I’ve been meaning to write about the Purity Culture for some time now, and while I intend to do a more complete treatment of it soon, something came up recently that I simply couldn’t overlook.
Last week, forgedimagination wrote a post over on Defeating the Dragons that really ticked me off. Not because of what she wrote, but because of the response she received. Earlier, she had written about victim-blaming and rape repentance as outgrowths of the Purity Culture, and they were featured on No Longer Quivering. Then things got messy.
But before I can say anything about this particular example, I need to explain a little about the Purity Culture itself.
Purity or Bust
For those of you who didn’t grow up in it, the fundamentalist Purity Culture is a clever scheme to keep Christian teens from doing the deed until they’re safely on their honeymoon. Preferably and presumably, it also keeps them from oral sex, making out, kissing, holding hands, or appreciating each other’s sexuality in any way. Because, you know….LUST. If you enjoy looking at someone, you’re lusting in your heart, which means you’re committing adultery with them in your heart, which apparently makes both of you Guilty Of Fornication. Cover those bra straps, ladies! Bounce those eyes, guys!
Here’s the rationale. We want to prevent the sinful evils of premarital sex at all costs, right? Right. So we’ll create an ideal, a “perfect standard” to aim for. We’ll call it God’s Standard For Sexuality, even though it’s just a cobbled-together set of traditions from the past few hundred years. God’s Standard For Sexuality requires that Christian teens never lust, always dress modestly (that is, in a way that prevents anyone from viewing them as sexual beings), and Save Themselves For Marriage. It’s not legalism, of course, because it’s In The Bible. Supposedly.
Now, I probably shouldn’t be so snide, because I can understand the purpose of all this. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe teen promiscuity is a potentially damaging thing, and if that’s your belief, it’s fine to try and encourage abstinence. I get that. The Purity Culture comes out of a warped view of gender rules and sexuality, but these people are sincere in their desire to keep teens from making what they see as serious mistakes.
The intentions, however misguided, are heartfelt and sincere. I get that. But the execution is just so far from being worthwhile or beneficial. And here’s why.
It would be one thing if the Purity Culture focused on Issues Of The Heart alone. But it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it’s specific, individual actions which are targeted. The greatest of these, of course, is sex itself….and so Virginity is a big, big deal. Consider:
Marriage Is a Biblical Blood Covenant: A covenant is simply an agreement, or contract made between two parties to do, or not do something. Covenants in the Bible were usually ratified by being sealed with blood. What is often overlooked is that marriage too is an [sic] life long covenant that is supposed to be sealed with blood through the consummation of the marriage. There is a deep spiritual significance in a virgin bride shedding blood on her wedding night.
Please excuse the gray matter now splattered on the wall behind me.
No, seriously. I’m not making this up.
Because the Purity movement comes out of patriarchy, the most extreme side of things ended up being focused on women. That’s how sexism works. But the effects for guys were just as real. While girls were taught that they had to dress as asexually as possible to avoid being “stumbling blocks”, we were taught to avoid any occasions of sexual attraction like the plague. We couldn’t slip up; we couldn’t let ourselves think about a girl, or we were having mind-sex (which is only slightly worse than actual sex).
For the guys, the struggle was all in our heads—technically true, I guess, though not in the way we thought. It was both dreadfully convenient (“No, I totally haven’t had any lustful thoughts this week!”) and unbearably difficult (“Wait, did I just lust? Damn it, not again!”). Either we were boasting about how holy we were, or we were wallowing in secret self-loathing….and usually it was both at the same time, which made us feel even more like hypocrites.
For both sexes, there was still the greatest obsession: physical acts of any kind.
If you meet with God’s Standard For Sexuality (which, apparently, means lots of blood on your wedding night, but preferably also includes saving your first kiss for the altar and never being alone with your significant other), you have reason to boast. You did it! You’re better than people who didn’t. Good for you. You are more valuable as long as you are pure.
If you fail? That’s bad; very bad. You’d become a broken cistern, a ruined rose, a cup full of spit. No good Christian would ever want to marry you if you’ve failed to meet God’s Standard For Sexuality. So be careful! Be vigilant! You don’t want to become worthless! You will become less valuable if you aren’t a virgin.
Of course, if you’ve already failed, you can always get back in good graces. Don’t give up or anything. But, you know, you’ll never be quite as good as a Real Virgin. (We have to say that, or otherwise all of you would just go sleep around and then repent and ask for forgiveness.)
I know I sound glib here. It’s hard not to simply poke fun at something this ridiculous. But I shouldn’t, because this is really dangerous. It’s not healthy, it’s not right, and it hurts people.
Coming up next, I’ll be explaining the general problems caused by this teaching, particularly with respect to my own experiences. After that, I’ll address one very specific problem that evidences just how dangerous the Purity Culture can become: how the Purity Culture handles victims of sexual abuse.