Thursday, July 11, 2013

Purity culture's empty promises

Leaders in the purity movement have ways to entice young people to follow their dogma. It usually involves some biblical arguments with an injection of fear of negative consequences--spiritual, physical, and emotional. That is usually enough to convince well-intentioned Christians of the rights and wrongs when it comes to sex. But to really drive the message home and make it effective, positive incentives are needed. Promises are made of the rewards that will be reaped as a result of staying pure. Promises to be fulfilled on your long-awaited wedding day. What are these promised rewards? An amazing wedding night. A special wedding. A closer relationship with your spouse. A longer lasting marriage. Blessings from God on your marriage. Pride that you did it the right way. But most importantly: a better married sex life.

Nearly all of the promised rewards are only available to people who get married. Those who are destined to never marry will only get the benefit of knowing they were obedient. When testimonies are given to inspire young adults to wait, it is usually married people doing the talking. They can brag about their sex life and relationship and talk about how glad they were to have waited. An aging single person, on the other hand... what does he or she have to say that inspires young people? Sure, they can talk about how they have found contentment in God or how they are using their single years for good. But as a former young bible college student who listened to these stories, I remember thinking, "I hope that doesn't happen to me."

Because let's face it: we humans are relational. We don't want to be alone or live devoid of love and affection from a partner. It's natural. Maybe that's why the purity movement didn't stop at saying "obedience is its own reward," because when it comes to sexuality and human relationships, denying your humanness doesn't feel rewarding. Abstaining from these things until we are ready for marriage is very unnatural for most of us. But purity culture demands it, and so we try. It's difficult, so we cling to the promises we were given. We believe that the rewards awaiting us will make up for everything we missed out on while waiting. Phrases like "true love waits" and "worth the wait" are repeated as mantras.

I used to fully believe all this. It sounds silly to me now, the idea that abstinence plus marriage equals a better sex life. By "better," I mean "better than all those other people who didn't wait to get married before having sex." Which ironically means "better than all those people who had more practice and experience." It doesn't make much logical sense in the natural world, but when you believe that God specifically rewards those who wait with sexual bonuses upon reaching the finish line (marriage), anything is possible. For those of you who still have trouble understanding this belief, remember that the American Evangelical Christian faith strongly believes in an omnipotent, omniscient God who cares about and works with the minutia of an individual's personal and daily life. It doesn't take much of a step to go from there to believing your God cares about and is active in your sex life.

I'm going to call this idea of God rewarding virgin married couples with great sex "reward sex," which I've copied from Claire and Eli. I will analyze this idea in more detail in my next post, because even though a lot of Christians are backtracking and owning up to the fact that reward sex is a myth, this was something we were taught as pure fact, and a lot of us truly believed in it and looked forward to it. It deserves to be discussed.


  1. No offense, but you don't know what you are talking about....You think there is nothing attractive to young people in seeing an old single person who "waited"...maybe not, but what do you think it feels like to be the old single person who looks back on her decades of life, on the people who "had" her when she was young and beautiful but now are gone, disappeared from her life? How can you talk so much about what you don't know? What have you lived? One life only, one young life, still know nothing of the suffering people endure or the loneliness and the regret people suffer...! How can you compare, say something is a 'myth' when you know nothing about it? You know so little of life...

  2. The only thing I can say to you is: Wait a few years, a few decades, and then see what all of this looks like to you, when you are 60, 70, or 80.

    1. If my age disqualifies me from expressing the opinions I hold, what qualifies yours? I would like to hear your story. And if you believe that the concept of reward sex is not a myth, I would love to know why you believe it and what experience you have had with it.

    2. Your age doesn't disqualify you from EXPRESSING your opinions, but it disqualifies you from the wisdom and the credibility that comes from having lived long enough to have some hindsight.

    3. Basically, you are tilting at windmills. There may be all kinds of aberrations in how the basic doctrine is explained or justified, but the bottom line does not changed and has never changed: that sexual relations outside of marriage have no rational foundation and have never been shown to have any good effect on society or on families. The burden of proof is on you, to show that there is something good about a purely irrational act.