While women have been fighting to change the noxious nature of the purity culture, men should also work to reduce the toxicity residing within the purity culture.
As a Christian teenager in the 1980s, I had an eyewitness account of the rise of the purity culture. From seventh to ninth grade, I attended a Baptist Christian school and well remember my frustration over the hypocrisy I saw there—namely, female students couldn’t wear slacks, our skirts had to cover our knees and touch the ground if we kneeled, and we had to wear culottes the same length for gym class. On the flip side, the male students had no such clothing restrictions and could even remove their shirts during sports practice (which nearly all of them did on a regular basis). When I asked a teacher why it wasn’t immodest for the boys to be shirtless, I was tagged as a troublemaker who clearly didn’t understand my place in the Christian home.
This one example showcases how easily the purity culture can become toxic—and why there’s been a lot of backlash over the past few years about the purity culture and how poisonous it has become. While much of the purity culture itself is focused on women and what our role should be, men too have responsibility to eliminate the lethal nature related to sexual purity.
First, let’s get on the same page as to what we mean by a purity culture. One writer defined it as “the notion that a woman’s place and worth in life is defined solely by how she chooses to express her sexuality, thus implying that her sexual ‘purity’ is her only value.” Toxic purity culture “is anything that adds to or avoids the whole content of God’s commands for sex and sexuality.”
While women have been fighting to change the noxious nature of the purity culture, men should also work to reduce the toxicity residing within the purity culture. Here are six things men of all ages can do to redeem sexual purity.
1. Embrace the true meaning of sexual purity.
Being sexually pure is a lot more than not having sex with someone you’re not married to—it’s about keeping your mind and heart focused on the things of God. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (ESV). Unfortunately, the purity culture gone astray spends way too much time saying “don’t have sex,” and not enough time helping teenagers and young adults to truly understand what God means by sexual purity—and giving them the tools backed by Scripture necessary to be successful.
2. Talk about why God created sex.
Sure, it’s for procreation, but it’s also as a means for deepening the relationship between a husband and wife. And make no mistake—God did create sex (see Genesis 1:27-28). The sexual relationship of a married couple also is an earthly example of the way to Christ (the bridegroom) loves his church (his bride).
Part of the sex discussion should center around the body—men (and women) should know the basic biology of sex, including how pregnancy occurs and the stages of pregnancy. Hiding or skimming over this information will only sew confusion and misinformation, especially among teenagers. If you’re a parent reading this article, you’ll need to present the data in a way that invites questions and opens the door to future discussions as your children grow.
3. Discuss what it means to be modest.
Modesty is so much more than what a person wears (or doesn’t wear)—it has to do with respecting your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (ESV). Modest is also an important concept for both boys and girls. (A few years ago, I did a video on teaching modesty where I discuss this in further detail.)
4. Teach young men what it means to respect women.
This goes beyond having good manners (although that certainly helps!). It means not thinking women have the sole responsibility for keeping men sexually pure. It means owning up to the responsibility men have in treating women with tenderness and reverence. It means not putting women in uncomfortable positions. It means being sensitive to their perceptions and needs. It means instilling in our young men that no means no. It means thinking about the other person before oneself (the Golden Rule at play in the dating arena). More importantly, it means that if a man gets a woman pregnant out of wedlock, it’s not solely her responsibility—he needs to be part of both repenting of the sin and the solution.
5. Don’t let men off the hook.
It’s all too easy to blame women for sexual sins, especially because sometimes those mistakes become pretty obvious (pregnancies). But men should be held just as accountable, especially when those sins are publicly exposed. Unfortunately, many times, the man is more quickly restored to the Christian fold than a woman who has stumbled is, and that needs to change. Examples of this are when men who confess to adulterous relationships receive nearly universal support but women in the same situation are generally shunned and blamed. Until we hold men who have slipped sexually accountable in the same manner we hold women in a similar situation, the toxic purity culture will continue to thrive. As a man, you need to speak up when you see this double standard being applied.
6. Believe a woman’s story.
One of the best ways men can squash the toxic purity culture is to take a woman at her word when she reports a rape or other sexual assault. There have been way too many examples lately of men who have shunned, actively discredited, and pushed aside women who have spoken up about such assaults. The truth is, the rates of false reports of sexual assaults and rape have been consistently extremely low, registering between 2% and 10%—this is similar to false report rates for other crimes. When we as a Christian community continue to disbelieve women (and some men) who share their painful stories of sexual abuse and assault, we’re allowing the toxic purity culture to fester. Men have an even bigger responsibility to provide a safe place for women to come forward and to shine the light of truth into the darkness, no matter how painful or who is accused.
David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 should be ours too when we consider what it means to be pure: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (ESV). When men focus more on the Gospel of Christ and apply biblical truths about sexuality impartially to males and females, the toxicity of the purity culture will begin to dissipate.
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Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She's a biblical parent coach and certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ with a heart for helping parents develop stronger relationships with their children. For more on her encouraging and commonsense approach to raising kids, visit her online at sarahhamaker.com.