Purity Culture (Part 2): Lie Detector

Lies are more subtle than you think. Or at least more subtle than I suspected for a long time. A college friend wrote the forward for a now infamous book about Christian dating and abstinence, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Sam retracted his forward in this article in 2016. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Sam, and the whole retraction is worth reading (as are the recovery stories on the site). One sentence Sam wrote has really stuck with me: “thought I was anti-legalistic at the time, not realizing that legalism was part of the air I breathed.” There is a subtle, insidious deception in legalism that’s so close to us it’s like it’s in the air we breathe. We’re not originating it, we’re simply copying what we hear. And it’s often not in the content of what we say, but how we say it. Intent matters. Timing matters. Context matters. If Satan could get under Jesus’ skin using scripture, he can do it to us, too. I’m not saying that to scare you. I’m learning from it, and I want to share what I’m learning so we can take back our culture from this m———f———— a—hole.

I’m going to spend the next few posts using the lie detectors I listed in my first Purity Culture post to uncover some lies:

1. Does it cause or encourage fear?

2. Does it cause or encourage guilt or shame? (A corollary: does it make the hearer feel like his value as a person depends on his behavior?)

3. Does it isolate?

4. Does it make the hearer question her sanity?

Let me say up front that I’m not on a witch hunt. There are definitely some people out there lying deliberately, and they deserve to go down in flames. But I think in most cases these are well-intentioned people just echoing their own fears—the lies they’ve been told that they believe about themselves—into a huge megaphone. It’s an easy trap to fall into, one I fall into myself sometimes. I pray over this blog every day that what I write will be True, but sometimes I am just not self-aware enough to catch things. Sometimes my intentions are self-serving. I hope you will take these principles and apply them to me and tell me if you hear me lying. Lies can sometimes come through good people, people who usually speak the truth. My battle here isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), it’s against lies and the destroyer who originates them.

There’s also the fact that lies don’t have to originate in what we’re reading. We sometimes tell them to ourselves. We filter what we see and hear through lies that we’ve learned to tell ourselves. When I was going through my divorce, I started to become more aware of my self-talk, and how much of it was lies. Things like, “Friend A and Friend B who are coming to my house for dinner. They are going to have a REALLY bad time if I don’t clean up these dust bunnies.” Or, “I’m so broken I don’t have any control over my sex life.” Or, “God isn’t going to fulfill my desire for a loving spouse because I don’t deserve that.” Worse, “The Bible says my heart is wicked, so my desires have no value. In fact, they are probably wrong. All of them.” I kept track one day, and I was telling myself a lie that checks a box on the lie detector list once every 7 minutes. All day. That’s a lot of shit to unpack.

When we’re breathing legalistic air, we tell ourselves and each other a lot of lies about sex. So, let’s take a look Amazon and I’ll show you the lies I hear. They might originate from the material, they might be in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where they originate, but they’re there, and I’ll bet money that most of you hear them, too.

I started to search Amazon for “Christian sex” and was given a few suggested searches. First was “Christian sex education for 8-12 year olds”. I don’t think I’m the only one who reads that and thinks, “dear God, these kids coming up on puberty and we’d better educate them before they fall into the SEX DEATH TRAP.” (Lie detector #1) Second search suggestion is, “Christian sex books for married couples.” If I didn’t click that, I’d be reminded of my past when I enjoyed sex with someone who wasn’t my spouse. I feel bad for even LOOKING at books about sex since I’m not married. I remember the verse that says “any man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). Lie detector #2, my friends. I feel alone because, well, sex advice is for married people, and I am not. Lie detector #3. I haven’t even looked at the search results and I’m already feeling so small I’m ready to walk away from the computer. For you–my readers–and for truth, I will keep going.

Search result #1: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (And You Thought the Bad Girls Had All the Fun) I like sex without reading a damn book… does that make me bad?

Result #2: Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in the Christian Marriage Is it just me, or does it seem like a bad sign that we need convincing that it’s intended for pleasure? If I was unhappy with my married sex life, I’d feel a little less-than for not GETTING it.

Result #3: Under the Sheets: The Secrets to Hot Sex in Your Marriage Putting my married person hat on here: what if I’m so relationally shut down that I don’t WANT hot sex in my marriage? Or what if my spouse is asking me to do “hot” things that I’m not comfortable with?

Result #4: Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option-and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex I might actually read this book, but why does EVERY Christian conversation about sex start with talking about chastity or celibacy or abstinence (including my own blog)? Why is our starting point a RULE? Shouldn’t the starting point of this conversation be love and joy? Even if you’re trying to unpack the shame of sex, starting the conversation talking about shame might give it more power than I want it to. Ugh. Now I’m feeling ashamed for writing a blog that tries to uncover sex lies because I might be propagating the sex lies as I’m writing it.

Okay, my brain is already in a knot. But I hope you get the idea. I’ll tackle some gnarlier knots in another post.


5 thoughts on “Purity Culture (Part 2): Lie Detector”

  1. My brain hurts too. I used to breathe purity culture, too. So much to unpack. Now I have a daughter who will soon be a teenager. I’m going to have to tell her *something* about sex aside from what it is and passing on baggage is terrifying to me.

  2. I think Christian conversations about sex start with the abstinence “rules” because the rest of the culture pushes hard in the other direction. My parents pushed abstinence, but stayed away from the full-on “culture” of purity. I’ve had to talk to my 13 year-old daughter, I try to keep it an ongoing conversation instead of one big talk. As I talk about abstinence, I try to stay away from making sex something negative. I want her to know it’s worth waiting for a spouse because sex is such a good thing.

  3. I had “the talk” with my almost teenage daughter recently. It started out explaining intimacy: how there is a need in each of us to love and be loved, to know and be known. I started with concentric circles. “First there are acquaintances, then in a smaller circle there are friends, then there are best friends and that circle is even smaller, and the last circle is the smallest of all and that is to only hold you and one other.” I talked of God’s good design for sex. Then, I told her the biology of it and she started laughing hysterically, “Gross! You put what where! Yuck! People have to do that to have babies, I don’t think I want kids anymore!” And I chuckled with her. And then the conversation switched to appetites. “I’m really glad this is something that makes you laugh right now. Because you’re still young enough to hear me and listen. But, there will come a day that something will happen inside of you and this new appetite will show up. Just like God gave us appetites so that we eat food and don’t die of hunger, God gives people sexual appetites and they aren’t bad. However, just like people can eat food that makes them sick and hurting inside, people can respond to their sexual appetites in ways that hurt them too.” It was a long conversation with giggles and serious places… and I know it was only the first of many. But, I don’t want her to learn from reprobates at school and I don’t want to just hand her a book- because- like you said, not much I trust out there… Thanks again for a blog well done.

  4. I feel like I had a mostly balanced experience in my own purity culture. From a young age I remember my mom telling me that sex was for marriage and that I should save it for my husband. “Did you?” Was my first reply. She was completely honest with me and that made a huge impression with me. I knew what I wanted and I was blessed with an informed naïveté that carried me through high school and college waiting for what I hoped for. I thrived on Passion and Purity by Elizabeth Elliott, liked IKDGB, and my youth group (as in the youth themselves) chose to universally not date while in high school. My friend of many years gradually became my best friend, whom I fell in love with and married at 22. 18 years later, I have no regrets in that department. Is my experience unique? I’m trying to understand what’s the problem with “purity” and the “purity culture” I grew up in.

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