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 chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/TweetThatSheet Daniel Brown

    Erm… I’m no psychologist, but I believe this is an unfortunately all too common thought process among all kinds of women who are raped – religious or not. They feel they are “damaged goods”. Sorry, I just can’t blame religion for this one.

    • Fargofan

      That’s true but religion doesn’t help, to say the least.

    • Nate Frein

      No, it’s a purity culture aided and abetted by religion.

      • Spuddie

        Purity culture is CREATED by religion.

        I don’t know of any secular justifications for it.

        • Nate Frein

          True. That’s a much better way of putting it.

    • Christoph

      And where does the concept of “damaged goods” come from?

      • Bribase

        There’s is a clear evolutionary pressure to make sure that one’s offspring is one’s own and the best way to enforce that was to make sure their spouse had never slept with another man, meting out harsh punishments for those females that had done or had the missfortune of breaking their hymen in other ways. This, along with other strictures on women were codified and fossilised in religion.

        Religion isn’t the cause of purity culture in and of itself. But it has been more than instrumental, as always, at perpetuating societal rules and constructs that we have otherwise outgrown as a species.

        • ortcutt

          The subject under discussion is the present-day proximate cause of the shame, which is religion. I don’t see the relevance of sociobiological just-so stories about how our paleolithic ancestors might have acquired such an idea.

        • Anna

          Except that doesn’t take into account the fact that there are human cultures that don’t try to enforce female virginity or monogamy. See the Mosuo people of China:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosuo#Walking_marriages

          • Earl G.

            And exactly as evolutionary theory would predict, these children are not raised by their fathers, let alone their step fathers. They are raised by their mothers and the mothers’ kin. The male is not investing in paternal care, so cuckoldry would be of little concern.

            Sounds like a case of the exception proving the rule.

            • Anna

              But it’s certainly evidence of a society in which men have no need for their female partners to be either virginal or monogamous.

        • baal

          Check out “kin selection evolution”. Essentially, if you want ‘your genes’ passed on, it might be better for you to never reproduce if your kin (genetic related) get to reproduce. So long as we’re imagining early tribal humans, they were on foot and likely limited on how far they could travel. In that context, ‘best’ may differ from your imagination.

          Religions are the cultural meme repository in the U.S. the whole sale teaches purity as a good thing. They are wrong to do so and as they are the primary support for the notion, it’s entirely fair to blame religion for the problem these days.

        • Greg G.

          There’s is a clear evolutionary pressure to make sure that one’s offspring is one’s own and the best way to enforce that was to make sure their spouse had never slept with another man, meting out harsh punishments for those females that had done or had the missfortune of breaking their hymen in other ways.

          No there isn’t. There is evolutionary pressure to be a good provider for a woman’s offspring even if they aren’t yours. It would be better to punish your rival than your partner. That’s what most creatures do.

          • Earl G.

            “There is evolutionary pressure to be a good provider for a woman’s offspring even if they aren’t yours…That’s what most creatures do.”

            Sorry, no. That is one of the most strongly selected-against things in all of evolution. It is absolutely not what most creatures do. In this circumstance, animals are far more likely to commit infanticide, abandon a nest, or simply let the female raise the previous kids alone until she’s ready to breed again. In the rare cases they do help out, it is usually very half-assed compared to when they themselves are the father. This sort of thing has been studied to death, really, with dozens of species, models fitting paternal care metrics to probability of paternity, studies looking at what cues males use to determine if the kids are theirs, etc. Evolutionary biologists have been all over this for decades.

        • TheAnti-Coconut

          There’s also a clear evolutionary pressure to make sure your children come out with the best genes, encouraging a woman to have multiple partners when a better mate becomes available.

          On the flip-side, female monogamy can be tied into the bargain struck between men and women in exchange for male parental support.

          • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

            Nope. That attitude didn’t arise until we started cultivating land which also meant owning property. then there was the matter of inheritance. That was fairly recently in the development of our species. It does explain why it is part of some (though not all) cultures, but it’s not evolutionary.

      • Georgina Smyth

        Exodus 22:16 – you break it you buy it.
        Women as commodities. Makes one sick.

      • Spuddie

        The idea that virginity is a good to be sold off to the highest bidder by one’s parents. Typical old school religious attitudes towards daughters.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      really? seems to me religion is the ultimate root of all the different forms of blame and shaming and denial. it’s certainly not coming from science, psychology, or the community of reason. “purity” is a blatantly religious concept.

      • Pseudonym

        I’m not Daniel Brown, but… yes, really.

        It’s undeniable that it was crucial in Elizabeth Smart’s case. However, blame and shaming and denial are common themes in public relations, advertising, political spin and any number of other things which women (and men) are subjected to in modern culture.

        If “purity” is a religious concept, why do (harmful) anti-bacterial products and (quack) “detox cleanses” sell so well?

        This is something very deep in our psychology that everyone out to make a buck is more than willing to exploit. It would still be there, even if there were no religion. And yes, scientists and psychologists, the modern equivalent of Edward Bernays, would still be there helping those who want to manipulate you.

      • mrobman

        I’m not convinced that “purity” is a blatantly religious concept. I’ve heard numerous non-religious people essentially discussing other peoples’ purity, but just in different words. The vocabulary is different, but the meaning is the same; people tend to universally see virtue (feel free to replace with a synonymous term) as a desirable trait in others.

    • Hat Stealer

      Given that the victim in this case specifically said that her feelings of shame and filth came from her Christian upbringing, I’m not sure if your point has much weight.

      • mrobman

        Incorrect. She said she heard the “gum” analogy from a teacher at school, not at church. The analogy is false, too, but you’re attributing it to the wrong source.

