FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Purity: Outdated? Irrelevant? Oppressive? Dean Inserra

with Dean Inserra | June 6, 2023
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Purity culture: In some very deserved ways, it warrants the impassioned scrutiny. But is sexual purity itself oppressive? Pointless? Author Dean Inserra offers correction to destructive theology while pulling us back to sexual flourishing.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Purity culture warrants the impassioned scrutiny. But is purity itself oppressive? Pointless? Author Dean Inserra pulls us back to sexual flourishing.

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Purity: Outdated? Irrelevant? Oppressive? Dean Inserra

With Dean Inserra
June 06, 2023
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Dean: It almost seemed like the goal of purity culture was don't have sex, and an unbeliever can live that way.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: There are people who do not know Jesus. I believe in heaven and hell; that they're real places where real people go. I think there's people in hell right now who were virgins. It's not virginity that's the goal. It's holiness that's the goal.

Ann: That's good.

Dean: And for the Christian, that comes through Christ.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

I've talked to so many women who grew up during the purity culture and they felt like “I have saved myself. I have the ring. I signed the card” because that was a part of the purity culture time. And then they got married and their sexual life was really difficult. They thought, “What happened? I thought God was going to bless me. I thought God was going to gift me with this incredible”—

Dave: Because I did it His way.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: But it was really difficult and had been difficult and maybe still is.

Dave: So what do you tell them?

Ann: And I think that they feel really discouraged and let down by the whole purity culture concept. Well, I'm—

Dave: Did you give them a good answer?

Ann: I don't know. We'll see because we have someone in here today that will have the right answer. [Laughter]

Dave: That's why we brought it up. Dean Inserra is back with us, wrote a book called Pure, and you didn't write a book called Purity Culture, but the word, Pure, Dean, I'm thinking it has something to do with sort of a response to purity culture.

It is. I wanted to help people see how God's design for sexuality and for sex is not oppressive or outdated or irrelevant. I wanted people to understand that human failures in this area, if it's teaching, if it's purity culture, if it's disappointment, is a big deal. We take it very seriously but that still does not change the fact that God has a clear design for us. We have to keep returning to it over and over again because marriage and sex existed before sin ever entered the world. It was a Genesis 1 and 2 creation before Genesis 3 ever happens. It means that marriage is good, sex is good. It's taken outside of God's design that has caused the, really the cultural chaos that we see in front of us right now.

I think one of the mistakes that purity culture made was that they overpromised, and they declared the honeymoon to be this perfect utopia.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: We had these very naïve, oftentimes, you know young married couples going into this and their relationship still hasn't been fully maybe cultivated yet and the trust hasn't been built completely and they're vulnerable for the first time. For others, they went in, maybe one of the two partners—you know the husband or the wife—had a background of a lot of sexual sin and had never really dealt with that before outside of shame and guilt.—you know never really received the Lord's grace there, had never felt compelled to go now pursue God's design, and there's just kind of remaining scars we see people have from the purity culture movement when that's never how God designed things to be.

For the person that had been over promised about the honeymoon, I would say that if you are living in God's design concerning marriage and sex, that you are doing things God's way. I would just encourage you to keep just pursuing oneness together as a couple and to not let the noise of what was told to you, you know 30 years ago, be what drives the narrative today. Let God's Word drive that narrative. I know it's easier said than done. I’m not trying to oversimplify it or have some kind of, you know create some sort of Christian ease, kind of lingo here. But really, I think that we have to be unapologetic about: here's what God has given us.

Dave: Yes. Ann, did you feel like those women were saying that God sort of bait and switched them? It's like you made a promise.

Ann: Yes. It was exactly that. It was the over-promise. I feel like I did that as a mom: “Hey, if you want the best sex life, you'll wait.” Which there's some truth to that. What I've said exactly what you said, Dean. Like first I'll say “Way to go. That's not an easy thing to do and I know that that's just an accomplishment that you entered into your marriage pure. I didn't do that; that's a big step. But isn't it great that you're learning together? Like, I know it's so hard, you want it to be good instantly, but I'm telling you it's not good instantly for anybody, generally speaking. This is a relationship that's new between the two of you; it can take time. Sometimes you need a therapist to come into it if you have some pain and some things that happened in your past. But it will take time.”

