The Purity Culture and Sexual Incompatibility

I was raised in what I call “the purity culture.” I knew that some people argued that premarital sex was important in order to see if two people were sexually compatible. I’d heard the idea that you should “try a shoe on before you buy it.” However, I was taught that those ideas were dead wrong.

I don’t remember the specific reason I was told that those arguments were wrong. There was the “why would you marry someone based on how the sex is” line and the “but you’d never know the difference if you only had one partner” line. The impression I came away with was that everyone is potentially sexually compatible with everyone else. I was so convinced of all this that I thought the sexual compatibility issue was laughable. Silly. A joke.

I was wrong.

True to my upbringing, I never had sex with anyone before my husband. I’ve been married several years now, and my husband and I are discovering that we are not sexually compatible. I’m not going to go into detail, but the long and short of it is that what turns me on doesn’t turn him on and what turns him on doesn’t turn me on. What he likes, I don’t like, and what I like, he doesn’t like.

No we’ve obviously been handling this for several years. When we’re sexually intimate, we either do what he likes or what I like. But just recently we took the time to each write out a list of what we like sexually, and what we don’t like. Trading the lists confirmed what we suspected: the lists were essentially the same, except that the “like” and “don’t like” categories were switched.

Now I love my husband dearly and I’m not sorry I married him. This is something we’re going to work through, and we’ll probably look into counseling of some sort in the process. But it won’t be easy. What really gets me is that I was taught to laugh at the sexual incompatibility issue like it was some sort of silly idea. It’s not. It’s very real, and when two people are sexually incompatible in marriage it does, well, make things complicated and difficult to say the least.

And more than that, sexual incompatibility is not something that necessarily goes away with time. Rather, it’s the kind of thing where tension builds over time, and the longer it goes unadressed the more of a problem it becomes. Fortunately, my husband and I have always placed a great deal of emphasis on communication and on trying to understand each other. But just because two people are in love, work well together, and share a life, children, and future goals does not mean that they’ll automatically be sexually compatible, or automatically become sexually compatible.

And I have to say, I’m feeling a bit jaded here. I was taught that if I waited for my husband and only ever had sex (or indeed, any sort of sexual intimacy) with him, my sex life would end up glorious and perfect. No problems. I’ve written before about how the purity teachings I was raised on led me to suffer from a level of sexual dysfunction. Well, the purity teachings also left me completely unprepared for the possibility of sexual incompatibility. And now I’m paying the price, not only in having to work through this with my husband (who again, I don’t regret marrying in the least) but more importantly in my surprise that such a problem could even exist. After all, I was given to believe that the need to make sure one was sexually compatible was some sort of imaginary excuse for having premarital sex. “Sexual incompatibility? No such thing!” Why did I ever listen to all that?

But really, thinking about it, I did dodge one bullet. A few families in Christian Patriarchy actually practice arranged marriages, and others so carefully chaperon their children’s courtships that the prospective couple is not even allowed any private conversation at all. Because I began questioning before going through a courtship, and because my parents were more laid back about courtship than many others, I was able to really get to know my husband before we became engaged and married. I knew our personalities meshed and I knew we worked well together.

But for those families that practice arranged marriages and the most strictly guarded courtship, what matters is compatibility between the two families and shared doctrine. Love is seen as something that can grow later out of shared beliefs, and making sure two individuals work well together and have compatible personalities is not seen as important or even relevant. Once again, the idea is that any two individuals are compatible if they share the same beliefs. Only this time, what’s dismissed is the idea that some couples are incompatible in life, rather than simply that some couples are incompatible in bed.

The purity culture takes healthy relationship formation – whether emotional or sexual – and hopelessly mangles, eviscerates, and mummifies it. As my husband and I work through our sexual incompatibility, I just wish that someone had told me that there is more to having a healthy relationship and a fulfilling sexual life than remaining a virgin before marriage.

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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.

  • Amethyst

    How can sexual compatibility be a thing when the only acceptable form of sex is vanilla missionary-position procreation?

    Seriously, though, this touches on an attitude that is way too prevalent in ultraconservative Christianity: there is no personal taste, only right and wrong. Music is either godly or worldly. Good people listen to the former. Books are either godly or worldly. Good people read the former. Hobbies are either godly and edifying, or worldly and a pointless waste of time. Good people participate in the former. Likewise, how can the question of sexual compatibility exist when there is no question of sexual preference, only a right way and many wrong ways to have sex?

    • Amethyst

      ^ That post makes more sense with my html tags around the first paragraph.

      • Amethyst

        Tags that said “sarcasm” and got deleted yet again. lol

  • cass_m

    I have to agree with Amethyst, in a way. I don’t think incompatibility can happen in a purity relationship because there is only one person who matters (the male); any dissatisfaction is due to the woman not embracing her submissive role.

    • Kevin Alexander

      The Muslims have the right idea. Cut the useless bits off the little girls ’cause it’s not about them anyway.

      Seriously , sexually compatible couples with good communication skills become that way by each expanding their tastes into the others. If you are not enjoying something it may be that you grew up thinking that it is unnatural. Just remember that when it comes to sex, nothing is unnatural.

      • AnotherOne

        Sorry, FGM isn’t a Muslim thing. It’s a cultural practice that predates Islam, and in the places where it is widely practiced it is practiced across confessional lines, by Christians and Animists as well as Muslims.

      • Kevin Alexander

        AnotherOne , I apologize to any Muslims that I offended, you are of course, correct.

