Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex

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In a recent summit on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University, kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart made some surprising remarks about why victims of rape may not try to escape their captors. Her conclusion? They, like she, may have been raised in a culture that says a woman's worth in rooted in her sexual purity. Recounting an anecdote from a childhood teacher who compared having sex to being chewed like a piece of gum, Smart, a Mormon, tells her audience that she "felt crushed" after being raped: "Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand, so easily, all too well, why someone wouldn't run."


Smart might be the most famous figure to speak out against her conservative religious culture's sexual ethos, but she's not alone. Increasingly in recent weeks, prominent evangelical writers and bloggers have also decried the emphasis placed on sexual purity in conservative Christianity. While exposés of evangelical purity culture are hardly new (see, for one, Andy Kopsa's recent article in The Atlantic), what is noteworthy is that these criticisms are beginning to emerge from within conservative religious circles themselves.

The central thrust of these evangelical critiques is a rejection of the "damaged goods" metaphor. On her high-profile website, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans calls out the "horrific object lessons," like the one described by Smart, which aim to convince young people that "premarital sex ruins a person for good." Sarah Bessey, author of the forthcoming book Jesus Feministshares her own story of feeling condemned by the "true love waits" rhetoric of her church, which conveyed the message that she, as a non-virgin, was now "disqualified from true love."

Prodigal Magazine, an up-and-coming online publication that caters to twenty-something evangelicals, recently featured a candid piece on abandoning the concept of virginity. While deliberately keeping her own sexual history private, Emily Maynard, the author of the article, proclaims that she is no longer going to think of herself as a virgin or a non-virgin. "I'm done splitting my sexuality into pieces," Maynard writes, "I'm done with conversations about 'technical virginity' and couples who 'win the race to the altar.'… I'm done with Christians enforcing oppression in the name of purity."

Written By: Abigail Rine
continue to source article at theatlantic.com

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  1. At the risk of seeming like I am minimizing what these courageous women have gone through and how much I admire them for speaking out (and I hope I am not), one question:
    If you asked 1000 people when they lost their virginity (and they had to tell the truth), what would the number be that actually waited for marriage to be sexually active? I think it would be damn close to 1000 out of 1000.

    The message that these evangelicals proffer is both hurtful (as evidenced by the repercussions for these young women) and just plain wrong. Not even THEY, themselves, wait. It is the typical “do as I say; not as I do” philosophy of the idiot mind.

  2. Jesus Feminist

    Step in the right direction… if it means less young men and women having “purity preaching” foisted on them, I’m for it.

    First, knock all the ridiculous evanfundgelicals off their collective ambos – a christian coup, as it were. This will allow more common sense to infiltrate.

    Ugh, I’m sorry to see that the Purity Ball is still going.

  3. It’s a nice example of religion as a device to resist ‘future shock’ ; the increasing speed of societal change relative to any individual’s lifespan. The inherited ethic of pre-marital sexual abstinence comes from days when a child unprovided for became a burden and women alone bore that unless a legal contract was in place beforehand. Marriage paid deep attention to financial matters before science and engineering made us all (relatively) rich, just as it does in poorer countries now; not quite the dreams of romance nor the ‘spiritual health’ discussed here.

    Since the advent of reliable contraceptives the evangelicals have not just resisted their use, arguing the naturalistic fallacy, but failed to see the brutal logic of a continually evolving ethic. Like all religions they authorise mental stasis : an adaptative moral code would be too onerous a duty.

    If it works, it might serve to separate the chaff from the wheat, with the complete misanthropes even more obviously deranged and the kinder majority embracing a change.

    As a legal contract marriage is seen as justifiable in a developed society to provide for the raising of children but we have recognised, with divorce reform, that coercion makes matters worse. Consequently divorce rates are very high. In any realistic assessment the process of research into possible partners should include sexual compatibility.

    Any number of other types, degrees and nuances of relationship exist (possibly seven billion? ;-) and some kind of recognised calibration would be useful; a fun example would be the Larkins family of H.E.Bates, others may occur to your fancy.

    All the debates about marriage seem defused by the reality, for the very poor, of ‘the more children she has the more will die’, which is the result, if not the intention, of hard-line naturalistic ideology.

    ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?

    • In reply to #3 by Geoff 21:

      It’s a nice example of religion as a device to resist ‘future shock’ ; the increasing speed of societal change relative to any individual’s lifespan. The inherited ethic of pre-marital sexual abstinence comes from days when a child unprovided for became a burden and women alone bore that unless a le…

      I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

      • In reply to #4 by Nitya:

        ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?… I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

        Learn to speak American you damn commies! Just kidding. I think its a browser issue, not specific to the site. Go into your browser preferences (probably under the File menu) and look for Language or Spelling or Spell Check or Edit and you should be able to change the setting from American English to real English. The preferences are different places for each browser. So for Chrome its File>Preferences>Settings>Languages and from there you can change it.

        • In reply to #5 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #4 by Nitya:

          ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?… I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

          Learn to speak American you damn commies! Just kidding. I think its a browser issue, not specific to the site. Go into…

          That’s a feat one can’t perform with an iPad (unless I’m missing something). I deliberately cross out the “z” when my Spellchecker tries to correct my spelling of “realise” etc. this happens all the time, but I keep changing the US spelling because I think it presents a dishonest picture of who I am.

