What I Wish I Had Told My Youth Group About Purity

February 6, 2013

It was not so long ago that I sat in front of a group of teenagers…Purity-Rings

…Wildly hormonal, confused teenagers.

Last week turned out to be “virginity” week around several corners of blog land.  Several ladies did a great job of confessing, correcting and crying out for the status quo to change, when it comes to how the church teaches kids about sex and virginity.  Sarah Bessey kicked things off (and if you haven’t read her story, you should), and several other equally good stories followed.

As I read these stories of shame and failure, I thought about my time as a youth pastor, barely out of my teen years, a confused, single college student.  Hardly an authority figure on love and relationships, much less actually qualified to teach other peoples’ kids about indelicate evangelical topics like purity and virginity.

I’d like to make a confession.  I didn’t really do a great job with “the talk.”  I didn’t have the kids spit in a cup or sign pledges or anything (as I had no experience with such things.)  Nevertheless, many things went unspoken.

This is what I wish I had said to those teenagers, and what I hope I’ll remember to say to my own kids, should the time ever arrive.

Love God and Love Your Neighbor

We Christians have a bad habit, as I’ve discussed before.  It’s the same habit that the Pharisees had.  We always boil down huge gospel truths into the minutia of tiny rules to follow.  The Pharisees failed because they followed the letter of the law but missed the spirit of the law.  When we tell new Christians that they must not swear or drink or have pre-marital sex, we often are studying the bark on individual trees while being unaware that we are lost in a forest.

We make sure teenagers are hedged in with little rules like flimsy fences.  And then the fences have to be mended when kids ask, “How far is too far?”  When we entertain those questions, we too have missed the point.  We ought to be focused on how intimate our kids’ relationship with the Lord is, rather than telling them what base they can go to before Jesus gets pissed off.

The Path to Someone’s Heart is Not Their Zipper

Just like Christians foolishly boil down the gospel into tiny rules to be followed, Christians also boil down relationships (read: “marriage”) into mere black and white.

The message is that the key to a happy marriage is not to have sex before you are married.  If you are able to do that, you will be happy.  If not, your marriage will be cursed.

We tell kids this, but people who are married know it’s not true.  Why do we keep lying to kids?  Why do we boil marriage down into a binary proposition?  We do it with sex and virginity.  We do it when we say that men need “respect” and women need “love.”  Virginity is used as a one step program to successful marriages, and it’s just false.  Plenty of people who were virgins at the altar have had crappy marriages, and vice verse.

We Are All Damaged Goods

If I could go back and talk to those teenagers again…

I wouldn’t single out a girl who had had sex already and tell her she was damaged goods.  I wouldn’t single out the uppity girl with the purity ring on her finger and tell her she’s God’s favorite.

I’d tell them all that each one of them is damaged goods already, sex or no sex.

When Jesus caught the woman in adultery, he challenged anyone who was without sin to throw the first stone.  He was telling them you are all just as damaged as this woman.

When Jesus taught about adultery, he said that any man who even looked at a woman lustfully was already guilty.  In other words, guys, you are already damaged.

Virgins or not, each of us go to the altar as damaged goods.  We were born into sin, damaged from birth.  Then we picked up bad habits, negative experiences and harmful prejudices for years.  In other words, we all have a lot of baggage.  The purity of virginity is like a white thread in the scarlet of our sins and shortcomings, and does nothing to altar our need for the Savior.

We are all damaged goods, but we have been redeemed and made pure, new creations.

That’s what I wish I would’ve said to those teenagers.  What would you have said?

19 responses to What I Wish I Had Told My Youth Group About Purity

  1. This may be the best post I’ve read on the subject yet.

  2. I’ve been in that role of ‘saying to teenagers’ as Mom, as English teacher in a private Christian school, and as a featured Word bringer at youth-centered Bible studies. What I said then, and what I would say now remains the same: Sexual intimacy, as designed by the Lord, is not a spectator sport, it’s not simply serially monogamous, it’s not a ‘badge of honor,’ or a ‘rite of passage.’ Sexual intimacy exists to strengthen the marriage bond, to physically represent the 2 becoming 1, to offer a superior place (the family) to create and raise children, and importantly, for our pleasure. When a woman bares her body, she bares a bit of her soul as well. (I write from a woman’s perspective, but I expect this is true of men as well) Sharing those most private bits with multiple partners exacts a particular toll. Sexual experimentation (trying on multiple outfits before the final purchase) and freedom to entertain my own pleasure outside the freedom boundaries of marriage satisfy temporarily; conversely, sexual intimacy with one person (the marital spouse) can bring satisfaction, trust, pleasure, and every other ‘good thing’ that the Lord blesses through our obedience to His commands, which don’t change based on our whims or shifting culture.

