The Harmful Things Purity Culture Teaches Women

Toxic purity culture
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A few years ago, I remember stumbling upon a video on YouTube, which I can sadly no longer find, explaining the hardships, trauma, and survivors of the purity culture of the Evangelical Christian Purity Movement.

Prior to that, I had only seen the trauma that religious exposure from an early age can make in American movies and TV shows, but never a real and living person talking about their experience.

I mention this because one specific line stood out to me:

“Here, men are taught that their minds are evil, whereas women are taught their bodies are evil.”

And that got me thinking about how I can’t even imagine how many women are living their lives based on teachings like that. The belief is that in order to follow the path of purity and live a fulfilled life, you have to accept that you are lesser than any man you’ve ever met or known.

And it doesn’t just stop there. There are so many stories, examples, and horrors surrounding these teachings derived from toxic purity culture, that it would only be fair to share some of them for the sake of people who have luckily escaped that not-so-Godly reality.

What is Toxic Purity Culture?

Purity culture,” is actually a subculture of evangelical Christianity that peaked in the late 20th century.

If you were ever a fan of the Disney channel, you may remember stars like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus wearing these so-called “purity rings”, which were actually a promise from a daughter to a father to not have sex until marriage.

“Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage.”

These also forbid any kind of sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. 

And you might even be thinking, that’s not that bad. It is their choice, and a safe one at that, so what’s the harm? Well, allow me to explain why this is extremely problematic.

The responsibility for this evangelical sexual repression, and keeping sexual desires tamed is entirely on women. It forces them to dress, act and speak modestly in front of men to avoid all or any temptation. It promotes maximum limitation for individuality and calls any act of rebellion impure or even sinful.

That is only valid for women, though. As we have mentioned earlier, it is the women whose bodies are “evil”, due to their biological design. In other words, to not provoke a man’s evil mind, the woman must hide and modify her natural and ‘’God-given” features.  My question is, why hide what God made in his own image? 

Now, the specifics may vary by culture and religion, however, sexuality and gender rules and regulations are pretty cross-cultural and very global in this culture overall.  

 toxic purity culture
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Gender and Purity culture

As mentioned above, women most certainly have a less respectable role within this movement. That is because purity culture views gender as an ultimate binary – the expectations of both genders are almost entirely based on traditional stereotypes the more modern culture is trying to somewhat get rid of, due to the harmful impact they may have on the youth.

Men are expected to be strong, determined, or the “pants of the relationship” if you will. While women are expected to be feminine, pure, kind, and I would even go as far as to say “angelic”. Women are expected to be these helpless, gentle, and fragile creatures, in need of a protective partner – a man. Without whom we’d be, well, impure and doomed.

The one thing that binds both genders is the expectation for both to stay far away from any sexual acts before marriage. And not just in the real world, but in their heads as well: No thoughts or fantasies. Not even a glimpse of what it would feel like to have sex with the person you love. Nothing. 

This is where we circle back to the women’s bodies being evil phrase. Since it is men who bear the weight of impure thoughts, it is women who must maintain their purity through their bodies, in order for sin to be avoided. 

What even is a pure woman? Well, they view pure women as untouched, or unused, which is horrible to even write, let alone live by. They so poetically depict a pure woman as a shiny new car, ready to be ridden by its lucky owner. Whereas an impure woman is a used car, rotting away at your local junkyard.  Did you gag while reading that? Because I sure did.

This just goes back to the usual argument most of us women have: Why are your “impure” thoughts and desires my responsibility? Why do I need to cover my shoulders, knees, cleavage, or stomach so you’d not harm me?

Do you see the kind of damage this can do to impressionable young minds? 

Race in Purity Culture

This is a topic I don’t see being discussed much, and I am very angry about it.  Since Purity culture is heavily based on white American culture, where does that leave people of color? Where does it leave non-white women? 

Here’s the thing, white women have to “maintain” purity, as that is something they were born with, while women of color have to “obtain” it, however, this culture sees fit.

I mean, just look at how purity is depicted visually: Angelic, pale faces with thinner lips, bright-colored eyes, rosy cheeks, long blonde-ish hair, all with a petite figure. Not even half of us white girls fit this harmful narrative. 

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In my opinion, any woman that does not meet these “criteria” is an immediate threat to a man’s dominance and strength. Because why would she need a physically and mentally strong provider if she is one herself? Seems to me like this is aiming to shield women from ever finding their potential in favor of men. 

Speaking of race, and the role it plays here, we have to keep in mind that Christian purity culture in America is heavily centered around white Americans, meaning that it expects a certain pattern to be followed. This leaves everyone who doesn’t fit that mold with a heavy burden to change and adapt, which leads to a lot of unhappiness and ultimate purity culture trauma. That trauma can go unresolved for many many years. Even if the person left their toxic community or church. 

