(This is an excerpt from our book, Out into the Desert)
I don’t remember the name of the movie, but I remember that it motivated me to action. I wanted the best for my daughters, and I was confused through most of their time in middle school and high school days. This show was about promise rings and partnering with your child to keep them “pure.” It was beautifully motivated, even if it was a little misguided. I devised a plan to give each of my daughters a purity ring and a little speech that I was on their side. When I handed them the ring, their look was stoic, and I never saw the rings again. To this day, none of us have spoken of this event.
One primary problem with the purity culture was that its motivation is fear. I pondered, what would happen if one of my children became pregnant? Girls wonder, what if people begin to think of me as a slut? Most people question, what if I make God mad? Church leadership families worry, what if I displease the church or its members? The church has often used fear as a motivator to keep the parishioners in line. Fear does produce results and helps control the people in the church, but it really doesn’t achieve anything noble. People are doing things for all the wrong reasons. We are trying not to do something wrong instead of growing into the person we could be.
Most of the time that I was a pastor, abstinence education was in vogue. This messaging really just amounted to the same thing as the “just say no” drug mantras. We didn’t teach young people what it meant to have a healthy relationship or, God forbid, what a healthy sex life looked like. We critiqued the public school system for carrying the ball of sex education, while the church mainly kept silent except for the message of “just keep yourself pure” and “don’t do it!”
There was also damaging messaging in the purity culture and evangelical circles. One prominent message was that boys can’t control themselves. Therefore, all the responsibility rests on the woman to not provoke them with immodest clothing. But the messages went further than that. After Christians are married, women are told that their bodies are not their own and they must submit to their husbands whenever they desire.
With all the confusing messages in Christian culture, it’s a wonder to me that we ever had a natural, fulfilling sex life. The shaming messaging and the proliferation of misinformation really never worked at all. It just left us with a culture of sexual misconduct, marital strife, and frustration on all sides.
I wish we could teach boys and girls that the desire they feel for the person they are attracted to is natural. This desire is so strong because it is leading you to something that can be beautiful and fulfilling and complimentary. I want children and adults to understand that the shame they are feeling was heaped on them because someone else was afraid and wanted to control them for their own agenda (such as not being embarrassed).
If I could have a mulligan on the purity rings, I don’t think I would have given them to my daughters. The message that prevailed with them was when I told them I loved them and that I believed in them. As best I could, I modeled a relationship with the person I desire, to show them we didn’t just have a partnership, we had a relationship. If I could go back, I would tell them that sex can be one of the most beautiful things you will ever experience. Expect the best, strive for excellence, and for heaven’s sake, enjoy the amazing things like sex that are part of being human. Allow yourself to look beautiful and be sexy without feeling guilty or shameful. You are not only spiritual and physical, but also a sexual being! Embrace every part of you that makes you fully human!
Be where you are,