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10 thoughts on “Talking Back to Purity Culture

  1. Raymond Raymond says:

    Rachel Joy Welcher has written a powerful new book about purity culture; what it is, what it did to a generation, and how to respond to it. Purity culture is a Christian movement that took place beginning in the late 20th Century and has extended into the 21st Century. It was a direct response to the sexual revolution and the AIDS epidemic, its main goal was to promote a form of Christian ethics that taught sex should be saved only for marriage. Purity books, rings, and pledges were all a part of promoting this culture. As time has passed, some Christians have started to reevaluate purity culture’s teachings because many young people who grew up in it, have either developed a sense of shame because of it, or have realized that some of the promises of purity culture were not fulfilled. Welcher addresses all of this and more in her book.

    The strongest parts of Welcher’s book is when she focuses on the harmful effects purity culture has on women and men. For women, they were taught that they had the power to control male sexual urges and could do it by dressing modestly. In essence, purity culture caused women to think they were responsible for male purity. Women were also blamed for their husband’s indiscretions if he cheated. Men, on the other hand, were taught to control their sexual urges and to basically avoid women so they aren’t tempted. Welcher argues that these teachings were wrong and explains why.

    Welcher also addresses the flaws in purity culture. Some include that purity culture makes virginity an idol and that purity is seen as a stage in life rather than a lifelong process. Purity makes promises that may not occur such as marriage, sex, and children; some people never get married, remain celibate, or are infertile. Welcher argues that purity culture as it exists does not address those types of people. The author does a good job at explaining how the Church can be there for those who fit in those categories.

    In sum, the book contains powerful quotes from people Welcher interviewed which I believe helps centers her arguments in each chapter. Each chapter ends with discussion questions and activities, which are great. Her book could definitely lead to fruitful discussions in Bible studies or church book clubs.

    Overall, Welcher’s book is clear, full of wisdom, and very well written. There were parts where I disagreed with the author but as a whole I think it is a good contribution to the ongoing debate on purity culture.

    Thanks to NetGalley, InterVarsity Press, and Rachel J. Welcher for a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on November 10, 2020.

    Review first published on Ballasts for the Mind:

  2. Panda Incognito Panda Incognito says:

    This book involves so many loaded topics that it is hard for me to know where to begin. Thus, I have immense respect for Rachel Joy Welcher, who took on the challenge of writing it. Throughout this book, she provides an orthodox perspective on purity culture, addressing its unbiblical promises and demands without discarding Scripture in the process. Unlike other books about the purity movement, which focus on religious deconstruction and reject Christianity, this book reevaluates purity culture through an orthodox lens, asking where Christians can go from here. Welcher separates biblical teaching from human-constructed legalism, and encourages her readers to be willing to reevaluate their beliefs.

    Evaluating the Fallout

    At the beginning of the book, Welcher provides a history of the movement from the late 1990s to the present, quoting from popular books that shaped many young Christian’s views of sexuality and their faith. In response to these books, she cites published resources and shares personal stories that show the damage and fallout from these beliefs. Some of these stories come from her own life, others are from personal conversations, and still more come from official interviews. In the following chapters, she addresses how purity culture held out heterosexual marriage and children as a guaranteed reward for chaste behavior without acknowledging the realities of long-term singleness, same-sex attraction, divorce, marital frustrations, and infertility.

    Welcher also provides a complex analysis of how badly Christian culture addressed sexual abuse during this era. Only the worst resources actively blamed victims for inviting their trauma, but others sent mixed messages or avoided the topic. Welcher challenges Christians to keep sexual abuse victims in mind when they talk about sexuality, because even though writers and speakers have often treated abuse experiences as an anomaly, they are heartrendingly common. In my opinion, this is one of the strongest parts of the book, because she addresses the topic in great depth, with reference to a variety of different situations and experiences. There are other topics that she can only address in passing because of the book’s limited scope, but because she previously did academic research on this topic, she was able to address this with the depth and nuance that the topic deserves.