        • Daniel_JM

          If I was a betting person I’d wager everything in my bank account that the teacher at her school who used the gum analogy was religious and teaching a conservative Christian principle.

    • Sue Blue

      It’s a thought process that is the result of cultural conditioning via patriarchal religions. It is not an instinct inherent to some specialized feminine neurological structure. To think so is just another way to demean the intelligence and humanity of women.

      I know several non-religious women who have been raped and were traumatized and outraged – but they didn’t feel they are “damaged goods” or that their “purity” has been taken from them. They feel the same way a man who has been mugged or assaulted feels.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jacob.cross.3760430 Jacob Cross

        I am a man who has been mugged and stabbed. Not at the same time. I do not think the way I feel about it is equatable to being raped. I’ll admit that I almost brag about what I did to the man who stabbed me, regardless, I would never feel proud of being raped. It would be another unmentionable entry in my library of shame. Is this wrong? Absolutely.

    • ortcutt

      Everyone who is raped will believe that her (or his) autonomy and bodily integrity (i.e. the right to decide what she will do with her body) has been violated, because that is what rape is. What is different about religious, purity-based shame is the further harm of thinking that you’ve been polluted and you are no longer worthy because of the rape. That is something different and something that is deeply harmful to the victims of rape.

    • stanz2reason

      geeze, why all the vote downs. The notion that women who’ve had sex, even those who’ve been raped, are some how broken isn’t a notion that’s wholly the product of religious views. I think this is a fair point to make. Maybe the impression people got from Daniel’s last sentence is he was giving religious beliefs a free pass, but I don’t think that’s what he meant.

      • Anna

        I’m just curious, you don’t think it’s wholly the product of religious views? I can’t imagine a woman not indoctrinated into religion thinking that having sex means that she is now “broken” in some way. Where would such an idea come from, if not from religious notions of purity?

        • stanz2reason

          Someones self-worth is the product of many influences. While in this instance it appears religious views played a large part in the way she (Smart) felt, I don’t think it holds that that’s always the case. An athlete reaching retirement age might feel their post-sports life is worthless once their body starts to break down. A parent who has lost a child, might feel their lives are worthless, even if that’s just a temporary function of their grief. I’d imagine the same holds true for people who suffer from any extremely stressful situations or chronic depression.

          With regards to sexuality, men or women who can’t perform or bear offspring might have a crisis of self-worth that isn’t necessarily related to some sort of religious ideals. You can also view your sexuality as important to you without notions of religious purity. Should it be taken from you without your permission, a psychological response of dramatically diminished self-worth might follow. I addition, assigning some sort of self-blame in a psychologically stressful situation doesn’t necessarily have to follow from any pre-existing moral frameworks.

          • Anna

            I agree with what you say here, but you included consensual sex in your original comment, not just rape.

            The notion that women who’ve had sex … are some how broken isn’t a notion that’s wholly the product of religious views.

            I’m baffled by the claim that, absent religion, consensual sex could ever lead to a woman feeling that she is “broken.” It seems to me that she would have to get the idea from somewhere, in this case from religion telling her that having sex means that she is no longer pure or whole.

            • stanz2reason

              There are emotional side effects to consensual sex that might lead someone who isn’t mature enough for them to feel broken in a way, like they gave away something personal they weren’t ready to part with.

              There’s a line in the film ‘Chasing Amy’ that goes something to the effect of ‘Men need to believe they’re Marco Polo with sex.’ (as a side note that’s a good flick that shows what can happen when the illusions of chastity are shattered, and I don’t think the characters response is coming from a religious POV). From a physical standpoint and this’ll sound crude, but no one really likes sloppy seconds. Show me the guy who prefers his wife had many partners, and I’ll show you a liar. I believe your average woman is somewhat aware of this phenomena. I’d venture a guess that this has less to do with some sort of moral judgement, and more some sort of primal marking your territory thing, though I’m sure psychologists and sociologists could say this more eloquently than I.

              My point is I think there is a tendency amongst our skeptical community to overstate the negative effects of religion and place all the blame for the ills of the world on the pious. This opens us up to accusations of exaggerating our complaints making it easier to dismiss them. There is no shortage of things where it’s easy to place the blame squarely at the feet of the church.

              • Anna

                There’s a line in the film ‘Chasing Amy’ that goes something to the effect of ‘Men need to believe they’re Marco Polo with sex.’ … From a physical standpoint and this’ll sound crude, but no one really likes sloppy seconds. Show me the guy who prefers his wife had many partners, and I’ll show you a liar.

                Um, wow. Let’s just say I’m glad that you and I don’t travel in the same circles! I have never had a boyfriend who was at all interested in whether I was a virgin or how many previous sexual partners I’d had.

                And where are these men getting the idea that virginity is to be prized? That a virgin is good, pure, noble, virtuous, and makes a better girlfriend or wife? They’re absorbing that attitude from the culture, and the culture is informed by Christian notions of purity which both fetishizes and exalts female virginity.

                There are emotional side effects to consensual sex that might lead someone who isn’t mature enough for them to feel broken in a way, like they gave away something personal they weren’t ready to part with.

                Only if they’ve been exposed to the same culture that tells them being a virgin is better than not being a virgin, and that having sex for the first is inherently some kind of transformative experience that takes something important away from a woman.

                My point is I think there is a tendency amongst our skeptical community to overstate the negative effects of religion and place all the blame for the ills of the world on the pious. This opens us up to accusations of exaggerating our complaints making it easier to dismiss them. There is no shortage of things where it’s easy to place the blame squarely at the feet of the church.

                Sure, but in this case, I think the blame can be placed squarely on Western religion. Many traditional cultures don’t have the same virginity fetish. I mentioned the Mosuo people of China elsewhere in the comment section. They’re a good example of a society in which female virginity and monogamy is entirely unimportant.

