Why we’re not teaching our kids ‘True Love Waits’

I grew up in Purity Culture, sort of. 

My parents laid a good foundation – they taught me that sex was a good gift from God for enjoying within marriage, and that in order to keep sex within marriage, there were practical things I could do as a single person.

But I lived in a small country town, attended a public school and there were no other people my age at church. 

I know for many other people who were raised in Purity Culture, it was more of an all-encompassing thing, where they heard the message of purity preached from all angles. And the message itself was surrounded by layers upon layers of legalistic rules – fences designed by humans to keep people far away from the actual boundary God set.

My parents wanted to encourage me in my Christian faith, so they bought me a subscription to a conservative Christian magazine for teen girls, drove me into town to attend a youth group every Friday night, and let me voraciously read books from the teen section of the Christian book shop. 

So you could say that I absorbed the message of the True Love Waits movement, but from a distance. 

Rethinking True Love Waits

As I’ve grown up and had my own kids, it’s caused me to think more critically about the messages I received from Christian sources growing up. It’s been a process of taking the messages I’ve heard and read, and weighing them against God’s authoritative word.

Many times, what I find is that messages taught as “Christian” – messages I heard in youth groups, Christian literature (both fiction and non-fiction), and on the internet are not Christian at all, just a slightly more conservative message than what the current culture is teaching, painted with a layer of Christianese. 

This is what has led me to reject True Love Waits – the phrase and the movement – as wrong. I’m not going to teach it to my kids, because I believe this message actually does more harm than good. 

Let me tell you why…

True Love Waits promotes abstinence for the wrong reason

The reason for abstinence in this teaching is right there in the name. You “wait” for marriage before you have sex because your love is “true”.

The idea is that instead of teens feeling like they need to prove their love by being physically intimate, they will want to prove their love by being abstinent – by waiting.

But this is false. As Christians, we don’t abstain from sex until marriage (“waiting”) because our love for our partner is “true”. After all, you can desire to have sex with someone and not love them. Love is not what legitimises sex, marriage is. 

We abstain because it’s what God tells us to do, and He has the right to do so. We abstain because we know that our whole purpose in life is to glorify God, and having sex outside of marriage does not glorify Him. And we abstain because we love God. Not to prove our love for God, but because when we love Him, we want to please Him.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” 

John 14:15

When we try to do the right thing, but with the wrong motivation, we will always fail. 
This might mean failing to be sexually pure by crossing the line into sexual intimacy before marriage.
Or we might fail to be humble and aware of our need for Jesus, thinking that because we saved sex for marriage, we are good and don’t need Jesus.

True Love Waits preaches a false gospel

Teaching kids who aren’t (necessarily) genuine Christians that they need to stay sexually abstinent until marriage, then getting them to make promises and wear a symbol of this promise (purity rings) is a false gospel, straight up. 

Being sexually pure won’t get you into heaven, just like committing sexual immorality is not the thing that keeps you out. 

We’re all destined for hell because we fall short of the glory of God – no one can measure up to His standards.

“…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Romans 3:22-25

Preaching sexual purity as though it’s the most important decision a person makes in their life is preaching a false gospel which has no power to save. 

True Love Waits is reactionary

It approaches things from the wrong direction, tackling the topic of teens and sex in a reactionary way rather than proactively equipping teens with what the Bible teaches (or – heaven forbid! – telling them to read it for themselves). 

True Love Waits was a reaction to a culture where having sex was the next natural step in a relationship when you decided you loved the person. (Do you notice how outdated that sounds now? Culture has moved on since I was a teen… Now all sex is okay as long as it’s consensual – no declarations of love necessary!)

True Love Waits assumes that the norm for teen relationships is having sex, but that real, true love will wait for marriage. But it’s starting off on the back foot.

Actually, God created sex as a good gift and a part of marriage. 

The first thing the Bible says about sex (in the second chapter of the whole book, no less!) is positive.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” 

Genesis 2:24-25

Do you see? God invented and gets to dictate the boundaries for sex, culture doesn’t!

Saying “true love waits” makes “waiting” seem like an anomaly among normal relationships.

But the Biblical truth is that good, enjoyable sex within marriage is the baseline for normal, healthy sexuality.

Sex outside of marriage is the perversion.

