Chastity or at least some coyness about sexual availability — is in vogue among a group of female pop artists who are bucking the age-old marketing mantra that “sex sells.”
“Sex is so intimate, and when you give yourself without a strong type of commitment, something’s lacking,” says Rebecca St. James, 23, an Australian-born pop vocalist for the Nashville-based ForeFront Records. “There’s hurt.”
Pop star Jessica Simpson, 21, has been especially open about her decision to delay sex until marriage. Her song “Heart of Innocence” talks about what she plans to bring to her wedding night.
Her virginal status has so fascinated Cosmopolitan that the magazine has published two articles on the subject in the past year. Miss Simpson told the publication she had received “thousands” of letters from girls desiring to follow her example.
“I believe my soul and my faith are what’s sexy about me,” says the singer, who sports a miniskirt, bare midriff and clingy sweater in her publicity photos. “It’s all about what’s inside.”
The purity trend bemuses Mark Joseph, 33, founder of MJM Entertainment Group in Los Angeles and author of the 2000 book about pop Christian music, “The Rock & Roll Rebellion.”
“This would have been unimaginable in 1984, when I was in high school,” he says. “I grew up with people like Madonna competing to see who was the sleaziest. Today, it’s almost surreal; pop stars competing for who is the most virginal.
“Even Britney [Spears] and Christina [Aguilera] respect virginity and hold it up as a virtue. Whether they live up to it is another thing. The images are sexy, but there is no sex. In a culture where the president of the United States gets oral sex in the Oval Office, and nearly every pop-culture figure is working on their second or third marriage, this is what rebellion looks like.”
Purity is not a new message in the pop genre. Amy Grant played on this image for years, telling interviewers she was a virgin when she married at the age of 21. A new generation, led by Miss St. James, who has five albums under her belt, touts purity as a sign of respect for oneself and one’s future spouse.
Her most recent CD, “Transform,” includes a song “Wait For Me,” addressed to her future mate.
“It’s a love song for my future husband, but it’s also a song about forgiveness, if people have had sex outside of marriage,” she says. She notes the song speaks on behalf of all young women, “encouraging the future husbands of our generation to stay sexually pure, to wait for us.”
Purity, she says, is not only a commitment to herself, it is a commitment to God. Pitches to purity are traditionally focused to women, but Miss St. James says men need to hear the message, too.
“In the core, deep down, everyone knows that we were made to save ourselves for one person,” she says. “I want to save people from learning that the hard way.”
Coming behind Miss St. James is more of the same: Mandy Moore, 17; Rachael Lampa, 15; Krystal Harris, 19, who is a warm-up act for the Backstreet Boys; and Stacie Orrico, 14, all of whom are pop singers pushing wholesomeness. This summer, Miss Orrico and Miss Lampa have toured with Destiny’s Child, a rhythm-and-blues female trio that preaches religious convictions while wearing scanty outfits.
Every so often, men get into the act. Miss St. James’ song “Wait For Me” is included in the slipcover of Gaithersburg author Joshua Harris’ new book on marriage and dating, “Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello To Courtship.” Mr. Harris, 26, achieved best-seller status in 1997 after his book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” hit the shelves.
Mr. Harris said he wanted to do the joint book-record project with Miss St. James because he believed her music could influence people in ways his book could not. Now happily married, he too believes that sex should be saved for one’s wedding night.
“A lot of people misunderstand the idea of purity,” he says. “Right away, there’s this stigma that we’re about anti-sex, that sex is bad.
“Valuing purity creates a high view of sex, because it means you appreciate it and value it. You’re not willing to cheapen it by having premarital relationships. I think people are disillusioned with typical dating. A lot of people have been hurt. Even those who have been doing the hurting think, ‘There’s got to be something better.’
“It’s not just about ‘Don’t have sex because you’re not supposed to do that till marriage.’ It’s about having more purposeful, clearly defined relationships that match together romance and wisdom.”
Miss St. James has even younger counterparts who encourage purity. Christin Cook, a 19-year-old vocalist and youth minister from Houston, believes teen-agers need to hear a message of remaining pure while single. The singer, who has never had a boyfriend, believes teens need to get away from an emphasis on dating.
“Basically, I think our teen culture is being told a lie” about sexual activity, she says. Teens are trying to find a special person who will make them complete, she adds, and “in the process, they’re giving a piece of themselves to everyone they sleep with.”
Miss Cook speaks to junior high and high school students about chastity, using the inspiration of her own decision not to date.
“I felt I was worth a lot more without giving myself to every guy I came in contact with,” she says. In their travels, she and her band preach the message of “purity, faith and love to a generation of her peers” from her latest CD, “Live Loud: Scream Worship.” Her first CD, “Waiting,” also includes a cut on saving sex for marriage.
Paige Lewis, 17, from nearby Katy, Texas, another Christian pop artist from ForeFront Records, believes her music can be used as a medium to encourage young teens to live healthy lifestyles.
“There’s such a big problem today with girls and insecurity,” she says. “They feel they have to look, act or talk a certain way. Girls need to understand that God’s love is enough, that He’s all we need. If girls would see that, then we wouldn’t need to have that boyfriend. Then we’d be secure in .”
If anything, Miss Lewis’ lyrics are filled with love songs of a different sort, ballads of passion toward God. “You are the one that I love and You are the one that I need,” she belts out in the song “True.”
She wears a ring, sometimes called a promise or purity ring, to remind her of her commitment to not engage in sex until marriage.
True Love Waits, an international campaign based in Nashville, Tenn., and sponsored by the Southern Baptist LifeWay Christian Resources, started the trend of purity rings in 1993. A spokeswoman said the trend toward abstinence was increasing and cited 31,333 commitments to abstinence made this past Valentine’s Day over the www.lifeway.com Web site.