                • stanz2reason

                  Um, wow. Let’s just say I’m glad that you and I don’t travel in the same circles! I have never had a boyfriend who was at all interested in whether I was a virgin or how many previous sexual partners I’d had.

                  Feel free to ask your boyfriend if he’d prefer, all other things being equal, that you had 2 previous partners vs. 200 previous partners. I’m not suggesting this to be grounds for a break up, a fight, or even more than a simple question and answer. I’m not suggesting that he (or I for that matter) am making some sort of moral judgement on that matter. I am suggesting that, all else being equal, he’d prefer less than more, and that this is not necessarily due to religious beliefs. I don’t know you or your boyfriend, but I believe a response of an unqualified indifference has a high probability of being dishonest.

                  And where are these men getting the idea that virginity is to be prized?

                  Sociologists and anthropologists would give you a better answer. I feel there is an natural sense of possessiveness with romantic partners (for both men & women) that makes us want them all to ourselves. While the reasonable part of us understands that this means in the present and future, I believe this might also unreasonably but in a sense naturally extend to the past as well. I do not think you can blame religious beliefs for this.

                  Only if they’ve been exposed to the same culture that tells them being a virgin is better than not being a virgin, and that having sex for the first time is inherently some kind of transformative experience that takes something important away from a woman.

                  Whether or not you ascribe religious significance to your virginity does not mean that to most people, the first time they have sexual intercourse isn’t a notable event in their lives. It probably won’t be very good and it’ll probably be awkward. It probably won’t change your life. But I think it’s a fair assumption that people are more likely to remember their first time having sex than their 30th or 85th time, the same way you might remember your first time doing anything (driving, taking a plane, going to school, etc.) A first time does not always carry religious significance.

                  Sure, but in this case, I think the blame can be placed squarely on Western religion.

                  I’ve already noted this when I said While in this instance it appears religious views played a large part in the way she (Smart) felt…. So yes, in this very specific instance, it appears the religiously inspired lessons on chastity learned from her gym teacher (or who ever), had a profound psychological contribution to her feelings of worthlessness caused by her kidnapping and subsequent raping. At no point have I taken issue with this. My only point, that I’ve had to defend to the point of exhaustion and boredom is that I disagree with the notion that ALL cases of feeling worthless or broken (sexually or otherwise) are the direct cause of religious beliefs.

                • Anna

                  I can see where you are going with this, and I don’t disagree that there may be some psychological factors. Sexual possession and jealousy exist independently of religion, but it seems to me to be fairly impossible to separate men’s discomfort with women’s sexuality from the culture, particularly since we live in a society that heavily promotes the idea that female virginity and monogamy is important. If most men feel discomfort at the prospect of their girlfriend having had many previous sexual partners, how can one say that society is not to blame?

                  Society is where they got the idea that virginity matters. The entire time they are growing up, boys and girls in American culture are exposed to messages telling them that monogamy is important and that female virginity is to be prized. And our society is influenced by Christianity, which contains the ultimate exaltation of female virginity in their mythology: a pure, holy virgin who gave birth to their god!

                  Female virgins are associated with positive attributes: purity, wholeness, innocence, virtue, faithfulness, while sexually active women (especially those active with many partners) have traditionally been considered dirty, sullied sluts. Our society has moved past some of these hang-ups, but not all of them. Normal people don’t consider all sexually active women bad anymore, but there’s still a double standard. It’s okay for men to have many partners, but not women.

                  I do think this obsession with not just current, but previous sexual partners is something that is cultural. I’m not saying that every man who is uncomfortable with his partner’s sexual history is himself religious, just that he has been influenced by a culture that has gotten its sexual taboos from religion. If a religion, say, placed a strong emphasis on menstruating women polluting men who touch them, then you would find most men in that society freaked out by menstruating women, regardless of whether or not they were personally religious. They may even realize that the idea of such pollution is offensive and irrational, but they might still have misgivings about being touched by a menstruating woman.

                  Whether or not you ascribe religious significance to your virginity does not mean that to most people, the first time they have sexual intercourse isn’t a notable event in their lives. … A first time does not always carry religious significance.

                  Sure, but it carries cultural significance. I think we might be at cross purposes because I see Western culture as having been heavily influenced by Christian sexual ethos. When virginity has been a) specifically tied to a woman’s moral worth, b) claimed to have a transformative effect, and c) said to take something physically and emotionally important away from a woman, then it seems reasonable to conclude that some women might feel that even consensual sex has left them “broken” in some way.

                  My only point, that I’ve had to defend to the point of exhaustion and boredom is that I disagree with the notion that ALL cases of feeling worthless or broken (sexually or otherwise) are the direct cause of religious beliefs.

                  I don’t disagree with the idea that there could be other factors. Maybe it’s just the “direct cause” part that we disagree on. I think religion is the primary cause of such feelings in Western culture, even if the connection is not apparent on the surface. I don’t think it’s simple to separate out culture from religion. An atheist who realizes that religious objections to homosexuality are offensive and nonsensical might still have personal fears or misgivings due to repeated exposure to religiously-inspired homophobia in their formative years. I think the same is true for other aspects of sexuality and for other issues as well.

                • stanz2reason

                  I think for much of this we’re ultimately on the same page. There are cultural/societal influences which I wouldn’t agree as being strictly religious, yet if you go back on the cultural/societal family tree of values (so to speak) it’d be impossible to 100% separate all religious influence at some point along the way. At what point this value or it’s slightly altered descendants (to continue with the metaphor) change from religious value to some other categorical phenomenon is debatable.

