The Dangers and Consequences of Purity Culture

Updated: Jun 4

To begin this post, I would like to give the witness of my first ‘marriage’. When my ex-husband started hitting me, we were still dating, living in separate homes. Because it was during sex, I was ashamed. I did not turn to the church, because I feared their judgement. Now, both my ex-husband and I were Christian, so we knew better.

I stepped back from the relationship. I needed space to evaluate and process what had happened. He respected my wishes. But I was left to contemplate and struggle in isolation. I didn’t share that burden with my fellow believers, as I should have.

Eventually I came back to the relationship, because my ex-husband promised to never do it again. He lied. When I came back he proposed. After I said yes, and we told our families we would be wed, the abuse continued. If I decided to break it off at that point, I would have to explain to everyone why. That was something my ex-husband would not tolerate. He hated when I talked about our relationship, even with his own mother. Because he knew, if people heard the truth, they would tell me to leave. Judgement would come down on him.

After we married, I stopped seeking out fellowship. My ex-husband refused to attend church with me, and I grew tired of dodging questions from other members. We lived across the street from the church we were married in. The officiant who married us, was our pastor. When I left fellowship, not one person came to check on me. Not one phone call was made to make sure I was ok. I was left to be alone with my ex-husband, facing the consequences of my choice. That was a very dark time in my life.

Sexual sin is one of the most devastating things we can experience.

“Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.“- 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NLT)

When I came to grips with the fact that my ex-husband and I had sought marriage out of lust, I had to ask God for forgiveness. But the hardest part was forgiving myself. Sure, I expressed my unhappiness to my ex-husband, the desire to take my own life even, but in the heat of the moment, I never said no. I could’ve put a stop to his behavior, by not even allowing it in the first place. I spent a lot of time calling myself stupid, a glutton for punishment. But in order to move forward, I had to forgive myself.

I had to place the blame where it belonged, squarely on the shoulders of my ex-husband. No one was in control of his actions, beside himself. The manifestation of past wounds we had experienced separately, clashed in the worst way. I was looking for unconditional validation from a male figure in my life. He was looking for unconditional care and nurturing from a female figure in his life. It was a toxic environment.

Marriage couldn’t offer a solution to either of those things, only God could. I needed to seek healing for the broken relationship with my father. My ex-husband needed to seek healing for the broken relationship with his mother. The turning point was realizing I needed to forgive my abuser. That was the only way my scars would heal. I had to let go of the pain.

I thank God I am redeemed, not only from my sins, but from the scars that come with those sins. The only thing left to do, is extend that same forgiveness to the people who have wronged us. That is how we break the cycle. That is what Jesus did for us.

How my first ‘marriage’ ended, was in adultery. When the woman found in adultery is presented to Jesus, (John 8:1-11), He extends absolution for her sins, then tells her, “Go and sin no more.” (KJV). The beginning of the end was when my ex-husband finally convinced me to agree to an open marriage. It was something he had pushed for from the start, but I always resisted. I didn’t say yes, until I met another man. I won’t go into the details of that part of the journey here, but know that it was confusing and painful. I do not recommend that path to anyone.

I told this other man that he would never be number one in my life. He would always be number two. When I realized this attitude reflected the attitude my ex-husband had toward me, my heart changed. I did not want an open marriage like my ex-husband had led me to believe. I wanted what I had with this other man.

But I could not make the same mistakes of my first ‘marriage’ again. When I filed for divorce, I told this other man to back off and give me space. He respected my wishes, and remained faithful even without the expectation of sexual intimacy. He never pressured me. He waited until I was ready and gave my consent. Eventually we moved in together and started a new life, where we are open and honest about the nature of our relationship.

Sex in and of itself in not a sin. God created us with the desire and ability to be co-creators with him. An apparent way to know if you are being called to singleness or marriage, is whether you have a sex drive or not.

