Group Dating and Knee-Length Skirts: The Problem with a Culturally-Reactive Purity

This is modified from a presentation I gave for a MOTS group (Mothers of Teenagers) here in Maryland. 

Say “purity” and watch the reaction.  It is likely someone will have flashbacks to the “fish kiss” from the TV Show, “Virgin Diaries” (where virgins were treated like interesting species of humans to be observed- like Honey Boo Boo or the Amish Mafia).  People who live lives of purity are a little strange to the watching world.  Beside the misplaced pity for a lack of sexual adventures, there is also this dreaded fear of all that ‘purity’ has come to mean– rules, and lots of them.

Knee-length skirts.  Three-finger tank top sleeves.  Four-piece swimsuit (a standard two-piece with a shirt and shorts).  Group Dating.  Wait, scratch that- no dating- courting.  You know what?  No.  While we are at it, don’t even look at a member of the opposite sex unless you think you can marry them.  Opposite sides of the side walk.  For that matter, opposite sides of the CHURCH.  Don’t initiate.  Don’t pursue.  Don’t flirt.  Don’t lead on.  Don’t turn off.  I personally love this post on the Good Women Project about purity and scoliosis.

It’s a wonder we have managed to procreate.

No wonder so many Christian women complain about getting to their wedding night and having absolutely no clue what is going on, and being completely unable to communicate about sex with their husbands.  Oh, I forgot- “Don’t talk about sex” is on that list of rules too.  (Side note: I highly recommend getting in touch with Sheila Wray Gregoire’s blog, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum, for all things Christian married woman sex).

We are guilty as a church, of being culturally-reactive with our “truth.”

There are certain ideas about purity that we don’t share until society cooks up some bold-faced lie.  Then, we come out kicking and screaming with this truth that appears to have just come out of nowhere.  We react to the culture.

Growing up my family did not attend movie theaters.  Any particular reason why?  Well, people had sex in movie theaters, therefore we shouldn’t go.  Or dancing.  My grandmother, whom I love dearly, attended a high school dance where she found all kinds of immoral dancing.  Therefore, her children and her children’s children were never allowed to dance.  Ballet, ballroom, club- made no difference, we weren’t dancing- period.

The baby got thrown out with the bath water.  Every time culture praised something, the church condemned it— not society’s misuse of it.  Whatever ‘it’ was was suddenly wrong.

We did it with sex too.  We still do it with sex.  Society misuses it, so Christians shouldn’t even do it.  At least, that’s how we act.

We are guilty of teaching purity (or abstinence) not in a way that is grounded in truth, but in a way that is shielded from the culture.  That’s why it has to keep changing.  That’s why what started as a six inch rule has had to be clarified to include oral sex, petting, sexting, etc.  That’s why when 50 Shades of Gray came screaming onto our radar, Christians went into an uproar.  Now we need a whole new list of rules that covers reading material, cell phones, webcams, and Facebook.

Grant you, women struggling with fantasy is not new.  Women reading erotica is not new, and I’ve said it before but it’s about time somebody said something about it.  But here’s the problem, if we don’t say the right thing- if we don’t speak the truth- then we will find ourselves, as a body of Christ, having to re-issue a statement in five years when Skype-sex becomes the norm.

Truth does not change, which means we must be presenting it wrong if we have to keep changing our story.  

If we have to keep clarifying, specifying and redefining purity, maybe our beginning definition is flawed.  If our purity is based in truth, it will weather whatever temptation gets lobbed at it, but it hasn’t been.

So much of our purity is based in preference, not truth.  Six inch rules, courtship, group dating- are all great ideas to protect your purity, but they, in and of themselves, are not purity.  They are guidelines (and perfectly acceptable) but in place as a response to the demands of culture.

People started engaging in oral sex, so, you know what? Nobody touch anybody!  Six inches in between, minimum.

People started making out and making love in the back seats of cars so, guess what!?  New rule!  Thou shalt not be alone in the car with a boy.  Then, there was the Virgin Lip Society- saving your first kiss for your wedding day.

It’s a great idea.  Fantastic guideline for protecting your integrity and your purity, but it is not  purity.  I’m not saying throw the rules out the window, but I do want to emphasize that purity is a heart decision more than a list of rules.  It’s an idea, and a way of life, not a pile of standards that I have to carry around.

I should be able to go out, in public, with a guy friend for coffee and not feel impure because I don’t have five friends and a signed letter of approval from my father figure.    He should be able to ask me without having to answer whether or not he is going to marry me.

Good intentions, bad presentation.  We need to be honest in how we approach purity.  Are we to be set-apart?  Yes, and we’ve been really good about being that.  We’ve been really good about building up walls to block any assault from the culture.  We have set ourselves apart from the culture.  We have set ourselves apart so much that the culture finds us fascinating, in a freakish National Geographic type way.

That’s not the point of being set-apart, though.  The point of being set-apart is to be set-apart for God’s purposes.  Regardless of what happens in society, the truth of God’s character and who He has called us to be does not change.

If we had a true grasp on Biblical purity, we wouldn’t either.


  1. “Truth does not change, which means we must be presenting it wrong if we have to keep changing our story. … If our purity is based in truth, it will weather whatever temptation gets lobbed at it, but it hasn’t been.”

    This describes it perfectly–reminds me of some lyrics from the Newsboys’ song “Shine”:

    “The truth is in, the proof is when you hear your heart start asking “What’s my motivation?”

  2. As a mom of a four tweens, this is a very relevant topic in our home. I want to teach my kids differently from how I was taught; there was a lot of “don’t do this” but not WHY. We have the “God’s Design for Sex” books that we are going through, but obviously questions arise that aren’t covered. It’s really challenging to impart why God wants purity for us (although at this age they think sex is gross!) without wanting to draw a hard line of “do this but not this”.

    As a side topic, suggestions for where I can send my friend for help with her stepson (13 yrs) who is looking at LOTS of porn?

  3. Bahahahahaha
    “I should be able to go out in public with a guy friend for coffee and not feel impure because I don’t have five friends and a signed letter of approval from my father figure.”

    I loled so much.
    But it’s true. This week, I’ve been trying to catch up with an old school friend, but I’ve been so worried that he might think it’s a date.
    It’s just coffee!

    I’m tired of feeling ashamed of my sex. Yes, we do need to protect and honour our brothers, but our brothers need to protect and honour us as well.
    Protecting isn’t smothering, hiding or covering up, but lifting up, respecting and allowing people to be free.

    The reality is we’re called to bring Jesus to lost and broken people, and lost and broken people don’t need more rules, or be made to feel ashamed of how they dress, but they need grace and love.

    I’m glad my church is starting to talk a lot more about these things!