(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Sexual Purity Expectations
By Ashley Gomez-Morrison
In trying to find the “beginnings” of sexual purity and what it “truly” means it became clear that there appears to be this overarching theme of Churches being the origin of what purity was meant to be in both men and women’s lives. From The Social Purity Movement to what we would come to know as purity culture the Church can ultimately be seen as the beginning of how we view purity today.
This begs the question then, how is the Church teaching and showing Christian men and women what it means to be “pure” and therefore “sexually pure”?
“Purity culture” as it has been known is what people tend to think about whenever someone brings up the term “purity”. This view is centered primarily around girls, typically in their early teen years, making an open promise to family that she will abstain from sex until marriage and wearing a ring to keep the promise, hence the term “promise ring”. Even now, as an adult, I don’t think I would be able to understand the weight of that promise if I were to make it today. Most of the ideas we encounter about purity nowadays stem from this type of purity culture I previously described. I find that is it a definition and expectation of purity that we need to leave behind.
Today, as we face this outdated idea of purity and purity culture there are those that say purity can simply be explained as gender norms and expectations. However, a majority of society still associates purity with the idea of sexual purity. It is clear within examples of scripture there is an emphasis on sexual immorality;
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God…”
– 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
This is just one of the many examples of abstaining from sexual immorality mentioned within the Bible.
However, there are equally as many scriptures that talk about purity;
“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love…”
– 2 Corinthians 6:4-6
We can see from the scriptures above sexual immorality, rather than purity is stressed in the Bible. However, we can also see that purity in Spirit is encouraged. I find that this then separates the idea of sexual purity and spiritual purity. So how then did this idea of sexual purity come to be? To me, it appears that this idea came from years and years of misinterpretation to an extent. Yes, God wants us all (not just women) to not be sexually immoral and to be honorable within marriage only.
Somehow this idea got twisted into an unrealistic expectation. Women became the face of sexual purity, with men in high church positions becoming those to tell them they have to be sexually pure prior to marriage, but yet don’t provide a guide. If this idea of being a “sexually pure” women in the church is so important why isn’t it talked about on a Sunday morning service?
It seems almost silly to make a big deal about sexual purity, and yet not find it important enough to preach about on Sunday. How then are men and women meant to enter a marriage with sexual purity if they don’t know where to start? This question I and many others have unfortunately been unable to answer. Without an answer to this question, it appears that without a thorough understanding of sexual immorality and purity as separate ideas prior to entering marriage couples will likely be set up for failure when it comes to sex within marriage.
The expectation for Christian men and women to be sexually pure before entering marriage remains unrealistic. The Church’s main standard about having sexual purity is simply not having sex prior to marriage, however, I find that this standard remains outdated. In order to understand sexual purity, one must understand the idea of being spiritually pure alongside it.
“Dear Friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”
– 1 John 3:2-3