I tested the waters. More than once. I dove into previously forbidden pleasures expecting joy and fulfillment. And for a short time, it sometimes felt like my choices delivered. Ultimately, I was left feeling lonely, ashamed, and used.
By the time I graduated from college, now forty years ago, birth control and abortion had helped to banish the taboos on extramarital sex, falsely promising the opportunity for “power” and “safe” experimentation and indulgence. “If it feels good, do it” was the mantra of the day. Just at the moment when my interest in boys was reaching its peak, the sexual freedom of the day threw open new doors and invited me in.
The little voice of my conscience whispered that I was treading in dangerous waters, but the voices of the world mocked those concerns. I had no idea that some of the choices I was making then would create dark memories that continue to rise to the surface of my thoughts, compromising intimate moments and stirring regrets and shame.
Forty Years Later
Fast-forward and we see the fruits of the sexual revolution in present-day lifestyles, movies, television shows, and advertisements, which ubiquitously glorify sex of all kinds. Few seem to see any danger in this at all. Sex has become a “right” and a means of expressing personal “identity.” People “hook up” without any intention of a deep relationship. And far more sinister, we see consequences of this moral shift in the deaths of millions of children who, through no choice of their own, are sacrificed on the altar of our sexual freedom.
I regularly pray in deep grief for our society, which has exalted sexual freedom for decades, and created a climate in which men and women use sex as a form of power — a culture in which everyone is encouraged to fulfill every sexual desire. God did not design sex for selfishness or as a “right” or a means of power over one another. He hates to see that it has become the false god that it has, and he abhors the sacrifice of precious children at its feet (Jeremiah 32:35).
To Young Women Today
I had learned about Jesus as a child, but when I was 23 he broke into my broken life, in transforming radiance and glory. I encountered a person more beautiful than my imagination could hold. I fell in love with him in a way that showed me I had never understood what falling in love really meant. I wanted most to live in his presence forever, and that new desire changed the way I understood the gift of sex and all of its riches.
My new “sight” caused me to feel even greater shame about my past choices, but that shame was eclipsed by inexpressible gratitude for the forgiveness I received through the sacrifice Jesus made for me. Because God forgave me in Christ, I finally was able to forgive myself — and to walk, with his strength and help, in greater purity.
I am writing now so that maybe some of the young women of our day, and one day my granddaughters, might avoid the mistakes I made and know that God has made a better way. He means for his daughters to experience the gift of sex in the safety of the covenant of marriage to one man. In this context, this gift points to glories and ecstasies of an eternity spent with a loving, sacrificing, covenant-keeping God.
Eight Lessons About Purity
Sex is not a right, nor did God design it to define our “identity.” Our identity is in being children of God. It is not meant to be a way to gain power or acceptance. Men and women of God do not use sex as a means of gratifying selfish desires, but instead, lovingly as a means of serving one another in genuine intimacy and love in marriage. Valuing and pursuing purity will honor God and heighten the joy we experience in this wonderful gift.
Over the years, God has been so gracious to teach me about his design and purposes for sexual intimacy. This gift is packed with profound wonder and grace and truth. For any woman secretly wanting to test the waters like I did, here are eight beautiful truths I wish I had known sooner.
1. Sexual purity will become beautiful to the one who treasures God above all.
When we give our heart to Jesus, he gives us new eyes to see him and to see the world in new ways. He also changes our desires. Our urge for self-gratification diminishes more and more, and our desire to serve God and others increases, leading to far greater satisfaction and joy.
We join with John the Baptist in saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and with the apostle Peter when he says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10–11). A grateful, servant heart taps into the deep riches of the gifts of sexual intimacy.
2. Sexual purity protects a glorious mystery.
God created Adam and Eve in his own image (Genesis 1:27), and Eve from Adam because God knew “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God wanted his created likenesses to have the joys of relationship. He made the man and the woman as gifts to each other.
He created their bodies to join in sex, certainly for pleasure, no doubt for procreation, but also in a mysterious way that the two “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). For the sake of this beautiful mystery, God has given sexual interaction remarkable power to etch memories and images into the brain that will impact, for good or for evil, future emotional and sexual health.
