The Purity Narrative

This is a continuation of last week’s blog on the “Chastity Cult”. I’m glad of what I wrote last week, though the discussion I began there is a subtle one, with eddies and counter-currents, fraught with invitations to misconstrue.

I came across an article by Juli Slattery on the Boundless webpage, entitled Promise Rings and Purity Talks Aren’t Enough. Juli coins the term “purity narrative” to describe the teaching on sexual purity promoted by the Christian community for several decades, identifying its message as simply “save sex for marriage.” I would agree that for 2000 years, the message of the church regarding sexuality has been chiefly “Don’t! Don’t even think of it, not until you’re married.” A legalistic, totally inadequate message, that has kept sex under covers of shame, hypocrisy and ignorance down the centuries. As described by Juli, the purity narrative is just a relatively recent expression of that obscurantism.

I think it has been more than that, and I regret Juli’s comment that its spokespersons have had “arguably good intentions.” How’s that for damning with faint praise? However, I agree that the purity narrative has not done nearly enough to make advances on the old “Don’t!” message. I agree with most of Juli’s criticisms.

I’m a marriage and family therapist, specializing in Christian sex therapy. As such, I have a huge focus on marriage and sex and romance. Part of my job is promoting a renewed, rich, Biblical vision of God’s gift of sex. As a story teller, I seek to inspire sexual hope, and gladness and wisdom.

It’s true, sexual purity is about much more than whether you’ve had extramarital sex – it begins in the heart, it’s rooted in your relationship with Jesus. It’s about being proud of your own sexuality, proud enough to set strong boundaries. And huge respect for the boundaries of others. But “save sex for marriage” is still an important message. Juli and others like her fail to make it clear enough that this message is not being discarded, but is being absorbed into something stronger, more demanding, more fulfilling and comprehensive. Juli makes a couple of comments affirming physical sexual integrity, but she fails to inspire me. The fairytale image of the virgin bride, in her gorgeous white dress, walking down the aisle to meet her strong man of integrity may be sentimental, but it’s loaded with idealism and values that mustn’t be lost.