Sexually Active…but not Promiscuous?

March 6, 2012

Rachel Held Evans holds court on opinions that are sometimes evangelical; and sometimes not. Which is why I like to visit her site. I like to stretch some of my more rigid beliefs.

That’s why when she responded this week to Rush Limbaugh’s rant against Sandra Fluke and her testimony before a Congressional Committee, I really wanted to see her opinion.

You can read Ms. Evan’s article here:

I don’t have any desire to get into a debate on what Limbaugh said. That’s too much work for me and I couldn’t care less about his opinion. However, Rachel Evans made a statement I could not pass by without comment. In addressing why Evangelicals have such an affinity for people like Rush Limbaugh, she feels he hits on three nerves with us. The third of these is Sex. In that part of the article, she states:

This attitude represents one of the most damaging and least-talked-about blind spots within evangelicalism—the one that refuses to acknowledge the fact that being sexually active does not make a woman a slut. 

Currently, evangelicals tend to force young adults, especially young women, into simplistic sexual categories. They are either “pure” or “impure,” “whole” or “damaged,” “virgins” or “sluts.” There does not seem to exist a vocabulary within evangelicalism with which to talk about men and women who are sexually active, but not promiscuous.

I am intrigued by this statement for several reasons. First, is she saying that it is acceptable to be sexually active as an unmarried Christian? Actually, she goes on to say she is just acknowledging that a significant percentage of young Evangelicals are sexually active. Or, is she saying there is need of a word that describes a person who is

  • unmarried
  • Evangelical Christian
  • sexually active
  • not a “slut”

I can assume by this she means a person who is only moderately sexually active, committed to one person at a time sexually and keeps below an acceptable number of partners.

I am curious what you think of this. For the record, I don’t believe we can ‘fudge’ on the biblical standard of “no sex before marriage”. But is there a difference between someone who can be referred to as a “slut” and someone who occasionally has sex before marriage?

The key problem I see is we are trying to define something by current societal standards instead of Truth that is overarching and universal. I don’t think coming up with words to define “demi-sluts”, “sometimes-studs”, or any other such category really addresses the most pertinent question.

Do you?

UPDATE: Ms Evans closed the comments section on this post. Let me just show you what she wrote:

 I’m going to go ahead and close the comment thread on this post because a few folks seem rather eager to prove my point there, and I’m tired of reading and deleting this stuff. (In just one day, through comments and email, I’ve personally been called a “slut”, a “whore,” a “feminazi,” a “whiny feminist and a “dirty tramp.” I expect a call from the president shortly.)  Of course, most of you have been wonderful, as always. Thanks so much for your insightful contributions to the conversation and for your support. I expect the trolls will clear out soon.

This just goes to show that people like to lay down labels and the more emotional they get, the harsher the labels.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head in the first sentence of your final paragraph, “The key problem I see is we are trying to define something by current societal standards instead of Truth that is overarching and universal.” Unfortunately, our society tends to hold to relative truth rather than universal truth. I think the word slut has a connotation that the person has sex often and with multiple partners, so perhaps this word didn’t fit Miss Evans. But by trying the use the argument that “everyone is doing it” and so saying we need better descriptives of those doing “it”, is certainly an attempt to change the conversation away from whether or not it should be done.

    • Great observation Wendy. Why bother trying to define something more narrowly than it needs to be defined?

  2. Unfortunately, if we go by this strict standard, we’d have to greet one another (all of us) as Liars, Theives, Murderers, Gossips, etc. There has to be a way of holding one another accountable without beating each other up. Accountability is a good thing, tho painful enough in itself without being just plain mean. As Christians, our “hand book” has that laid out. It’s not always easy, but it is reputable, and tends to make it possible for us to monitor ourselves while still maintaining a good reputation among the public sector,if they will allow such. Understand I am NOT condoning sex outside of marriage, just saying that swapping very personal, public accusations probably won’t solve anything, and will certainly make us look foolish.

  3. I’ll go out on a limb here, Mike. Ages ago when people married at say…13 years of age, I can see the rational for virginity. People marry at 30 now. Big difference. “slut” implies multiple partners, no attachment. Sexually active has many definitions, to include monogamous. A woman in a partnership with one man long term is not a slut. And it’s (sex outside marriage) a reality of our society, whether ones views believe it is moral or not. Whether one believes in birth contol or not. Nice to see Rush being criticized. Ugh

    • I agree that Limbaugh needed to be put in his place Barb. The woman at the center of this deserved to be treated much better than she was.

  4. I believe we often shoot lower than the ideal because we think to follow biblical instruction is impossible. I was surprised when I asked a 17 year old Muslim exchange student about premarital sex; she was shocked and surprised that I would even consider such a question. It seemed clear to me that this simply wasn’t an option for her or her sisters.

    Unlike strict Muslim culture, our culture bombards our youth with so much approval of casual sex that I am saddened that their is really no support for someone who chooses purity.

    Perhaps coming up with a euphemism for serial monogamy or fornication with good intentions would provide comfort. Personally, considering how God feels about marriage, faithfulness, purity etc; wouldn’t this simply be a deceptive whitewashing?

    The commandments are born of love and a desire to protect us; why call oneself a christian if there is no respect for the instruction or the instructor?

  5. As evangelicals, we must make every effort to ground our worldview in the Scriptures. The only words the Scriptures give us to describe people of either gender, Christian or not, who engage in inappropriate sexual activity are words like immoral (1 Cor. 5:1, 9-11), impure (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5), adulterous (Heb. 13:4; Luke 16:18), and wicked (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

    These words apply regardless of how many sexual partners are involved. Sin, in these cases, is not due to promiscuity, but rather to transgression of God’s boundaries for human conduct. The immoral man in 1 Cor. 5 had only one partner, but that sin warranted expulsion from fellowship.

    So to answer your question, the best biblical word we have for the person you describe is probably “immoral.” Accurate, and deservedly harsh.

  6. I think that calling a person names because of a particular sin is always going to be an issue. What Rachel Evans’ point seems to be is that we are too hung up on the sex issue and that we gravitate to whatever preacher (or talk show host) will condemn sexual practices the most.

    At the same time, I agree with several of you who say that the degree of wrongdoing does not really matter. A lie is a lie…a little violence is just as much a sin as a lot. The labels just muddy the waters.

    We are all wrongdoers. Plain and simple.

  7. I didn’t read the other comments so I’m sure I’m just repeating what someone else posted but….

    I think name-calling is a problem (and I have a few I’d like to use for Rush, but manage to keep them to myself and ask forgiveness for thinking them).

    I also think sex before marriage is a problem.

    I think the pendulum swinging between the two ought to slow down to the middle where we uphold the righteous and bring correction (in love) to the unrighteous. I mean, won’t we be known as Christians by our love? But we are also known by the way we DON’T conform, right?

    Thanks for a poignant post.

    • Good comments Sarah and right in line with what many people are saying. Too many labels and not enough caring.

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