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Purity and Consent

An Axis Course On Sex Talk 2.0

“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” – Ecclesiastes 7:18

In our Desire, Porn, and Masturbation track we mention Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Shameless, and how we believe her proposed sexual ethic (which de-emphasizes the importance of marriage in order to de-emphasize shame) represents an overcorrection from some of the harmful excesses of purity culture. She writes in a similar camp as writers like Linda Kay Klein (with her book Pure) and Dr. Tina Sellers (with her book Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, though we have found her research and some of her frameworks to be thought-provoking and helpful). This new approach to sexuality is often driven by powerful, emotional stories about people who have been harmed by some experience in church, as opposed to a careful study of what scripture says. We believe these stories should be reckoned with, but without forgetting the impressively consistent witness of Christian tradition that sex is for marriage, and without overhauling the scriptural witness because of these stories. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask why it was put there in the first place.”

Writers like Klein, Sellers, and Bolz-Weber all share stories of men and women who got married but weren’t able to unlearn the negative view of sex they had been taught in youth group. Again, these stories fuel the idea that sex should be liberated beyond the confines of marriage in order to prevent future sexual shame later on (like in marriage). Then there are other stories about people who were taught that if they “remained pure,” God would reward them with an ideal husband or wife and a perfect sex life in marriage. Many who practiced abstinence waited years for their reward, becoming more and more disappointed that God wasn’t delivering on the promise others had made on his behalf. We set others up for faith crises when we start making promises on God’s behalf in this way. As Jason Burtt with Unaltered puts it, “My motivation to live a pure and honorable life is because of what Christ already did, not because of what I want him to do for me.”

Meanwhile, when “purity” was defined in binary either/or terms, some of those who became sexually active before marriage fell into a spiral afterward, acting out a feeling of continuous estrangement from God. If purity is framed as something we’re born with, and can lose—as opposed to something we only have if Christ has given it to us, which he renews in us and empowers us to grow in—we may again be setting up someone’s faith system to crumble.

One tenet of the proposed new sexual ethic is that any guilt we might feel for acting out sexually is only the result of social programming, not our heart’s sensitivity to the Spirit’s conviction. This is a powerful line of rhetoric, and those who believe it are often empowered to discount many guilt feelings for going farther than their purity culture might have permitted. This is also propelled by a critique on the double-standard that exists for promiscuity between men and women (i.e. it’s okay for men to sleep around but when women do it they’re “sluts” or “thots.”) We agree that the double-standard should be corrected, but believe that a true solution would be greater sexual integrity for both men and women, not a further removal of sexual boundaries for everyone.

As Katelyn Beaty wrote in this New York Times article, “To be sure, consent is a nonnegotiable baseline, one that Christian communities overlook. (I never once heard about consent in youth group.) But two people can consent to something that’s nonetheless damaging or selfish. Consent crucially protects against sexual assault and other forms of coercion. But it doesn’t necessarily protect against people using one another in quieter ways. I long for more robust categories of right and wrong besides consent—a baseline, but only that—and more than a general reminder not to be a jerk.”

The issue with a sexual ethic that’s only based on concern for each others’ desire in the moment is that it’s short-sighted. A friend of ours told us that the conversation with his fiancée about her sexual history was one of the most painful conversations he’s ever had with anyone. Although the critique of purity culture says that sexual guilt is only social programming, our friend quipped, “Purity culture isn’t what made my heart sink.”

Of course, there is grace for everything, and nothing is beyond God’s ability to make something good out of it. But the next generation should understand that if we’re sexually active with someone outside of marriage, there’s a good chance that person will have to take those decisions into a marriage with someone else. Someday they’ll have to tell someone else about what they did with us, and no matter how enlightened or progressive someone may be, the vast majority of us still don’t like learning that our romantic partner has been sexually active with other people. Jesus said, “Do for others what you would have them do for you.” The challenge is to help Gen Z to see the beauty in and to apply that principle—not just for what we want in the immediate moment, but with a view toward the long haul of our entire lives.

Action Steps

Watch minute 2:11 through 3:54 of this fantastic articulation of the meaning of purity from YouTuber Katie Emmerson. For more on this topic, check out our Parent’s Guide to Purity.

Then, sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask your son or daughter this question:

  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said, ‘Do for others what you would have them do for you?’
  • How do you think that applies to romantic relationships? What about sexuality?


“Father, thank you that you do not deal with us according to what we deserve, but according to your unending grace. We ask your forgiveness, mercy, and healing for our sins. Help me as I lead my son/daughter toward sexual integrity and purity, not through uncertain promises of earthly rewards, but because of who you are and because of what you’ve already done for us. Grant us all discernment to see the shallowness of sexual ethics which aren’t based on full recognition of the reality you’ve created. In Jesus’ name, amen.”


Congratulations on making it to the end of Sex Talk 2.0! We hope you feel resourced and empowered to have these difficult conversations with your kids. We don’t want you to regard this as the end of these conversations with your sons/daughters, but hopefully as the beginning. For some of you this has been a smooth start; for others, it’s been harder. We encourage you to continue pursuing your teens’ hearts even if they seem distant—adopting a posture of kindness and curiosity toward them, much like God continues to pursue us even when we are distant from him.

And with that, we just want to say thank you. Thank you for taking the time to invest in the next generation’s sexual health. As the Apostle Paul wrote about his own ministry, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Whether you see the fruit of your labor now or not for many years, rest in the fact that God is the one who brings the increase.