          • In reply to #6 by Nitya:

            In reply to #5 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #4 by Nitya:

            ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?… I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

            Learn to speak American you damn commies! Just kidding. I think its a browser issue, not s…

            I’m surprised that there isn’t a way to do it on the iPad but I think you are right. I also checked in Firefox and it seems to be much harder than other browsers. Here is a link that I think covers how to do it in Firefox:

            http://askowen.info/2007/02/15/how-do-i-change-dictionaries-in-firefox/

          • In reply to #7 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #6 by Nitya:

            In reply to #5 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #4 by Nitya:

            ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?… I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

            Learn to speak American you damn commies! Just kidding. I think…

            Thank you. I’ll give it a go.

          • ps – How do I turn off the US English spell-check? or, yet better, switch to UK English?… I wish I knew how to turn of US Spellcheck. I do it manually.

            Here is a link that I think covers how to do it in Firefox: http://askowen.info/2007/02/15/how-do-i-change-dictionaries-in-firefox/

            I still had a problem after installing the UK English dictionary but was able to resolve it by going into the Mozilla programme files and deleting the US dictionary.

  4. Sexually purity is a Victorian idea. It has more to do with being a man’s possession rather than being sexually pure. I recall hearing that the original definition of the word “virgin” meant owned by no man. Let’s face it there are plenty of acts and thoughts that do not involve intercourse and there are methods of having “intercourse” without another person. Do dildos count for “being ruined” when a young woman has not yet been involved with another person? There are lots of teens having lots of oral sex because they technically still consider themselves virgins. They are also naive about STDs through oral sex. After a certain age, you are either sexually active with someone else or being sexual by yourself. This religious definition of “virgin” does little to educate the young. Personally, I think the word needs to be ditched. The idea of abstinence means repression and this cannot be good for any young adult who is questioning their sexuality. Gay youth and teens are feared into a state of repression in an attempt to keep them naive. At times, this can result in immature and unwise decisions when faced with a sexual situation. (For some it can also be empowering.) Back in my youth, long ago, the class “slut” who used birth control did not get pregnant, but the daughter of the minister did.

    • In reply to #10 by QuestioningKat:

      Sexually purity is a Victorian idea. It has more to do with being a man’s possession rather than being sexually pure.

      Sexual purity goes back a lot further than the Victorian era. And while I agree in its current definition its bound up with sexism the roots for it, at least a big part of it, are biological. We see it in nature all the time, both sexes value purity tests to make sure that the mate they are pair bonded with is really carrying their sperm or fertilizing their eggs and not those of some cheater. And since in humans the females are the scarcer resource (strictly in biological terms) they are the ones that are prized and that men fight over and so purity tests matter most for them.

      • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #10 by QuestioningKat:

        Sexually purity is a Victorian idea. It has more to do with being a man’s possession rather than being sexually pure.

        Sexual purity goes back a lot further than the Victorian era. And while I agree in its current definition its bound up with sexism the roots for…

        Yes, I agree. I should clarify my intention of using “Victorian” as old-fashioned and not originating in the Victorian era. My bad. Whereas your view is biological, mine is more sociological.

      • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

        QuestioningKat @ 10

        Yes, ditching the word Virgin was helped by Branson when Virgin Records started up as cutting-edge branding, being perceived as a bit naughty Since then it’s further down that road here in the England and mostly seen as an antediluvian concern.

        Red Dog @ 11

        “since in humans the females are the scarcer resource (strictly in biological terms) they are the ones that are prized and that men fight over and so purity tests matter most for them.”

        The inverse of this seems to be evidenced by women valuing jealousy as an attribute in their partner or, at least, portraying it as the norm. I have had personal experience of the former and find the latter in literature (for example the Harry Potter series and the mature work of Dorothy L. Sayers). There jealousy is seen as the other pole to sexual indifference.

  5. The whole “purity” concept is one that I absolutely loathe. When, as a child, I first heard about the “bloody sheet test” on the wedding night, I was appalled. I heard biblically-based stories about how, if a woman in the bible didn’t bleed when she had sex for the first time, she could be discarded by her husband, publicly shamed, even stoned by her own family for shaming them. Even as a Christian, I thought that was utterly barbaric, repressive, and repulsive. Why would anybody in their right mind in the 21st-century want to espouse this? And Christians knock Muslims for being repressive and backwards.
    A hymen isn’t “sacred” or “pure”. Some girls are born without one. It’s just the main way that primitive men had of ensuring that any offspring were their own – until science gave us paternity tests, only women could be sure that a kid was their own. God forbid that a man pass on his property to another man’s brat! Take a young girl who’s just started menstruating, marry her before she has a chance to experiment, and sequester her, enforcing the death penalty for any fooling around. This possessive objectification of girls leads to all sorts of practices so barbaric that Neanderthals would have been appalled: Female genital mutilation, child brides, girls forced to marry their rapists, girls stoned to death for “allowing” themselves to be raped.
    And this is what Christian “purity” advocates want for America? Nothing makes me happier than to finally hear female evangelicals speak out against it. Finally!

  6. This sort of thing just looks absurd these days. If – and I’ve never met a boy or man who ever showed even a sign of thinking like this – a man chose to judge me on the basis of my having been sexually active as a teenager, he would be dumped faster than an old Biro. Same with any modern woman.

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