True Love Waits gives false hope

The message of True Love Waits is essentially that sex is the best thing you have to look forward to in this life, so much so that all your life is just “waiting” until you reach marriage and achieve your goal. 

But some people will never marry. What are they “waiting” for?

Teaching your kids that they are just “waiting” for marriage, when they can (finally!) have sex risks setting them up for a lot of frustration and disappointment. 

This is where you see adults walk away from their commitment to sexual purity (or even from God) because they feel like they held up their end of the bargain (abstinence) but God didn’t deliver a spouse. 

But this is not a Christian perspective. 

Sex is a good gift from God, but it’s not for everyone – only those who marry. It’s not an entitlement nor is it the pinnacle of life.

The ultimate Gift of God – eternal life – is available to everyone. (And you don’t need to wait for it.) 

True Love Waits doesn’t work

The Bible is clear that rules made according to human standards are never effective to restrain human lusts. 

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teaching? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” 

Colossians 2:20-23

How do we stay sexually pure? By the power and work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a regenerate believer.

This will lead us to take practical steps to stay pure, but these practical steps alone are futile. 

So what are we teaching our kids instead of True Love Waits?

Teaching your kids about sexuality begins from the moment they enter this world. And that’s because a lot of the teaching is done by example. 

As they get older, we answer their questions and teach them the truth of the Bible in age-appropriate ways. And we are careful to see that our actions and our lives match our words.

We teach them:

  • that their bodies are beautiful creations of God, made in His image, for His glory.
  • that if they belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit enables them to please God and glorify Him. 
  • that their bodies are not their own; that they were bought at a great price. 
  • that they can glorify God in how they use their bodies, whether in abstinence as singles, or in frequent, enjoyable sex as a husband or wife. 

Also, a great resource I recommend on this is the new Patricia Weerakoon book – Talking Sex by the Book. I haven’t read the book yet (might do a proper review when I do!) but I have read her other books and heard her speak on this topic in person.

She is delightfully funny, warm and solidly biblical so I feel confident recommending this book to you.

Did you grow up in Purity Culture? How has that affected what you will teach your kids about sex?

5 comments

  1. Jenny says:

    Ooooh I like this. I have a 2 and 4 yr old and I think about how to handle these things a lot. I regularly pray for their sexuality; that God will protect them and help them stay pure because we know His plans are always the best plans. And also for their future partners. I did grow up in “purity culture” not that I knew that was a thing, and I owned I kissed dating goodbye. Though I still dated after I read it. I actually thought that’s where you were going to go with this, the dating scene. Maybe that can be the next one. I love that Colossians verse, that really resonated. And I love what you said about the Holy Spirit helping us do this, rather than rules. In my pre marriage life I can see that when I was doing things that I knew were wrong I shut out the promptings of the Holy Spirit and intentionally avoided encounters with Him. As with all things though we can’t force our kids to listen more to the Holy Spirit, though I will continue to cover them in prayer. This has given me some things to think on, thanks!

  2. Jess Harvey says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jenny!
    You’re right that prayer for our kids is so important in this area.
    I can’t remember if I ever read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but my husband and I read Boy Meets Girl together when we were dating (lol). It had some helpful stuff, and some stuff we chucked out.
    I’m glad this got you thinking! 🙂

  3. Stephanie Matthews says:

    It’s such a counter-cultural thought that our bodies aren’t our own, to do with as we please! I love the way you have given us God’s perspective on His gift of sex and the context in which we can enjoy it.

  4. Shelley says:

    This is a good article and has prompted me to much thought. I did grow up in the purity culture, although I never labeled it as such. I grew up in church and was simply taught that sex is for marriage only. The “true love waits” addition crept in there somehow and has been so detrimental to me. I am one who feels very jaded being the one who held my end of the bargain (twice!) only to be given 2 husbands who did not wait for me. (Not only that, but my first husband had multiple affairs until he finally abandoned us after 17 years.) To say that I have been devastated by “true love waits” is a grave understatement. Thank you for this article and thought- provoking content. I agree that EVERYTHING (action and motivation) need to be done for the glorly of God alone. Children need to be taught this.

  5. Jess Harvey says:

    Thanks for your comment, Shelley!
    I’m sorry to hear some of the things you’ve been through in your life. You’ve summed up the message of this post nicely – everything needs to be done for the glory of God alone, regardless of the outcome in our lives.

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