                  Look, for me there is no shortage of things to target the church on with regards to their ridiculous views being forced on unwilling members of society, homosexual marriage and subsequent recognition and rights are a good one currently. And there’s no denying that religious beliefs have a strong negative effect on people, especially in this instance with Elizabeth Smart. I think it prudent, however, to not overstate a grievance beyond what it easily shown to be a legit grievance. I feel the notion that religious belief is solely responsible for all instances of a crisis of self-worth following a sexual encounter (consensual or not) to be an overstatement along the lines of blaming all the ills of the world on religion. They deserve much of the fault, debatably most of the fault, but not all the fault. I realize I’m in the minority here based on vote downs and a number of petty semantic arguments above, but I’m sticking by that view.

                • Anna

                  Yes, I think we’re basically on the same page.

                  They deserve much of the fault, debatably most of the fault, but not all the fault.

                  I certainly agree with this. It would be interesting to find out, though, if any cultures ever put women in a subordinate position without saying that gods or spirits demanded that role for women. Maybe some Eastern or tribal cultures?

              • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                Are you really citing Kevin Smith as an authority on the male psyche?

                • stanz2reason

                  No. At no point did I cite or even suggest him as an authority on any such thing. I cited a line from a film I thought appropriate to the discussion.

                • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                  Yes, my mistake. You appear to have cited yourself as an authority with Smith’s line as supporting evidence.

                • stanz2reason

                  Again incorrect. I’ve not claimed any sort of authority (and in fact have noted multiple times that sociologists or anthropologists would be better qualified to answer certain questions), and have offered nothing but my opinion. Nor would citing a line in a film be evidence that supports or refutes my arguments. It was cited as similar in principle to the point I was making, as a means of more clearly articulate that point rather than evidence to support that point.

                • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                  You’ve suggested that sociologists and anthropologists would *support* you — something else for which you’ve failed to provide evidence. Furthermore, what you’re speculating about is evolutionary psychology, a field which has had its growing pains, to say the least.

                  In any case, opinions like this, “Show me the guy who prefers his wife had many partners, and I’ll show you a liar” that make sweeping statements with built-in out-clauses are shitty opinions and ought to be kept hidden if not discarded.

                • stanz2reason

                  Sociologists and anthropologists would give you a better answer.

                  Those are my words. This doesn’t imply they’d support or refute my argument, but that they’d be better qualified to give a response from a position of having studied such things. Regardless of the specific field, fine, evolutionary psychology, the relevant point is that I offered freely that there are people who having studied such things would be better qualified to offer a more concrete evaluation of my claims. Again, as I’ve said before, I haven’t offered myself as an authority on such things and have offered only my opinion which is of course speculative.

                  In any case, opinions like this, “Show me the guy who prefers his wife had many partners, and I’ll show you a liar” that make sweeping statements with built-in out-clauses are shitty opinions and ought to be kept hidden if not discarded.

                  I’ve turned a phrase (‘Show me an X, and I’ll show you a liar’) that’s been interpreted as a literal statement of fact. So Yes, technically speaking such sweeping statements are incorrect, which is of course why I then later said:

                  Perhaps it’s not correct to suggest ‘All people…’ when ‘Many or most people…’ would be better.

                  . I’m guilty of not properly qualifying every single thing I’ve ever written. In making a broad, in my opinion (please note opinion) fair, generalization, it’s improper to make a statement that implies all of a given set, even if that phrase is what I feel an obvious exaggeration designed to convey a figurative understanding of ‘many or most men’ rather than the literal understanding of ‘every man in the history of humanity’.

                  None of this of course speaks to the content of my overall point, which I still stand behind.

                • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                  Why do you keep mentioning that it’s your opinion? Do you think it ought to shield you from criticism? You’ve made arguments that, presumably, were intended to influence others. If they’re based on any demonstrable facts, then they’re not just random brain spillings, are they?

                • stanz2reason

                  Why do you keep mentioning that it’s your opinion?

                  I thought that by commenting on an internet blog it was clear that what I’m offering is an opinion, not making a statement that I’m an authority in the fields of social science. I assumed this would be assumed, even by the simplest of people. Yet I was greeted with:

                  Yes, my mistake. You appear to have cited yourself as an authority

                  Citing an opinion is not claiming authority.

                  Do you think it ought to shield you from criticism?

                  Of course not. It’ll shield me from accusations that I’m offering opinion disguised as empirical fact. Nothing more.

                  You’ve made arguments that, presumably, were intended to influence others. If they’re {not} based on any demonstrable facts, then they’re not just random brain spillings, are they?

                  I’ve stated an opinion, and have noted countless times that it is nothing more. Had I a crayon and paper I’d draw it out for you in a way that might be more clear.

                • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                  Very well. You’ve convinced me that most of what you’ve written has little informational value, and that I’ve wasted my time. Carry on.

                • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

                  “I’d venture a guess that this has less to do with some sort of moral judgement, and more some sort of primal marking your territory thing, though I’m sure psychologists and sociologists could say this more eloquently than I.”

                  Am I reading this incorrectly?

                • stanz2reason

                  I don’t know, how exactly are you reading this? If you’re reading it as I’m offering a guess as to why something is, but suggesting that more qualified people would offer more concrete opinions, then yes you’re reading it correctly. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘answer’ rather than ‘say’. My intent was closer to ‘answer’ rather than an implication that they’d automatically echo what I’m saying. Is that more clear?

              • onamission5

                So you’re a mind reader who knows what all men think about their partner’s prior sex lives. Call Sylvia Brown, she’s out of a job.
                Also, you talk about “wives” as if wives are a special category of property whose primary existence is to please men. Gross.

                • stanz2reason

                  No, I can not speak for all men, but I do not think it is a stretch to suggest that, all else being equal, most men (or women) would prefer their wives (or husbands) would have had less partners than more. This isn’t to suggest it’d be a deal breaker (or even a big deal), just that there might be non-religious caused reasons for this. You’re free to disagree with that premise.

