What Church Taught Me about Sex and Purity

I learned about sex from three different places. First I heard from my parents who presented the physical, emotional, and physical aspects of intimacy. Then I learned more from school where I was presented with facts. And finally, at church, in the stuffy youth room brimming with hormones and teen angst.

I thought I understood sex. And, if just the physicality of it, I did. But the spiritual and personal implications were more frustrating than enlightening. Church talked about sex in shy ways, as though it was a subtitle to the rest of the conversation. And sex was indirectly a part of the conversation we were having about purity.

Church taught me three things about sexuality:

Stay pure. In unsaid words, don’t have sex before marriage.
Without purity, you'll never understand healthy roles of sex, modesty, and gender.
The best way to be pure is to be alone and disinterested.

At fifteen I heard about purity, the dangers of sexual sin, and a God who hated our desires. I couldn't understand the idea of a Lady in Waiting or kissing dating good-bye. I struggled to connect with my church friends because I had a boyfriend and they believed in purity –two starkly presented opposites. They looked down on my relationship with a boy. They warned me of the way we'd break up and my heart would be smaller, shattered and a messy bit of brokenness to get my future husband.

I was angry. They said things and it made me angry. I remained pure, my heart was made for healing –at least that’s what I’d heard in previous sermons-, and I was abiding by all of my Christian parents’ rules. I held onto this anger for year. All this time, I thought I was angry for me.

I’m not angry for me. In fact, a decade has passed and I hear the church saying the same things to today's teens. Purity, singleness, stay away from one another. I'm angry for them –the girls and the boys.

I spent the last few weeks mulling over what I'd want the church to have said to me. I spent it wondering what I want to say to the teens I will one day know. I spent it looking at the wonderful husband I call mine and knowing, the message I received as a teen wasn't one that reflects the glorious God I know.

What I Wish the Church Would Have Said to me About Purity

  • Sexuality is not only normal, but beautiful.
  • Your body is a treasure. Treasure is timeless and worthwhile. It will not wither or rot away.
  • Date. Date in groups, in context, in honest ways. Date while you live at home and have help drawing lines and maintaining boundaries.
  • You -in all your beautiful, soulish, sexual ways- are the most precious gift a spouse could ever receive.

The church needs to tell its teens about their worth, not the potential for sin. They need to talk about value and beloved-ness, not the way temptation can wreck hearts. Realizing, emphasizing the treasure that lies within each of us as His children gives us a worth that cannot be destroyed or withered or diminished by their choices or our own.

We're all growing and changing and turning into future mothers and wives, fathers and husbands. We are exchanging our role as the student for the position of a teacher. May we be teachers who instill value, importance and love into each pupil.

Let’s avoid the tempting schema of shaming and scaring sex into a deep, dark, mysterious package. Let’s allow conversation about the natural urge to be physically and emotionally intimate with another by providing a rich context. We must create space for sex in our lives. We must talk through the urges and awkwardnesses and details.  Why call ourselves community while hiding one of the greatest pleasures He made for us?

Telling the children of the church about the joys and goodness of sex relives the pressure and fear our generation carries into marriage. Sex is not forbidden fruit, but instead ripening on the vine, harvesting season presenting itself at different times in each of our lives. We must not lock sex away for later days and hope curiousity will remain at bay. Instead let’s honor intimacy with gentleness and kindness, preserving it for the right time.

Sex is cool. It's cool and it's intense and it's got a lot of context -that's what they deserve to know. Sex is binding and bountiful and beautiful in ways one can hardly begin to describe. It is that honesty our teens deserve and desire. It is that vulnerability our church is capable of providing.