Sexuality in Purity Culture

It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to figure out that this culture strictly forbids any relations or sexual tendencies outside of heterosexual marriage. In our modern society, it is perfectly normal to question your sexuality, experiment with all genders, and simply look at the stars and wonder what would it be like to try this or that. 

Those feelings and thoughts are all valid and deserve a place outside of your head. It saddens me that the equality we are fighting for is seen as sinful in the eyes of purity culture. Or as they would probably call it, a one-way ticket to Hell. 

Something as natural as one person loving or wanting to have sex with another, no matter the race or sexuality, is seen as not only unnatural, but vile, disgusting, and punishment worthy. 

How do you think the queer children growing up in such homes feel? What kind of people will they become? Will they ever get out? Or will they follow in their parents’ and pastor’s footsteps?

Sexuality is a huge spectrum, and forbidding young people to participate in consensual sex is super harmful. This is how abstinence shamed evangelicals, for wanting what everybody else wants or feels.

It takes away their chance to experience first loves, kisses, and sex as they are naturally wired to do. These teachings take away people’s natural urges, feelings, and wishes, and tame them in a golden cage in the name of savior and sexual purity, only to take away the true meaning of life. 

It takes away their chance to experience first loves, kisses, and sex as they are naturally wired to do. These teachings take away people’s natural urges, feelings, and wishes, and tame them in a golden cage in the name of savior and sexual purity, only to take away the true meaning of life. 

Source: Pexels

If you’re a man and have a one-night stand that is expected and normal, but if you’re a woman you’re doing something wrong, you are impure and a “whore”.

As hard as it is for us to demolish this belief, it is 10 times harder for folks within a purity culture. 

With no disrespect whatsoever, it seems to me like they are so focused on the afterlife, that their current and very real life has completely been neglected, with no trace of freedom or happiness. 

Social Aspects of Religion

It’s needed to say that the relationship we choose to have with God is much different from what an institution expects of us. While reading about Christianity specifically, I noticed so many beneficial things you could gain from it, without feeling the pressure of a higherup or anyone for that matter.

For example, I struggled with being positive in life for a while. Everything seemed like it can go wrong at any moment, and I was aware of it. It made me feel very unsafe. Thus, the less confidence you have in yourself, the less you have in life, which leads to this pessimistic view you can’t really get away from. 

But gaining this faith, individually, brings back this security blanket we all had when we were kids. You don’t know what will happen, but through faith, prayers, and confidence, you can choose to believe the best outcome. And the more you do it, the less pessimism you have in your heart. It’s just a happier life overall.

Perhaps we can look at it this way, being religious is only following the church and ancient teachings, while being faithful, is nothing but a relationship you have with God. With full intimacy and belief.

This is very different in purity culture, as your individual say in what you believe in and how you choose to live your life is pretty much non-existent there.

Purity Culture Recovery

When asked if we think abstinence impacts the lives of people condoning in purity culture, it feels as if the question itself is a joke.

For example, an untouched and unused body, along with an intact hymen is a present to a woman’s husband on their wedding night. It is also HER domestic responsibility to maintain that throughout their marriage, whether it is consensual or not.

It takes a lot of time for people to escape that life and mentality fully once they choose to leave it behind.

Young people within a purity culture are not being taught classic sex-ed, as they are only being taught the life of purity and keeping away from sex until marriage. This, not so shockingly, leads to not having adequate and evidence-based sexual knowledge and education.

What does that leave them with? Unwanted relationships, mental health issues, and an overall unsatisfactory experience in life.

Don’t even get me started on the number of unwanted pregnancies that may occur, especially if a woman is forced into a marriage she never wanted to begin with. There are numerous abortion attempts that have led to health complications and even deaths, as abortion as a concept is highly forbidden. “It’s killing a life”, is what they say about the fetus in the womb, but they are not conscious of the life of the woman who is carrying that child! That is the real-life they are actually killing!

Imagine this: You are stuck with a man you never wanted to be with, carrying a child you never wanted to carry, with little to no experience under your belt, forever wanting more from life, with no actual freedom of choice to experience any of it.

And the list goes on.

Source: Pexels

Surviving purity culture means detaching yourself from your church, and often, even your own family. Especially if you lead a life they do not approve of. Being queer for example, etc.

It takes a long time to get used to “normal” life, with normal relationships, friendships, and even actions you were not allowed to participate in. It takes a lot of self-exploration, self-acceptance, and love. It also takes putting yourself first, instead of doing so for your family, church, husband, or God.

Now, this isn’t to say God is not worth your time, no matter your religion. But culturally, socially, and even scientifically, we as a society are way passed self-mutilation and harm in favor of any philosophical and social concept such as religion.

The bottom line is this, you can live a Godly life, all while not sacrificing your own natural urges and wishes for life and concept that isn’t even yours.

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