Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Purity for the Sake of Purity

Image source.

Some couples don't kiss until the wedding day.

And in the past, I've wondered if maybe I should do that. Make a commitment not to kiss any more guys until I get married. Surely that would be the ideal, right? But I never did commit to it because that's such a high standard, I don't know if I'd be strong enough.

Okay, stop right there.

This entire line of thinking is WRONG.

Here's where this bizarre idea comes from: So, I want to be loyal to my God, which means being PURE. (Read: romantically inexperienced.) And of course, I'm completely committed to Jesus, no matter the cost, so I should do my best to be as pure as possible. So, I know Christians aren't allowed to have sex before marriage, but I would be even MORE PURE if I didn't kiss any boys either. Actually, when you take this to its logical conclusion, it says the ideal scenario is one where I do not even touch the dude until the wedding. That's the purest, so that's the best.

And thank God I don't view my current relationship with my boyfriend this way, but in the past, I definitely followed this fear-based literalist approach toward purity with a guy I dated.

And I'm not making this up- it really is what the more extreme conservative end of Christian culture teaches. How "purity" is so important. And what is purity? Well you start with the rule "don't have premarital sex" and build from there. Put more and more restrictions on dating (and crushes too) to be even more pure.

"Purity" is the idea that God and my hypothetical future husband care very much about the list of things I've NEVER DONE with a boy. The longer that list is, the better.

That's what I believed. And, as it turns out, it doesn't make much sense, and it's harmful. I'd like to present 3 things that are TOTALLY WRONG about this:

1. It measures "purity" in exclusively physical terms.

If my skin has never touched my boyfriend's skin, so what? If the hairs on my arm have never been brushed against by the skin cells on the exterior of a boy's arm, so what?

If my lips have never made contact with another person's, so what? If saliva produced in the mouth of someone with an XY chromosome has never... umm this is disgusting. (And I won't even attempt a physical description of what "virginity" means.)

If my memory contains no instances of being held by a guy I like, so what? These things are all completely meaningless on their own.

That bit about skin cells and saliva- that's not what a kiss is. Maybe it's a physical description of a kiss, but that's not what a kiss is. A kiss has so much meaning behind it, so much emotion, a connection between two people. That connection is what's important, not the physical act itself.

To say "we're not going to kiss before the wedding day because purity", to say that hugging and holding hands should be avoided "because purity", is to measure purity in terms of muscle movements and skin cells and nerve endings.

This is all wrong. Purity itself has no value. Virginity itself has no value. When justifying your decision to not do this or that with your boyfriend, "for purity" is NOT an acceptable answer. (For those of you playing at home, an "acceptable answer" would be something along the lines of "it would make me feel really connected to him, but realistically we actually aren't connected at that level yet, so it doesn't make sense to kiss right now.")

(Or just "I don't feel ready." You don't have to do anything you don't want to- and you don't owe anyone an explanation.)

Purity itself has no value. The value is in the relationship and the meaning behind those physical acts.

2. It sets people up for failure.

Ah yes, if only I was a better person, if only I was more loyal to God, then I would be strong enough to not even touch my highly attractive boyfriend.

But I can't do it.

I can't do it. I've failed. I held his hand, and I thought, "is this really so wrong?"

Even from the start of my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, I thought I was a failure. Every mundane bit of hugging or holding hands had me questioning "Is this okay? Is this okay, God?" And if I was already failing so much, surely I was sliding down the slippery slope toward premarital sex.

It taught me that I was weak. That my inability to "abstain" from things that really didn't matter in the long run was just one step along the continuum from hand-holding to sex.

3. There are ACTUAL GOOD reasons to abstain from sex before marriage, and from other forms of physical contact before a relationship is ready for them.

There ARE valid reasons to avoid too much physical closeness and "be pure". Maybe it tempts you to lust. Maybe it lies to your emotions and says the relationship is stronger than it really is. Totally valid reasons. "For purity" is not a valid reason.

I bet there are some couples who decided not to kiss until their wedding day for ACTUAL GOOD reasons. Good for them. See, I totally understand and respect that, if they have ACTUAL GOOD reasons. (I personally am very sensitive to touch so I'm more comfortable taking things incredibly slow. See, that's an ACTUAL GOOD reason.)

But what I'm talking about here is the dangerously misguided idea that somehow I am a better girlfriend, a better potential wife, if my body has never experienced certain things, if my memory contains no knowledge of what it might be like to have a guy touch me. (And furthermore, that any physical contact at all is just a smaller form of sex, and naturally leads to sex.)

It may sound extreme and crazy, but that is what I believed. And I didn't make this up- there is a whole culture of "Christian dating advice" that perpetuates it.

But now I reject that. I reject the idea that it's intrinsically more godly to have less physical contact with my boyfriend. No. In fact, to be dating with very minimal contact would be very unhealthy, unless there was a specific reason for it.

So I don't worry about that anymore. I don't feel like I'm a failure anymore. I guess someone could look at my relationship with my boyfriend and judge it to be "pure," but I don't think that way.

I just want it to be healthy.


  1. Another good reason to not go for purity for the sake of purity: it's easier to avoid premarital sex (and we'll just let that be shorthand for whatever an individual feels should be on the list) if you're doing it for a reason, not just for the sake of not having sex. Purity culture gives a bunch of rules to follow. This leads to either a) people trying to circumvent the rules, or at least their spirit or b) people making the rules bigger and bigger to avoid problem a). If, however, people are given a spirit in which to live, then both of those problems become irrelevant, and we don't get distracted from the point.

  2. Yes! Exactly! Having a bunch of rules without an understanding of WHY the rules are there just leads to problems.

  3. Rebekah Schulz-JacksonFebruary 9, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Great post! "Purity" can so easily become a buzzword that just means DON'T DO ALL THE THINGS!! Nice job unpacking that. Preach it! =)

  4. Would like to ask how a girl doesn't end up married to a very deeply closeted gay man? Or vice versa? Not everyone knows their true feelings if they're so inexperienced in life. Looking at the relatively few potential young men in my friends' singles group, I now know that most that stayed pure had serious sexual or emotional hang ups.