Amanda Barbee on how the purity movement cloaks female sexuality in silence and shame, stunting women in their growth as sexual beings and causing long-lasting psychological and spiritual damage.
I don’t normally post about social issues or personal stuff here, but I read this article a few days ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it or the light bulbs it set off for me as a former Evangelical. Today being International Women’s Day, it seemed appropriate to share this article with others who have been, and continue to be, affected by purity culture.
You see, I could have been part of the study group. That was me from the moment I hit puberty and my mother, my friends’ mothers, my Christian schoolteachers, and my church youth leaders began to hammer the message of modesty into my head. That was me when I became aware of sexual feelings but didn’t really understand them or my body or my emotions because my only sex education was 7th grade biology and True Love Waits. That was me when I was sixteen and asked my parents if I could watch Braveheart and they said it was okay so long as I closed my eyes while my friend’s mom fast-forwarded through the sex scenes. That was me when my parents found out I’d been kissing my boyfriend and suddenly it called my relationship with God into question. That was me on my wedding night, giving my husband the most precious gift a woman possessed, crying because I was naked. That was me struggling through the first few years of marriage because sex was supposed to be emotional for women and physical for men, and i just didn’t fit into that box.
This is me now, five years post-Christianity, ten years married, mother of a four year-old, and only now beginning to see how entrenched I was in the purity culture, how twenty-five years in that culture continues to inform my views on relationships and sexuality, how these themes are finding an outlet in my fiction. This is me, accepting of my own sexuality (and feeling damn lucky not to be as scarred by purity culture as many I know are), yet afraid to share my writing, or sometimes even to write at all, because I know that to those (I love) in the purity culture, there is no distinction between sensuality and pornography.
This is me, still naked and ashamed.
Thank you so much for posting this and for pointing out the article to me. For so many years, I thought I was alone in the feelings of shame and disconnection that came from being raised Evangelical and in the Purity movement.
I remember reading “Every Woman’s Battle” in college because I felt ashamed of all the sexual feelings I was having and thought I needed to be ‘cleansed’ of such ‘impurities.’ We were silenced and shunned while men were ‘brave’ and their struggles pretty much glorified. If they gave in, it’s because they couldn’t help it (and it was our job to make sure they weren’t tempted. Nothing eviller than an immodest woman.) If we gave in, we were ruined.
I remember having it drilled into my head that there would only ever be one man for me: one first kiss, one first date, etc., and this was how God ordained it. If you weren’t ‘right’ with God, you had no business starting a relationship with a man—the righteous were rewarded and if you had no relationship…it was because you were doing something wrong….and the men around you could obviously see that—at least, that was my takeaway for decades.
Years later, I have no idea how to act around men that I’m interested in or who might be interested in me. I am still coming to terms with the basic functions of my own body.
I think what resonated the most with me was the last line in the article:
The purity movement has desecrated women’s bodies and shamed them into silence and isolation. Much has been lost and there is much to grieve.
I still feel like I’m coming out of that silence and isolation, but it takes years.