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Relationships,  The rebel Jesus way

The danger in the Christian obsession with sexual purity

I grew up in the True Love Waits era. Where books like, I kissed dating goodbye by Joshua Harris, were all the rage and fancy purity rings were what good Christian girls hung their hopes on. And, before you think I was against any of this, let me set the record straight: I was all for it.

I was so all in, that I committed myself to a year of dating Jesus (it was at a Christian youth conference – all the spiritually elite were doing it, and although I had a tinge of hesitation, I signed my name on the dotted line and promised to only date Jesus for a year).

Now, not every girl stuck to that commitment, but this girl did.

Even when the cutest guy in my class wanted to date me and everything in me screamed YEEESS, I held fast, buckled down and honored my commitment.

BECAUSE I WAS ALL IN.

I was going to remain pure until I was married.

I was going to show all of the guys what a hardcore Jesus chick I was.

I was going to make sure everyone knew JUST HOW MUCH OF A FLIPPIN PRIZE TO BE WON I WAS.

I truly believed that by “saving” (eh, repressing) any and all of my sexuality was not only what it would take to impress God, but was what would ultimately deem me worthy of finding an honorable, faithful, guy.

Although that message may not have been explicitly said, it was certainly implied. And it became the driving force behind all of my sexual (or lack thereof) decisions after that.

Skip forward to today: I followed the rules, did as I was told and yet, here I sit, two painful divorces later.

Now, this isn’t a blog post screaming to damn all the rules and do whatever you want. It could be. But, it’s not. 😉

I believe that people are in charge of themselves.

Some people will choose to do the very thing that will hurt you the most – no matter if you “waited” for them, saved yourself for them or if they claim to love Jesus. In life, hard things will happen outside of your control; and whether or not you are sexually pure really doesn’t have anything to do with it.

My experience with the purity movement left me with a load of complaints. But instead of focusing on the damage it created for me, I want to focus on the much larger issue with the purity culture.

Mainstream Christian culture has become obsessed with sex.

If you think I’m crazy, just look at where most Christians hold picket signs, push their religious “rights” and guilt (eh, “conviction”) on their congregations. It has become so normal that we don’t even flinch when we see these behaviors on display.

Now, I do not take issue with personal convictions, nor do I have a problem with people choosing to save themselves for marriage. But, sadly, this has moved way beyond personal conviction – this has become an obsession.

People often obsess over what they fear. In the culture I was raised in, there was a strong fear of sexual promiscuity.

Thus, virginity rings were promoted, true love waits campaigns were created and a whole movement of anti-sexuality was born. These movements not only scared those of us influenced by them, but it provided those leading us with a sense of control; which I imagine offered temporary relief from their fears.

And for a while, it worked.

The issue that it created though, was a culture afraid of sexuality.

And when you create fear around something, you ultimately create shame.

Shame and fear quietly became the headliners in every purity message, modesty speech, religious rights campaign and sexually “convicting” sermon. Fear and shame became what people felt in just about every sexual encounter they experienced: fear of God being disappointed in them and shame over their body’s natural responses and tendencies.

When you have a culture who fears sex and is ashamed of sexuality, you have a recipe for disaster. Because, people obsessed with sex and covered in shame, will do awful things.

I have sat with numerous victims of sexual assault, voyeurism and molestation; all who were victimized by the hands of Christian men (even pastors and counselors) who were in authority over them.

And, yet, many of these victims, if they are brave enough to come forward, often are not believed, they are told to be quiet or they are told it was their fault.

GOOD GOD. WHY?!

Women are often shamed for not being pure, shamed for inviting sexual advances and shamed for being too promiscuous. Men, however, are often given a pat on the back and told to try to work on controlling themselves – but not to worry, because their behaviors and mistakes are completely “normal”.

This system is not okay. And it has bred a disaster of hurt and pain in the lives of countless people. 

I don’t have to tell you about stories of priests, pastors, counselors and leaders who have sexually abused children or women serving underneath them. None of us are strangers to those stories.

However, that is only the behavior we know about. It isn’t even addressing hidden behavior that often presents itself online.

In an article on expastors.com, they revealed that 50% of Christian men admit to being addicted to pornography. And if you think pastors are any better, the article revealed that, “Nearly 20% of the calls received on Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Line are for help with issues such as pornography and compulsive sexual behavior”

The article also stated that 1,351 of the pastors surveyed on Pastors.com, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year and 30% of those had visited within the last 30 days.

Our Christian purity culture has created a monster of an issue.

