More Real World Damage of the Purity Culture

The purity culture urges young people to marry not based on lust or romantic feelings, but rather based on a checklist of characteristics needed in a godly spouse. Christian? Check. Correct doctrine? Check. Believes in biblical gender roles? Check. And so on. These ideas are not just abstract. They impact the decision-making of young people raised in the conservative evangelical subculture and create real world pain and damage.

Back in December I gave you some examples of this. I posted an email by a woman who married a man with whom she was not sexually compatible—her had pastor told her that the desires would come and things would work out, but they did not, and the situation was tearing her, and her marriage, apart from the inside. I also posted a message from a friend regarding marriage troubles that stemmed from her husband’s marrying her without feeling romantically interested in her—his pastor had told him not to worry, the feelings would come, but they hadn’t. Today I bring you a male version of the first story and the conclusion of the second story.

The first story, in which a man describes marrying a woman with whom he was not sexually compatible and going on to live with the fallout year after year, was posted as a comment on Lisa’s blog:

Long story short, I married a woman 13 years ago to whom I’m not sexually attracted, and I’ve never lusted after. I knew it before I married her. I knew it the day I married her. I’ve known it for 13 long years in a passionless marriage.

She’s a really nice girl, and I’m devesatingly ashamed that I’ve ruined the woman she could have turned out to be… I see her as the true victim in it all… lack of passion has done that to both of us.

Warped by church teachings, I literally convinced myself that God was going to bless me with sexual attraction for her, by being obedient to marry her… like some magic wand of his would tap me on the head and “poof” …. Happily Ever After.

And, no, I’m not gay… I can sense you all wondering.

I had cold feet right up until the wedding, but had convinced myself that it was “just lack of faith.” … so I suppressed it. The night before the wedding, I got no sleep. I had no peace of mind. I don’t remember too much about that day…. and we left the reception early during the festivities… I was too tired to continue. But the full force of what I’d done hit me during the week… like a cold chill of death running down my spine… I was married… marriage is forever, and I’m unhappy…. forever … the exact opposite of what i’m supposed to be… I can’t get a divorce… divorced people go to hell in the express lane or the handbasket, or something. There may even be a reserved section in hell for divorced people, I thought… like maybe even a VIP entrance.

[...]

My married life became one of fear, obligation and guilt.

Well, I don’t have to tell you, that women aren’t stupid. It’s been hard on both of us… and I didn’t become honest until several years and several children later.

I wish I’d never stepped foot in a Church.
I wish I’d never been so easily guided by other people. As a man, there’s nothing more debilitating than that.
I wish i’d never made my wife a victim. She doesn’t deserve this kind of a non-marriage.
I wish I’d stood up for myself, and just spoke the truth to the people pressuring me … Fear, Obligation, and guilt are no way to live.
I wish I’d known that I’m not “evil” or “damned.”
I wish I’d learned to be myself, rather than another cookie-cutter religious dude, prideful of beliefs that aren’t even my own.
I wish I’d learned to have a personal Relationship with MYSELF early in life, before it was too late… to really know myself such that other people’s opinions mattered less to me.
It wasn’t a personal Relationship with Jesus i needed. I needed to know myself… intimately.
I wish I’d learned to trust my intuition rather than to doubt it or repress it… as if it were sinful somehow.

My blood boils sometimes with the desire blame others for their influence over me… but I know that I can only blame myself. Wanting to “please God” led me to not trust my own heart… I allowed myself to believe the Bible literally when it says: “The heart is desperately wicked. Who can trust it.” I think that must make me the ultimate people pleaser, or passive aggressive, or something horrible like that.

So I threw my heart away a long time ago.

[...]

I only hope there’s another man actually lurking on the site who reads this, and can learn something from it for his own life.

Because of the teachings of the purity culture, this man married without sexual attraction, and his life has become a shell. Next, Hannah of Wine and Marble explains why she is getting a divorce—her husband married her without being romantically attached to her, and their marriage became a sham.

I got married in January 2011, and I turned my universe upside down and graduated early and moved to a city I’ve never loved for the love of this one guy. He saw me and befriended me and supported me as I walked through the double detox of leaving a spiritually abusive church and setting healthy boundaries and learning self-respect as I left the world of Christian patriarchy. That process has fed most of my writing here.

