By: Dr. Juli Slattery
My teenage sons have recently introduced me to a new word… “cringeworthy.” It’s how they describe my attempts to dance and many of my lame puns. But it’s also the word many would associate with the term “sexual purity.” As a ministry, we’ve shied away from teaching about “sexual purity,” substituting it with the concept of “sexual integrity.” You might wonder why. Isn’t sexual purity consistent with what the Bible teaches about sex?
There are some Christian terms that evoke a backlash based on our personal history. For example, what is your response to the idea that a wife obey her husband? We don’t use this word anymore because the word “obey” is a barrier that can keep us from pursuing the meaning behind God’s heart for gender and marriage roles. I’ve found the same to be true for many women related to sexual purity. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the word “purity” and see evidence of it in biblical teaching on sexuality. However, the word sometimes represents “baggage” that can keep women from understanding and pursuing God’s design for sexuality.
Here are three reasons why I believe the call to “sexual integrity” can be more helpful than a discussion centered on sexual purity:
If I were to tell you that I was teaching a conference on sexual purity, who do you think would be the intended audience? Most likely, you’d picture a group of high school and college students. We naturally assume that sexual purity refers to singles saving sex for marriage. Yet God’s call to sexual purity is not simply for singles but for every one of us. So what does “purity” look like for a married woman? And is purity just about what we choose to do with our bodies or does it also apply to our thought life? To make matters more complicated, what would “sexual purity” look like for a woman who has same-sex attraction?
This is how I see the word purity as limited compared to the idea of pursuing sexual integrity. Sexual integrity means that my actions, choices and thoughts are a consistent expression of my commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord of my life. As I strive to live with sexual integrity, this impacts how I interact with my husband, how I sort through cultural changes, how I teach my children, and how I respond to sexual temptations and desires.
One of the greatest complaints towards the purity movement is that it inherently divides people into two categories – those who are sexually pure and those who are not. The determining factor of where you fit is whether or not you are a technical virgin, saving sexual intercourse for marriage. Yet, our sexual purity is not so cut and dry. What about the woman who has done everything except have sex with a guy? And what about using porn, erotica, fantasy or masturbation? Are these women pure or not? Where do women fit in who have been sexually violated? Even if date rape or sexual abuse wasn’t their choice, women who have experienced such trauma usually wrestle with feelings of being defiled and often act out sexually as a result.
The traditional purity message tells us that we can experience “secondary virginity/purity” by promising not to return to sexual sin. This is cold comfort as Christian women feel like they now qualify for “God’s plan B” but can never be like those who didn’t make the same mistakes. The fact is that none of us is 100% sexually pure- we have all missed God’s “plan A” of perfection. Our purity according to Scripture is determined by the blood of Jesus Christ, not by our sexual choices. There are not some women who need Jesus more than others. As the Bible says, all of us have sinned and are “dirty” before God. It is only Jesus’ atoning death on the cross that supernaturally presents us as a pure and spotless Bride.
When I pursue sexual integrity, I want to live according to my identity as “washed, justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11), regardless of my past choices. If by God’s grace I have been spared from what we traditionally define as sexual sin, I realize with humility that I still need a Savior and have my own set of sin issues to surrender. The goal is no longer trying to obtain some ideal sexual standard, but a daily surrender to the will of God in my life.
Perhaps the greatest complaint against the purity movement is the assumption that purity means sexual passion is always wrong. I can’t tell you the number of Christian married women I’ve talked to who have carried this lie into marriage. Without realizing it, they suppress sexual desire, expression and passion in marriage, afraid of violating God’s standard of holiness. I know that the majority of those who have taught sexual purity never intended for this outcome, but we can’t deny the unintentional fallout.
By contrast, sexual integrity actually encourages a Christian couple to pursue extraordinary passion, vulnerability and pleasure together in marriage. Sexual intimacy is the physical celebration and consummation of a lifetime commitment. To live with integrity means that a Christian couple regularly pursues the fullness of this celebration, as God designed it. During seasons of my marriage when I avoided sex or held onto negative beliefs about my sexuality, I frankly was not living with sexual integrity. God’s Word and Spirit convicted me of this, prompting me to make sexual intimacy a priority in my marriage.
As you engage with the ministry of Authentic Intimacy, you will notice that everything we teach is with this in mind: We want to be people of integrity, integrating our commitment to the Lord into every area of life, including sexuality.