I’ve heard many of the mainstream Christian leaders plead for purity in their congregations saying, “we are losing the (sexual) battle to a depraved generation!” This is echoed in posts on social media, links to sermons, etc, all saying the same thing.

And, yet, out of the other side of their mouth they are protecting “Christian” men accused of sexual assault, rape or abuse.

In their efforts to continually try to fight the monster, they are actually feeding it.

At some point, we must take responsibility for the numerous issues that our culture of fear and shame has created and admit that change is needed.  Because, it is evident that our approach to sex and sexuality simply isn’t working.

I certainly don’t have all the answers.

However, I can’t help but think it might be time for the Jesus follower to consider the Jesus approach to the sexuality conversation:

Jesus didn’t preach about sex

Jesus didn’t shame people about sexual behaviors or partners

Jesus didn’t make “correcting” people’s sexual choices his focus

Jesus wasn’t obsessed with sex

Jesus wasn’t concerned with who was having sex, who wasn’t having sex, who was sleeping with who or what secular music (that may talk about sex) people were listening to – which can’t be said of the religious leaders in his day nor for the current religious leaders in our day.

Overall, Jesus didn’t have much to say about sex or sexuality.

He seemed more focused on teaching his followers to: care for the abused, speak out for justice, love your neighbor as your equal, be humble, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, not think you are above others, include the outsiders and the foreigners.

The good news, is that no matter how obsessed your pastors, leaders or even family was/is with your sexuality being “pure” or “right”, you can take comfort in knowing that Jesus was never interested in shaming anyone on this topic.

And if you were victimized, you can also take comfort in knowing that Jesus spoke up for the forgotten and abused over and over again. He had no issue speaking out against those in power.

Most importantly, when it comes to our own bodies, it appeared that Jesus preferred to leave our sexuality as a sacred place between us and God.

Grace and peace,

Anna

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Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.

23 Comments

  • insanitybytes22

    This was really well said! Good job. Fear, shame, repression, just feeds so much needless suffering.

    You can keep dating Jesus though, have coffee with him, take a walk, whatever you like. I’m a big fan of remembering to have a date with Jesus because He fills our cup, revives our spirits. 🙂

  • Mari

    There’s so much confusion in general about who a woman should be, sexually, and what that will get her in the way of partners. If she behaves one way, she’s a slut; if she behaves another, she’s not putting herself out there and will even be judged [gasp] sex-negative. Where do I look for guidance? Especially when Jesus pointedly says nothing on the matter? My mother doesn’t want any more to do with men, all the women around me are so married that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be single and worried about it, and oh my old classmates, you were such bullies back in the day that I don’t want to deal with the smug coupled versions of you. Go on your merry way but stay outta mine! So where does a single Christian woman find other single Christian women who can be open about sexuality?

    • Anna Dimmel

      Hi Mari! I would encourage you to check out Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book called, Shameless – a sexual reformation, that is soon to be released. It is one I am anxious to read and believe it will offer so much insight into this subject for women. That aside, I am a huge believer in finding and connecting with others inside of real relationships – ones where you can openly talk about ALL THE THINGS. If you are trying to find people like that, I would encourage you to look for support groups in your area. Some may or may not be under the Christian umbrella, but finding people you can be real and honest with is HUGE. Hugs!!

  • Charity

    I can see two sides to any argument and it’s the same with this one.

    If you never preach a sermon about sexual sin, you wind up with sexual sins within the Church — and it’s not about “violating” your temple, it’s about all the hurt feelings and broken hearts that come with it. I have never known a person with sexual sins who does not have pain in some form as a result.

    If you do preach a lot of sermons about sexual sin, you wind up with people who have guilt over all their natural bodily urges and/or who do it anyway and then hide it out of shame.

    So, there’s no easy answer.

    I have watched non-Christian friends trample through various sexual relationships and wind up hurt. I can give them a litany of reasons that have nothing to do with religion as to why they ought not to have one night stands, move in with that person, or do “friends with benefits,” with a single answer: you WILL get hurt. They always do. Somehow, somewhere, it happens. An STD, a broken heart, having feelings you didn’t want. That’s the consequence of sex. And I think that’s why Paul and others in the Bible place emphasis on sexual purity — not because to do the opposite is a “sin” you are going to burn in hell for, but because YOU GET HURT. Most of the “rules” of the Old Testament revolve around the abstract question (which Jesus expounded on later) of — who gets hurt if I do this? Myself? Others? If the answer is yes, BE CAREFUL.