      • MadGastronomer

        OK, I’m going to state a position that I am, in certain internet circles, well-known for stating. It has nothing to do with Libby-Anne personally, but is a problem I have more generally.

        So many people who insist on “civil discourse” let this kind of Islamophobia and other forms of outright bigotry pass without comment as within bounds, simply because it doesn’t use certain kinds of naughty words. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This kind of comment is not civil. Bigotry is never civil, no matter how politely it is put. And while I haven’t seen it here, all too often people who let this pass as civil will tell people who call it what it is — bigotry — that they are being uncivil by saying so. This undermines the entire notion of civility and politeness, when positions which do real harm to real people are considered acceptable things to say, but calling them out is not.

        There, I’ve said my piece. Libby-Anne, of course, gets to set her policy on her blog, and I’ve done my best to abide by it, although it has, at times, been very difficult for me. But there are only so many times I can see bigotry go by on a blog with a civil discourse commenting policy, and not say something.

      • MadGastronomer

        Ah, and Kevin Alexander? Bigotry offends many more people than just the ones it’s directed against.

      • Kevin Alexander

        MadGastrometer, I am so sorry that I said it. Not only because it offended anyone but because, as you pointed out, it was a stupid thing to say.

        Every comedian has the experience of a joke that falls flat. Mine tend to,as in this instance, get deftly fielded and thrown back in my face.

        Plus it derailed the thread so I’ll stop now.

      • AnotherOne

        Thanks for the apology, Kevin. Your graciousness means a lot. MadGastronomer, you’re right. I haven’t seen your comments about Islam before, but I appreciate what you said. In a lot of circles Islam serves not so much as something to be understood or honestly evaluated as it does a convenient whipping boy. If you want to talk about how Christians are *really* bad, you just call them Muslims. If you want to criticize a Christian doctrine, you just say that it’s Islamic, and it’s taken for granted that Islam is the default Evil Par Excellence. I saw a picture on a ex-CP/QF site somewhere of a woman with a face veil that explicitly sent this message. Of course, all this goes nowhere toward actually understanding Muslims or the vast spectrum of Islam that they practice, or how they understand themselves. And it creates an environment where my veiled friend gets spit on in the grocery store while she’s shopping with her children, and people just look away (true story).

        Not that there aren’t plenty of valid critiques of Islamic doctrine and practice, made by people both inside and outside the faith. But that’s beside the point when we’re critiquing Christian doctrine and practice. The latter should be evaluated in its own right; Islam isn’t the standard of evil against which we’re measuring everything.

        (And Kevin, none of this is directed at you–like I said, I really appreciated your apology. This is just something that has been simmering in my brain for a while, as I’ve seen multiple comments much more bigoted and serious than your offhand joke, which I could tell you meant as such.)

  • Amelia

    Not to mention that couples raised in a super sex-conservative atmosphere may not know anything about kink, until they realize one of them has one.

    • MadGastronomer

      There actually exists a specific type of BDSM (not kink, specifically dom/sub s/m) developed by some variety of conservative Christian that fits right in with the CP mindset, called Domestic Discipline, in which as part of her submission a wife confesses all her sins to her husband, and he spanks her for them.

      • Crystalsnowfire

        What if he is the one who wants to be spanked?

      • MadGastronomer

        Then he feels really guilty about it, as far as I can tell. But Domestic Discipline is specifically wrapped up in the idea of a man punishing a woman for her sins.

  • Melissa@Permission to Live

    Everything was overgeneralized too. I was taught that men were extremely visual and physical and had an insatiable need for sex that could not be denied unless you wanted to risk losing their attention to other more available women. We were also supposed to be able to go from zero sexual interaction to regular sexual interaction in one day. It really doesn’t make any sense, and it certainly doesn’t make for great sex. We felt like after 5 years of sex the way we were “supposed” to, we finally figured out how to have sex the right way for us, and it was nothing like what we’d been told (obviously! Lol!).

  • Twist

    I suppose that to those who believe that a woman’s role in a marriage is to forget about what she wants and do whatever her husband tells her, the incompatability issue is somewhat laughable. The man gets what he wants, the woman does what pleases him and in doing so gets her happiness in her submission to him.

    To accept that there might be compatability issues in those who marry without having had sex first, you need to accept a few things about sex that the purity minded tend to deny. Like men not in fact being sex-crazed lunatics who will happily start humping away at anyone female shaped given half a chance. You have to accept that sex does not simply equal something that a man does to a woman, with the man as the active party and the woman passive. You have to accept the fact that women enjoy sex, some women enjoy sex more than some men. Some men don’t enjoy sex as much as some women. Some women enjoy sex with women. Some women and some men don’t enjoy sex at all. You have to accept a whole spectrum of kinks and fantasies that different people have without dismissing them as sinful and only something depraved perverts do.

    If you end up with one partner feeling perpetually frustrated, or someone feeling pressured into doing things that they’re not comfotable with, or someone feeling guilt over how sick and wrong they are for wanting their partner to tie them up or whatever, or feeling that they’re a bad spouse for refusing something their partner asked for etc etc, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘healthy relationship’ to me.

    • ArachneS

      I was going to reply something like this after I read the whole post and you beat me to it. lol.

      To the patriarchal view, women don’t like sex/have a sex drive, and men do- so women do it for them(and for the babies), not because its fun. Therefore there is no way to be “incompatible” because there is no “compatibility”. If a woman is expected and taught to ignore her wants and dislikes, then they no longer matter and therefore it is not worth mentioning.

      • Maggy

        This makes me very sad. Sex can be such an amazing part of a relationship for both partners. Being able to express love, provide comfort, have fun and release stress through our sexual partnership has strengthened my relationship with my boyfriend.

