Five Lies the Church Told Me About Sex

My debut book, Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, comes out TOMORROW. You can find links to order it here!

The culture of evangelicalism is very insular and very hard to move out of once you’ve been in it for a long time. There is so much that is simply understood and taken for granted that leaving that world feels like moving into a foreign country where nothing is like it seems. And you begin to realize your home country was lying to you about nearly everything.

But you can't know how to begin to overcome the lies until you know - precisely - what these lies were. So here are some quick hits.

Lie #1: The Bible is absolutely, fundamentally clear on the morality of sex outside of marriage

The short answer for this is simply, no, it’s not. From the relationships between men (David and Jonathan) to the relationships between unmarried couples (the Shulamite and her lover), the Bible is far from precise in how it addresses sexual sin. Even Paul’s supposed emphatic imprecations about forbidden sexual sins have a lot of interpretative problems, as terms like “fornication” are imprecise and the social structure of that particular time was far removed from the dating culture in which we now live. There is enough contradiction within the Scripture itself that we should at least dig deeper into the idea that every answer we need is between those Bible covers.

Lie #2: Men are visual and women are emotional.

This kind of gender essentialism not only erases transgender and non-binary individuals, but it’s not even close to true. The movie Magic Mike exists for a reason.

Lie #3: Sex in the wrong context (eg, outside of marriage) will devastate you for all other bonds.

A big fat nope to this. One of the best couples I know met at a club and moved in with each other about two weeks after meeting. Five years later, they have a son, are getting married, and are a happy, wonderful couple. They were both non-virgins when they married.

The problem with this particular lie is that it takes only one good counter-example to ruin the house of cards that upholds this theology. Any declarative statement regarding the consequences of certain actions should be suspect.

Lie #4: Lust is any kind of sexual desire whatsoever, and that’s bad.

A lot of my purity culture indoctrination meant learning how to basically be asexual. I didn’t and wouldn’t entertain any kind of sexual thoughts, any kind of deviation from the “I am not lusting!” norm. Instead of being seen as the desire to use other people as objects for our own pleasure, lust has become this bogeyman in which any and every natural sexual reaction is to be avoided. But that’s not lust – we have to develop a more robust understanding of what our own sexuality is and means. Lust will become more identifiable then.

Lie #5: Everyone is heterosexual and cisgender.

The biggest problem with purity culture is the assumption that everyone is the same. We are all cisgender. We are all headed for heterosexual marriage. We are all white, middle class people. Such a view of the world not only erases and does violence to actual people, but it ignores the diverse beauty of God’s creation. God created us in Their image, yes, but God is a multi-faceted, loving, beautiful being, and all of us have the ability to replicate that in living out who were are, as creatures of God.

Belief in these lies is what keeps purity culture propped up. Oppressive systems are dependent on you never figuring out what the truth actually is - which is a big sign that purity culture and shame are not of God.