I think that's something that we should tell people that are pure walking into marriage. This is a beautiful area but don't be surprised if it takes time to really get to the point where you're loving it and it's amazing.

Dean: Yes, and the bigger picture—and I'm not trying to be super spiritual here—what is the greatest blessing that God gives us? It's Himself.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: If we're actually doing things the way the Lord intended and walking with Christ in a way that is consistent with the Scriptures, that's response to the love of God, the good news of the gospel in our lives, then we can know that even though it might not make perfect sense at home or in this world we're doing what God has called us to do and be. I think that just that just matters.

Ann: See, he always has a good answer. [Laughter] I like it.

Dave: Well, I'm thinking, you know, of like, Ann, the women you're talking about who had a negative experience with the purity culture. So now they're parents and they're trying to raise their son or daughter and they don't want to teach what hurt them, so what are they going to teach?

Dean: Yes, so we are, you know, our culture has a PhD in over corrections, right. [Laughter] It's what we do so often. I really think that you can trace the purity culture movement to a group of parents who were teenagers in the 60s and saw that—

Dave: Yes. —free love—

Dean: Yes; and saw the brokenness and the effects of it. And so now maybe over correction was what now we know is purity culture.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: Just an all-out onslaught of making sure that everyone did not have sex. It almost seemed like the goal of purity culture was don't have sex, and an unbeliever can live that way.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: I tell our church regularly there are people who do not know Jesus. I believe in heaven and hell; that they're real places where real people go. I think there's people in hell right now who were virgins, who waited until they were married. It's not virginity that's the goal, it's holiness that's the goal—

Ann: That’s good.

Dean: —and for the Christian that comes through Christ. Anyone that's going to say, “Hey, we care about sexual ethics. We’re unashamed of them.”—so back to purity culture, I want to say “Okay, thank you for that. Thank you for being unashamed of that and for teaching us that this is important, and it made us actually think about it.” But the Bible wasn't that present during it. You know there are Bible believers and there are brothers and sisters in Christ that are on our team—you know all those things—it was more a do and don't kind of idea and I just really wish God's design would have been taught more.

For parents out there, I would say really make it about “Here's what God has for us,” and “Here's the gift He’s given us,” and never make it where sex comes across as bad. I'll joke. I might give my wife a kiss, you know in the kitchen, and one of my kids will go “Eww.” I'll look at him and go “How do you think you got here?” [Laughter] That’s what I’ll say back to them, just that kind of—like I want them to think it's a good—it's not going to go any further than that. Like I'm not going to make it inappropriate, but just make that kind of comment, and they'll just kind of laugh. But I want them to see that, like, it's not sex that’s the problem. It's what has happened in brokenness outside of God's design that that's the problem.

Ann: And I think too, Dave, I'm even thinking, when I had given my life to Jesus, there was a point as an 18-year-old that I said “I give you everything, Father, not just my sexuality. I give you every area of my life. I want it to be surrendered to you in holiness. I want you to transform all of me, not just this one area.” And that's what you're talking about.

Dean: Yes, it's all of life.

Ann: Yes, everything.

Dean: You know, Jesus, here's my—You've given me your life, literally. Now, here's my life in in terms of, you know we deny ourselves; we pick up a cross and follow Christ. And what's happened is now we're letting emotions and worldly wisdom influence way too much of how we think about these things.

Someone will say, “Well, am I supposed to just be single my whole life and never have sex and die and had never had that?” and the answer is, “Well, if that's what the Lord has for you.” I'm not even saying it's easy. It's actually not even close to easy. I think that's an example of what it actually looks like in the first world to pick up your cross and follow Christ, and that's why church, family matters and strong community and strong friendships matter. But I think we need to make sure that we're telling people that “Yes, the Bible does say that creation groans with labor pains the return of Christ; that this world is supposed to feel uneasy for the Christian and there are supposed to be times where we really are saying ‘Come Lord Jesus.’”

