Born Again into Purity Culture

Born Again into Purity Culture February 11, 2016

ringAt the age of sixteen I became a born again virgin. What is a born again virgin? It’s a term evangelicals use to deal with those who have already given away “the most precious gift you can give your spouse.” And I fell for it. There was no miraculous regeneration of my hymen upon saying the magic words, just a sense that some third party witness who had been mad about my sex life wasn’t as mad anymore.

In my experience born again virgins were to be both pitied and envied. We had been down a darker road of sexual sin, but at least we had something to talk about. Who wants to hear yet another salvation story from the purity ball princess who has loved Jesus her whole life? I limited my extra-biblical affairs to sex, but add to that my bonus sexual assault story (clearly a result of my promiscuity) and my testimony was a youth pastor’s wet dream.

Unfortunately, what it meant for me was that I had learned how to feel guilty about sex.

It was the Summer of 1992 when I began to take the Bible seriously enough to ask the question: How can I call myself a Christian if I don’t live my life as if the Bible is the truth? It was no coincidence that this happened at a time in my life when sex had become complicated; and it had recently become the elephant in my mind every time I opened my Bible or attempted to pray. I needed to change. But if I thought following the Christian guidelines for sex would simplify things, I was very mistaken.

The following year “True Love Waits” was running its course throughout the local churches. I had a friend who used to always say things like “boyfriends shouldn’t get husband privileges.” It sounds reasonable enough. Not everyone feels ready for sex during their teenage years. Who am I to complain if a few teens want to make the pledge to wait? If Christian abstinence really just meant avoiding sexual intercourse until marriage, I would agree with that. It’s not a terrible idea, and really…. who cares? Live and let live.

But I tell you that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

Jesus cares. Pluck out that offending eye, kids. Your hormones are sending you to hell. If you are going to believe in the Bible as truth, you had better start believing that God knows our thoughts and he doesn’t like them. Have you ever been inside the head of a teenage girl? I can’t blame him. But I had been forgiven for my past. I had repented. I was led to believe that going forward my desires should be for God alone, and if I held onto my faith, sexual impurity would flee in response to his presence.

To backslide into my old ways would be even more shameful than the sins I had committed before I knew better. So I had to be vigilant. Worse, sinful desire after salvation was most likely an indication that Satan was attacking me because of my great faith! Good thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses convinced my mom to put the Ouija Board in the garage. I had seen The Exorcist and I wasn’t taking any chances. The devil knew my weaknesses. Any failure in guarding myself against sexually impure thoughts was a surrender to the enemy.

I failed a lot.

And if constantly defying my mind-reading savior wasn’t enough to break my self-esteem, I was also a second class citizen in purity culture. Sure God forgave me because I accepted the free gift that came with Christ’s death on the cross. But what sexually pure man marries the woman who is not a true virgin? This would, in fact, become a stumbling block for my future husband who had to overcome the idea that I had let him down.

True virginity was put on a pedestal that went far beyond the way sex changed our hearts toward God. It was important to keep the already “pure” kids inspired. This meant that while sexual sin could be forgiven, it was also a devastating mistake that could never be taken back completely. And I assure you, that contradiction was never lost on the born again virgin in the room.

The real dangers that come with sex can be avoided with knowledge, but purity culture only counts knowledge that comes from the Bible. Sexual assault, disease, teen pregnancy…. Christians have no interest in eliminating these things from a secular population. They are punishments sent by God himself. Protection begins and ends with abstinence and any mistakes should be sent to the feet of Jesus.

Before repenting of my sexual behavior I was invisible to abstinence-only supporters. I was a sinner awaiting God’s wrath (it wasn’t their fault I wouldn’t listen to reason). And after being saved, no one bothered to discuss things like self-esteem or consent. Self-worth was valued according to your purity level. And consent was something you didn’t give until you were married. And then you gave it always and unconditionally.

Taking Purity on the Road

 

At the age of eighteen I joined a musical missionary group that brought Jesus to public schools. I can never apologize enough for that. We offered a drug awareness assembly and negotiated a discount to schools who allowed us to use the same space for an evening concert. The reduced price was a rental fee, which kept us from breaking any laws protecting the separation of church and state.

At the assemblies we would invite kids to our evening show. Which was, of course, all about Jesus. We took turns giving our testimonies at these evening performances. This is how I ended up telling teens across America to simply turn their sexual trauma over to Jesus and be saved. And God help me, more than a handful took me up on that offer.

If I could go back now I would tell them the parts of my story I feel most uncomfortable with, because that discomfort is where the real conversation exists. It’s the reason we need to define consent better, because far too often women are blaming themselves and feeling as if they cannot tell the whole truth. I never felt the way I thought I was supposed to feel as a victim of assault, and adding God to that situation only highlighted what I perceived as flaws on my part.

In those moments when my thoughts betrayed me, God was always there with judgment. And while God was offering eternal torture in hell, I was working hard at punishing myself just as severely here on earth.

It may be irrelevant to boys and girls who remained blissfully ignorant in their non-sexual bubbles until that first kiss on their wedding day; but the Bible is not compatible with what most of us need to know about consent. The Bible teaches us that we invite negative situations through our own spiritual failings. Wrong. It is ridiculous to believe that anything a person does can somehow change the character of another person or what they are capable of. We can only be guilty of discovering it.

But I didn’t know all that back then. And while I was handing out Bible verses to teens in crisis, I was also secretly engaged in regular inappropriate touching with one of my tour mates. Don’t worry. We made it until our wedding night. Christian guilt was very effective at keeping us from fornication on the mission field. But Christian purity isn’t about penetration; it’s a commitment to God to remain pure in thought and action at all times.

We were surrounded by couples with varying degrees of will power. Some Christian couples will wait until marriage for their first kiss, while others will do everything short of vaginal insertion. Let’s just say we fell somewhere in between. And there were times I hated myself for it. But unlike other sins in the Bible, all forms of consensual sexual behavior are morally acceptable outside of that bubble.

Sex is a sin that the secular world embraces, which makes it the most hated sin of all.

Sex is a weapon in the battle for souls. Don’t teenagers have enough stress as they embark upon the adventure that is the rest of their lives? In the end, those “mistakes” I made when I was a teenager exploring sex did not become regrets. I only wish I had figured it out sooner, because that year falling in love on the road could have been so much more exciting.

Like many other Christian couples, my husband and I dealt with our sexual guilt and frustration by getting married young. It could have been disastrous, but we were lucky. We will soon be celebrating twenty years of successful marriage. Along the way we managed to lose both sexual guilt and faith in God…. but not faith in each other.

[Image Source: Flickr user BellaNoche248]

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