  • Anonthistime

    I so appreciate you writing about this. My husband and I have such great compatibility in everything except sex. I feel like if we had not waited till our wedding night we would be in such a better place now; we would have had a chance to work out our repressed anxieties and different styles as they came up instead of throwing them all into our honeymoon. That did not go well.

  • Kevin Alexander

    Also, it works the other way around as well. My wife and I got married because the sex was sooo hot!!!

    Then we split up anyway because everything else was so bad.

  • Tisha

    I think that not having sex before marriage is like not knowing whether your partner wants children, or whether he’s a messy or a neat freak, or whether she’s a saver or a spendthrift. It’s a fundamental part of a marriage (unless you both agree that you want a sexless marriage, or you’re going to live in separate homes or you’re going to keep your finances completely independent) so it’s foolish not to figure it out before you walk down the aisle.

    • Rosa

      I think you can get there with talking, fantasizing, being emotionally close, sexual contact that isn’t penetrative sex, etc – what you do together is less important overall than how you think and feel about it. That’s why there’s not completely overwhelming failure in Evangelical and other sexually conservative cultures – there’s some space for consideration of sexuality.

      Purity culture is just that much over the edge. Not having sex and also not talking about sex, not thinking about sex, and not considering sex when you are choosing a (the!) sexual partner is like going to a grocery store where every food comes in the same black box.

      • MadGastronomer

        Except that you don’t necessarily know what you like if you haven’t had much sex. What you like to fantasize about is not necessarily what you actually enjoy during sex.

      • Melissa@Permission to Live

        I second Mad Gastronomer! What you fantasize about is not always what you enjoy.

      • anonymous

        You also don’t know about physical sexual incompatibility issues if you haven’t had sex. With my first partner, sex was painful for both of us. It wasn’t a typical case of vaginismus, because my body could fit a penis-size object; his penis just happened to hurt, and sex was painful for him as well because my body clenched so tightly around his. I thought it might be low-grade vaginismus caused by nervousness about sex, since I spent my teenage years in purity culture. But the problem persisted for the entire six months that he and I were dating, and ultimately was one of the reasons we broke up.

        However, with later partners, I haven’t had any problems, in spite of the fact that my current partner is bigger than my first. It might be a shape issue, or it might be that I wasn’t as attracted to my first partner as I am to my current one. I’m not sure. In any case, it would have been a real problem if I’d gotten married to my first partner without having had sex with him. I know now that physical compatibility is a real issue, and when there are differences in what two people like sexually things can get even more complicated.

        All in all, I am VERY pro-premarital sex now.

      • Rosa

        @Mad Gastronomer – Some people do know before they try. I’m not one of them, but I’ve seen it enough to know it’s true for some folks, and I’m not going to invalidate their experience.

        I agree with you about purity culture – but it also effects people who get the teaching and then decide to ignore it, just by putting a bunch of “shoulds” into our brains that can mess up how we have & communicate about sex. At the same time, some people seem completely unscathed by the “purity” parts of it (especially in the wider Evangelical subculture) even if they follow some of its rules, like not having penetrative sex before marriage. It has to be at least partly in the relationships they’re building, not what they’re doing physically.

    • Rosa

      But a lot of people *do* know what they want, and more than that, they build a base for acknowledging desires and communicating with each other that helps them with any later problems, even within the boundaries of “waiting til marriage”. At the same time, lots of us who had sex early & often still took years to figure shit out. Premarital sex isn’t a cure-all any more than purity culture is.

      • MadGastronomer

        But how do you know that you know what you like before you’ve actually tried it? If you’ve never had pizza, you know what you think you want on top, but you don’t know what you actually enjoy. And what happens if you’re wrong?

        Also, an awful lot of people have fantasies and tastes that they aren’t going to feel comfortable talking about, especially if they’re taught certain things about sex. Even if they know exactly what they want, if they can’t talk about it, it doesn’t do them a lot of good.

        Of course pre-marital sex isn’t a cure-all. No one’s saying it is. And of course anyone can have communication problems, especially about sex, when our culture gives us so many messages and bad ideas that keep us from communicating. But purity culture makes it an awful lot harder to communicate well about sex, even for people who aren’t part of it, and it not only makes communication harder for those who are, it makes even knowing what there is to communicate about very difficult, indeed.

  • Dianne

    I’m sorry about you and your husband’s troubles. If you don’t mind a little unasked for advice…If you can’t work things out between you, if you are really just not compatible, have you considered the Dan Savage method: Give each other permission to have sex with other people, with whom you are sexually compatible, but stay married to each other. That way you can keep each other’s companionship, help raising children together, love, and respect, but don’ t have to try to pretend to be interested in each other sexually unless things change and you really are.
    If this advice is not useful for you, just dump it in the waste basket and forget about it.

    • MadGastronomer

      Dan Savage may advocate for open marriages — his neologism “monogamish” is both dreadful and utterly unnecessary, as there already exists a word for it — but he hardly came up with the idea. Given some of his other abhorrent positions (misogyny, biphobia, transphobia, racism), I really hate to see open marriages referred to as the “Dan Savage method”. I think it casts a bad light on a very viable type of relationship.

      • Dianne

        Dan Savage is a conservative old white man who happens to be gay and therefore can’t be quite as closed minded as he’d like. I don’t agree with his “stay married at all costs, especially if you have children” argument, either. But he’s the one I’ve seen put the statement up front and honestly that if you want to stay married and aren’t sexually compatible then you’ve got to allow yourself and your spouse a release of sexual tension. If you’ve got a better source, happy to reference that in the future.

