Wholeness Behind Sexual Purity
by Dr. Juli Slattery
We made it! Just barely, but we managed to follow the rule of saving sex for our wedding night. It felt a bit like crawling across the finish line to get God’s “good job” as we said, “I do.”
We left our wedding late into the evening and went to a swanky local hotel with visions of marriage bliss. As with many newlyweds, things didn’t go as planned. Our evening began with an elderly bellman who took an extraordinary amount of time to show us around the hotel room, including how to watch different TV channels (I’m not kidding!). Then, about thirty minutes later, at a very inopportune time, the bellman knocked on our door to tell us that he’d found the champagne that was part of our honeymoon package. In hindsight, I suspect that this was all part of his plan to sabotage honeymoons.
I wish I could tell you that things got better, but they didn’t. We drove to my in-laws’ cabin in Tennessee for the rest of our honeymoon where there was no bed. Mike and I slept (and tried other things) on an air mattress on top of hardwood floors. Now, twenty-seven years later, I can tell you that we were unable to have intercourse throughout most of our honeymoon. (I was so humiliated by this that I couldn’t even tell my closest friends.) When we did finally have sex, it hurt. And the hurt didn’t go away. For decades, I experienced pain during intercourse.
Growing up, I had been told that sex was an amazing gift from God for married couples. Why would God give me a gift that included so much pain and disappointment? I decided that sex is only a gift for some people (mostly men), but certainly not for me. Sex instead became a sign of my love for my husband. Would I be willing to endure pain for the sake of his pleasure? I stayed stuck in this thinking for many, many years.
How I wish I could talk to that young couple on their honeymoon. Or that struggling husband and wife parenting young children who felt so stuck in this area of marriage. I would start by telling them this: honoring God with your sexuality is not just about keeping rules or performing a duty, but about a wholehearted pursuit of God’s character through this journey.
You may have noticed that there is a lot of criticism directed toward teaching on sexual purity. Within the past several years, hundreds of blogs and dozens of books have been written documenting the harmful effects of what is now called “purity culture.” Beginning in the 1990s, Christian resources teaching teens and young adults about sex centered around this concept of sexual purity. “Save sex for your wedding night. It will be worth it!”
The Bible without exception tells us to run from every form of sexual immorality. Christians are also called to pursue purity and holiness as a response to God’s love for us. Sexual sin can have devastating effects on our body, future relationships, and emotional well-being. However, we have to be careful to understand sexual struggles and sin within the more important message of Christ’s salvation, healing, and redemption.
While the encouragement to save sex for marriage is a biblical one, some elements of purity-focused teaching built an entire theology on one aspect of God and sex: good Christians don’t have sex outside of marriage. The good news of the gospel and God’s heart for our redemption got lost in a one-dimensional message that subtly equated virginity with salvation. Purity messages also fail to give Christian married couples a vision of what it means to fully honor God with their sexuality. Sexual wholeness involves far more than just avoiding sin. What Mike and I ran into in our marriage is just one example of how reducing biblical sexuality to “saving sex for marriage” has confused and misguided both married and single Christians. This simplistic approach to God and sex has unfortunately caused ongoing shame and unresolved pain for many, many people.
This is why I find it much more helpful to talk about sexual integrity than simply sexual purity.
We get the word “integrity” from the Latin word integer. Integer means to be “whole or undivided.” The opposite of integrity is when something or someone is inconsistent, having parts that are splintered off from the whole.
Jesus reminded His disciples that the greatest commandment is the one that the Lord set up continually for the Israelites: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Notice that word “all.” To be a Christian means to be a man or woman of integrity. We strive to love God with all of who we are. There is no room for the ten percent that is too personal or costly to surrender to God. I love how missionary Hudson Taylor put it: “Christ is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all!”
For you to live with sexual integrity means that your sex life is an accurate reflection of the most important thing about you: you are a child of God, made in His image, created to bring glory to Him. God fundamentally changes what we do only by foundationally changing who we are. Christianity is not a call to manage your sin, but an invitation to a new identity through Jesus Christ.
Adapted from God, Sex, and Your Marriage by Dr. Juli Slattery (©2022). Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.
1.See 1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:8; Timothy 2:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5.
2. Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:16.
3. Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37.
4. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (London: China Inland Mission, 1932), 229