And so, the person out there who's listening today, who's saying “I'm in my 50s. I’ve never been married. I've done things God's way. I'd really like to meet somebody and like if I'm dating someone, like, is this—it’s almost like, ‘Do I get an exception clause, you know, after so many’—it's like, ‘No, you get the Lord.’” And I know it's easier said than done because I have been married for 20 years and I got married right out of college when I was 22, but I think that we need to make sure that we are clear with people that following Jesus—I tell our church salvation is free, but following Jesus is not cheap. And that's every area of our lives.

Ann: Which means, let's say a child will go to a parent and say, “I'm transgender.” Well, let me ask you where would your focus go as parents? Because that's happening a lot now.

Dean: —a lot, yes. This actually hit close to home for us because my son came home from the playground after school one day and a student in his class who everyone, including myself, thinks is a male, is actually a biological female.

The conversation we had was this, I said, “Look,” I said “whatever name the kid wants to go by, keep calling the kid the same name. It's just a name. But we're not going to pretend that your friend is a boy. Your friend is a girl because God made your friend a girl. If your friend was your friend yesterday before you knew this information, your friend is still your friend today. That doesn’t have to change. We're not going to do the pronoun thing. We're not going to pretend because we believe that God is the designer, and it would be really betraying our Lord to suggest otherwise.

We had to start talking about this. So now my kids are very aware of the whole phenomena of it. I think that Christian parents have got to be clear that we're not going to compromise on who is a man, who is a woman. Where we are, where we can keep more open handedness are things like a name. This is me personally. I'm not going to lose sweat over a name someone wants to go by. But in terms of what gender is that person we're not going to budge or compromise on that, but we're still going to the person the exact same.

With my own children I had never been in that situation before, but I think that we have to be clear. What's happening right now in Christian culture is we think there's exception clauses for sexuality if it's a family member or a good friend. I can't imagine the emotions of that. I'm not trying to throw stones or saying it should be easy but when Jesus said, “If you love your family more than me, you cannot be my disciple,” this might be us starting to understand what that looks like in our 21st century context.

Every response is different. You know we're living in a culture right now where unless you accept me for everything I want to be, then you don't love me. We know that's not true. But in the eye of the beholder, that's true, which makes things very complicated. But we have to be people who love well and stand on truth and not let the world determine for us what love is. You know God's the author of love. We're never honoring the second commandment if it causes us to break the first commandment. What do I mean by that?

Jesus said the two most important commandments and he ranked them. He said--he summarized the ten commandments and said, “Number one”—He actually called it first place, like gold medal—"is love God,” right, like that's the number one. And He goes “and the second one”—so He actually ranked them—He said, “is love your neighbor.” But what's happened is we think sometimes by compromising the truth, we're loving our neighbor. Well, that's not loving God, “If you love me, you'll keep my commandments.”

So never think you're keeping the second commandment by breaking the first. Affirming and loving are two different things. Affirming is “I'm great with this.” Loving is “I'm with you no matter what.” You know God does not affirm everything that we do. He loves us and is with us no matter what.

So this sexuality conversation, I believe it's going to be almost the litmus test for orthodoxy for this next generation. And it's sad when I see churches that are denying biblical sexuality altogether. That's happening; those churches, a lot of them are dying, but we're seeing more than ever are churches that are just agnostic about it. That they believe what the Bible says, but they never talk about it because in the name of pragmatism, they don't want to offend anybody. It's all about numbers and guests and kind of like we're almost like seeing the results of some of the seeker sensitive movement. I'm not here to throw stones at the seeker sensitive movement because I know a lot of folks who came to Christ through that, so I praise God for it.

Dave: Yes.

Dean: But we're seeing some of the aftermath of that movement of you just can't talk about anything hard and you can't talk about anything that's uncomfortable or complicated. I think that it's/we're almost reaping what we're sewing from that, and we have to recover and pursue in a way that will never make sense to the world but that's clear in the scriptures about these things.

Dave: Now what would you do as a dad, and bring your wife in as well, if one of your kids came home and said—I mean, it could be any one of the areas that you wrote about in your book, in Pure—let's just say they confess and say, “I'm not a virgin anymore and Dad, I wanted you to know that.” How would that conversation go?