                  You’re taking liberties by making assumptions about what I’m saying. I’m not being subtle. I’m not implying anything other than what I’ve explicitly stated. At no point have I suggested that the existence of women, primary or otherwise, is to simply to please men. What I am suggesting is that there is a level of primal possessiveness (common in both men and women) that want their partners to themselves, and this instinctual phenomena is not caused by the church.

                • onamission5

                  Except, your suggestions are inaccurate. I can give you at least one example. I don’t give a fuck how many partners my spouse had before me. I don’t own him, I didn’t own him before we met, I don’t consider sex something dirty which taints people who do it. I don’t care who or how many people he slept with. I care about two things. How he treated them, and how me treats me. Oh, a second example: spouse feels the same way about me and my sex life. In your post, you said that he is a liar. How would you know better than I if my own spouse is lying to me?

                  You may consider sex to be something dirty which taints those who have it, and you may feel that you have come to that conclusion independent of religious influence, but just because you do, does not mean everyone does.

                  “Sloppy seconds?” Sheesh. You do realize that the act of sex isn’t something that sticks around on a person for years on end, right?

                • stanz2reason

                  Perhaps it’s not correct to suggest ‘All people…’ when ‘Many or most people…’ would be better. I think those that are, in an all things being equal sense, 100% indifferent to their partners sexual past are an overwhelming minority. You’re free to disagree, as you are also free to express such things with an unnecessary hostility.

                  You may consider sex to be something dirty which taints those who have it, and you may feel that you have come to that conclusion independent of religious influence

                  Putting words in someone elses mouth is the sign of a small angry person. Feel free to spend your time attacking an imaginary strawman, because at no point did I say or even imply such a thing.

                  “Sloppy seconds?” Sheesh. You do realize that the act of sex isn’t something that sticks around on a person for years on end, right?

                  Forgive the turning of a phrase which was admittedly crude (I did mention that) but similar in principle to the topic at hand. I realize that aside from pregnancy, or STD’s, or sex related injuries, or photos or videos of the act or any sort of memory of such sex that the actual act of sex via the exchange of bodily fluids (ie. cooties) does not stick around on a person for years on end.

              • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

                Not a single complaint here has been exaggerated. You seem unaware that many of us grew up in fundamentalist churches and homes. We don’t have to exaggerate or distort. We remember it all quite well. And yes, I know plenty of people with fucked up ideas about sex because they were taught that it was dirty and shameful.

        • Nobody

          If you can’t imagine a woman “not indoctrinated into religion” not suffering enormous pressure to look and act in certain ways, then I suggest looking around. Control-freak patriarchy is hardly a uniquely religious phenomenon.

          • Anna

            As I said elsewhere in the comment section, if a woman has somehow gotten the idea that having sex means that she is “broken,” I think that belief ultimately stems from religious (specifically Christian) notions of purity.

            I’m honestly not aware of non-religious patriarchy in the United States. Certainly the only groups currently promoting patriarchal families and calling for the virginity of unmarried women are followers of conservative religion. I’m not familiar with any current secular leaders or organizations advocating such things.

      • Gus Snarp

        Well, how about you find me some reference to where this was taught to girls and NOT inspired by religion any time in say, the history of the United States.

        • Spuddie

          The slavery context is about the only place where it comes to mind. Virginity of slave being a selling point for purient purchasers.

        • stanz2reason

          see above response to Anna. I feel I’ve addressed this and I don’t have anything further to add at this time.

    • StudentSemipermeable

      Even if this is true, exaggerating the situation with school sponsored slut shaming doesn’t help. Adding heaven/hell damnation to it makes the phenomenon even worse and more dramatic. If schools taught a healthier, practical model of safe sex, communication and how to set personal values for yourself, then she would at least have had a second voice in her head saying ‘No, some girls have sex and still turn out just fine.”

      • Monika Jankun-Kelly

        What she should have thought of is *consent*. Being raped is against one’s will, and nothing like freely choosing to have sex. If they want to teach chastity, they should at least focus on thought, they should teach about choice and consent, and not focus so much just on penetrative sex, hymens, and slut shaming. They came up with “second virginity”, so the idea of chastity not being all about the body isn’t entirely foreign to them, there is hope. We can’t expect a conservative Christian girl to think freely chosen affectionate premarital sex is just fine, but she should at least be able to differentiate between having rape forced on her and freely choosing to not be chaste.

      • TheAnti-Coconut

        “No, some girls have sex and still turn out just fine.” Can we put this on a billboard!?

  • ortcutt

    Let’s not call it “abstinence education”. It doesn’t have anything to do with education. It’s slut-shaming. The message is that if you have premarital sex, then you’re a slut and damaged goods.

    • onamission5

      +eleventy to this. There’s nothing educational about it.

    • Pseudonym

      Unfortunately, “slut-shaming” is a jargon term. We know what it means, but someone who doesn’t might think that “sluttiness” (whatever that means) is shameful, so slut-shaming is a good thing.

      I suggest that in public, we use the more general term “sexual bullying”. It is, after all, a textbook example of gender being used as a weapon to intimidate people (in this case, young girls).

      • ortcutt

        I think it’s a very effective piece of jargon. 95% of people have premarital sex by age 44. If they are trying to define 95% of the population as immoral sluts, then they’re simply crazy.

        • Pseudonym

          Many people who buy into the whole non-sex-education nonsense would probably be happy to define 95% of the population as immoral sluts. It would help them to feel more like a persecuted minority.

          • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson
          • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson

            I challenge you to watch the WHOLE thing and see if what was reported on this blog is REALLY what she was saying?
            It’s a simple scientific research. Watch the video and compare it to this guy’s blog.