        Libby Anne has stated that she and her husband love each other and are compatible in other ways and want to stay married. Sex is part of marriage, but not all of marriage and if sexual exclusivity is interfering with the viability of the marriage then the question is what is more important: the marriage or the sexual exclusiveness? If the former, then…

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I love Dan Savage and find nothing conservative about him. I dislike his fetish for evolutionary psychology but, otherwise, I generally agree with him and I’ve always found the charges of “biphobia, misogyny etc.” to be pretty ridiculous. His term “monogamish,” does not refer to all open relationships, but only to relationships that are pretty close to monogamous, but with a small degree of openness. The only reason I’m mad at him for it is because my sister and I came up with this term by ourselves and he stole it! lol

        Yeah, it’s incorrect to say that open relationships are “The Dan Savage method,” since he didn’t invent them, but he has done a lot to make them more acceptable to a generation, so I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to associate his name with them. At any rate, I just wanted to provide an alternate perspective, since I seem to have stumbled upon a nest of Savage-haters and I think he’s a good resource.

      • Rosie

        I’d like to second the open marriage possibility; it works for my husband and I. Can’t say much either way about Dan Savage; I haven’t read much of his stuff. I like the book “The Ethical Slut” as a guide for non-traditional relationships; it contains lots of good information about communication and various ways relationships might possibly work and how to make sure everyone’s needs are getting met. Because, as with any kind of relationship, there are as many ways to have “open” relationships as there are people in them.

      • Dianne

        Oh, come on, how can anyone hate the man who came up with santorum? But there’s no denying that he’s a conservative at heart and sometimes it shows. He’s right about monogamy whether you like him or not, though: it’s value is only conditional. If it’s interfering with something you value more, dump it.

  • Joyce

    @ MadGastronomer. It appears that you are saying that it is acceptable to criticize the ideas and actions of people belonging to one religion (fundamental Christianity) but not of those belonging to another (Islam.)
    I’m not sure how pointing out that female genital mutilation is generally performed among Muslims is bigotry. The fact that Muslim scholars debate the Qur’an’s position on FGM is evidence that part of the problem stems from religious dogma that women should be chaste and pure.
    Many people would agree that all religions have inherent flaws which translate to cultural beliefs. That’s why so many of us have come to an athiest or agnostic ideology. Saying so doesn’t make us intolerant of people, it makes us intolerant of oppressive beliefs.

    • kisekileia

      Christianity is culturally dominant in the countries where most people here come from, and very politically powerful in the U.S., where Libby lives. Islam is a hated and widely demonized religious and cultural minority in the U.S. There’s a difference between taking down the class bully and adding to the pain of an outcast.

    • MadGastronomer

      As has been pointed out, FGM is a cultural tradition that predates Islam and is common to all religions in the cultures in which it is practiced. It is not specific to Islam, and referring to it as if it is is perpetuating a dangerous and damaging stereotype. Muslims in the US are being physically attacked and murdered for being Muslim, based in part on stereotypes like this. Perpetuating these stereotypes actively contributes to murder. Perpetuating these stereotypes does not constitute actual criticism of the problems of Islam, because it is ignorant of the actual problem of FGM and the actual problems of Islam.

      Christians, meanwhile, are not being frequently physically attacked and murdered in this country for being Christian. Treating perpetuating damaging stereotypes as if it is the same thing as legitimate criticism of the dominant religion also contributes to the problem, and demonstrates active bigotry.

    • Conuly

      The Victorians had the same idea, you know. Cut off the clitoris and end masturbation! No more pesky female issues. You can criticize FGM without implying that ONLY Muslims practice and that ALL Muslims practice it. Neither statement is true.

  • Joyce

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali, prominent feminist and former Muslim, has lived under security watch for death threats from Muslims for many years for denouncing that religion. Film director Theo Van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic for collaborating with Ali on a movie depicting how Islam crushes women. Mohammed Shafia, his wife and son were recently convicted of honour killings (judge’s interpretation) of his first wife and three daughters in Kingston, Ontario. Violence and oppression against women is part and parcel of Islamic society.
    We may live in a democratic society, but so many Muslim women do not. That is fact, not theory. Whether or not Christianity is the “big guy” here is not the issue. North America is not the world. Pretending that Islam is without real problems will not make those problems go away.
    Again, I will reinforce. All religion has dogma which perpetuate injustices against people. Some are worse than others. None are right.

    • MadGastronomer

      Characterizing FGM as being caused by Islam, and being a problem of Islam, ignores both the real problems that are actually a problem with Islamic cultures, and the real problems of FGM. It is ignorant and bigoted.

      None of which means that there is not real misogyny in Islamic cultures, nor that FGM is not misogynistic. It means that you are spouting ignorant nonsense when you conflate the two. Plus, again, it’s bigoted.

      Real criticism of the misogyny in Islam and Islamic cultures is both good and necessary, but non-Muslim white Westerners do so from a place of ignorance. It is Muslim feminists, who have first-hand experience of this misogyny, who are best placed to talk about these problems. If you want to engage in productive, meaningful criticism, instead of reiterating stereotypes that help to endanger Muslim women further, then go educate yourself about the real problems by listening to actual Muslim feminists.

    • MadGastronomer

      To put it more simply: The way to help Islamic women is not to perpetuate stereotypes anti-Islam stereotypes. It is to find out what actual Muslim women are endangered by, what (if anything) they want us to do to help, and then to do it. Deciding as outsiders what is wrong with their cultures and how we should fix it for them is cultural imperialism, which is, again and again, literally deadly to women in those cultures, and does nothing to actually fix the real problems.

