Almost exactly one year ago, I read an article on Relevant Magazine that made me realize that I had absolutely no personal convictions to remain abstinent.
I had grown up in the dead-center of the purity movement. I’d worn the silver rings, made the pledges, condescended to the teenage mothers, read the Joshua Harris books, and all the other lovely rituals that seem to be involved in that movement. However, after an abusive partner coerced me into sex and eventually raped me, I had to let go of the basic tenets of the purity culture. The purity culture functions on the idea that virginity is the greatest gift a woman can give her husband. She is a used toothbrush without it, or a crashed car. It holds the idea that every time you have sex, you give away a part of yourself that you can never get back, and therefore you will necessarily enter into future relationships broken–your only value coming from the benevolent grace that God has on your insufficient self.
I gave up that idea and replaced it with a new “ethics of abstinence.” In these new ethics, which are often promoted in evangelical Christian circles that claim to be progressive (but usually aren’t), premarital sex was just the same as any other sin. It didn’t ruin me for life. I wasn’t broken or scarred.
But premarital sex was still universally wrong, and there were reasons. Several of these new reasons were listed in that Relevant Magazine article I read in November, 2011. According to the author, Ally Spotts (who I really appreciated during my earlier years of blogging. I don’t know that we’d agree on much now), we should wait for sex because waiting builds friendship, because “physical boundaries speak to the value you place on your sexuality,” because relationships should be about wholeness–not just happiness, and because we need to practice managing our lust.
She listed these as the real reasons God asks us to wait for sex. She talked about how other reasons–namely those held by the purity movement–didn’t satisfy her, and recognized that they weren’t satisfying the 80% of young Christians who had had premarital sex, either. So she attempted to come up with some new reasons, as many other Relevant writers and pastors and Christian bloggers (including myself) have tried to do.
But I realized something reading that article on that day.
Like Ally, the reasons the purity movement had given me didn’t satisfy me. But neither did Ally’s reasons.
So I started asking questions in the comments section (advice: never ask questions in the comments section of Relevant. In fact, avoid that place like a cat avoids the vacuum cleaner. Your sanity will thank me). In asking the questions, I learned that no one seemed to have the answers. Instead of answers, I either got harsh judgement or other people who admitted to being just as confused as I was.
But in every comment that told me I was “abusing grace,” that I “must not be very familiar with the Bible,” telling me to “get married earlier, genius!,” to just find a fraternity house where they can set me up with a goat if all I want to do is get laid (FOR REAL), or comments that just listed every verse in the Bible that mentions sexual immorality (while failing to define sexual immorality), all I heard was “I don’t know the answers, and your questions expose that. I don’t know, and that makes me afraid of you.”
While I applaud evangelical Christians who move away from the blatantly destructive teaching that a woman’s (or a man’s) worth lies in her virginity, these new teachings that emerge in its place don’t stand up to the questions. They fall apart at the simple, honest questions of a confused recovering Fundy.
So why do Christians keep scrambling for these new reasons? Why do Christians accuse anyone who dares question these of perverting the grace of God or wanting to sleep with goats? Do these Christians who claim the label “progressive” not realize that they are just repeating the same patterns that they condemn in their more conservative brothers and sisters? Patterns of judgment, close-mindedness, denial of reality, and fear of the unknown?
Let’s get this straight, Christians. Choosing to wait until marriage is a personal choice that you can make for any number of reasons. It’s a good choice. But it’s not necessarily THE good choice. The values we place on sex can’t be universalized. Neither can interpretations of the Bible. Even the definition of marriage and of sex is fluid throughout history and culture.
We would do far better to throw away these paper-thin universal arguments against premarital sex. There are better things to focus on, like affirming one another’s humanity. Like not treating the people we are attracted to as sex objects. Like respecting the physical boundaries of other people without question. Like fighting the rape culture that’s so prevalent in the church.
We can’t universalize sexual standards. But we can treat each other well, so let’s start with that.