    Looking to the Future

    Welcher writes with great humility, leaving room for all the research, analysis, and understanding that is yet to come. She also maintains a gracious tone towards others, and because many books about the church’s failings are abrasive and condemning, I admire her ability to write about so many challenging topics with grace, compassion, and empathy for everyone involved. This book is not just for people who feel victimized by purity culture, but is also for those who promoted it, and those who still hold some of these beliefs. Welcher calls Christians to reevaluate their approach to understanding sexuality, and even though she is not yet a parent, her experience working with youth gives her credibility, especially in the chapter about how parents can pursue ongoing, nuanced conversations about sexuality with their children.

    She also encourages adult Christians to talk about sexuality with each other, and supports this by providing discussion questions and group activity ideas at the end of each chapter. It never would have occurred to me to view this as a reading group recommendation, but I agree that challenging topics like this should not stay within the realm of private reading, and need to spill over into conversations and relationships within the church. I appreciate the thought, effort, and care that Welcher invested into writing this book, and even though it cannot possibly cover every person’s experience or concern, the discussion questions give readers a chance to build on this in their own conversations. This is a solid, orthodox guide to reevaluating purity culture and seeking a better path forward.

    I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  3. Ruth Ruth says:

    The Purity Culture movement dominated discussions in my youth. I became disenchanted years ago not with holding a Christian sex ethic but with the way Purity Culture had shaped faithful obedience into something beyond Scripture. Welcher pulls back the veil on the false promises and points us to a better way.

  4. Matthew Manchester Matthew Manchester says:

    This is a sex book.


    This is not a sex book.

    Rather, it's a sexuality book.

    Welcher writes after reading multiple purity culture books from the 90s/early-2000s and interviewing a host of people involved in that movement. In some ways, it reminded me of The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters where the church has fallen into legalism yet knowing that licentiousness is not the answer either.

    In so many ways, I am the target audience for this book. I grew up deeply within the purity culture movement and it has defined my life to a degree. I've wanted a book like this: one that not only addressed flawed thinking in my mind but also helped me parent in this area better than I was.


    Welcher demolishes purity culture rhetoric. She also consistently reminds you what the real problem is:

    So many of us walked right past the gospel on our way to a purity conference. Our parents and youth leaders were so concerned about our budding sexuality, scrambling for direction and wisdom, that some of us ended up signing abstinence pledges before falling on our knees in repentance. We wore purity rings as badges of honor, forgetting that it is Jesus who cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

    Her chapters on Female Responsibilities and Male Purity and the Rhetoric of Lust are her best chapters in my opinion, though every single chapter slaps. I highlighted a good portion of this book.

    Most will particularly applaud her chapter Problems with the Promise of Sex where she takes a look at what the purity culture movement have done to discourage those who are divorced, barren, or same-sex attracted. She writes so carefully, yet boldly, that it's such a winsome chapter.

    Let me post some of my favorite quotes:
    It also reveals an issue with our functional theology: if we truly believe in the Imago Dei—that all people are created in the image of God—then we must recognize that what some brush off as “boys being boys” is actually a perpetuation of abuse that insults the image of God.

    The idea that we need to offer non-virgins some sort of symbolic “second virginity” reinforces our misunderstanding of where purity comes from.

    How we want our children to live, sexually, is what we really believe about sexual purity.

    Jesus himself was single: would we relegate him to the kids’ table, forcing him to sit on a too small plastic chair? Singles do not belong at the margins of our churches. No one does.

    I may have been a virgin when I got married, but I was also an adulterer.

    Teachings about the moral superiority and responsibility of women place a burden on them that Scripture does not. The rhetoric reduces women to their sexual function, instead of depicting them the way Scripture does, as image bearers of God and coheirs of the kingdom. [...] Such “empowerment” leaves women feeling defeated and guilty, rather than valued by the church and strengthened in Christ.

    And in the same way wearing a purity ring does not guarantee virginity, virginity doesn’t guarantee purity.

    Also, this book doesn't go for the easy answers. There's lament found on these pages.

    And can I take a moment and praise the last paragraph of every chapter. Welcher is a pro at summarizing her thoughts at the end. They were so good, I noticed how good they consistently were. In my reading experience, that's a rare thing.


