How the purity culture made me afraid of men

Growing up, I was taught that there was one thing guys my age would want from me: sex. Because that’s, you know, all guys ever want from girls. I was taught that guys only think about one thing: sex. I was extremely confused by this at first because the “guys only want one thing from girls” and “guys only ever think about one thing” rhetoric began before I even knew what sex was.

Eventually, I ended up kind of scared of guys my age, because, after all, they were all sex-crazed maniacs who couldn’t help but undress me with their eyes during every conversation and might even want to date me just so they could have sex with me. They might pretend to be interested in me for myself, but I knew the truth – all they wanted was sex. Maybe it’s not surprising that I didn’t really have any guy friends in high school.

I covered my body with excessively modest clothing in hopes that I would be seen as a person rather than simply an object to be leered at and lusted over. I couldn’t bear the thought of a guy’s eyes crawling over me, undressing me and dwelling on my every curve – and, after all, that’s what all guys were doing anyway. I honed my homemaking and academic skills in hopes that someday a man would want me for those things rather than for my body.

As I grew older, I was also taught that one of the reasons it’s important to remain a virgin until marriage was that if I had sex with a beau before bringing him to the alter, he would have gotten everything he was after anyway and would leave me and never tie the knot. Because, you know, all he wanted – the whole point of him dating or courting me – was to have sex with me. Only by holding out until after the wedding could I convince a guy to marry me.

This gave me a very bad self-image. All guys wanted from me was sex. The only way I could convince a guy to marry me was to dangle sex in front of him like a prize – marry me and you get this! And then, wham! He’d be stuck! It also gave me a very bad image of the men around me. Guys my age scared me. I didn’t feel like I could understand them. They were all sex maniacs who were only interested in my body. Only by playing the game right and holding out just long enough could I trap one of them into marriage. And then he’d be stuck.

I knew I didn’t want that. I knew I didn’t want a guy marrying me just so he could have sex with me. I intentionally cared nothing about my appearances. I wore no makeup, took no care for my hair besides putting it up in rough braids or a pony tail, and wore the baggiest clothes I could find – often roomy skirts with oversized T-shirts. I put on extra weight. If I wasn’t attractive, I figured, then perhaps a guy would marry me for me instead of for my body. Perhaps a guy would want to date or court me for me, rather than because he wanted to have sex with me.

These ideas also made me look positively on arranged marriages and father-guided courtships. After all, if a guy came to my father asking to court and marry me, and my father put him through all sorts of hoops and tests to make sure he was a man who could protect and provide for me and be my spiritual leader, then it didn’t matter whether the guy was just interested in me for my body because I would know that I’d at least nabbed a man who could serve as a proper leader to the family we would form. A man willing to jump through all of those hoops would surely stick around as my protector and provider.

This also shows how little I trusted myself and my own judgement, in addition to how little I trusted young men my age. I was taught that a guy would do anything, say anything, be anything in an effort to get in bed with me. A guy would pull out all the stops in his efforts to charm and beguile, and susceptible female romantic that I was, I could not be sure that I would see through it all to properly judge a guy’s character. My father, in contrast, would be a much better judge of character, and would be able to see through any charade.

But it was not to be. I left the movement before I could go through a proper father-guided courtship.

When I had my first boyfriend in college I was very, very nervous. I was so suspicious of him. I was sure all he wanted was to have sex with me. I was sure all he thought about when he looked at me was sex. I was sure that his desire to date me was merely a desire to get into my pants (or rather, under my skirts). I was sure that if I had sex with him he would leave me, having obtained what he was after. I was afraid that he was lying to me, simply attempting to charm me, and that I could not trust my own judgement.

My poor boyfriend. It took some time for him to begin changing my view of men.

He told me that no, guys don’t think about sex all the time. Just some of the time. They think about lots of other things too. He told me that while he found me very attractive, he was dating me because he liked who I was inside. He told me it would be silly to date someone for just her body, and even sillier to marry someone just to have sex with her. (“Look, if all I wanted was sex, I know where I could get it without bothering about dating or relationships.”) He told me that basically everything I’d been taught about men was wrong. And then he backed it up with his actions.

Gradually, little by little, I began to see the guys around me as people rather than as one-dimensional dangerous sex-crazed maniacs. Gradually, little by little, I began to have real, honest to goodness guy friends. Gradually, little by little, I lost my suspicions and fears of half of the human race. And finally, today, I’m just as comfortable around men as around women. No more fear, no more second guessing, no more continual questioning of motives.

It’s often pointed out how the purity culture reduces women to the state of their vaginas. It’s much less noticed that the purity culture reduces men to the drive of their penises.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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