    WE ARE damaged goods. That fact does not alter our responsibility to respond to what He intends for us. Virginity in no way guarantees marital happiness. Sexual intimacy doesn’t ‘just happen,’ — it takes time, patience, a whole lot of love, forgiveness, confidence building, trust to make sex as good as it can be between 2. What virginity does guarantee is that the person who chose to abstain from sexual behavior of all sorts including intercourse, prior to marriage, also chose to hold sexual intimacy in high, exclusive regard. that he/she promised to forsake all others before the right one came along, and continues in that promise.

    We are sexual beings. We are designed that way. We are also fallen in our nature, and tend toward sin always. The most intimate earthly relationship includes sexual intimacy. Since we’re sinful, and since we’re sexual, we need to be reminded regularly that our appetites need not be indulged, just because we have them.

    Just because we CAN have sex, marriage or no, doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. When we do, we end up marring what ‘might have been.’ Praise Him for grace, and for its abundance. We desperately need it. And, our earthly relationships depend on our extension of grace and forgiveness to those who have ‘trespassed against us.’ That does include the sexual intimacy that we may have shared with someone before we say ‘I do’ at the marriage altar. The Lord can redeem anything, and will when we ask Him to.

    We give in too easily to the appetites and desires of our human nature. Sexual behavior is one in a long line. But it is an important one. How should we instruct those most vulnerable? Toward cultural patterns or toward the transformational power of Christ? The one lasts. The other passes away…

    • Becky,
      You expose an excellent point. I will add one for your consideration. Scripture says when two join together through sex, they become one.
      An author mentioned, some 4 decades ago, that each encounter he had both joined him to the lady and subtracted that part of himself from his future partner. When he married, he discovered the memory of each sex partner was recalled each time he was intimate with his loved wife. By intimacy, I mean hugging, kissing, gifts to her.
      When I married, I realized the price of each partner whether intercourse was included or not. As each husband, that played the field, knows, there is regrettably we can never completely give our whole self to our soul mate because we joined/left part of ourselves with others. God forgave me, but that doesn’t REPLACE the missing part of me.

  3. Thank you, Matt. Beautifully said.

  4. One line you wrote stands out to me particularly.

    “The purity of virginity is like a white thread in the scarlet of our sins and shortcomings, and does nothing to altar our need for the Savior.”

    Wow….how many more “sanctified stands” could be put into that sentence.

  5. I’ve been following the conversation as well, and I agree with Lucie – this may be one of the best posts I’ve read yet.

    I especially love your last section. Yes. So true and so beautifully said. Thank you for that.

    I wonder if a big part of the reason the purity culture is so strong and part of the reason we emphasize virginity so much in our youth groups is fear. We’ve all been there, we all remember what it was like to be a teenager – trying to figure things out, trying to fit in, desperately wanting love while battling raging hormones the whole time – and we’re terrified that if we don’t shame and frighten Christian youth into chastity, they’ll take any excuse they can find to go farther and farther into physical intimacy. It doesn’t make it right or good or even effective, of course, but I can see how youth leaders might be afraid that giving the message that “we’re all damaged goods” will help students to justify “going farther than they should”.

    The key is a committed, loving, intimate relationship with God – but it’s easier to teach somebody to keep their zippers closed than it is to show them how to love God and be loved by Him.

    • Jenn, I think part of the reason virginity and sexual purity are so heavily emphasized is because it’s’ a response to the sexual revolution that happened in America in the 1960s. That came to the forefront, and it’s how the church responded.

      This article is an interesting read. Yes, we should tell our youth to abstain until marriage. We should tell them that’s God’s will for our sexualities. At the same time, let’s not lie and say it’ll make our marriages better. We should keep it in context. I don’t think we should downplay what the Bible says to us, but we shouldn’t put it on a pedestal to gauge how “good” of a Christian a person is. If they hear that stuff and still have pre-marital sex then yes, they will have to make an account for themselves before God and may perhaps experience temporal results in this life. But although they may have sinned, so have I and the all of us. We’re in the same boat as them.

