A few weeks ago, a friend lamented her second divorce by blurting, "So much for purity culture." When I asked what that meant, she said, "Not sleeping with someone until after you're married when it's too late." The subject quickly changed as she blushed and hurried back to work. I was puzzled since she's a competent young woman in a responsible well-enough paying professional position and mother of a beautiful young child.
A couple of years ago Marylyn and I became Episcopalians. During Adult Confirmation Class, Deacon Gay made it clear that Episcopalians are expected to use their intellect to activate Gospels in ways that make the world better. Between Deacon Gay's admonition and having a PhD older than the average age of half the population, I looked up purity culture. According to Google...
"Purity Culture" emerged out of white evangelicalism in the early 1990s, the conservative Christian movement-today promoted by both local churches and national organizations such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits emphasizes sexual purity and abstinence-only education. The cornerstone: If women remain virgins until the day they marry a man, they're holy; if not, they're damaged goods. To avoid the latter outcome, young adults are required to make promises signified in the form of purity balls, rings, and pledges-to remain abstinent from puberty 'til "I do."
To me "purity Culture" looks like the invention of grumpy, dried-up old authoritarians trying to use their version of religion to control the sexuality of vibrant young women and men.
Authoritarians typically reserve power, privilege, and money for the elite few, and that can work socially in many constructive ways. We defer to government officials, teachers, parents, priests, and other authority figures and that deference creates community stability. This appears to be the default social governance convention throughout history, but the authoritarian "winner-take-all" end of World War I precipitated a much worse World War II just two decades later.
Liberalism and its belief that power, privilege, and money are best shared by the many became widespread after World War II. Liberals believe civilized nations can work together to create and enforce international law and free trade as needed to maximize personal freedom, national well-being and prosperity. In 1944 The United States and allies agreed to help rebuild war damaged nations, resettle refugees, use the United States Navy to keep sea lanes open as needed to facilitate free trade, and to fund development of an international monetary bank. The goal of these liberal policies was to prevent World War III and so far, it has worked.
We're currently living in a seventy year in length social governance experiment.
For more than seventy years, liberal free-market, free-personal choice nations and the people living within them have experienced greater prosperity than ever before in recorded history while authoritarian personally repressive nations have grown at slower rates, if at all.
Adoption of liberal free-market, personal freedom conventions has worked well for nations and the people who live in them.
There are both authoritarian and liberal approaches to Sex, Politics and Religion. Half the people in any room get mad no matter what is said because all three address existential issues. Purity Culture combines two of the three, so it is bound to arouse strong feelings and calls for control.
Early marriage was used to informally enforce purity culture. I became aware of human sexuality in the fifties when there was no "birth control" other than abstinence. Three of my four sisters married as teenagers, quickly became pregnant and had multiple children. That's what many members of my generation did.
What is different today is that reliable birth control is generally available. People now marry much later for a variety of socioeconomic reasons which extends the time when sexuality outside marriage is a force to be reckoned with.
While "lust" and "physical beauty" create attractiveness, they also impair rational judgement. A close and respected friend once said, "He who uses his erect penis as a compass is bound to get lost." A similar admonition surely applies to women as well.
It is dangerous to ignore the power of sexuality.
Fundamentally, we are social beings who need the emotional support of other human beings to thrive. There is plenty of scientific evidence proving close relationships and personal intimacy benefits physical and psychological health. Each of us must find and maintain a safe and secure place to live and earn incomes to provide necessities while tending to family, career and other interpersonal relationships. Life is stressful. Trustworthy consensual and safe sexual relationships can create mutually supportive bonds that inspire and create divisions of labor that make life less stressful and more enjoyable for both partners.
Mutually consensual engagement in personally-affirming sexual relations contribute to healthy and sustaining pair bonding regardless of whether or not procreation is the goal of the relationship.
In our liberal free-choice society, what authoritarian elders think about the ways in which vibrant young adults express their sexuality, is not that influential.
Young people are answering existential questions about sexuality on their own. Legitimate research reports young adults are having less sexual intercourse and fewer children later than their elders did. Furthermore young adults are much more open to all forms of safe consensual sexual relationships than are their elders.
Young adults will decide how they manage this aspect of their humanity regardless of what their elders think, and law and religion will follow or be ignored.