What Purity Culture Got Right

What Purity Culture Got Right June 22, 2016

Here is the thing that I still believe from my purity culture days: The world has dangerous ideas about sex, and it is totally up to Christians to combat those ideas.

Here is the problem with purity culture: We fought bad ideas with equally terrible ideas, sometimes worse ideas.

I was raised in the height of the purity culture madness.The holy grail of the Purity Movement, I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out my freshmen year of high school, right when I was ready to give dating at least a full frontal hug. I have heard the sermons about chewed up gum and plucked flowers. I have been a teen who drew lines, and confessed and recommitted and re-drew. Instead of the sexy and sacred married sex we were promised, many of us walked into marriages and discovered that the shame that was supposed to magically fall away with our wedding clothes, didn’t. We were left in a new and strange land with no road map to navigate and a lot of extra baggage.

Is it any surprise that parents my age are searching for new ways to talk to our kids about sex?

Again, we are left with a road map problem. We know what we don’t want. We don’t want to heap shame and guilt upon our kids for natural sexual desire. We don’t want them to think that their worth rests soley in the choices they make with their body. We don’t want our kids to experience the massive amounts of shame we did.

But we have to say something. Purity culture was absolutely correct in teaching us that the world has it wrong about sex. The world teaches boys to constantly push boundaries, while teaching girls to say yes but not too much, and no, but not too much, and to like sexual activity, but not too much. I am confused just writing it. We can’t let our kids  figure sex and bodies out from Victoria Secrets ads. We FOR SURE do NOT want them Googling it. But, without a strong blue-print from our own lives, how do we pass on healthy sexuality to our kids?

Unfundamentalist Parenting

Image: Pixabay

In my house, with my kids, my husband and I do this by believing that God is good, and that God created our bodies to be very good. We start and end with this truth no matter what we teach our kids about sex and bodies and boundaries around all of it. God is good, your body is good, God created sex to be good. Nothing can change those three things.

So if God made all of us good and in God’s image, then what does that mean about the way we can best care for each other? If we believe God is good, and God’s image is in each of us, then we must act on those premises with the utmost care and respect. I think that means teaching enthusiastic consent from an early age.

When my kids were two and three we started explaining that everyone is in charge of their own body. Pretty quickly they were explaining to us that they were in charge of their own body. Like when I wanted to cut off all their hair I was tired of brushing, or when they did not want to brush their teeth. The hair I gave in about, the teeth I gave choices. (You brush first or me brush first? We are both getting a turn.) My children are not allowed to make choices that will harm them, but on other things, we try to give a lot of ground. They pick their own outfits, they sometimes sleep in the guest room, despite my suggestion of adorable bobs, they both still wear their hair long. And with affectionate touching we are very clear: no one has to do anything they don’t want to do. Ever. You don’t have to give hugs and kisses when you don’t want. If you say stop tickling we stop. If you REALLY want to kiss your sister and she says no you back off. You can say, “I don’t like that” and also “Please cuddle me this way” and both will be honored.

As a mother, this line of thinking has had some really interesting implications for me. I often feel pressured by society to be touching my children every single second I am with them. To give and give and give and give until there is nothing left. I am learning too, that if I am in charge of my own body I am allowed to say “mommy needs ten minutes of no touching please” and “I do not like it when you jump on my back like that, can we find a different way?” If my body also was made in the image of God, then I am allowed to honor what it needs. As a mother of daughters it is important for me to model healthy motherhood for them as well, in the body God has made for me.

Some have pointed out to me that “everyone is in charge of their own body” may be easy now with a 4 and 6 year old, but what about in ten years? What happens if my teenage daughter tells me she is in charge of her own body and she wants to have sex with it? What happens when I want her to wait? I do hope my kids wait until marriage, but I also know it has to be their decision. Not mine. Being told that bodily autonomy wasn’t ours is a wound many of us are still trying to heal. The relationship we have with our own body is a deeply personal, and holy relationship, like much of parenting I must trust that the God who loved my girls enough to put God’s own image into them will work to make all things holy. I can guide them, I can influence them, but I must trust them to be in charge of their own bodies in this world, because they were made in the image of God.

newheadshotAbby Norman is the mother two girls and the former teacher of over 1000 teenagers. An aspiring youth minister, she thinks a lot about talking to kids. She is the author of Consent Based Parenting, and a work in progress about inner city teaching. Find all of her words at accidentaldevotional.com


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  • oe_leiderhosen

    “What happens if my teenage daughter tells me she is in charge of her own body and she wants to have sex with it?”