            • Pseudonym

              I think you meant to reply to someone other than me.

              No, I didn’t watch the video. That’s why I didn’t comment on Elizabeth Smart’s remarks specifically, but rather on the more general phenomenon of slut-shaming and the even more general phenomenon of sexual bullying.

    • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson

      Smart wasn’t suggesting that teaching abstinence had made her feel worthless after being raped, as some sources concluded.

      Smart wasn’t saying that because of her religious teachings that she felt like a “chewed up piece of gum.” The gum analogy came from a school teacher (by the way). But again, that was stretched.

      Many sources simply took a few quotes (particularly about the chewing gum) and built a story and idea around just that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson

        The message that I gathered from the elegant Smart was the importance of educating children about human trafficking, teaching them to be prepared because parents won’t be able to be with their children every second of the day (or night), and also to instill in these children a strong sense of self-worth, so should they ever (heaven forbid) be trafficked they would have the strength to overcome.

        Smart was raped. She felt worthless because of it. I don’t think she would have felt less worthless if her school teacher hadn’t taught that abstinence before marriage is ideal, or if her parents hadn’t taught her the sacredness of intimacy. In fact, it was her parents love and teachings that pulled her through her nine months in captivity.

        She came to the realization that her parents would love her no matter what. No matter what had happened to her, or what she had been through, they would love her. And the hope of being reunited with her loving parents kept her going.

        There was no hidden agenda about discontinuing abstinence instruction. Her message was one of hope. It was centered around the value of a soul, and how important it is that every child know their value.

        • Daniel_JM

          I think it’s pretty dishonest of you to pretend that you know how Ms.
          Smart would have felt about her rape without the teaching about sex she
          heard while growing up. Maybe you don’t feel like her purity-centered
          view of sex contributed to her feeling worthless, but she does, so I’ll
          trust her rather than you.

          I’ve experience the type of purity-based sex education she had first hand in
          churches, youth group, school, and at home, and it absolutely teaches
          women and girls to not have a strong sense of self-worth and that they
          are dirty and unwanted if they aren’t totally “pure” when they “submit”
          sexually to their future husband. That view is disgusting, has done a lot of
          damage to women and men, and plays a large role in how screwed up the American culture (especially conservative Christian culture) can be when it comes to sexuality.

        • Empire

          I think you’re the only person that got this right.

  • Sue Blue

    This just enrages me – destroying a girl’s self-esteem and chance for an independent, fulfilling future. I absolutely hate these patriarchal assholes who browbeat their daughters into believing that their entire worth and future depends on the state of their hymen. There is no encouragement to develop their intellects and interact with boys and men as an equal human being. Nope, women are nothing but hymens, wombs, and household appliances. Goddammit, this just pisses me off so much. Excuse me while I check my blood pressure.

    • lorimakesquilts

      I’m with you. I’m sort of emotionally numbed due to an SNRI, but this just managed to get through that. To think that your entire value as a person is tied up in one little bit of tissue is … I can’t even express how sad that is, poor thing. What kind of sadist does that to a child?

      • Sue Blue

        I watched this video about a year ago, which perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the abstinence/purity culture. You might want not want to watch it if your emotional state isn’t strong at the moment, but it underscores the creepy, skeevy evil of religious patriarchy:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fZyuLtH4X4&list=PLE1FF2E225266D268&index=64

        The comments below the video are of three kinds: Outraged normal people, female apologists who like being “special” and “pure” and beholden to Daddy, and male MRA types who hate feminists and rant against “feminazis, lesbians, and sluts” and who think all women should belong to a man, totally.

        And people think America abolished slavery…

        • Raising_Rlyeh

          Those dad’s are creepy and hypocrites. Especially that first dad who said it wasn’t what he did “but how cool would it be to say that i only kissed one man.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson

      You didn’t watch the video, did you?

      http://foxbaltimore.com/news/features/raw-news/stories/elizabeth-smart-speaks-at-johns-hopkins-human-trafficking-forum-486.shtml#.UYhPJ7WG32u

      I challenge you to watch the WHOLE thing and see if what was reported on this blog is REALLY what she was saying?
      It’s a simple scientific research. Watch the video and compare it to this guy’s blog.

  • Anna

    When I was 14, I went to Mormon summer camp with a friend. They didn’t use the chewing gum analogy, but they did give us white hangers for our future wedding dresses and told us that we could only use them if we were virgins. At the time, I just remember being shocked. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the other girls who must have internalized that lesson and believed it had validity.

    • JohnH2

      “other girls who must have internalized that lesson and believed it had validity.”

      It messes them up pretty badly even when they are married; what’s worse is that virginity is not even the valid target according to the doctrine of the church, it is very poor proxy for what the actual goal is, but one that is way too often the focus of such lessons. This leads to quite a lot of emotional damage for women, even when they get married, and quite a lot of crappy behaviour that completely misses the point (Soaking, gazing, burrito, NCMOs, Dry Humping, and etc) (see also Jodi Arias).

      • Anna

        I’m sure it does. “Purity culture” must be incredibly toxic for both sexes, but women and girls bear the brunt of it.

        If anyone’s interested in the topic, I’d recommend this book:

        http://www.amazon.com/Purity-Myth-Americas-Obsession-Virginity/dp/1580053149

        • Stev84

          The part where boys get damaged is by telling them that they they can’t control themselves. Girls are constantly told that they need to cover up and don’t cause boys to “stumble”. But this also tells boys that just about everything with a girl is enticing and needs to be avoided. So every bit or arousal causes guilt. It can be awkward enough to interact girls during puberty without that added.

