My most recent posts have sparked conversation and a little bit of controversy. I have received some lovely, and hurtful messages. To my surprise, I have received more private messages from my former peers being thanked that I spoke up about purity culture. On the contrary, I also received a few messages filled with scripture basically stating that I am going to hell. I’ve had variety in my inbox, to say the least, and on a small-scale, I started a discussion.
I have never been a fan of purity culture. I never read the book, “I kissed dating goodbye.” I never had a purity ring, and I don’t think that I ever took a purity pledge. I did read (or maybe skim is the appropriate word) the book written by Dannah Gresh titled, “And the bride wore white: Seven secrets to sexual purity” (a requirement for school). I don’t remember the exact content of that book, but I remember feeling uncomfortable when reading it because I “Lost my purity” when I was 14.
I have sat through dozens of purity talks. At first, they were alright. These talks were uncomfortable, a little awkward, but they really were not THAT bad. I did not know anything besides the basic message of you are going to be tainted for the rest of your life if you don’t remain sexually pure.
*In my last post, I wrote about the begging of my sexual journey and I suggest that you go and read that for context*
After my very brief, “Floozy Stage.” My perspective of purity culture completely changed. I was constantly being told that I had no value because I couldn’t wear a purity ring or white on my wedding day. Often times, I would start shaking or have a minor panic attack when sitting through one of these degrading discussions. It was normally evident that I, “Was hiding something” however in the years of enduring purity culture, the presenter never asked me if I was okay or needed to talk.
Eventually, I became numb to these messages. I went from being extremely uncomfortable when sitting through yet another purity talk, to learning how to tone it out. I knew that I was a chewed up piece of gum, and nobody will want to marry me. Ironically, I always had at least a few “Christian Boys” pressuring me for sex at any given time throughout my high school career.
I truly thought that I was the only one who struggled with the guilt of expressing sexuality while being thrust in an evangelical environment. At the end of my senior year of high school, I attended a conference for teen girls. The night started with a fancy tea party. As soon as I saw the setup, I knew where the weekend was heading. About a half an hour into tea time, the presenter began a spiel about virginity. At that point, rolled my eyes and started to zone out. After a while, I looked around the room. Most of the girls were enthused about the message. Then, to my surprise, I saw a girl with the exact same facial expression that I once had. I saw someone who looked sad, guilty, and ashamed.
Once tea time was over, I approached her and did something that no-one ever did for me, I asked her if she was okay. She quickly revealed to me that she recently became sexually active and felt shameful.
At that moment, I had a choice. I could go with the way Church culture tends to go, and I could have shamed her. I could have told her that no one would want her now because she wasn’t pure. I could have told her all of the cliche and scaring tactics that had been delivered to me throughout the years.
I did what purity culture preaches against and showed her love. I told her that she is valuable not for her sexual choices but because she is a child of God. I asked her if she was being safe (because purity culture doesn’t teach sex education). I asked her if she truly regretted her choices or if it was the church as making her feel ashamed. I tried to do what Jesus would have done, I loved on her. I did not act righteous but listened and even prayed with her.
I did not share this story to make myself sound “Holier than thou” but simply to point out something purity culture oftentimes misses. In my experience, it assumes that the audience is already pure. It teaches that there is no going back if you “Lost your purity” before deciding to become a Christian. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to sit through these conversations if my purity had been taken away non consensually. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel if I wasn’t taught purity and then sat through a gum metaphor as an impressionable teenager.
If you are a Youth leader, Preacher, parent, blogger, a teacher at a Christian school, etc, I encourage and urge you to think about your audience before teaching purity culture. Would the message show the love of Christ or the shame the church often gives? Will it lift others up? Or will it tear those who aren’t classified as being pure down? Will it make victims of sexual abuse more likely to come out? Will it give males and females a positive outlook on sexual experiences as a whole?
If I have children of my own, I desire to teach them to have ownership of their sexual choices. I don’t want them to believe that they are tainted or no longer have value if they don’t choose purity.
I have made many cringe-worthy sexual choices, however, I had to learn on my own not to regret them. Believing that I was no longer wanted because I am a “Chewed up piece of gum” played a negative role on my self-image and mental health. I choose not to believe that I am the only one who has had this struggle. I do not believe that purity culture is 100% effective. However, those who grew up in purity culture were taught to have so much shame over sexuality, that we are going to be hesitant to talk about it.
To this day, I struggle with my sexuality. I was never taught that anything good comes out of sex. I have chosen celibacy for this time in my life, but that was a choice that I made by myself. It wasn’t a gum metaphor or receiving messages from readers telling me that I wasn’t going to heaven for my viewpoints that influenced my decision.
If you are a follower of Christ, and are struggling with purity however you desire to see it, I want to leave you with a quote that a friend gave me. A few months ago, I had too much wine at a party and started crying saying the phrase, “I am going to hell because I’m not pure” (embarrassing right?). A stranger at the time told me a phrase to comfort me that has truly resonated with me on my journey of figuring out where I belong as a sexual being. He said:
“The church shames, but God loves”
I would love your positive feedback. As always, feel free to reach out.
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