Abstinence isn’t the problem with purity culture. The problem with purity culture is that it has been used as a form of control to instill guilt and shame into young adults.
Growing up in the south, there are Churches all around. In most cities in the southern belt of America, there is probably a church on every street corner just about. If you have grown up in a church, you have probably heard the term “purity culture”. For Cody and I, we had a pretty great experience in our youth group and with our spiritual leaders. We were taught the importance of abstinence but we never felt the sting that so many people face.
Purity culture is something that we have been wanting to address on the show for quite some time now. But, we never realized just how heavy this discussion was going to be. When we first opened the conversation, we had no idea how hard hitting it was for many Christians. After asking around and hearing people’s stories, we knew we couldn’t address this topic alone.
We asked a few different women to come on the show and talk about their experiences with purity culture. With so much hurt and baggage that these ladies had to face through purity culture, we desperately needed to chop the episode into a two-part series. And honestly, there was so much information that we weren’t quite able to include all the details from these amazing testimonies. But, if you would like to listen to our conversation on purity culture, here is part one and part two of our purity culture series.
The Real Problem With Purity Culture
Did you know that shame and guilt are the leading problems with purity culture?
Some of these stories include shame in women wanting to leave abusive relationships. There are feelings of shame and guilt from not partaking in abstinence. And there are young married couples with a skewed idea of what a healthy sex life is supposed to look like within marriage. Many Christians struggle with having to turn off the “bad” switch of thinking sex is evil and bad to inherently “good” once married.
If we are supposed to practice abstinence and purity, then why are there so many people hurt by purity culture? Well, the problem isn’t with abstinence. The real problem with purity culture is the fact that many Christians have a skewed understanding of what sex really is. When we misguide young adults about sex, we are setting them up for failure.
How Shame and Guilt are Taught in Purity Culture
When it comes down to it, sex is a part of our identity. If God made us beautifully and wonderfully made, then why is sex have such a negative connotation? Well, probably because there are so many false teachings about sex.
There are religious leaders who are telling people they are sinful, lustful creatures if they desire sex.
Many women have been told that the way a man looks at them dictates whether they are worthy or not. “Put more clothes on”, “Cover up your shoulders”, “If you wear leggings, you have to have a long dress over it”, etc. These are just some of the things women are told about their identity. When we tell women that they are in full control of how a man looks at them, we aren’t allowing women full control over their own bodies.
Many men have been told that they aren’t in control of their sexual desires. But when we tell men they have no control over their emotions, we aren’t allowing men full control over their own bodies. We make women feel small and men feel weak.
How False Assumptions Are Taught in Purity Culture
Other men and women have felt the push of sex from religious leaders. There are pastors who often teach that sex is a bad and impure thing. Yet, some of those same pastors teach that once you marry, suddenly sex
is the best thing ever. This often leads to Christian men and women having a skewed idea of what a healthy sex life looks like.
What if there are people who are single for the entirety of their lives? Doesn’t that make them feel like they are missing out on all of the fun? If you don’t marry and you don’t have sex, are you not apart of God’s master plan? Can God even still use you?
And what about young married couples who practiced abstinence? I can assure you that there are Christian couples who found out the hard way that sex isn’t what they thought it was going to be. Doesn’t this make men and women feel as if they are missing out as well? What if you can’t perform? What if a spouse is dealing with a sickness or disease that causes abstinence in a marriage? Maybe you don’t have a high sex drive but your partner does? This can lead to young adults to feeling like there is a “magic” sex switch after marriage.
How We Can Change the Way We Talk about Purity Culture
Despite so many wrong conversations about abstinence and purity culture, there is a way we can change the way we talk about purity culture.
Once we have a clear understanding that sex goes further than just physical touch, we are then able to accurately discuss purity culture.
When we realize that emotions are at play, we are able to understand our identities. When we realize that there is a spiritual sense of sex, we are able to understand God’s purpose.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with abstinence. But when we make people feel bad for choosing not to stay abstinent, we are unable to extend grace. When we make people fearful of having sex, we are unable to cultivate healthy marriages.
Abstinence isn’t the problem with purity culture. Guilt, shame, and the means of control are what create negative ideas about what it means to remain “pure”.
Surely there are other ways we can help young adults make healthy decisions about their partners.