          Anti-masturbation teaching hits both genders as well. Though maybe even more boys, since churches probably think that girls don’t masturbate anyways and target mostly the boys.

          • Anna

            Yes, I keep thinking of that Christian modesty survey that was floating around the Internet a few years ago:

            http://jezebel.com/5597796/christian-guys-on-immodesty-lust-and-the-violence-of-womens-bodies

            Those boys are being harmed, too. All things considered, the harm is probably equal. I’d only say it’s worse for women and girls insofar as they are the ones relegated to a subordinate position within the subculture and given no authority or power. But as far as shame and guilt are concerned, both sexes get hit with massive doses of it.

          • J-Rex

            And then since boys are naturally obsessed with sex, the girls feel disgusting for having the same desires. No one ever talks about girls wanting sex besides for emotional reasons. Seriously, I don’t remember *ever* hearing that girls wanted sex for the same reason guys do.
            It makes everyone feel guilty for normal behavior. It’s like feeling dirty for eating or sleeping.

            • Tainda

              You bring up a VERY good point! It took me a LONG time to feel ok with enjoying sex and wondering if something was wrong with me for wanting it as much as I do. “I’m a woman, I shouldn’t be this way!”

          • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

            It just teaches most of them the very same hypocrisy that the adults who teach them such nonsense live. I was raised Southern Baptist. We were all supposed to be saving ourselves for marriage but most of my youth group was sexually active. They just lied about it most of the time. (For some reason I was always the person people confided such secrets to.)

  • Bdole

    That’s Taliban-level misogyny. Isn’t it amazing that in spite of the repeated assurances by many male Christians that the rules for women are not meant to subjugate them, somehow this girl got the real message lodged into her noggin anyway? That message being that if she can’t serve as the exclusive pristine, property of one man, she’s basically garbage. It’s a standard tha many Christian women are happy to apply…to others.

  • jenbo

    This mentality is beyond hurtful to young girls and women – even if they remain virgins until marriage. This “purity culture” even obsesses over first kisses, first fondlings and whatever else. I knew a Christian woman who got married and then became so overcome with shame that she had kissed and heavy petted with other men that she refused to have sex with her new husband for OVER 6 MONTHS, goddamnit. He then spiraled into a serious porn addiction and began resenting her (duh) and their marriage will probably never be the same.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Sorry but “porn addiction” is 99% bullshit. It’s just a form of slut shaming aimed at men.

      • Mizi

        I don’t think that’s true actually, although I can see why you say so. But I work at a counselling agency and we deal with quite a lot of people who have sexual addictions of one kind or another, most commonly an “addiction” to porn – as in compulsive, secretive behaviour that has negative effects on other aspects of their lives and that they feel uncomfortable with but can’t seem to stop. I’m not necessarily anti-porn, and I think porn addiction is a real thing.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I’ll admit that I made up the 99% number, but I hear the word “addiction” attributed to behavior that bears no resemblance to actual addiction. People who do a lot of something that other people disapprove of are now referred to as addicts in our culture. Mostly it’s bullshit. if someone is truly damaging their lives and the lives of those around them by spending too much time watching porn, then yes that’s a serious problem. But mostly I hear terms like sex-addition and porn-addiction from people who don’t much approve of sex and are very much anti-porn. Yes, such things exist but I’m skeptical about their use in most cases.

  • UtahAtheist

    I think more telling is that her dad, Ed Smart, felt it necessary to “clarify” what Elizabeth had to say. She’s 25 or so now, and her dad is not entitled to speak for her.

    • Luther

      Ed “Smart”, good grief that smarts.

  • Josh Fortney

    I have a tremendous opportunity to teach abstinence education in public schools. I don’t mention my faith (because I’d probably be hung, shot, and stoned), but we do present several benefits to abstinence (apart from our faith). We don’t do “slut shaming” or make sex out to be a bad thing. Sex is great! We want them to know that. We want students to treat sex as something special and great! I wouldn’t let a few bad abstinence education programs represent all abstinence education standpoints…just like I wouldn’t want one bad christian to represent Christianity.

    • 3lemenope

      It is true that many abstinence programs engage in slut shaming, inculcating fear and/or loathing of sex, covert religious teachings and the like, so if yours doesn’t that’s a good thing, a very good thing indeed. But, you seem to be misunderstanding the objection to abstinence-only programs.

      They don’t work.

      The bad stuff which usually gets piled atop that is sauce for the goose, so to speak, argument-wise, but it really just comes down to the fact that studies show pretty clearly that abstinence-only programs fail to decrease sexual activity and simultaneously depress use of condoms and safe-sex practices, which gives us the double whammy of being a big waste of time and managing to do unintended harm at the margins. Even if your program doesn’t engage in any of the flagrantly bad stuff, it still fails in the only way that matters.

      • Josh Fortney

        That’s a generalization of statistics. We’ve noticed a tremendous decrease in sexual activity, teen pregnancies, and STD’s in the area we teach. We have taken a simple approach that, through relationship, has allowed us to make a difference. I think I should not have brought such a specific result into such a “big picture” discussion. To put it plainly, I’ve seen abstinence only programs work. I’ve heard they don’t, but I have been blessed to see them have a direct positive effect on my community.

        • Glasofruix

          We’ve noticed a tremendous decrease in sexual activity, teen pregnancies, and STD’s in the area we teach.

          STDs and unwanted pregnancies can be reduced with a good knowledge of contraceptive methods, methods you don’t teach. And why exactly a reduced sexual activity is a good thing? You’re basically saying that having sex is bad thing..

        • Stev84

          Real, scientific studies with international comparisons don’t agree. They’ve actually found that in countries with proper sex education, people have sex up to a year later.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          In that case, you should publish your results in a peer reviewed journal. So far the results have been negative when studied objectively.