Men and women bring not only physical connection, but also supernaturally designed qualities of masculinity and femininity and emotional and spiritual intimacy that bind them deeply to each other, and, when rightly experienced in committed marriage, to God. Violating this connection has grievous consequences in the deepest reaches of the human soul, which is one reason Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
3. Sexual purity protects a sacred (present or future) relationship.
Sex is an extraordinary gift in the context of an extraordinary relationship, if the Lord wills for us to marry. We should feel the weight of two being joined together in “one flesh.” There is something sacred in this union. The idea of violating the one who is at last “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) should cause us to feel a stab of grief and even horror. Would any of us feel pleased to know our spouse shared such deep intimacy with another?
God’s warnings about sexual sin come in love because he wants us to experience fullness of joy, but his warnings are very real and very serious. Hebrews 13:4 is one of many verses that puts this severely and succinctly: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
4. Sexual purity protects the body, mind, and spirit.
Living in an age of sexual freedom, we need to guard against believing the lie that pain and suffering come only to those who have been violated by forcible sex against their will. The pain and suffering after sexual assault and rape can be as traumatic as the acts are evil, but God tells us that even casual, consensual sex will bring judgment and personal injury to oneself, not real relationship, satisfaction, or joy. The apostle Paul speaks of profound self-harm when he writes, “Flee from sexual immorality. . . . The sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Our body, mind, and spirit are damaged, even desecrated by sexual immorality. I am a living witness that sins against our own body are real and leave lasting scars. Praise God for life in Christ that brings healing and new hope.
5. Sexual purity upholds human dignity.
Succumbing to sexual temptation tears at the fabric of human dignity. Pleasure may last for a moment, but shame and humility follow in those whose hearts, minds, and consciences have not been seared by repeated sin and hardened to its evil.
Shame and humiliation never follow a choice for sexual purity. Human dignity is always strengthened by holiness. First Thessalonians 4:3–5 says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
One of the reasons the Proverbs 31 woman is such a fine example is that she is clothed in “strength and dignity” (Proverbs 31:25). This is a woman every man would be delighted to have for a wife, and make no mistake: she would not waste one moment wondering how she could stir desire in another man.
6. Sexual purity honors God.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
He writes again in 1 Corinthians 6:13, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Verse 15 adds that our “bodies are members of Christ.” Would we ever want to defile the body of Christ for a few minutes of illicit sexual pleasure?
Colossians 3:5 exhorts us to “put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Submitting to sexual temptation is telling God that our passion for sex is more important than our passion to serve and honor him. May it never be so. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
7. Sexual purity is possible even if we’ve been violated.
For those who have suffered at the hands of a sexual abuser, the pain and suffering run deeper than most have the ability to express. Dignity, honor, and purity have been viciously ripped away. Victims often have a hard time shaking the sense of violation and often relive the terror, suffer ongoing pain and shame, sometimes struggle with insecurity and fear, and even may view themselves differently, questioning their worth and value.
But sisters in Christ, know that he has made a way to be healed of this pain, suffering, and self-doubt. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In Christ, there is completely new life — completely new purity. Christ replaces what the thief has destroyed with something gloriously new and filled with hope for the future.
Second Corinthians 5:17 reminds the insecure and ashamed, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Even long before Christ physically walked the earth, God’s promise of renewal sparkled in Isaiah 61:10:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
A Christian woman need never live as a victim. She is gloriously pure and, by the grace of God, clothed in robes of righteousness.
8. God will transform a broken past into spotless purity.
I speak with joy from experience when I say that God makes all things new. I grieve the choices I made before I was born again, but because of the sacrifice Jesus made for me, I walk in newness of life. I love the verses in 1 Peter 1:3–4: “according to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”
My past does not defile my present relationship with God and the glorious future I await with Christ for all eternity. Christ lovingly gave himself to pay for my sin and your sin, and make a way for us to live purified and clothed in his robe of righteousness.
The Power Women Need
The world would have us believe that there is power and satisfaction in sexual freedom, but God, who created sexuality, teaches us the truth. Real power and satisfaction come through a rich and vibrant relationship with our Creator, made possible by the loving sacrifice of his Son for our sins. Sexual pleasures, wonderful as they can be, pale in comparison to the pleasures available in God, now and forever.
When we treasure God, and desire to honor him with our lives by submitting to his plan for our sexuality, we not only avoid the pain and suffering that follows extramarital sex; we also mine greater depths of joy with our spouse and do what we were created to do: glorify God.
Adrien Segal (@AdrienSegal) lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Rick. They attend Bethlehem Baptist Church and work with Bethlehem College & Seminary. They have four sons and five prized grandchildren.
A version of this article previously appeared on desiringGod.org under the headline, “What I Wish I Had Known About Purity: EIGHT LESSONS FORTY YEARS LATER.”
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