  6. I love it when people turn things around so I see them from a different perspective. Sure, I always got it that Jesus’ point about casting stones is that no one is perfect (well, ‘cept Him, natch) but there is a far distance between not perfect and damaged, at least to me. I can shake off “not perfect” or use it as a defense, but damaged? Damaged needs help, damaged needs repair, damaged NEEDS the love and comfort that only God can give.

  7. I must also agree that this is one of the best and most balanced posts I’ve read on the topic.

    One extreme is to treat virginity as an idol, the other (the pop culture version) is to treat it like a burden you have to ditch by the time you’re sixteen or risk being a freak. Neither of them are right.

  8. Oh, yeah, I also really liked how hit upon “waiting until marriage” not being any kind of panacea.

    I see a lot of STDs in my practice, and I wish I had a nickel for every good little Christian boy or girl I see that waited until marriage, only to catch herpes or something worse from the spouse that they thought was being faithful. I probably could’ve bought that boat by now.

    If both partners just loved each other the way Jesus had said to, a lot of heartache could’ve been avoided.

  9. wow…this is incredibly good! Thank you! My favorite part “Why do we boil marriage down into a binary proposition? We do it with sex and virginity. We do it when we say that men need “respect” and women need “love.” If I hear that “respect” and “love” idea one more time I may just be sick. This article is so good in so many ways and for so many reasons. I was the daughter of a preacher and pregnant at 15. Wish I had heard the words you wrote back then. I gave my child up for adoption and now we are connected as adults and in ministry together educating young people about sexuality, teen pregnancy and the adoption option. Thank you for writing this. I am passing it on to others. (by the way…am happily married….and you are right…we all come to the altar as damaged goods. praise God for grace)

  10. As a minister who works with youth currently, thank you for your simple but elegant words. For me it is about being real with my youth. That just because I am a minister doesn’t mean I am perfect and I keep it real. I promise to answer their questions truthfully, even if that means saying, “I don’t know” and creating an environment that is judgment free.

  11. I’ve taken a few days to process this post because I absolutely agree with everything you said…..but I think it also is missing something and it took me a while to figure out what that is. Here’s my best shot:

    Yes, we are all damaged goods. Yes, we are all sinners and all that any of us deserves is hell. Nothing more. But what I think this discussion is missing is the idea that while God can make good out of anything, the “good” is not necessarily His _best_. The _best_ plan for marriage is for two people to be sexually pure prior to marriage and to remain committed within marriage (an idea that has certainly been lost in our society, as you well stated). Absolutely, virginity at the altar does not guarantee sexual fulfillment in marriage or a happy marriage and its opposite does not guarantee a poor marriage or issues in bed…..but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s still better simply because God said so, and as such, it is still something that we should encourage in our young people (and old people).

    Should we shame those who have previous sexual experience or put on a pedestal those who have not “gone all the way?” Well….we should help them (ALL OF THEM) understand that, like all the rest of us, they are sinners. My sin may look different than yours, but we are all sinners and all sin separates us from God. None is “worse” than any other. As a result of our sin, we _are_ shamed before God (or at least we _should_ be). And it’s only through Jesus covering our sins that we can stand before Him blameless. BUT none of us is unredeemable!!! There is hope for all – hope for salvation, hope for healthy marriages, hope for forgiveness, hope for redemption.

    This is what we should teach our youth: “this is what the Bible says is sin (lying, covetousness, sexual immorality, etc.). You are a sinner. All sin separates you from God. But God has a plan – a rescue plan! Through this plan, through His Son, we can be restored from our sin. There will still be consequences for that sin (only the sin is removed, not the natural consequences that may follow), and we must take responsibility to put things as right as we can, but those consequences will no longer be eternal consequences. Sex outside of marriage has consequences. Sex outside of marriage is NOT God’s _best_ plan for your life. But God promises that there is hope for all – that all things work for _good_ for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”

  12. So, recently I noticed that I have been feeling less for my boyfriend, who I´ve been with for a very, very long time. We plan to get married in a year and I assumed it was just a phase, as we always go through phases. But it just so happens that recently, after years of serious innocence and naivety about sex (past the point that most people retain this innocence), I picked up a very, very occasional porn problem. And I just realized that the time that that started happening and my lessening love and affection have coincided. *facepalm* So I suppose I need to “heal” or something now. This is really disappointing. I didn’t how awesome being ignorant was.

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