(This is a subject I care about deeply, but have never written about, as there are better writers with larger platforms doing a phenomenal job addressing the issue elsewhere. I highly recommend reading these pieces written by Emily Maynard, Sarah Bessey, and Jamie Wright to become better acquainted with Christian purity culture. But recently I heard a comment that wouldn't leave me alone, the result of which you'll find below.)
Excuse me, Mr. Speaker? I really need you to stop using that analogy.
You see, I was really enjoying your presentation at the conference last week, honestly I was. I was tracking with you.
But then you made a side comment about how most high schoolers think it's ok to live with someone before marriage. You told the crowd how once, a student told you that it's smart to "test drive the car before you buy it."
You paused, tilting your head to one side.
"So I responded," you continued. "Do you want to be driving a used car?"
After that, I couldn't listen anymore; my heart was doing that thing where it beats crazy fast while also sinking into my stomach, and I couldn't focus on anything else. It's a shame too, because I really liked the rest of what you were saying.
I know your heart was good. What you were trying to communicate (I'm guessing) is that sex is beautiful and powerful and good, and therefore should be shared with a person who is committed to loving and honoring you forever.
But what came out was that if people have sex before marriage, they are used. And I just don't think that's true.
Because people aren't cars. They are a holy mixture of body and soul, spirit and flesh. They are not objects to be possessed or driven.
As a woman, I'm far too familiar with having my body treated like an object, divorced from my personhood. It's the experience of nearly every woman on earth, to be broken down into parts for the use or consumption of someone else.
So you'd think the one place that would defend my personhood, my dignity as a human being created in the image of God, would be the church. But as my friend Emily says, so often in the name of fighting against a culture that objectifies women, the church does the exact same thing. It just gets baptized in religious language used by religious people. For example; the used car analogy.
People are not objects, and people who have sex outside of marriage do not become irreparably damaged for doing so. Sex is a powerful thing, and with that power comes consequences, good, bad, and otherwise, but since when did those consequences become the complete and utter ruin of that person's body, spirit, and future relationships? Why has this become the thing for which there is no redemption?
This analogy falls short in another area as well. You know that large crowd you were speaking to? One out of every of three women in that room has (or will be) a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.
What about them? Are they sullied? Broken? Dirty?
I wish I was exaggerating when I say I've had to hold too many of my friends faces between my hands, and assure them through their tears that what they experienced did not diminish or ruin or damage them in any way. We use such strange, monetary language when we talk about sex. Spent, taken, lost. Sexual assault is one of the most devastating things an individual can experience, and our rhetoric surrounding sexuality, rather than helping to bring healing, exponentially adds to victims shame.
Somewhere along the line, Christian conversations surrounding sex started describing our bodies simply as objects we were to wait to "give away" to someone in the future, when really, I think God is much more interested in having us engage with our sexuality in a holistic manner that does not divide our hearts from what's in our pants.
Perhaps practicing abstinence is more about submitting ourselves in loving obedience to Christ than worrying about becoming a "used" car. It's easier to to scare people away from an action using shame than it is to develop whole people with a rich understanding of the intersection of loving God, others, and themselves in the midst of their sexuality.
It'll be hard work, reshaping this conversation. But I do think it will be worth it.
We can't afford not to.