Friday, September 20, 2013

Avoiding heartbreak through sexual purity

One of the many touted benefits of saving sex for marriage is supposed to be the avoidance of heartbreak on the road to finding true love. The idea is that sex creates deeper emotional attachments, which can be more hurtful in the even of a breakup. Courtship proponents talk much of guarding each others' hearts. And some take it further still by striving for "emotional purity," which is the attempt to not get too emotionally attached to someone until you are married to them.

I can sympathize with trying to avoid heartbreak. Nobody wants their heart broken. It hurts. But there is an undercurrent to the meaning of heartbreak in purity culture that the outside world doesn't have. In purity culture, it is heavily implied that if you have endured heartbreak over a potential mate, you are damaged goods. You gave too much of your heart away and cannot give as much to your future spouse. Outside of purity culture, most people view heartbreak as a normal and sometimes necessary part of living. It's something you learn from and move on. In fact, there is a general consensus that that being vulnerable and open to love and intimacy is worth suffering through however many heartbreaks are necessary to find true love.

I suppose I might have been considered a success story to purity believers in that I hardly dated anyone and therefore never got my heart broken by a boy. I never fell in love with anyone until I found the right person. But that took 28 years. And I will readily admit that I probably missed out on a lot of life experiences, had I not been so insecure and concerned with doing things the "right way." But more importantly, it didn't stop me from getting my heart broken. I had a falling out with my best friend in high school. I had some really lonely years after college. Many people have been heartbroken by their parents. And I think there are plenty of people who have had their heart broken by someone they loved but never dated because that love was unrequited.

All these other kinds of relationships and heartbreaks are ignored. In purity culture, the only thing that matters is the sexual and emotional purity between two prospective heterosexual mates. To them, whatever heartbreaks you've suffered from your other relationships don't count. They don't break off pieces of your heart and leave you damaged the way romantic relationships do.

It's irrational, isn't it? But that's what happens when you idolize sexual purity and marriage. It becomes more important than anything else, causing massive blind spots.

The other thing that concerns me about the talk of heartbreak in purity culture is that they are giving young people the impression that they will never suffer heartbreak from their spouse. When combined with the pressure to marry young to avoid fornication, that can cause people rush into a lifelong commitment without properly evaluating if it is right for them. If we taught young adults that marriage can run into heartache, too, maybe some would pause before jumping in too soon. Maybe they wouldn't treat marriage like a race to the finish line if they knew there was still a lot of hard work required to maintain a lasting relationship.

I would much rather suffer through a few early heartbreaks if it meant making a smarter choice in a spouse later on than suffer my first heartbreak due to a failed marriage. It's much harder to move on past that kind of heartbreak, especially when your entire life is invested in that relationship.

If purity culture valued the hearts of adults who have gone through divorce as much as they care about young virgins, I wonder how their teachings might change?


  1. Yes!

    A few days ago, I saw this post at a blog called Everyday Catholic:

    The author writes:

    "The purpose of dating is ultimately to find a spouse. Therefore, one-on-one casual dating before age 18 is pointless. Most likely early one-on-one dating will lead to heartache. Let’s face it- there are only two options to romantic boy/girl relationships- one- they will end up in marriage. two- they will end up in break up. The former is far less likely to happen than the latter, especially the younger the people are who are involved. For that reason, later dating is just a better statistical odd for healthy emotional development. You stack the odds in favor of your child when you postpone their one-on-one dating until they are older, when they have more mature social and coping skills, have a stronger sense of self, have been exposed to more situations, and because of this presumably have better manners and skill. In other words, they’ll be better able to handle it."

    That's such a wrongheaded approach. Thanks for raising your voice against that type of notion!

  2. what you don't understand, and maybe you will when you have lived a few years more, is that maybe the generation that began the "purity movement" is maybe doing the best they can to try to keep young people from suffering the same things they did. Maybe some of them DO have broken, wounded hearts, and are coping with the fallout of our modern culture in the best way they can at this point. Maybe when you've learned a little bit more about life, you'll learn to be less critical of everyone and see that maybe people who tried to teach you didn't do it with such monstrous intentions as you ascribe to them, but were actually doing the best they could with what the previous generation left to THEM.

    Did you ever think that someday the next generation is going to be blogging (or whatever they will be doing then) about our generation (including you) and all the ways we failed them with our insufficient answers? I hope you live long enough to see it!

    1. I don't doubt the adults who pushed the purity movement on my generation had good and loving intentions. That doesn't mean that what they did was right or that it doesn't deserve to be discussed. I am sure my generation will unknowingly harm the next generation in some ways as well, and they will have every right to express their pain and anger. We need to do that to learn from our mistakes as a society. Silence about harmful teachings only lets it continue.

  3. I have had my heart broken in ALL the ways that you mentioned. I am not being melodramatic when I say that I have cried more than anybody I know. However, the particular heartbreak that comes from having given yourself away sexually to someone who is no longer part of your life is the one I am still not healed from. Family wounds, betrayal from friends, even abuse, were all terrible and I don't wish them on anyway. But there is something about that other thing which is more than pain. There is a sense of shame and damage in my intimate self which is long-lasting. Even though I did those things believing they were not wrong, the feelings I have about them now are worse and more intimately humiliating than any other heartbreak I have ever experienced.

    You are lucky that you had those years without getting sexually involved, and I envy you. I wish I had the same experience. I truly envy you. I can't imagine complaining about it. I would gladly have changed my experience for yours.

    1. I worry, actually, that by your telling people how the purity culture is all wrong, you are only encouraging more young girls to make the same mistakes I did. I WISH I had encountered something like the purity movement when I was young, however flawed and imperfect it may have been. I wish someone had tried to protect me as they tried to protect you.