    If you asked me why there’s an increase in pornography among Christians, I would say they have more access to it. It used to be you had to go to a seedy part of town to rent THAT kind of thing, or to a brothel to SEE that kind of thing. Now you can just log on to your computer and stream it. The more available something is, the more people do it, whether it’s drugs or pornography. I also think the explicit nature of most television shows and movies nowadays is a big contributor — you don’t even have to pay for pornography to see incredibly sexualized images. Just turn on Netflix. And, as with anything addictive, the more you see, the more curious you are, the more you liked how it aroused you, and the more you’ll try and find “hard core” stuff when the MA just isn’t doing it for you.

    Good post, as always. You make me think and I like it. 🙂

  • The Joy Blogs

    You are right in saying that Jesus was not obsessed with sex. I mean, honestly, why would he be? But, you are definitely wrong about Him not preaching about sex. He didn’t directly preach it, but, if you were reading your whole Bible instead of only taking the parts out that you want, you would see that Paul, through the Holy Spirit, which is Jesus and God, wrote about homosexuality and also sex before marriage. This generation is a rebellious one, that’s what the Bible says in Revelation. It’s definitely true. Now, young people are just reading that one chapter, and then saying, “Oh! No mention about sex! I should be fine!” Like, cmon? Do you really believe what you are saying? I just don’t want all these people being mislead. It’s the right thing to do to wait for you husband, maybe that’s why you got divorced, you just weren’t waiting. And trust me, I’ve struggled with that probably more than you have, but I overcame my temptations, and I hope you do to.
    Sincerely,
    Joy <3

    • Suzie

      Joy, your response was not kind. It did not reflect Jesus. It did not uplift or encourage. Never presume to know ANYTHING about anyone else’s life, including sensitive subjects such as divorce. It is not our job to pass judgements about others. Pointing fingers and slinging accusations is not a representation of how we are to live as Jesus asked. You also should not pass judgement or claim to be better at something than others for life experiences that you have not personally had (like marriage, divorce, having kids, etc etc). Constructive dialogue and having the ability to “debate” something with another person in a loving and open way is completely ok and encouraged. Blindly accusing and passing hurtful judgements and comments to another is NOT.

      • The Joy Blogs

        I never said that I am better, I actually said the opposite. But just because we make mistakes, doesn’t mean we get to act like we don’t. I’m sorry if it hurt you, I really am, but I do believe that God’s Word out-weighs our personal thoughts. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and if you took it that way, I’m sorry you don’t see it my way. I don’t talk randomly, I talk from the word. And, actually, it is our job to correctly judge our fellow christians, it helps us find our way. Look at John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” Or in a different version it says, “but instead judge correctly.”
        I deal with my own sexual identity as well, but, when I read the Word, I find what He says is right, not what I want to be right.
        Alright, that’s all.

      • The Joy Blogs

        Sometimes people need a push in the right direction. It might not be nice, but if it helps them grow in their faith, I’m willing to be persecuted for saying it. And personally, I hate the judgmental type, and here I am lol.

  • Carol

    I believe the perspective should ALWAYS be on Jesus, not on you or me. The Word guides us into ALL truth; to keep us from pain and hurt and shame…..and sin…We are HIS. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed.. We are to set ourselves apart from this world’s thinking..with Love..With Grace and Mercy.. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.. The temptations we face are not easy, but incomparable to what awaits us! God’s mercies are new every morning…The road is indeed narrow but so worth it; Jesus is worth it💜✝️

  • unrelentingfreedom

    Sadly, I grew up under the same influences and have struggled with similar issues of shame. I am now raising my children with an openness about sex in hopes of creating a healthy anticipation of something that is greatly different from what the world is throwing at them. Thanks for your open sharing!

  • Lou

    Yes, Jesus DID speak of sex. John 8:4-11. The woman caught in adultery who was to be stoned. This account ends with Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery to “go and SIN NO MORE.”

    • Anna Dimmel

      Yes, but that was after he defended her from being shamed by the religious. And after he protected her from being killed (which was the religious law at the time). There is much to be said about that order. Religious hypocrisy and a “better than” attitude was something that seemed to bother him immensely (and was much of the focus of what he preached and talked about)
      Also, it’s important to note, that when Jesus encountered the woman at the well, he didn’t shame her sexual behavior with the MANY men she was with or tell her to change it. So, it seems clear to me that overall, it was not his focus.

