Does the Purity Movement Objectify Women

Women are not chocolates: The mistake many purity arguments make

The fundamental argument of the purity culture is that sex is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of a committed marriage.  Sexual activity of any form outside of that is not how God intended it.  I wholeheartedly agree.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the approach of the purity movement.

Note this as a life lesson: Just because you arrive at the right place doesn’t mean you went the right way.  The end does not justify the means.

The end goal of the “purity movement” (as right and Biblical as the goal is) does not justify the use of scare tactics, lying, and deception to make it happen.  Unfortunately, those are prevalent in many Christian circles.  It starts when storks bring the babies and all goes downhill from there.

Some of it is parents unsure of how to broach the subject.  When is the right time?  What are the right words?  Do you tell your kids about pornography and pedophiles?  Do you tell them about contraception, purchase a chastity belt, or threaten their lives if they start sleeping around? 

Some of it is churches caught in between parents who expect the church to teach their children about sex and parents who will burn the church down if someone mentions the word sex.

It’s our nature, whenever we don’t know how to handle a conversation, to do our best to shut it down.  In some ways, the purity movement for the most part has been an attempt to shut down the conversation on sex.  If we don’t talk about it, then no one will think about it, right?

In attempting to “shut it down,” one of the biggest mistakes I think the purity culture made and continues to make is the objectification of women.  I don’t believe it is intentional.  It really could be an honest mistake, but it’s one we need to fix.

It’s a sad truth that the strongest argument I have against the use of pornography is also the biggest problem I see with the purity movement.

People, namely women, are not objects here for your sexual pleasure.  Period.

That includes even if you’re married to said woman.  The objectification of any human being for any reason is wrong.

Pornography is wrong for many reasons, not the least of which being it divorces a person from their body.  We are not two dimensional.  We are people- stories wrapped in flesh.  We have emotions, thoughts, souls, feelings.  We are not a collection of parts.  We are intricately made in the image of God.  This is the beauty of imago Dei.

Sex is the connection of two people- not simply two bodies.  By its nature, it is perhaps the most intimate form of physical and emotional connection we can ever know.  It is so powerful and so sacred it is used as an analogy of the love of God for the church.  It is a self-giving, not a self-serving act.

Pornography rips all of that up.  It takes this beautiful connection of souls and separates soul from body and turns intimacy into a product that can be consumed.  Rewards without relationships.  Return without investment.  It is a complete forgery of relationship, intimacy and sexuality.  It’s the exploitation of people for pleasure and profit.  Pornography is ultimately anti-intimacy.

And then there’s purity.

It’s interesting to note that in the church it seems teen guys and teen girls get conflicting messages.  While the boys hear the “sex is amazing and you just have to hang in there” message, girls don’t hear that.  At least not all of us.

We, instead, hear arguments that, like pornography, divorce our bodies from who we are- making the state of the body more important than the whole of the person.  Women hear that their choices now should be dictated by the pleasure of their future husband just as their choices in marriage will be.  What future husband wants a half-eaten candy bar, we ask.  What husband wants a flower missing half its petals?

The fundamental flaw here is our sexual status does not alter our worth and value. 

I think the hope is to help women understand that they have worth and value and that sex is a significant choice.  The fundamental flaw here is that our sexual status does not alter our worth and value.  A woman is not of more worth to her husband because she is a virgin when they get married.  We are not trophies.

Using objectifying language when discussing purity paints a dismal picture of marriage.

Let me ask you this.  If she’s a candy bar now, and sex takes a bite out of her, what does that mean in marriage?  Is it the picture God gives us of marriage?  Is this honestly the analogy we want to stick with when talking about something so sacred it is likened to God’s love for the church?  We go from Calvary to candy bars, and we’re all ok with that.

Because the way I read that argument, we’re basically telling her she is still an item to be consumed just by the right person at the right time.

Young women are consuming pornography (at a rate almost equivalent to the guys), dating guys who are consuming and influenced by pornography- all of which centers around the self-serving objectification of another person.  Essentially our reasons for telling them to wait to have sex is that it’s the wrong person objectifying them.  No no no.  He doesn’t get to objectify you!  Wait!  That’s your future husband’s job. In love of course

Let’s not even talk about how these arguments completely lack grace.  Where is grace in a chocolate bar analogy?

You don’t instill value in something by cheapening it.

This is not a garage sale where you mark down items to make them more likely to be bought.  We don’t need to mark down sex so that people understand it.  We don’t have to turn people into products in order to make the point.  When we do that, we destroy the imagery of sex.  People are not things to be consumed, and sex is not the consumption of those things.  Sex is connection.  Powerful connection.

You can’t tell young men (or women) “Don’t watch pornography because it objectifies people” and then objectify people in your arguments for why they should wait for marriage.  You can’t rob them of the very being and worth you claim premarital sex and pornography take from them.

The most powerful approach I have found for abstinence and purity is to remind women of their worth.

It is counter to the messages they hear from a world that already objectifies them every day.

No, they are not chocolate bars.  They are people.  They are fiercely loved by the God of the universe, created by Him.  He loved them more than any being on this earth ever could, and He desires that they wait, because the picture of His love for them is best expressed in a loving, committed marriage with a man who loves them and respects them.

You don’t need guilt.  You don’t need shame.  There doesn’t have to be some analogy of half eaten, greasy food.  Just tell them the truth.

If you want to motivate young people to wait, don’t do it by cheapening them, threatening them, or lying to them.  Tell them the truth, without turning them into object lessons.  Speak the truth in love, leave room for questions, and always leave space for grace.