Respect is at the heart of God's intention for sexual expression. Lean in while I unveil to you one of the best-kept secrets in the Bible: a single word. The Hebrew word for sex. The Old Testament uses the word yada for sex. It means "to know, to be known, to be deeply respected." God's very definition of sex transcends the physical act and emphasizes emotional knowing and an exchange of respect. Respect of others, and even of ourselves, requires self-control. This is one, though not the only reason, that our sexual lives must be characterized by self-control. Morality aside, sex thrives in an atmosphere of control and respect. A study referenced in Sex in America found those having both the hottest and most frequent sex were not college co-eds with a variety of sexual partners but middle-aged people who embraced mutual lifetime monogamy out of respect for themselves and their partners. Another study concluded having more partners in their lifetime actually predicted less sexual satisfaction for men. Sexual self-control makes sense for both moral and practical reasons. You wanna have a great sex life? It’s got to begin with self-control.
"I’m just not seeing the message of grace presented in these purity and modesty movements," a woman recently wrote to me. "Why did Jesus die on the cross? We are righteous because of Jesus, not because of our works. ... I am all about ...waiting to have sex until marriage and using common sense in dressing in a manner that is respectful to yourself and those around you. But these are conversations that play such a minor role in the fabric of our lives. The Gospel is about Jesus and God’s grace, it’s not about purity." Her inquiry is deserving of consideration. Frankly, I was deeply troubled by it and wanted to right myself if I've been wrong. My heart pondered this question: "Is the way I teach modesty and purity—or the way you teach it or live it out— in contradiction to the powerful grace of God?" After a lot of prayer and study, I have an answer. Let me start with the ugly part...
Recently I opened my blog to moderate comments on a post titled "Was Mary A Virgin?" Suddenly, I was being accused of "slut-shaming" for using the word virgin. What!? It was the VIRGIN Mary who I was writing about! The comments—including "This is slut shaming... Wrapped up in a pretty package" and "Such dialogue and scrutiny over a woman's virginity (aka 'purity') only feeds into patriarchal-based slut shaming"—were just the crest of a wave of frustration I've heard all year long as those following me lament that the language of sexual purity is out of style. The big claim? The word purity has no efficacy. So, let's put it on trial today and see where we land because as a leader in the Christian sexual theology conversation, I want to know: do you think we should stop using the word purity? But here's the deal. The debate—which I expect may get heated— must lean first and foremost on the truth of sexuality as defined in the Bible, not the opinions of men and woman. What's a good day in court without an opening argument? Here's my three defenses of the word purity.
I said goodbye to my virginity when I was fifteen. How old were you? If you had it to do over again, would you wait? I would. I knew none of the physical consequences of choosing to have sex early, but I was depressed. I felt like I'd given something precious away and could never have it back. That's why I've devoted my life to spreading the idea that sex is worthy of something more than a casual hookup. Is that a message you want to share with your daughter? Little sister? A friend you're trying to mentor? Read on, because the news today is better...and worse...than when you were a teenager and I have seven secrets that will reduce the risk in the teen girl you love.
"Good sex comes to those who wait." That was last week's claim by Her•meneutics blogger Courtney Reissig. Only, I should clarify that she ended the sentence with a question mark: "Good sex comes to those who wait?" And then her words decried the efforts of the abstinence and purity movement—my efforts, really—charging that we are guilty of "incentivizing abstinence with personal pleasure." To her credit, Courtney—whose work I've examined rather thoroughly and I'm fairly certain that if we shared a cup of coffee I'd enjoy her and find more common ground that different thinking—cited last year's New York Times article "In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns." The article explained that women report having better sex in committed relationships than those having casual sex. Courtney argued that using studies like this to encourage virginal Christian singles to wait was akin to demanding a "cosmic exchange" with God. My purity now in exchange for great sex later, Ok God? "Promising great sex to those who wait for their wedding day is feeding off of our desire for self-fulfillment, not other-oriented service," wrote Reissig. Is it wrong to teach our children and young single adults that there are practical, pleasure-filled rewards in waiting for sex? Are we falling prey to using the world's model of sex education when we use studies revealing that sex is better inside committed relationships? And—what you really want to know—is sex better if you wait?
Take a breath. Slow down. Dating doesn't have to be so rushed. It does have to be right.
[Bonus material from Get Lost.]Celebs like Ashton Kutcher, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Justin Timberlake and more joined forces to collaborate on a campaign to stop men from using girls to mop up their own selfish sexual needs. Whatever you think of the self deprecating humor they used in their commercials to raise awareness of sex trafficking, the message is loud and clear: “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” A watching world applauded the celebs as heroes. Sex trafficking is an issue that is important to me and very personal. I have one adopted daughter whom we rescued out of a rape culture. And another who has chosen to be a student activitist fighting it. Her work began in one of the vilest places on the planet where girls are intentionally bred to be sold by their families into the sex industry when they turn twelve. I know what a culture that endorses rape looks like. And I despise it.