instant mindset change, it might take practice renewing your mind. Like I said before shame thrives and feeds off of secrecy. When you expose it, its power is gone. Talk about it, to your husband or wife, a trusted friend, a counselor or therapist. If that seems to scary and daunting, start small. Say it out loud to yourself, write it in a journal. When you recognize and confront shame you will notice things will begin to shift for you.
This has been one of the harder mindsets to shift for me after being married. I knew in my head that sex in marriage is good and not shameful, but still felt yuck about the whole situation. For me, it took saying what I believed to be true about sex and sexuality out loud to my life coach. Just saying the lies out loud helped me to make that connection from my head to my heart and really recognize and know that I was choosing to believe and partner with the lie that sex is shameful.
Lie 4: Saving yourself for marriage automatically equals great sex when you are married.
Great sex comes from practice and a mutual commitment to connection and growth within all aspects of the marriage. It does not always come naturally and not many people will tell you that. The very little we do hear in the church about sex in marriage is typically painted as this magical, amazing thing. With divorce rates about 50% right now, inside and outside of the church, and sexual incompatibility cited as one of the main reasons for divorce, maybe we are not getting the full truth. We are doing everyone a disservice by not telling or exaggerating our truth truth. People who are having problems in the sexual aspect of their relationship are less likely to seek help because they feel like they are the only ones. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of married couples who have amazing sex lives, this is in no way saying sex in marriage sucks. I just want to let you know if you are having problems it is not as uncommon as you might think. Real life is not a romance movie, there will be ups and downs. Most people bring several of the following into their marriage bed that they will need to work through at some time or another in order to have mutually satisfying sexual intimacy. Things like emotional baggage, unrealistic expectations, trust issues, pre-conceived ideas from previous relationships, intimacy issues, pornograpy or sexual addictions, previous sexual abuse, bad communication to name a few. Then there are physical obstacles that might present themselves at sometime throughout your marriage like impotence, low testosterone or physical conditions that make sex painful, libido killing hormones from birth control, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Hold onto hope, have patience and work on creating a safe space for connection, communication and growth.
Honest moment; my wedding night fell miserably short of all the hype. I was devastated and so confused because it was not like they said it would be. Sex has been a very sore subject for us and we have been struggling for years. It has not been one single thing or just one persons problem. It has been a cumulation of many things. Such as,w the very difficult and emotional circumstances surrounding our wedding, miscommunication and misinterpretation, unrealistic expectations, my hormones being all out of whack from birth control, among other things. I have had a very hard time wrapping my head around this lie. I sat in hopelessness for a long time until I decided that I was done being the victim. I had wrestle and rumble with all sorts of negative emotions and false mindsets and belief systems about the whole situation. I have had to mourn the death of my unrealistic expectations created in the naiveté of youth. To combat all the lies that I had partnered with surrounding sex and purity as well as grieve all the hard work and years of striving that were misplaced and unnecessary. It has not been an easy process by any means. My husband has had his own journey. It is awkward and uncomfortable, but our commitment to seek health and wholeness in this area has deepened our connection and strengthened our marriage. We are still in our process, but we can see how far we have come and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter and brighter.