Dean: One, I would make sure that they feel like received by me for having the willingness to tell me that, because if I just go crazy in the moment or lose my mind, then that moment will never happen again because all of a sudden Dad is not a safe person to talk to. I would not want to do that so I would think that my hope would be that my response would be one of grace. You know one of going, “Okay, let's talk about that. You're obviously telling me this for a reason. If you didn't have any conviction about this, or think it mattered, then you would just keep it a secret. You would not—I'd be the—your friends probably know, but I'd be the last one to know.”

I might even ask them “Why did you decide to tell me this?” and as gentle a tone as possible, not like “Hey man, why are you telling me?” But instead, just like “Hey man, like okay, I hear you. Like what? I'm not asking for any details or any of the story. I'm just asking why? What made you want to come to me? I'm really glad that you did.” Hopefully, that will be some repentive, kind of remorseful conversation there.

Then I'm just going to hopefully pray with him and offer him the opportunity to receive forgiveness in the Lord. He doesn't need me for that but to point him to that. And Jesus is his priest. And then from there, I want him to make sure he's living wisely. You're living wisely in terms of not repeating those same things. There’re other layers to it too. I mean, there might be/he might need to apologize to that young lady, he might need for not leading her. He might need—or you know for not being a good Christian example.

There's a lot of layers to it but first, out of the gate first, we would not compromise there and go, “Hey, look, this is a sin before the Lord and here's why. But it's not too late for you. You can be restored right now, and now going forward, you can recover and pursue this design. And you can make sure that you're, if you're going to be dating, that you're going to have some real wise boundaries in place and that you're not going to be what the Bible calls a fool when it comes to these areas. I was a teenager once too. That's not to say I'm an expert but like I've lived through those things you're living with right now so I'm not going to jump all over you about it. I know what it's like to be 16 and be a football player and have your own car. Like I know all the things you're doing now.”

He even goes the same high school I went to. [Laughter] We park in the same parking lot. Like I know so I would hope that that would be a moment for us to restore.

Ann: I like that beginning because as a parent we all want to freak out if we hear something. But I think to say, to be, to have that empathetic voice and to say like “I cannot believe you had the guts to tell me.” Like that—

Dean: There’s power in that.

Dave: Yes, there is.

Ann: Yes, that's just so much courage.

Dean: What it symbolizes; they came to you to talk about this. It means there's something going on in their heart.

Ann: Yes, and to really/just to commend that. Like “Look at how brave. That must have been really hard for you to come to me.”

Dave: And there's even the aspect of you—I want to hear what you say Dean because you wrote a book called Pure of trying to communicate to your son or daughter or anybody that would come to you: Just because you've violated that doesn't mean you're impure. Purity is not sexual virginity. That's part of it but it's bigger, right?

Dean: Yes. If we claim as Christians that were impure, like, for the long haul, we are denouncing the work of Christ. That's like, I mean, think about the weight of that. 1 John is written to believers. You know, when he said if we confess our sins, he's faithful. He's going to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all in righteousness. That's used oftentimes as an evangelistic verse, and again, great, right. I mean that's also a call for an unbeliever to confess their sins, trust in Christ but he was writing to the church in that context. He's reminding believers “Hey, like Jesus died and still intercedes for us right now. You confess your sins, guess what? Those sins that you committed; they are forgiven by Jesus. Let's actually believe that and live that and claim that.

We need to really, like, put our—kind of put our gospel—what's the little phrase? Put your money where your mouth is. We need to put our gospel where our worldview is, right, and so because what we believe to be true about Christ and His restorative power, we need to make sure we don't just believe that in our heads intellectually. That's not something you just believe in order to be saved. It’s what you believe in order to live the Christian life.

Ann: Yes.

Dean: I would hope that we're—you know, Ray Ortland, pastor national that’s retired author. He talks about having gospel belief and gospel culture. You want to have both of those things. So strong theological doctrinal convictions and strong grace filled gospel loving culture. And both those two things are happening, guess what? We're being like Christ. He's the example of that, you know, so—

Ann: And people are drawn.

Dean: They are.

Ann: They are drawn to that. It's the gospel.

Dean: Something I talk about in the book is the need for churches to be ready to receive what I call refugees of the sexual revolution. Who are going to realize they were lied to, who are broken, who maybe were told that they felt like they were a boy, they should be a boy and then 15 years later realized that that was a lie and now they're broken, and they're embarrassed. They don't know what to do.