    I should give a trigger warning for those who have been abused, particularly in conjunction with the purity movement. There's a chapter that focuses on abuse and Welcher doesn't shy away. Also, due to my own issues, I didn't find the chapter as comforting as some women might, but Welcher does make mention on male survivors and that helped.

    Also, Welcher is direct in this book. Loving, but direct. I'm grateful that she speaks very plainly about sex and sexuality, but it's gonna feel awkward for us purity culture kids. :-)

    The only other challenge I had was regarding parenting advice. Welcher states that she's not a parent at the time of writing this book. However, her work with teaching really shines through where there is little parental experience. It still makes me want a sequel in 15 years if she becomes a parent. (*insert Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship joke here*)


    It is my hope that every person/parent reads this book. I know that I'm freaking out since my kids are at that age but the gospel encouragement Welcher writes reminds me that purity isn't the goal, Jesus is.

    It has encouraged me out of the same mindset that formed me.

    4.5 stars, rounded down.

  5. Aimee Aimee says:

    Rachel Joy Welcher writes with grace and humility as she addresses the effects of Christian purity culture and its messages. Several of her points expressed thoughts or conversations I have had in recent years; others revealed false teachings I did not realize I had internalized. In this book, Welcher shines a light on some of the seemingly harmless but actually insidious teachings in the church regarding sexuality, and she does so while holding Jesus up consistently as the one who deserves our focus and obedience.

  6. Hayley Chase Hayley Chase says:

    Talking Back to Purity Culture is not a book that claims to know everything, or that it is perfect.

    It is a book that asks us to look at the facts: what the purity culture was and is, how it impacted a variety of groups within the church, and how it is still impacting so many today.

    It asks us to look these facts, these people, in the eyes, and acknowledge what has been done to them. What has been done to us.

    It is not an easy read. Whether Rachel Joy Welcher is discussing the impact of the purity culture upon the sexually abused, the same-sex-attracted, the singles, or the divorced, there is something in nearly every section that will touch your heart (I know that I cried more than once).

    But Ms. Welcher doesn't leave us simply facing these hurtful truths, with no hope - no light - at the end of the tunnel. We may feel shattered, she says, but our worth remains intact.

    We face these facts and these hurts so that we can begin to heal from them. So that we can move forward. Do better. Step out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. Leave the shame that was impressed upon so many of us behind.

    So, while this book doesn't have all the answers, while there were small bits and fragments that I might not have fully agreed with, it does exactly what it is intended to do: it makes you think. It makes you ask questions. It makes you want to talk with others. It makes you crave community, and desire to seek healing.

    And it does all of this without ever losing sight of the importance of Biblical purity and the call to holiness.

    It is an important book - one that I will be using with my women's group to further open these topics up, and - God willing - provide some measure of clarity and community for these young women who have been so wounded and burdened for so long.

    So, if that is you - if you have been weighed down and seemingly crushed by the guilt and shame that the purity culture inflicted - pick up this book.

    Even if you don't find the full solution, it just might make you start asking the right questions.

    And it will gently and lovingly guide you along the way.

  7. Joelle Joelle says:

    Rachel makes a beautiful statement in this book, as she quotes a mom talking about how she tries to view all of her kids' conversations, and - I'm paraphrasing - but it's about bringing everything into the light of Jesus. Sin would like us to hide in the darkness, telling us that it is where it is safe, and comfortable. Rachel reminds us that the Light of the World, the Gospel, the Living Word, offers hope, grace, healing, and redemption. In His Light there is no more shame, no matter how hard admitting our sin will be - light is the safest place to be. I will always remember that. That light is safer than darkness.

    Rachel doesn't slam the church; nor does she nitpick through books and point out the enormous flaws of the various authors. Rather, she loves the church, and she seeks to see the church united and strong in the Word of God, ministering to all the broken saints. She acknowledges that the authors were only human, and that they had good intentions, but they went awry. She frames the issue - purity culture - not as a whole church issue but rather as a subculture issue within the church that has distorted how we interpret the Bible. It is a refreshing take on the movement: one that argues for humility and unity within the Body while still showing the flaws of the subculture, and how to remove them.