    Well, if that were my teenage daughter (said the 23-year-old) I would respond with something like “Okay, so let’s make an appointment at Planned Parenthood so you can get a pelvic exam and talk about contraception. If you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to be responsible for your sexual health.”

    It would be hella embarrassing for her, but it would emphasize the responsibility of being sexually active from the get-go.

    • jekylldoc

      We always said that if you are not intimate enough to discuss birth control, you probably shouldn’t be having sex. At a minimum, that topic should not come up for the first time in the heat of passion.

      • oe_leiderhosen

        100% agreed.

      • Abby Norman

        such a good suggestion.

    • KareninCA714

      Why would it be embarrassing for her? I would have been relieved that my parents were so rational.

      • Abby Norman

        I think teens are embarrased about EVERYTHING, so I bet this would be weird for them.

        • Shadowbelle

          Yebbut … I am 60, and I was taught about contraception before I was interested in sex or had started menstruating. I had my first pelvic exam when I started menstruating (14). Waiting until kids want to be sexually active is too late.

    • Abby Norman

      Yes. I hope that I will do that, these sound like good suggestions. But I also know that would be hard for me. I do hope they wait. And for sure I hope they are responsible.

  • jekylldoc

    Good introduction to the complexities. One of which is that we want to be able to talk freely about it, but we don’t want to actually talk freely about it, at least until they have had enough experience with emotional intimacy in a chosen relationship that we will not feel we are putting dangerous ideas in their heads.

    One small suggestion is to discuss the social and financial ins and outs of raising children well before discussing the excitement of arousal. Parents have been doing that for a long time now, but maybe too much in the context of trying to scare their kids rather than build competence.

    • Abby Norman

      Yes. We talk about everything at our house, frankly and age appropriately. I do think sex has a lot, A LOT of serious implications that need to be discussed well WELL before they are making decisions with another person based on arousal.

  • Such an important, well-reasoned, and practical post. Every parent should read it.

    • Abby Norman

      thank you.

  • Danielle Ogilvie Rodda

    this is one of the best “parenting” articles (coming from a faith perspective) that I’ve read in ages! I realized how often a child’s consent isn’t even considered in part of daily life.

    • Abby Norman

      Thanks! I have a ebook too! The kindle version is only 99 cents, it is called Consent Based Parenting.

  • John

    Totally agree with the problems with the purity culture, but what do you teach your kids about God’s ideas and plans for sex? Owning your body and expecting to be respected is right on, but is there a place to bring some biblical perspective into it? I just seems like you corrected an error of the past and gave them a new place to stand concerning their body, but it leaves out a theology of sex, if you will. Is that relevant?

    • Abby Norman

      Oh YES! There was a lot I wanted to cover but couldn’t get in, I was raised to believe that sex was designed for the context of marriage and I am grateful for that lens (I got married at 21, so I do wonder what the implications would have been if I was a 32 year old single woman, would I still think that? I don’t know). I think sex is designed to be sacramental and holy. I plan to teach all of that to my girls, but I know that it needs to be their choice. They need to decide that is what they want, not me. And that is going to be hard for me I think.

    • cvryder2000

      Her girls are 4 and 6, I do think she has a few years to work that out!

  • I love this. I was part of the “purity fad” as well. My youth group had a little conference about sex in which they showed up pictures of diseased gentiles and talked about getting pregnant. I think, while yes these are additional reasons to “wait until marriage”, they left out the key factor. They focused so much on a scare tactic when all they really had to do was teach the Gospel. If we teach our children to fear sex or to feel shame about sex we are teaching them wrong. we should be teaching them that sex is good…in the context of marriage. Sex was created for marriage. Marriage is an image of Christ and His bride. I think that in today’s culture parents are so fearful for their kids that they’re just passing on the fear instead of passing on the knowledge that God gives us in the Bible.

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