    • AnotherOne

      I don’t think anyone is saying that Islam is without problems. Islamic law and cultural practices in Muslim-majority countries are rife with misogyny. The problem is when we start conflating a bunch of things that can’t honestly be conflated. FGM is emphatically *not* primarily an Islamic problem. In the countries where it is practiced it is generally practiced at consistent rates across religious lines. Christians and Jews in Ethiopia widely practice FGM. Likewise, honor killings in South Asia cross confessional lines, and until very recently legal codes in a number of South American countries did not consider a man killing his wife for infidelity to be murder.

      And then, like MadGastronomer mentioned, a lot of colonialism and paternalism and neo-colonialist attitudes feed into perceptions about Muslim women in particular. And then there’s the sticky issue that many of the cultural practices and attitudes most harmful to women correlate more with socioeconomic status than they do religion, ethnicity, etc. If we want to look closer to home, in our great democracy, all you have to do is hop on the comments section of any feminist blog in the US (where comments aren’t strictly monit0red) to see the foulest kind of misogyny imaginable–death threats, threats of rape, etc., etc.

      I’m all for calling problems where I see them. I just see a lot of cheap, uninformed shots taken at Islam. And I have too many Muslim friends who have suffered from Islamaphobia in very real ways not to be sensitive to the way subtle, offhanded bigotry feeds into that.

      Or, all the things MadGastronomer said.

  • Joyce

    I did not say that FGM was caused by Islam. I pointed out that religion colours all aspects of society and culture, particularly in non-democratic countries. I also disagreed that another commentator was making a bigoted comment. By those criteria, every post on the site is bigoted toward Christians.
    As a woman, I am first and foremost a feminist. I have listened to western and non-western feminists, and perhaps surprisingly, none of them fit into a box. They all have their own perspective, and all are valuable. I am sorry that you do not find my dissenting voice productive or meaningful.

    • MadGastronomer

      It was bigoted because it was perpetuating a stereotype about Islam. Talking about the problems of Islam is a different thing. Defending the perpetuation of stereotypes is also bigotry. Attempting to take the moral high ground and deny that bigotry by claiming feminist cred is massively counterproductive, but is, sadly, all too common in feminism — which is why so many women of color today repudiate feminism and refuse to work with white women, preferring to build their own movements that address the problems that actually affect them, rather than the ones white feminists tell them are important.

      I’m a feminist, too. But feminism and other feminists are no more exempt from criticism than religions are.

      • Joyce

        Acknowledged. Criticism is necessary and warranted, and I accept it.
        Really, the only point I wanted to make is this: if you’re going to call out intolerance based on prejudices for one religion, you need to do it for all. The people interested in this blog have prejudices against Christianity, and perhaps for good reason. That certainly doesn’t mean that devout Christians see the issues in the same light. Stereotypes are pervasive, and how they’re interpreted depends on where you’re coming from, how how you see them in the future depends on where you’re going.

      • Kevin Alexander

        I know I promised to shut up but you’ve drawn me back in.

        Your definition of bigotry is just not workable. If the Pope makes another meanspirtited mysogynistic pronouncement that happens to fit the stereotype of a Catholic, am I bigoted to point it out? Keep in mind that I am baptized an confirmed Catholic. Does that fact make any difference in your answer?
        Does your answer shift if I now point out that the sub human practices of Catholicism pushed me into atheism? Can I comment at all on human stupidity without being accused of being a bigot?
        I can tell you from personal experience that some stereotypes of Catholicism are true. If I go by your definition of bigotry then great evil goes unanswered and unchecked because no one is allowed to point it out.

        I understand full well that FGM predates Islam but it practiced mostly in Islamic societies with the full blessing of officially sanctioned Islamic legal authority. Does it somehow less evil because it is ‘their culture’ and am I a bigot for pointing it out?

  • Meggie

    Aaargh. Why do fundamentalists-evangelicals teach the idea of a perfect marriage if you follow all the rules? How can they all have forgotten their own time as a young couple? The first time a wife cooks a meal and discover your husband hates all the ingredients. (It was vegetable soup.) The first time a husband buy his wife flowers and discovers she is allergic to pollen. (He won’t do that again.) Most importantly, the first disasterous attempt at sex. (I am sure I am not alone in discovering that sex actually takes a bit of practice to get right and that the first time is either a disaster or hilarious, depending on your take of the situation.)

    The big difference is that I was taught that marriage is about compromise. I was taught no sex before marriage but I was also taught not to expect the sex to instantly be brilliant. I knew it was something I would have to learn, both what i liked and what my partner liked. A friends mother actually warned me when I was around 14-15 “Don’t have sex on your wedding night. It a great day but also a long day and you will be tired. Don’t spoil it with a disasterous first attempt at sex. Enjoy cuddling up together and sleep. You have the rest of your lives to learn how to have sex.” Very good advice, when you think about it. Particularly the bit about learning for the rest of our lives.

    • Kevin Alexander

      Every morning when you open your eyes you are seeing a different world. You are a different person. Older (hopefully) wiser. Every experience is a new experience so every time you have sex it is for the first time.

      That’s the best advice I ever got.

      • AnotherOne

        Wonderful advice!

    • Anonymous

      That is good advice. I think I might give that advice to my kids!

      No one told me that but it’s kind of what my husband and I did. We were definitely very tired, so although we experimented round a bit, we didn’t really try to do “the whole thing” so to speak, we saved that for the morning.