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” - 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

Marriage is the concession that gives us a way out, to endure sexual temptation. Sex can be considered a healthy way of experiencing and worshipping God, as long as it is within the boundaries of the husband-wife relationship, outlined in Ephesians 5:22-33.

If we believe that sexual sin is so serious, what is damaging about purity culture? Purity culture is the use of the law to measure someone’s purity or worthiness. Many cultures throughout history have their own way of establishing this measuring stick. Through dowries, virginity checks, or diamond rings, society always finds extra biblical ways to justify sexual relationships. Most Christians boast in the decision to ‘save themselves’ for legal marriage.

My first marriage was legal. It was also false. What I experienced was not marriage. It was purely lust. The problem wasn’t that we didn’t ‘save ourselves’ for marriage. The problem was our relationship lacked the witness of the church. Inviting the church into our most intimate relationships is not a purity check. It’s a safeguard against abuse, caused by sin. It allows a third party to give their objective perspective. Navigating the truths of the heart is confusing, and often painful. We don’t necessarily see the situation with clarity, because of our fallen nature.

“Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterwards, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” - 1 Corinthians 7:5 (GNT)

How many couples spend their entire engagement burning in passion? Refusing to see that the burning passion is evidence they need to seek out their spouse. The burning passion isn’t the problem. The way we handle it is. Purity culture demonizes any type of sexuality. Blaming people for something they honestly have no control over. We can only control the way we react to our sexuality, not the way it manifests.

Perhaps the way our sexuality manifests, is an indicator of past wounds that need attending. I know mine was. When I had sex for the first time, right after I graduated high school, I was not a believer. I did not understand the implications or consequences of my actions. It was the equivalent of agreeing to the terms and conditions without reading them.

Having recently become a spiritual orphan (because of leaving the LDS church), I sought family the only way I knew how, through sexual intimacy. I thought joining myself in that way to my ex-husband was what would accomplish my goal, especially after I became Christian and started attending church with them. That’s what I had been raised to look for, a partner that my religion deemed worthy, not a partner that God had prepared specifically for me. I believed the lie of purity culture, that worthiness is measured by the law.

Because I started having sex with my ex-husband while we were still dating, I thought marrying him was required by God when I became Christian. When in actuality, God was preparing a completely different partner for me. If I had been patient and obedient, the Lord would have provided a way. Instead, I fell victim to the temptation of lust, grabbing at what I saw as an opportunity to gain something for myself. But even though I was impatient and disobedient, the Lord still provided a way.

My issue with the church looking down on couples who cohabitate before obtaining the legality of marriage, is that believers are to live by the spirit, not the law (Galatians 5:18). The Spirit moves through the witness of the church, not the laws of the government. If you want to know if someone’s marriage is real, be a true witness.

My first wedding was full of false witnesses. They could only attest to the lip service of our vows, not the reality of them being lived out. Be involved because of a deep desire to disciple, not because you listen to the idle gossip of who is living with whom. Couples who are living together, should be discipled to seek legal marriage, not shamed into it.

Purity culture breeds hidden lust and false witness. Just look at all the recent disgraced church leaders. Church, we have got to stop depending on the law to do our job for us. That is the definition of legalism. The legality of marriage is for the protection of the relationship, and any children that may come from it. The law is for protection, not justification.

I would also like to reference John 4:1-26 in this chapter. The first person Jesus chose to evangelize and spread the word of His arrival, was a person purity culture would categorically reject. Not only had she been divorced five times, but she was living with a partner, to whom she was not legally wed. Jesus doesn’t say why He chose her, but one thing is certain. He was, once again, changing the narrative. How many people like the Samaritan woman are being muzzled because of purity culture?

And so, the dangers of purity culture are two pronged. It fails to identify the hidden lust of false teachers, and can actively silence the messengers that God might very well be sending. God gets to decide who is pure and who is not. He has all the information, we do not. In order to discern what He is doing, we need to be walking humbly with the Spirit.

*Disclaimer: letter was not sent to, or received by me. I came across it on Facebook, and it got me thinking.*

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