“Save yourself for marriage! Otherwise, you lose your value to God and your future spouse” The message I’m describing has a name. It’s called purity culture.
Purity culture was born in the 1990s as a response to the AIDS epidemic. At the core, purity culture promotes abstaining from sex until marriage.
More than that, they spread messages like “Women’s bodies are dangerous and capable of causing men to sin” or “Even sexual thoughts are sinful before marriage”. Some promoters go as far as saying that hugs are dangerous since they lead to sexual arousal.
Silence is their way to go since they believe that talking about sex will encourage unmarried people to have sex.
The teachings resulted in anxiety and fear. Men have suffered from erectile dysfunction, women vaginismus from decades of shaming around sexual desire.
In the American evangelical church, many girls take a purity pledge from a young age. “Believing that true love waits, I commit to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship,” the pledge states.
The rhetoric uses vivid images and comparisons. Some youth groups pass around a cup of water, have everyone spit in it and then ask if anyone still wants to drink it. They compare girls who had sex before marriage with chewed gum. A tape that’s lost its stickiness. A torn-up piece of water. Or an unwrapped gift. All of them equate to the same theme: your worth is tied to your purity.
The campaign involved famous Disney celebrities like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and the Jonas Brothers. Using young actors was effective since they made the message look fun and more approachable to a large audience.
Lately, singer Demi Lovato spoke up about the effects of that upbringing. “I lost my virginity in a rape,” Lovato says in her documentary, Dancing with the Devil, revealing that a fellow actor sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and starring on a Disney Channel show. “I was a part of that Disney Crowd that publically said they were waiting till marriage. I didn’t have a romantic first time with anybody. So, what, I’m supposed to come out to the public after saying I have a promise ring?”
In recent times, more and more survivors are criticizing purity culture. One example of necessary activism is Brenda Marie Davis. Feeling guilty about losing her virginity, she got married to a man she didn’t love in an attempt to right her wrongs. In her book “On Her Knees,” she describes battling her faith and her shame.
“The problem was because Purity is an idol (a validated and worshiped idol), I didn’t know who or what I’d be without my totem. My Christianity depended on Purity.”
Davis states: “The church calls out culture for being obsessed with sex, but the church’s obsession with not having sex is equally consuming.”
In places like Texas, where sex education is limited, abortion and teen pregnancy rates remain high. The Netherlands and California, however, offer comprehensive sex education, and the proof is in their fruit. With comprehensive, fact-based education, abortion and teen pregnancy rates fall.
Teaching young adults inaccurate information about their bodies and then shaming them when they fail to follow purity culture’s outdated guidelines is not a healthy or helpful form of sex education. There is no problem with the free choice to be abstinent. Yet, there is a big problem with religious leaders using remarkably unhealthy tactics for getting people to arrive at that choice.
Book: Brenda Marie Davis – On Her Knees: Memoirs of a Prayerful Jezebel