      I might add, we were raised evangelical and are still religious, but by the time we fell in love with each other, a sort of natural progression led us pretty far from purity-culture bounds. We didn’t take our jeans off but everything else was fair game. It was such a good balance. We were virgins, yeah. But we were so ready! I kind of feel like recommending that course to my kids as well, much as my parents would be shocked…

      And as it so happens we are reasonably sexually compatible. I don’t know how it would be when you’re really pretty much opposite, that does sound difficult, Libby Anne. But when there’s some things you both like and other things you’re divided on, it can become an occasion for giving to each other. (Having common ground helps. I can see how it would be tough if it was *always* giving or receiving.) We have patterns of switching positions a lot so that we both get to do our favorites at least some of the time. That’s another reason why I like what you said, Meggie, about marriage being about compromise.

  • AnotherOne

    @Kevin, at the risk of beating a dead horse, it’s practiced in mostly Islamic societies because of historical and geographical accident, not because of Islam. The argument among Islamic scholars, which began as Islam spread into Africa and was adopted by cultures and groups that practiced FGM, is whether a) it’s a cultural practice outside the scope of Islamic law (and thus neutral in terms of religious law), or b) prohibited because it causes bodily harm. There have been some jurists who have said that FGM is recommended to encourage female chastity (and yes, this is utterly reprehensible and abhorrent), but they are outliers. Major centers of Islamic law (like Al Azhar University in Cairo) have roundly condemned FGM. But unfortunately it’s a cultural practice that has proven extremely difficult to eradicate. Interestingly enough, in areas where it’s decreased, such decrease has often occurred because religious authorities, both Christian and Muslim, have spoken out strongly against it. It’s a sad and complex issue.

    • Kevin Alexander

      I agree completely.

      I am an optimist. I am probably also an idiot but I can’t stop thinking that someday we’ll finally figure it out and stop being shits to each other.

      I’m just sad that I won’t live long enough to see it happen.

      • AnotherOne

        Well, Stephen Pinker has made a pretty convincing case that human beings have become less violent over time, so hopefully you’re right!

  • MadGastronomer

    Kevin Alexander:
    Seriously, go do your homework. Go read up on how actual bigotry actually works, pieces written by people who both experience it and spend a lot of time thinking and talking about it, because your crappy defensive justifications and OMG-I’ve-got-you-now questions have been answered a million times. It’s bigotry because you’re not actually criticizing the real thing that happens, you’re repeating a stereotype about the real thing that happens to badmouth Muslims — and you started out using Muslims as the standard of evil to compare Christians to.

    Your opinions on FGM and Islam are grossly misinformed and ignorant. You claim you know the things we’re telling you, and yet you continue to reiterate the same tired stereotype and fail to address the real problem. It’s Islamophobia, it’s bigotry, and it’s not ok, and I’m going to continue to say so no matter how hard you try to derail me from it.

    • Kevin Alexander

      I get the sense that we are talking past each other now so I will, as you ask, go do my homework now.

      • MadGastronomer

        OK, here’s what I hear you saying. You don’t want to be called bigoted, don’t want to think you can have said something bigoted, so you don’t want to accept my definition of bigotry, and you’re going to ask me a bunch of questions about a situation that is not at all parallel in an attempt to get me to stop saying that you are, and to find flaws with what you think my definition is. I’m sure that’s not what you think you said, but since you used exactly the same tack as probably a hundred other people have just to me personally, and that’s always what they turned out to be saying, that’s exactly what I hear.

        If you criticize an actual thing the actual Pope says, a direct quote from him, then that is criticism. But you’re not criticizing the practice of FGM as it actually exists, you’re making weak jokes comparing CP purity culture practices to a falsehood about FGM and Islam. It does not actually criticize anything, and it repeats a falsehood that hurts real people. And then you continue to insist that that falsehood is true, even while acknowledging that the facts are otherwise. “Yeah, ok, there’s this long history of Europeans treating Jews as greedy and grasping, and the idea goes back to the scene in the Bible with Jesus and the moneylenders, and the usury laws in the middle ages, and not all Jews are like that. But Judaism totally encourages usury and greed!” That is seriously how your insistence on this sounds.

        I may be talking past you, but I think the problem that you have is that I understand what’s behind your words a little too well. You don’t want to give up the idea that FGM is a problem of Islam, regardless of the facts that it predates Islam in the cultures in which it is practiced and that it is practiced across all religions in those cultures, and you don’t want to be told you’re bigoted for holding onto that idea.

  • Kevin Alexander

    When I said that we are talking past each other, I meant that we aren’t getting each other. You are projecting things onto me things that I didn’t say and didn’t mean.
    In any case, this is Libby Anne’s blog. Can we take it outside?

    My email is

    • MadGastronomer

      Nope, I don’t do these conversations in private.

      • Kevin Alexander

        OK, then we’re done. I wish you well.

      • MadGastronomer

        And, again, you say this, but you don’t mean it. I only wish you did. Because if we were really done, then you would stop saying bigoted things, stop defending the bigoted things you have said, and stop strawmanning my position to attempt to get away from me pointing out the bigotry.
        I wish you well, too, Kevin Alexander. But it looks like the very best thing I could wish for you right at the moment is for you to recognize your own bigotry and learn to move beyond it.

  • Bill

    I would recommend trying swinging. If you have a strong relationship you may find that variety will help the sexual dichotomy of pleasures you feel with your husband and even open ways for you to enjoy sexual encounters together. Im sure some of the people who have retained variations of the silly religion will argue you shouldnt even try this ….but those are the same people who taught you pre-marital sex is also wrong. You shouldnt even give their opinions voice in your head as every thing they think presupposes a god, which doesnt exist, who cares about your sex life.