  • Diana

    We forget it was before the fall that Adam and eve saw that they were naked and not ashamed, after the fall they became ashamed of their nakedness, and sought to cover it up. When recieving Jesus He starts redeeming us to be as we were created to be. Sex is never the sin, just using sex to hurt ourselves and others is a sin. Even with homosexuality, paul narrows that to the practice of homosexuality, not homosexuality in itself.

  • Stew Rd.

    I am saying a prayer for you- I am sorry for the pain you experienced in regards to sexuality and relationships :-(There is a great deal of shame dealing with the topic. One of
    my biggest regrets in life was being too casual with sexuality before marriage. I think God celebrates it and it is a sacred gift to be given to someone that promises to value someone forever. I have talked about it a bit to my kids – in no way to shame – expressed they are free to choose what they want to do but God invented sex, sex drive, sex organs and sexual pleasure and gave simple instructions to have the best of it. I agree the church can do better communicating about it.

  • yourmerciesnew

    Just a thought, and I haven’t looked this up to confirm, but didn’t Jesus tell the woman at the well who’d had five husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband to go and sin no more? And he said the same to the lady who was caught in adultry and no Pharisees were willing to throw the first stone at her. I always assumed that he didn’t condone affairs or living together based on that. I enjoyed your post, though, and I agree there is fear and shame placed on sexuality in the Christian community. I grew up that way and my husband still thinks I’m too modest!!

  • Nicole Ntim-Addae

    I actually wrote a blog post on this matter! I’m a younger follower of Christ, but I can see the lack of emphasis on sexual responsibility in both sexes leads to shame, guilt, and an diminished ability to interact with church even when you haven’t had sex. Out of all of the sins the church talks about, this is the only that is both talked about the most and understood the least. Thank you for your work on this issue!

  • Cristal Clear

    I do believe that the way we approach sex in the church is completely wrong . Telling people to wait until marriage because it’s in the Bible is the wrong approach. But as a whole , we don’t even talk about what a healthy relationship is or isn’t. We just assume everyone should be married because that’s what God wants but that’s not true for everyone.

    I have made a decision to wait until marriage but that’s because of what God has shown me through the scriptures and my own life which was full of sin. I never once said I’m going to wait because a preacher said it. Nope . I decided to wait based on my own relationship with Christ . We should change the way we talk about sex , we should definitely stop acting like sex is horrible because it’s not. God created it 💃🏻 I think we should talk more about the damage it causes the soul when you don’t have a disciplined sex life. But the reality of it is that sex is the easiest way to feel loved and wanted so if people aren’t getting healed we will continue to make bad decisions when it comes to sex. And Christianity in America has turned more into motivation than getting people set free . Christianity in America is in shambles! I don’t know if we will ever make progress but I know we can each choose to make a difference the way God created us to , and it doesn’t have to be inside a building .

    God bless you! Love your blog 😉

  • Purity

    Good post, a very nice one to make someone like me have a rethink about preaching sexual purity but no, i won’t stop preaching it. Do you know why?
    1. You mentioned that Jesus didn’t preach about sexual purity, but do you notice that He came through virgin Mary?
    2. The statement Marriage is honorable with bed undifiled, entails sexual purity.
    3. It is always worth it to wait.
    4. Its painful you had to go through divorce( which is never God’s plan for us) but know that the fact that you waited for sex , does not totally guarantee a successful marriage if God is not the originator and the director of such union.
    5. Christian marriages fail, not because of sexual purity but because (a) the devil is always on the look out to destroy Christian homes, (b) we also have a great role to play (character wise and attitudes) when it coms to making marriage work. so we must always be in our guard.
    6. You mentioned that Pastors watch pornography more these days, that has nothing to do with sexual purity message, its the effect of the perverness of our time and a sign of end time.
    So, all of these shouldn’t stop us from preaching sexual purity, yes! It shouldn’t be an obsession. I like the part that you said our bodies should be sacred unto God, i wish you would exapnciate more on that. Sacred signifies been pure, presentable, holy unto God. Can we now say that the body which is the Lord’s sanctuary should be for sexual immorality?
    Finally, True love waits, purity is a goal. It prevents you from hurts, heart aches and broken communion with God. For God is Holy and His desire is that we all be Holy.

  • Rach

    Women are often shamed for not being pure, shamed for inviting sexual advances and shamed for being too promiscuous. Men, however, are often given a pat on the back and told to try to work on controlling themselves – but not to worry, because their behaviors and mistakes are completely “normal”.

    PREACH. Yes. Claps. A resounding yes to all of this you said. Thank you.

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