June 26, 2014

Purity Culture & Sex
Purity culture affected me well into my committed relationship

Us, before marriage, while I was pregnant.
Your usual couple of heathens.

On RH Reality Check, I ran across this quote:
Purity culture is a function of the larger culture of male entitlement. In many ways, purity culture is more dangerous because it bathes entitlement in holiness and God-given gendered roles. Women exist to marry men and to continue the propagation of Christianity via their children. Women are first the property of their fathers, and then their husbands.
It really struck a chord with me. The emphasis on purity culture is often on the "no sex until marriage"--but what about after that? Do people think that purity culture ends there?

I've shared a time or two that I was raised under a rather moderate version of purity culture. I don't blame my parents--they too were raised under it and truly thought they were doing the best that they could for me.

What I want to talk about today is how purity culture has followed me into my marriage, and throughout my nearly eight year relationship with my husband, perhaps in some ways that might surprise you.

Purity culture distorted my view of sex.

I like sex. I like having it with my husband. It's fun.

I've always liked sex, however. When my husband and I were dating, though, this was a source of astronomical guilt for me. Even after we were engaged--shortly after we'd been dating for a year--I felt guilty about sexual intercourse. Even "self-pleasure" caused me significant guilt.

Now, for those of you that are unfamiliar, my husband I were being responsible. We were committed to each other and knew that we would marry. We had plans to prevent pregnancy, and we had talked about what we would do if we did become pregnant. We both knew that we were STI-free. So today, I look back at the nearly six years I went through it, and I wonder what it was all about. What was the big deal?

Purity culture taught me to suppress my sexuality.

Forget being bisexual. Purity culture taught me to suppress any sexuality. Because indulging in sexual thoughts is a sin, it was wrong to fantasize about sex, or to imagine it. It was wrong to read about it.

When I married, this was a switch that was very difficult to just flip on.

Purity culture confused me on the issue of consent.

The first time I ever had sex, I knew I wasn't ready. Not in the slightest. And yet, we'd already kissed, we'd already indulged in touching, we'd already done all of these other things, so it seemed pointless to say no.

No, that's not even accurate. It seemed like I couldn't say no.

I had no idea how to draw boundaries. I had no concept of the idea of consenting to acts that I enjoyed but not consenting to others. From what I had been taught, hand-holding led to kissing which led to rubbing which led to sex. Everything, in fact, led to sex. I was never taught that sex wasn't a forgone conclusion, or that I could, in fact, say no to some acts if I wanted to.

Purity culture tied my self worth to my ability to stay pure.

When I failed, my feelings of self-worth plummeted. When I chose to have sex--even before that, when I chose to engage in acts like kissing--I felt like I was no longer of value. This is a view that I still fight. It still impacts me today.

Purity culture distorted my view of men.

Men are only interested in sex. The underlying theme was that girls who had sex before marriage were allowing men to get what they wanted. Men weren't interested in marrying for any other reason. It was never vocalized that way, but the subtext wasn't difficult to pick up on.

That men were only interested in sex and were visual creatures played well into the influences of the media around me. It may seem surprising, but I was shocked when my husband explained that he was interested in more than sex and looks. He does, in fact, love me for other reasons. This conflicts with my purity cultural context--if he wanted to be with me for more than sex, then what would have been the point of withholding sex?

Purity culture trained me to see sex as a duty.

Even today, I see sex as a wifely duty. I feel guilty if I say no, even though my husband has made it clear that it's "my body, my rules", so to speak.

Do you consider that odd? Consider what Sarah Moon says here:
Grace Driscoll tells a heartbreaking story of how she was sexually assaulted when she was younger, and her fear of sex that came with that, stating that she still “needed to obey God and be sensitive to my husband’s physical needs.” (pg. 164)
This woman was traumatized by a sexual assault and still saw servicing her husband as a duty.

The problem with painting it as a duty is that it comes with the added baggage of painting this activity, that should be fun and enjoyable, as a chore. A decade of feeling guilty about having sex, combined with this, makes engaging in sex willingly and regularly difficult. In this way, purity culture influences my marriage every day.

Couple of heathens again.

There are many that argue that purity culture is good for women. It teaches us self respect, supposedly. It encourages men to respect us. It's tradition.

Every single one of these arguments is bullshit. Purity culture is damaging, and the damage that it inflicts follows women long into the rest of their lives. It's damage that those of us that move on spend every day undoing.

This last picture is one of my favorites. I actually ran across it on my youngest sister's Facebook page a few weeks after it was taken. We weren't a couple of heathens here, as it was the afternoon of our wedding day.

But it just epitomizes how I feel about my marriage--this man is my best friend, the one that I can talk to about anything. We're partners, always walking side by side. I was not cheapened, and my marriage not made "less than", by my sexual experiences.

For those of you coming out of the same culture, neither were you.

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