Elizabeth Smart and the Case Against Christian Abstinence Education

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and raped for nearly a year when she was 14, never thought about running away from her captor despite having opportunities to do it, and part of the reason had to do with her religious upbringing. The 25-year-old said as much as at a recent forum about human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

… [She said] she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Ah yes, the old premarital-sex-is-like-being-a-chewed-up-wad-of-gum lie they teach you in church. A lie that made a young woman who had been raped think of herself as so worthless, she wasn’t worth saving.

It ranks just under the awful premarital-sex-is-like-being-a-dirty-glass-of-water visual.

I assume the purity culture wasn’t the only reason Smart didn’t escape earlier, but it’s the reason she brought up at the forum. It played a part.

Anyone who tells young women (and men, but it’s usually women) that sex before marriage — or even masturbation — makes them impure, unclean, or unworthy of love isn’t worth listening to. There are some legitimate reasons to remain abstinent when you’re young but those aren’t any of them.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.