    She is comfortable using words like sexuality in their proper context; she is comfortable having frank discussions about masturbation without needing to seek permission. She is right that our children need to be taught that their bodies were created to be good, and ARE good. Our children do not need to be taught shame about their bodies at a young age; they should be taught how to honor God, themselves, and others.

    She speaks of compassion those who have same sex attractions, a topic that the purity culture movement completely avoided. Or, if it did, treated as get married and get cured. I happen to be in a situation in my own life where this solution has led to devastation and utter family rending.

    She reminds us that sex is Godly and good, and as such should be MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL; it is not a right for one party only. It is NOT good if one party is suffering intense physical pain. It is also not a right promised to us simply because we exist; we might have to lead celibate lives. We might have issues with sexual intimacy in our married lives.

    She restores dignity and respect to those who have suffered assault. Purity culture taught these victims that they were the reason for their own trauma; so often they were even blamed for ruining the lives of - in the majority of cases - good men. For those who weren't directly influenced by purity culture, the wounds were still aggravated by the message like lemon juice. Rachel lovingly explains why, without having to go into titillating details, and sharing private details of those who should be believed simply because they are created in the image of God.

    Light is healing. Light is restoring. Light is beautiful. And shining light into the deep recesses of the purity subculture will only bring more unity and more of the true message of the Gospel into our current lives, which our new generations so desperately need, as they navigate this world of ever increasing sexual awareness, sexual identity, and the church's place in it.

  8. Emily Enger Emily Enger says:

    Talking Back to Purity Culture is a deeply-researched and thoughtfully-written book that re-examines the popular purity movement that overtook Evangelicalism throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Welcher grew up in this movement and began to re-examine it when the perfect Christian family life she expected didn't happen quite like purity culture promised it would. While acknowledging the good intentions behind purity culture, Welcher calls Christians to abandon some of the lies that became embedded in its teaching, including women being responsible for men's lust, the promise of the ideal family as a response to one's sexual abstinence, the popularizing of rape-culture language, and more. Talking Back to Purity Culture is not a call to abandon the sexual ethics of the Bible, but rather to return to them - because it is the Bible that is infallible, not Christian purity books or movements.

    I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book by the publisher.

  9. Rachel Mayes Allen Rachel Mayes Allen says:

    I've been eager to read this book since I first heard Rachel as a guest on the Where Do We Go From Here podcast, and it did not disappoint. Rachel bathes this incredibly complex and controversial topic in grace, acknowledging that the discussion is nuanced while anchoring it in truth. Too many evaluations of purity culture belie the evaluators' bitterness or departure from orthodoxy; this one maintains a gracious tone even while pointing out the many false and misleading teachings within purity culture. She casts a vision of biblical sexuality which is both faithful to Scripture and full of love for fallen human beings, just as God intended.

  10. Camden Camden says:

    4.5 stars. Review coming soon!

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Talking Back to Purity Culture ❰Read❯ ➪ Talking Back to Purity Culture Author Rachel Joy Welcher – It's time to talk back The generation born into evangelical purity culture has grown up, and many have started families of their own But as time goes on, it's becoming more evident that many still str It's time to talk back The to Purity MOBI î generation born into evangelical purity culture has grown up, and many have started families of their own But as time goes on, it's becoming evident that many still struggle with purity culture's complicated legacyits idolization of virginity, its mixed messages about modesty and lust, and its promise of a healthy marriage and great sex for those who follow the rules In Talking Back to Purity Culture, Rachel Talking Back eBook Þ Joy Welcher reviews the movement carefully, examining its teachings through the lens of Scripture Compassionate, faithful, and wise, she charts a path forward for evangelicals in the ongoing debates about sexualityone that rejects legalism and license alike, steering us back instead to the good news of Jesus It's time to talk back to purity cultureand this book is ready to jumpstart the conversation.

  • Paperback
  • 216 pages
  • Talking Back to Purity Culture
  • Rachel Joy Welcher
  • 21 April 2018
  • 9780830848164

About the Author: Rachel Joy Welcher

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