Some Christians are questioning the “abstinence only” approach to sexuality

May 30,  2013

Why some evangelicals are trying to stop obsessing over premarital sex
In this article for The Atlantic, Abigail Rine refers to the numerous evangelical writers and bloggers who have been speaking out recently about the conservative  Christian culture’s preoccupation with virginity—especially for women.  “While exposés of evangelical purity culture are hardly new,” she writes, . . . “what is noteworthy is that these criticisms are beginning to emerge from within conservative religious circles themselves.”  She points out the “damaged goods” metaphor is especially being rejected, as is the double-standard thinking that emphasizes virginity for young women but is more forgiving of premarital sex engaged in by young men.  Rine wonders if a new sexual ethic will replace the abstinence model,  as is being discussed among some progressive Christians.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


  1. There is a big difference between rejecting virginity-based sexual ethics, and rejecting a chastity-based sexual ethic. When we make virginity the basis of a girl’s (or boy’s) “purity” and acceptability/desireability, we deny the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, and make confession and reconciliation pointless: after all, no matter how much we confess and turn to Christ, anyone who has ever had sex is still non-virgin.

    Glorifying virginity also automatically denigrates the faithful wife who, while giving and receiving lovingly of the god-given pleasure that is marital sex, has to balance her satisfaction with that “marital duty” with the residual stigma of having become “impure” through the very act that is most characteristic of marriage.

    But chastity is something to which we can recommit at any time: an ideal we can turn to no matter what past acts we may have laid at the foot of the cross. I strongly believe that premarital abstinence and postmarital fidelity ARE ideals that should be upheld. My experience is that those ideals cost relatively little self-discipline and greatly magnify the joy to be found in marriage and minimize the risks of sexual disease and other undesired consequences.


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