  • Bill

    I want to scream everytime I hear supposed feminists defend Islam. Dont be bullied by the ignorant blathering of someone who defends Islam and turns a blind eye to the abuse women suffer under the Tyranny of its dictates. All religions are stupid because they are untrue. However, some are currently more evil then others because the evil they cause in peoples lives are greater. Mock and criticize western Christianity all you want…I couldn’t care less as it’s nonsense as well…. but stop defending the indefensible in the name of blind respect and political correctness. There are REAL women suffering throughout the world today because of the Muslim religion and I dont give a damn about the western ‘pretend feminists’ who aren’t offended by that but are offended by conversations about it. I am offended by the lack of freedoms…THAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED….that most Islamic women dont have and are brainwashed to not even desire.

    • Rosa

      But FGM isn’t an Islamic practice, it’s a cultural practice that sometimes exists in cultures that also practice Islam. Just like breast enlargement surgery isn’t a Christian practice, it’s a cultural practice in a bunch of countries that happen to be majority Christian.

      • Libby Anne

        I haven’t weighed in on this whole thing, but I do want to say one thing. Yes, FGM is a cultural practice that sometimes happens to coexist with Islam. However, I would wonder if, where it coexists with Islam, the culture ties the two together and thus can’t dump the one without the other. For example, a lot of Christians – though not all – practice male genital mutilation (which is nowhere near as horrible as FGM, but is still a violation of the infant’s bodily autonomy, etc.). Some of these Christians practice MGM because they (incorrectly) believe that the Bible mandates it. This makes giving up MGM really hard because it’s not just a cultural practice, they also believe it’s a command of God. I would guess that in at least some Muslim countries where FGM is common, the people believe that FGM is commanded by Allah. That makes giving it up harder, because you can explain about health risks and rights all you want, but if they believe their God has commanded it, that might not be effective. I think this distinction – or the lack of making it – helped derail the conversation above.

      • Libby Anne

        Oh, another example from Christian culture: spanking. You can explain and explain to conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists that spanking is morally wrong, physically destructive, etc, etc, but because they link what was once simply a cultural practice to the commands of the God they worship, they won’t give it up. As long as spanking is unconnected from the dictates of a deity, there is hope to convince someone who spanks that they should change. When you add the dictates of a deity, all that changes.

      • Rosa

        To me, those examples seem to demonstrate the lack of connection. Because, most Christians in this country (not using the Evangelical coopted “Christian” here, but the more inclusive definition that includes the plurality of Americans) don’t spank much, or feel that divorce is a sin, or automatically circumcise. About 40 years ago, most Christians in this country felt the opposite. So the culture shifted and took the religion with it – except for a few reactionary pockets, who get more wrapped up in all these practices (along with hair and clothing styles and even educational styles). I wonder if both are true? The reactionary pockets weld the “traditional” and religious together in a way that might not be separable, while the general culture shrugs off the connections?

        There are certainly examples of both in majority-Muslim countries and in immigrant communities here, but I’d argue the general trend is toward cultural change getting justified after the fact with religious arguments, instead of the other way around. It would take me time to pull up evidence for that, though.

    • AnotherOne

      Congratulations on setting up a straw man. This Western feminist who is just fine with misogyny in Islam and who is offended by honest conversation about it is a figment of the imagination of people allergic to complex discussion.

      Some of us just want a conversation about Islam and Muslims that 1) is actually honest and nuanced, 2) takes into account power relationships between the West and many Muslim-majority countries, and 3) doesn’t turn off the people in a position to effect real change by calling them “stupid” and “brainwashed.”

    • MadGastronomer

      Hey look, more lies and more Islamophobia!

      No one here is defending Islam or its misogyny. We are saying that believing and repeating lies that conflate FGM and Islam is very dangerous AND does NOTHING to stop FGM OR Islamic misogyny. It puts MORE women in danger, not fewer.

  • AnotherOne


    The answer to first question (whether culture ties the two together) is yes, and the answer to the second question (whether you have to dump Islam to dump FGM) is no.

    I have no problem whatsoever discussing misogyny in Islam, but when it comes to FGM, Islam is a red herring. If you look at a map of where FGM is prevalent next to a map of Muslim-majority countries, the lack of correlation between Islam and FGM is readily apparent. If the issue we’re truly focusing on is FGM and getting rid of the practice, that can be done much more effectively if it’s not bundled in with trying to get people to give up Islam at the same time. I’m not arguing that getting people to give up Islam is an unworthy end–that’s another discussion entirely. I’m saying that if FGM is your focus, focusing on its ties to Islam will get you pretty much nowhere toward actually stopping the practice.

    • Libby Anne

      “If you look at a map of where FGM is prevalent next to a map of Muslim-majority countries, the lack of correlation between Islam and FGM is readily apparent.”

      Interesting. I really don’t know enough about the subject to talk about it authoritatively, which is why I tried to just pose questions and talk about it more abstractly.

      “I’m not arguing that getting people to give up Islam is an unworthy end–that’s another discussion entirely.”

      I never meant to imply that for those who link the two you would have to get them to totally give up Islam, only that focusing on health or rights wouldn’t work. For instance, a lot of more liberal Christians do an excellent job combating the idea that spanking is mandated by God. It’s just that in the case of those who believe spanking IS mandated by God, you can’t change their minds by talking about health risks or whatnot, you have to tackle their belief that it’s mandated by God. And it’s not like you can’t attack that link without leaving their faith intact – you can. It’s just that if they’ve connected the practice to religion, you have to address it differently than you would something that is simply a cultural practice.

