Purity culture

This entry is an excerpt from an upcoming devotional on the subject of sex. Stay tuned!

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15 NIV)

Are you familiar with the term “purity culture?” Maybe for you it was a ring received as a teen, pledging to Jesus that you wouldn’t have sex until marriage. Maybe it was a church which urged courting rather than dating. Maybe it was a modesty fashion show accompanied by lectures about “protecting” men.

Purity culture teaches that women are “stumbling blocks” for men, that bodies are shameful, that “impure” women are downright dangerous, that women shouldn’t feel desire and don’t enjoy sex like men do, that virginity is the most important thing you bring to a relationship, that you are “damaged goods” if you aren’t a virgin, that virginity is a thing “to lose” like it has some sort of intrinsic value on its own, and that if you have sex before marrying, your marriage is headed for disaster.

That’s a pretty long and nasty list, and it’s not complete.

Purity culture teaches girls that women are responsible for men’s self-control or lack of it. This ideology leads to women being unable to enjoy sex, and feeling guilty when they do experience pleasure. It leads to women drowning in shame and self-blame for the sexual abuse inflicted on them.

If you’re female and haven’t yet been told otherwise, your body and your desire are beautiful reflections of God. You’re not responsible for the behavior of men. You’re worthy of being treated well, of sexual autonomy (even within marriage), and of pleasure. The presence or absence of a penis in your vagina doesn’t change your worth or your value. If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t deserve it, and it wasn’t because you weren’t chaste enough in appearance.

Purity culture is increasingly referred to as “rape culture, in its Sunday best.” If that offends you, it should.

If you’re male and haven’t been told otherwise, you are in control of your body. Women have the right to dress and act however they want without worrying that you might harass or assault them. If you do harass or assault a woman it’s your fault, not hers. Women are sexual beings just as much as you are, and they are equally worthy of sexual satisfaction. The state of their hymen is none of your business and doesn’t impact you in any way. Marrying a woman doesn’t give you the right to have sex with her on demand.

We can accept the beauty of the poetic comparison of female sexuality as a walled garden from the Song of Songs while not comparing it to the need for a chastity belt. The garden’s owner controls the gate. She invites in who she will, and the wise visitor acknowledges the gift without believing they control it.

If you’ve been harmed by purity culture, please seek help. God wants you to enjoy your sexuality and accept its beauty. God desires your healing.

The purity message is not about sex. Rather, it is about us: who we are, who we are expected to be, and who it is said we will become if we fail to meet those expectations. This is the language of shame.

Linda Kay Klein

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© 2020 by Suzanne DeWitt Hall