    • Anna

      So how does your abstinence-only education program treat LGBT students? Or students who do not want to get married? Or students who are already sexually active? How does it serves the interest of those students to refrain from providing them comprehensive information on how to protect themselves from disease and unintended pregnancies?

    • Glasofruix

      several benefits to abstinence

      Such as? Nothing that can’t be covered with a condom or a healthy view of one’s body and/or sexuality…

      Sex is great!

      Sure, if you know the how tos or some experience. Imagine the disappointment of a freshly married couple “All that for that?” when assholes like you taught them the opposite. I bet you also teach that masturbation is a bad thing.

      We want students to treat sex as something special and great!

      Why? It’s not THAT special, it’s a natural human thing, a feel good moment you share with another person (or more) for a variety of reasons that aren’t your or anyone else’s business.

      I wouldn’t let a few bad abstinence education programs

      They’re all bad, you need to get in touch with reality asap.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      According to studies, this is the result of abstinence only education. The participants wait an extra six months to have sex and when they do they don’t bother using condoms because they were taught that condoms don’t work. Hopefully that’s not what you taught, but such unscientific nonsense is being taught in public schools. I share your concern that many people are having sex too early. If you aren’t responsible enough to use birth control consistently then you aren’t mature enough to be sexually active. Most high school kids probably should wait. But not because some fictional deity will think they are dirty if they do. They should wait until they are ready and want to be with someone physically, not as a result of peer pressure or fear that their boyfriend will dump them if they don’t have sex right away.

  • JBD

    Hermant: Your reference to Elizabeth Smart and your unsupportive and judgemental stance to her situation is typical of an atheist who turns every situation into their anti-God platform. I am appalled that you are allowed to teach teens when you spew such judgemental arrogance.
    When young or old people survive a trauma in their life, you never hear them speak afterwards of how their hatred of religion, their disbelief in God, or their not believing in a life hereafter, got them through. They respond with humility and thanks to their God. What gets an atheist through life except your hatred of all things good?

    • DougI

      Hold on, Hemet hates all things good? Hemet clearly hates rape, so you’re saying that rape is good? That’s rather sickening.

    • Glasofruix

      Except that we’re not here to discuss her rape but her opinion about abstinence only education.

    • Tainda

      Well, I can’t speak for all atheists, but when I went through a few horrific times in my life I got through it thanks to my friends and family.

      You mistakenly seem to think that atheists are full of hate. I’m pretty much the opposite, as the majority are. Everyone has their ups and downs. There are hate filled atheists out there just as much as there are hate filled christians, muslims, etc.

      Once people like you pull their head out of their asses and realize differences aren’t evil and we should embrace them, this world will be a MUCH better place.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      You obviously missed the point. Why would any young person feel that they were tainted for life because they had been violently attacked. That’s nonsense. And it’s because of what their church and church-related doctrine (like abstinence only education) told them.

    • Bdole

      “is typical of an atheist who turns every situation into their anti-God platform.”

      Because those who have faith never

      use

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina_as_divine_retributionuse

      faith

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/haiti/6986130/Haiti-earthquake-US-televangelist-says-pact-with-devil-cursed-country.html

      as a platform

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Falwell#September_11th_attacks
      to cast aspersions on innocent disbelievers or to push their god on everyone else.

  • Tainda

    This makes my heart hurt :(

  • http://twitter.com/Varoon7 Varoon

    An Indian woman from a Muslim family recently wrote a post recounting how she was raped when she was young and how her family helped her later on, and didn’t blame her or made her feel guilty, today she’s a known activist in India

    She adds that the same day, another woman was raped and that to avoid any shame to fall on her husband, she set fire to herself and died and the one who was supported by her family added that a friend of hers approved the fact that the second rape victim committed suicide to avoid “shame” for her husband

    When it’s not religion, rape victims sometimes feel guilty for bringing shame to their families in our Indian Culture and society approves that and that’s kinda similar to what these Christian zealots taught to Elizabeth Smart

    Women should never feel guilty for rape, it’s insane that one has to remind this in the 21st Century

  • mrobman

    Elizabeth Smart’s point actually did not have much (if anything) to do with abstinence education.
    See this: http://createwritebalance.com/2013/05/08/dont-believe-everything-you-read-in-the-news/

  • http://www.facebook.com/terri.jeppson Terri Jeppson

    I can tell you didn’t actually watch her speech. I can tell you took some of her statements out of context and ran with it. That makes you no better than a gossiping old lady.

    Smart wasn’t suggesting that teaching abstinence had made her feel worthless after being raped, as some sources concluded.

    Smart wasn’t saying that because of her religious teachings that she felt like a “chewed up piece of gum.” The gum analogy came from a school teacher (by the way). But again, that was stretched.

    Many sources simply took a few quotes (particularly about the chewing gum) and built a story and idea around just that.

    I watched the video, several times.

    The message that I gathered from the elegant Smart was the importance of educating children about human trafficking, teaching them to be prepared because parents won’t be able to be with their children every second of the day (or night), and also to instill in these children a strong sense of self-worth, so should they ever (heaven forbid) be trafficked they would have the strength to overcome.

    Smart was raped. She felt worthless because of it. I don’t think she would have felt less worthless if her school teacher hadn’t taught that abstinence before marriage is ideal, or if her parents hadn’t taught her the sacredness of intimacy. In fact, it was her parents love and teachings that pulled her through her nine months in captivity.

    She came to the realization that her parents would love her no matter what. No matter what had happened to her, or what she had been through, they would love her. And the hope of being reunited with her loving parents kept her going.

    There was no hidden agenda about discontinuing abstinence instruction. Her message was one of hope. It was centered around the value of a soul, and how important it is that every child know their value.


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