      • AnotherOne

        “It’s just that if they’ve connected the practice to religion, you have to address it differently than you would something that is simply a cultural practice.”

        I agree–that’s very true. The religious component has to be addressed, and if you want to go the way of arguing that FGM isn’t mandated by God, there are doctrines and laws in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam for your arsenal. The trouble is that that doesn’t necessarily get you very far. In the syncretistic African religious environments where FGM has held such tight sway, doctrine and religious law as conceived in the Abrahamic faiths are pretty foreign and don’t have much authority over actual practice, even among people who strongly self-identify as Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. It’s just not an environment that compares well to religious environments in developed countries with a history of monotheistic religious beliefs. So much of it is about lack of development, lack of education, lack of access to basic medical care–basically, just dire poverty. And much (but not all, of course) of that dire poverty intersects very closely with colonial history in Africa, which makes having these discussions as a Westerner a bit fraught.

      • MadGastronomer

        And Muslims who do not practice it do argue against it with some frequency, as has been mentioned elsewhere in this thread.

        People who don’t know much about the topic always seem to pose the same questions about it, I notice. Questions that don’t, in the end, actually further the conversation at all, because they’ve been answered so many times elsewhere, and conversation actually gets bogged down by answering them again.

      • Libby Anne

        Mad: So…I don’t know everything. Most people don’t. Rather than getting upset at people for asking “stupid” questions, why not educate people?

      • MadGastronomer

        I didn’t call your questions stupid. I said they’ve been asked, and answered, many times before. Their answers are easily found with a little Googling, if someone really wants to know the answer.

        Why not educate instead? First, because it’s not actually my job. It’s everybody’s job to look after their own education. Second, because honestly, while I know enough to know that the common ideas are completely false, I don’t actually know that much about the reality. It’s not my area, frankly, and me trying to educate people any more than I’m doing by pointing out the falsehoods spoken here would just be spreading more ignorance. And third, I am educating people, to the best of my ability. I am telling people that the ideas that they hold are false, what little I know of the reality, and that continuing to repeat the ideas is perpetuating a harmful stereotype. That’s all the information I have to give people, and I keep on giving it. It’s not my job, but I keep doing it anyway, because ultimately, I hate to see bigotry and ignorance perpetuated.

  • AnotherOne

    Sorry–I don’t know what happened. I was trying to quote Libby’s question:

    “However, I would wonder if, where it coexists with Islam, the culture ties the two together and thus can’t dump the one without the other. “

    • Libby Anne

      Also, rereading your quote of me here, I did choose the second half of my sentence sloppily – see my reply to your comment above.

      • AnotherOne

        Thanks–sorry to contribute so much to the derailing of your post, which was actually very moving to me. Sometimes I get too caught up in these arguments, especially when I know there’s already a lot of common ground. FGM is an area I’ve worked in, and so I get kind of passionate about it.

  • Kevin Alexander

    In Africa children are beaten to death because the bible says that a witch may not be allowed to live. The beatings are justified as merciful to the child because sometimes the beatings drive the demon out and so the child’s life is saved.

    Or am I being a cultural imperialist for mentioning it?

    • MadGastronomer

      You keep insisting you’re done, and yet you keep coming back.

      Once again, when you criticize something that actually happens, and you do so accurately and based on knowledge and not ignorance, then that can be legitimate, if you construct your criticism properly. When you use something as a standard of evil, and it doesn’t happen anything like you’re saying it does, and your claims are, instead, based on bigoted stereotypes, then it isn’t. Your new example has no more relevance to what we’re talking about than your old one did.

      What I’m specifically talking about when I say that white Western feminists (and their allies) need to listen to Muslim feminists about what really harms them, and deciding among ourselves is imperialism, is things like railing against the veil. Muslim feminists tell us that the veil is not the problem, and are quite willing to tell us exactly what the real problems are: honor killings, violation of their basic human rights, etc. White Western imperialist feminists keep insisting that the veil is a big problem anyway. Native North American feminists have similar problems when white feminists start telling them what’s sexist about their cultures, too: white feminists fix on some societal distinction and insist that it’s sexist, while Native feminists are going, no, no, no, that’s not a problem, the fact that 3/4 of Native women are raped in their lifetimes is a problem!

      Once again, you keep coming up with straw women to argue against, because really you just want me to stop saying your opinions are bigoted.

  • ScottInOH

    This is an interesting subject, Libby Anne, and I think it touches on surprisingly many issues at the heart of conservative Christianity–the fear and loathing of both women and sex are important engines of the whole operation. I hope we can return to that topic someday.

  • Lori

    I find this topic very important to me and want to commend you for writing about it. During my first marriage, which lasted almost 30 years, I got along physically with my ex-husband. We could please each other sexually with no problems. However, as time went on, what we wanted from each other on a mental and emotional level during sex changed and this caused us to ultimately separate and divorce. Sure, we could still bring each other to orgasm but the emotional closeness I wanted or the sexual fantasy acting out that he wanted was not happening.

    What we wanted from each other changed but that didn’t make either of us bad, just different. In order for him to get sexually excited he had to enact these fantasies that turned me off. Telling him that his fantasies turned me off did not stop him from wanting to enact those fantasies and eventually our time together came to an end. I don’t know the solution really but I did what was best for me. After all, if I don’t take care of myself, who will?