To the person who's had—the woman at the well kind of person who's had five husbands; the one she's with now is not her husband, to the one caught in adultery, to the pornography addict. I mean, we need to be ready as churches to receive people because the sexual revolution is a lie and it's of the devil, and churches need to be ready in grace to receive folks who are going to come out of it and realize that it's been a lie.

Dave: Yes, and I think, you know one of the struggles we had was when we came to Christ, and we came to Christ late, like I was 20 and I'm married two years later so I'm pretty new in my faith. In those two years, after coming to Christ and meeting with my mentor in college, I asked him about: what's God's design for sexuality? He did a good job. There's beauty in marriage and husband and wife. But I also heard “Don't do this; save it.”

Then we get married, and we both heard that, it was hard to get our mind to say, “This is a good thing now.” Because it was like, “No, don't do it. Don't do it. If you do it, you're impure.” You know, we weren't part of the purity culture, but that message was still there, like, purity is being a virgin. We're not virgins so now we're married, and we're supposed to experience the freedom of being a husband and wife and enjoying this, right? And we're like, “I can't get the old mindset out of my mind like, this is wrong. This is not supposed to be something.

Ann: I don’t know if you struggled with that as much as I did. I really struggled with it.

Dave: We both did. And so you had to rid that good teaching, because it was right, but it's sort of distorted the way we looked at it as a married couple.

Dean: And I think we have to keep preaching the gospel to ourselves right.

Ann: Me too.

Dean: —over and over again. And I've said this earlier, but we/that I'm not trying to like a broken record, but we have to remember over and over again that marriage and sex existed before sin came into the world. It is a Genesis 1 and 2 creation which shows us it's not sex that's the problem again. You know it's taking this God's design outside of what He's done.

I would just hope in any conversations about sex and sexuality that we're not having people walk away thinking sex is bad because God created that. We're going to call what God has made bad? [Laughter] I don’t have the guts to do that, first of all, but also allows us to miss out on what He has given us. Like it's a good and perfect gift. And when I say perfect, that is not saying that the practice of it is always perfect. I mean what God has made before the fall; you know all things were innocent. They were naked and felt no shame, right.

So we go from that—we go from naked and felt no shame as the scripture tells us to now every single thing that we see in our culture. We've—to lots of shame, to lots of guilt, to multiple partners, to pornography addictions, to heartache, to adultery, to divorce. I mean to same-sex relationships, like everything you can imagine that has come from that broken abuse. I mean like crimes that have come from the long way from they’re naked and felt no shame in Genesis 1 and 2.

Shelby: We'll be back in just a minute with Ann as she shares some great encouragement about how we as believers can view sex and sexuality.

You know, I love the nuance that Dean talks with on this subject. We have come a long way since Genesis 1 and 2, but God is always in the business of making broken things restored and reconciled. We can always trust him.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. You know Dean has written a book called Pure: Why the Bible’s Plan for Sexuality Isn't Outdated, Irrelevant, or Oppressive. What a fantastic title. This book is our gift to you when you partner financially with us today in order to make more conversations just like this one actually possible. You can go online to or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.

Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is: FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.

Alright, here's Ann with some great encouragement about how we as believers can view sex and sexuality.

Ann: I love that God gives us do overs. I love the gospel. I love the forgiveness. I love the redemption. And I love that he walks with us—

Dean: Absolutely.

Ann: —every single day. I think the greatest thing we can do is be surrendering all of ourselves every day, like God, here I am. I want to follow you. I want to know your word. I think that that there's a beauty to that, that he makes us whole. I think back on that 42 years ago of us getting married, think where we were then and think where we are now. In terms of like, you know, I thought marriage would do it. I thought you know our sex life was going to be—and I had these great—it's not wrong to have those great dreams. But now I look at and think, “Oh, it's so much bigger and God had so much more and it's so much better as we walk with him.”

Shelby: Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined again by Dean Inserra where he talks about this subject and helps us to understand that you know, all sins are not equal. Of course, they all separate us from God, but they affect us in different ways. What’s that look like about the Bible being clear on sexual ethics. We'll talk about that tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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