Again, another disclaimer, This isn’t a theological post. This is a personal post for me because I am no no way advocating for you to to have sex willy-nilly before (or after) marriage. Everyone should have sexual responsibility no matter what form it takes.
Unprotected promiscuous sex is unhealthy, but protected sex in general with two consenting adults is a-okay in my book as according to your own moral code. Discuss boundaries with your partner(s) and set boundaries for yourself. For others who want to be celibate till marriage, more power to you. You are not alone and you are not weird, just as those who choose to be sexually active aren’t heathens. I think of sex as a sacred act, to the extent that I may be repressed in ways that will complicate intimacy later on in my life, and I am envious of people who can safely and discretely get it on.
In this post I want to discuss a toxic culture that really meant to protect the sacredness of sex and inadvertently became a misogynistic sub-culture that has caused more bad than good to the self-esteems of women everywhere and the men’s perception of sexual responsibility.
Purity culture for the purpose of this post is the expectation for one to save themselves before marriage, and usually manifests itself as a public ‘pledge for purity’. This culture is far from egalitarian however because it places a premium on women’s virginity and women’s ability to forgive men’s pass sexual transgressions so long as he’s on the straight and narrow when y’all get together.
That imbalance from the get go is why this culture is so problematic. In addition to purity culture being young-women centered, it doesn’t have all guidelines for how messy life is. Like at all. It doesn’t equip church folks with basic sexual health know-how such as consent, protection and contraceptives. It only deals with how worthless you will be after you have sex and that you will have no respite from it if you are a woman.
When “the culture” was being passed around in my youth group in high school, I remembered Matthew 5:33.
I couldn’t make an oath I couldn’t keep especially when the numbers are not in my favor. Even though extremely religious communities have the edge in keeping the seal packed before marriage, they don’t have it by much. 1 in 5 people will successfully wait till marriage, and if you drop out of a devout religious community, that chance drops to 5% for women, and 3% overall. That’s like making an oath that you’ll get in to Harvard or die an unintelligent failure. Although the statistics on saving oneself for marriage do pan out well (women who waited have a 5% chance of divorce after five years, and have the greatest overall ‘happiness’ of the bunch but I’m not sure how trustworthy that stat is which is why I didn’t link to it) if any altercation occurs before marriage it fucks up the woman’s perception of herself.
Take for example sexual assault.
Purity never took into account the possibility of sexual assault that would be in no way be the woman’s fault. If you have been “just touched” you are looked at with relief; the cherry is un-popped, do not talk about, do not make it bigger than it is. I mean look at Professor Ford and Justice Kavanaugh! Preacher Franklin Graham (why did it have to be a Graham) said that “It’s not relevant…there wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.” Purity culture doesn’t care what you feel about “keeping” your body in perfect unopened condition, so long as you remain unopened.
And what if it didn’t remain un-open? Let’s not get into the nitty gritty of whether it was in a loving relationship, a drunken hookup, a rape or gay sex (which is legitimate sex) and talk about the common thread: an oath being broken has and can destroy some people’s perception of their relationship with Christ and their church in general and seep them in guilt that can last for years. Now all this guilt and doom would be a-okay if it was evenly shared but it’s not.
When was the last time you saw a young man publicly make a purity pledge? Especially in a church? I know what you’re going to say: God has different plans for women and men. True, true, but God is not a respecter of persons when it comes to your personal walk with him, no matter the area of choice.
Your sex life matters to him, and if a woman’s sex life matters, so does a man’s and he makes a point of saying this himself in Matthew 5:28.
Your ability to control yourself around women (or men) matter to him. Your ability to not lead others to sin, whether by pressuring or forcing them to have sex, lustfully gazing at women or coercing people to give sexual acts or freezing them out because of their decision to wait matters to him. And so many men are guilty of this and see no problem with it.
If purity culture was God-ordained then why is that even when men fail (as we all do) with these stringent rules, why do they not get any flak for it in the same way women do? The closest comparable flak men get for sexual irresponsibility is a slap on the wrist (with exception to porn). It’s not his fault he ogles girls and makes them uncomfortable. They should dress better! He was just playing around when he touched that girl inappropriately or catcalled her. He has the right to sex in marriage…unless you want him to find to somewhere else? What about adultery? The wife should forgive…for the sake of the children.
In the Bible God dealt with David to the extent that his whole family dynamic was irreversibly changed. His children did not respect him (when does the eldest son revolt against his father for the throne instead of simply waiting for his death?) and his wives resent him. But I have never heard of a sermon on David’s sexual irresponsibility. Only the forgiveness God had for him after he fucked up Uriah.
When they talk about Ester, they don’t talk about how sexually irresponsible it was for a husband (I don’t care if he was a king) to drunkenly ask his wife to “display her beauty” to a lot of drunken diplomats (which in some texts could have been him asking her to come out naked!). They only speak of how stringent Xerxes’ requirements for a queen were. She had to be virgin. Or else.
I could go on and on about men’s sexual irresponsibility costing their families peace, but few churches focus on that when discussing purity. Even if they do, they champion our capacity to forgive, but not so for women.
From a religious perspective, limiting the number of sexual partners you have is a smart move. However, we should not make it a do or die process for one sex, and an option for the other. Purity culture should be about the sexual responsibility of both sexes, and should punish and forgive where people most likely fail.
Sexual responsibility is knowing how to have sex, when to have sex, and how to prevent or plan the possibility of a children from your union. It’s about learning about consent, and why you shouldn’t do certain sexual acts if it crosses the boundaries of your partners. It’s about a lot more than waiting and guilt.
People really need to know how to use a condom, even if they only use it in marriage.