Choose Your Own Sexual Ethics Adventure

A critique of purity culture turns into a plea for self-centered sexuality.

What’s really important—what, in Anderson’s view, is really moral—is that one’s sex life is shaped by our own sense of ethics. Given all this, perhaps it’s not so surprising that Anderson so easily falls into the trap of setting up her own values as a substitute source of authority. If one’s own viewpoint is one’s greatest source of guidance, naturally, to her, her viewpoint is going to look like the best one around. The book’s takeaway is a bit of a Catch 22: If the goal is to create a sexual ethic for ourselves, why consider someone else’s guidelines at all?

 

Blogger and writer Dianna E. Anderson would like to give your sex life a makeover.

That’s not actually the stated goal of her new book, Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity. Rather, she writes, “This book aims to develop a Christian ethic that doesn’t center around saying no, but through which we learn how to say a godly yes.”

But Anderson’s idea of a godly yes is very different from what the Christian church, through the ages, has generally understood it to mean.

Anderson grew up in modern evangelical “purity culture,” with all its widely documented problems. “I listened to story after story of being unable to feel close to God because of shame, being kicked out of one’s home, losing friends, separation from one’s faith community,” Anderson writes. “Many grew up being told over and over that their virginity was the most important thing they could give their spouse on their wedding night, only to reach that point and realize that having saved themselves didn’t magically create sexual compatibility or solve their marital issues.”

With Damaged Goods, Anderson wants to provide healing for those who have suffered from faulty teaching, and help for those who want to find a better, more genuinely Christian way to live. Anderson believes that the purity culture taught her to pride herself on living a celibate life and to look down on others who failed to live up to her high standards. Today, she regrets that prideful and contemptuous attitude and feels compassion for those who were hurt by it.

The church benefits from such course-correction and calls for healing in the wake of false teachings and unhealthy emphases in its teachings on sexuality. However, Damaged Goods goes further than that, conflating the misguided portions of purity culture—a relatively recent and proscribed phenomenon—with the Scripture-based beliefs about sexuality that the church has taught since its founding.

Anderson wants to get rid of all of it and start fresh with a new vision of Christian sexuality. What’s wrong with the old one? In her words,

Evangelicalism seems to have encoded rape into its very theology, casting sex as a duty, no matter what one’s mood is at the time. It gives people free rein to rape their spouses, because, after all, one’s body is not one’s own. If any and all sex before the wedding is a sin, regardless of consent, and all sex after the wedding is a duty, then individual desire, sex drive, and consent are erased in the name of God.

Many married evangelicals see things differently, defending the marriage bed as the place of ultimate intimacy and authenticity, built not out of duty or obligation, but willing love and sacrifice (1 Cor. 7). But Anderson’s view of evangelicals’ marital relations is one major reason why she concludes true morality has nothing to do with whether a couple is married or not. “Outside of a marital relationship,” Anderson writes, “sex can still be just as meaningful and just as sacred.”

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