The Purity Culture and Trust

I’m afraid I rather made my husband Sean miserable during our engagement and early marriage. For one thing, I found out that he had had sex with a previous girlfriend, and when he wasn’t regretful for it, I did everything I could to let him know how much this hurt me in an effort to make him feel guilt and regret. For another thing, given that I was taught both that men constantly think about sex and that my husband thinking sexual thoughts about another woman was the equivalent of adultery, I quizzed him daily on whether he had “cheated on me,” and if he admitted that he had thought sexual thoughts about another woman (say, when passing her on the sidewalk), I once again sought to make him feel appropriately guilty.

One thing the purity culture doesn’t do well is trust.

Like most of those of their generation in Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull circles, my parents were not virgins when they married. My mother told me this when I was a young teen, and explained that their lack of virginity at their wedding had damaged their marriage because neither felt that they could trust the other. I was to take this as an object lesson.

I heard other things as well. In one instance, for example, a couple who decided they could not afford more children chose to have the wife’s tubes tied even though it would have been easier and less invasive for the husband to have a vasectomy. Why? Because if the husband had a vasectomy he would have less accountability, fewer checks and balances to make sure he stayed faithful to the wife.

I was also taught that men were obsessed with sex, and that women needed to cover up in order to help them avoid temptation. I viewed women who dressed in “slutty” clothing with anger, knowing that they were out there actively tempting my future husband. I was also taught that women needed to hold out until the wedding because otherwise men would already have everything they wanted – sex – and therefore not make the commitment of marriage. And also, I was told that if I had sex with a man before marriage, he would leave me, since he would have gotten what he came for. (I realize now that these ideas are contradictory.)

Is it any wonder I ended up afraid of men?

Fear. Suspicion. Doubt. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Adultery, both physical and emotional, was a huge concern. It happened in our church, the associate pastor and the secretary. It happened to my parents’ friends, the husband who left his wife after years of marriage. And remember, this was a world where women weren’t supposed to work, a world where men were held up as providers and protectors, a world where divorce meant social death. This is the milieu in which I grew up, and the associated worries and obsessions significantly affected the early years of my marriage.

I couldn’t trust Sean. I simply couldn’t. First, he had had sex with someone else before we were together. Second, he admitted that he had viewed porn in the past, though he stopped viewing it on my insistence. Third, he told me that he was indeed sexually attracted to other women, including women he saw every day. I simply could not trust him.

Fear. Suspicion. Doubt. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And yet there Sean stood, looking at me with his adoring gaze.

Fear. Suspicion. Doubt. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And yet Sean insisted that I meant the world to him.

Fear. Suspicion. Doubt. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And yet.

I’ll never forget how Sean responded when I told him I was pregnant with Sally. His instant smile was so deep and earnest that I thought the rainbows shooting from his every pour would split him into a shower of sparkles. He cupped his hands over my belly and was so overcome he couldn’t speak. When he left for school that day, he was quite literally glowing. I think that was the day things started to change. I think that was the moment I realized I could trust him.

In the following months, I put aside my fears and suspicions. I realized that it was only normal that he was sexually attracted to other women, and that it didn’t mean he was cheating on me. I realized that when a couple didn’t expect each other to be virgins when they met, there was no trust broken when they weren’t.

The funny thing is that as I let go of my doubt and suspicion, as I began to fully trust and appreciate Sean, we became so much closer as a couple. I didn’t realize it, but my doubt and suspicion had been standing between us, holding us apart, keeping us from truly coming together. My fear kept me constantly at his heels, and my constant completely unfounded suspicion alternately baffled and hurt him. It wasn’t until I let go of my fear and was able to look him in the eyes and believe what I saw there that we were able to truly embrace each other.

For all of its promises of perfect love and perfect union, the teachings of the purity culture only wreaked havoc on my own relationship and marriage. It was only when I left those teachings behind that I could step out into the sunshine, take my spouse’s hand without reservation, and lift my face to enjoy the breeze.

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