Retrospective on Purity Culture


Over the past few weeks I have done a double-take on Purity Culture. For anyone who is unaware, “Purity Culture” burgeoned in the ‘80s and ‘90s evangelical youth groups around America. The “True Love Waits” message permeated the Christian subculture via conferences, retreat weekends, media and merch. Essentially, Purity Culture taught that we must wait to have sex until we were married: our purity depended on it.

This discussion pervaded most of my formative years in the church.

I recoil whenever I hear stories of a Christian’s deconstruction or deconversion. So I assure you, I’m not deconstructing anything here. God has prescribed boundaries for our sexuality and we must follow them. How the Biblical sexual ethic jives with our particular wave of culture is another discussion altogether.

But I will suggest that the purity culture narrative failed our generation in one major way: it largely left out the gospel.

It spent 99 percent of the time telling us to stay pure and save sex for marriage. And almost as an afterthought…oh yeah let’s squeeze in…the one remaining percent of our energy…to mention that even though you’re damaged goods…if you already had sex

God will forgive you.

The entire reason Jesus came to planet earth is because we can’t live a pure life no matter how much we really, really want to. And even then, our righteousness is filthy rags. So…even a virgin in a white dress standing at an altar is not *actually* pure. They just haven’t sinned in that way.     

They could have taught us that sex outside of marriage can bring adverse consequences—in some of the most extreme forms–but it has no final say over our spiritual purity. These are two separate issues.

I wish they had taught us that our status at the wedding altar had nothing to do with how God views us. I wish that they would not have equated virginity with purity. That was very damaging to me.

I’ve spent years working through issues of shame, regret, and disappointment in myself because I was “not pure” at my wedding. For 16 years, I have hated looking at my wedding pictures because of this.

To be honest, I didn’t even want to have a wedding, because it felt like a sham. There’s no giving me away, I already gave it away. There was no need for a white dress. I wanted to elope but my family wouldn’t let me. I cried going down the aisle, not because I was overwhelmed with love and joy, but because my dad had just told me he was proud of me, and I could not understand why. The grand narrative told me that I wasn’t pure, and all eyes were on me as I walked down that aisle not pure. Awkward for me!

When teaching us about God’s design for sex:

  1. I wish they had used a different word than “pure.”
  2. It would have been helpful to learn about God’s view of us regardless of whether we had sex when we were single!
  3. It would have been a great time to reinforce that God’s grace toward our disobedience was very VERY costly.

When we appraise that grace in light of what it cost, it greatly intensifies our yearning to obey and walk in truth alongside Him. That is the Gospel; and that message packs the power to fill our hearts with so much gratitude about what God has done for us.

God is so much kinder than society, thank you Jesus for making this true!

We will not achieve full-fledged purity this side of eternity; but we can continually make progress in our Sanctification. Wouldn’t it be great to see “sanctification culture” have a moment?!


7 comments on “Retrospective on Purity Culture”

    1. Can’t wait to read! The essence of TLW was good but they mostly presented only one side of the coin. Perhaps they thought if they mentioned grace/restoration no one would bother walking in obedience? Thanks for reading. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. you’re welcome! That is hard sometimes because some will walk in shame and they need to know that God makes all things new, but some people won’t care and they will keep doing what they know that they shouldn’t. I totally believe in no sex before marriage, but I certainly don’t give people a hard time for it now after many years. If I was working with youth now, I would want to present both sides, that God is a God of forgiveness and restoration and grace, but also please save yourself for the one that you will marry.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great article and so sweetly and painfully transparent. You were so insightful to get what purity is in God’s eyes, but I hate it for you that you carried such a hard burden during those years. I didn’t realize what was going on at the time, but this is exactly what my three daughters were taught. God forgive us.


    1. I think the heart of the TLW movement was in the right place. After all, there is a sexual ethic that we are meant to follow for Gods glory, the good of others, and our joy. But all fall short. And many fall short in this area. They didn’t do a great job handling the “what if you fall short?” scenario. Thanks for your encouragement and kind feedback! So glad I got to know you this year.


  2. Hi, Leigh,

    I just commented on your most recent article on purity culture which I thought was so wise and helpful. But I also wanted you to know how much your April 13th post stuck with me. It was the article on the awkwardness of being finished and dealing with the successful. Your transparency in dealing with a hard elephant-in-the-room situation was so courageous. I hope those who will find comfort and camaraderie in your honesty will find this article. And that others who are on the easy side of this situation will find it and be cautioned to show compassion, restraint, and generosity of spirit… although, arguably, both situations call for it.

    Most importantly, I hope the road ahead has become encouraging for you and your family. And that you find daily comfort in seeing that your faith has proven to be enough in the meantime. Bless you for offering yourself to others and sharing your earnest walk of faith. Only heaven will tell how you’re impacting lives for Him.❤️

    Blessings, Irish

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. HARD. I am still struggling with this and I am sure your family shared about that. But God is carrying us. Artfully Carving a new path for us. It’s his purposes, not ours. I don’t feel happy with the carving but I also dont have a picture of the purpose yet. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to get to see the purpose at some point.


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