Then there was the day when I felt a cognitive dissonance when he said “I love you,” and I began to wonder if he had really shaken off the stunted emotional habits of his own childhood and adolescence spent in the sister-church of my former church home.

And we talked and we talked and we talked in circles about what “I love you means.”

Then one day, he told me that he wanted a separation, and maybe we could start over and try again. That the teachings of one SGM pastor who’d told him (shortly before our wedding, when he came to him scared and confused) that it was okay that he didn’t have “feelings” for me, that if we were best friends and he found me sexually attractive, that it would all work out once we were married. That the feelings would come.

So he had married me, telling himself that Love is a Choice, and that Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires, that Love Is Getting What You Don’t Want For The Good Of The Other.

And I watched him fade away, disappearing into despair and loneliness and self-hatred I couldn’t possibly touch. I cried myself to sleep in the dark many, many nights while he walked alone in the dark, fighting the lies of depression.

We compared notes: how I felt, how I fell in love with him, vs. how he didn’t feel, what he did enjoy, what he knew he was capable of feeling but couldn’t conjure for me.

I’d talk and talk with him, and then fall to pieces, crying, rejected, crushed. He’d look at me, so tender, so sad, so disconnected and completely unable to feel with me.

After counseling didn’t help (“of course you were in love with her! you married her.” “no, no. you don’t understand. did you hear about these books on courtship?”), he asked for a separation again. I decided it’d be best that I do the moving out, since I was dying in the stuffy dimness of our little apartment.

“We’ll work on this, maybe there’s a chance,” he said. “We just need space to recover from the intense tension of the last few months.”

So I moved out on New Year’s day, and I spent two weeks working hard to clear the air, clear my head, be easy for him to talk to.

But a few days before our anniversary, he said he didn’t have the faith for it, that he was done, that he wanted a divorce.

And I walked into the cold and stood by my car and cried when I saw Orion, the companion of my late-night tears since I was small when I would take out the kitchen trash before bed and sit on the driveway and cry from the stress of everything and nothing.

[read the rest]

Can we be done now, please? Can we stop telling young people that they should ignore their feelings or sexual desires and look only for “godly” attributes, approaching a marriage proposition the way one does a grocery store, list in hand? How many more people need to be hurt, their lives caught in the gears of a system they unwittingly found themselves caught in, before people will finally wake up to the absurdity that is the purity culture?

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.

  • Kelly

    Not to be nitpicky, but when you say the problem in his marriage is the lack of sexual desire, it sounds like asexual people shouldn’t get married. I think one of the phrases you also used (sexual incompatibility) maybe fit the problem better.
    Besides that, I like the article. I didn’t even know about purity culture until I found your blog, but now I see bits of it everywhere.

    • Meg

      Well, lack of sexual desire is a problem if you’re marrying someone who expects to have sex and feel desired. Being asexual is not a problem; it’s a problem if you pretend that you aren’t.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        It’s also a problem if you yourself expect to have sex and would like to feel desire for the person you’re having it with. This guy doesn’t sound asexual, he just sounds like he doesn’t have sexual feelings for his wife. And that IS a problem if you are a sexual person.

    • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com Christine

      As an asexual myself, I also didn’t read this as these men being asexual, just not sexually attracted to the women they are married to, or even particularly attracted in any way..

      As to the general question of asexuals in marraige? One of the most loving relationships I know of is between an asexual man and a non-asexual woman. She has a couple of partners she sees on a semi-regular basis when she wants sex. This couple is compatible in every way other than sexually, so they found a way to make it work. And I really don’t have a problem with it.

  • Gail

    I remember when I was about 12, this woman leading a session at a Christian youth group conference said that you should marry someone based on the compatibility of your souls rather than the compatibility of your bodies or personalities. Even then when I bought into most of this stuff, I had no idea what they were talking about. Because who need physical and personal compatibility with someone you have sex with and live with?

    • ScottInOH

      Even then when I bought into most of this stuff, I had no idea what they were talking about.

      Which is seen as a virtue in many of these circles, or at least not a red flag. “You don’t understand? That’s because God’s ways are so far above man’s ways.”

      It’s all about over-riding natural tendencies, the good ones as well as the bad.

    • JohnH

      Since the soul is the joining of the spirit and the body then seeking for compatibility of the soul instead of compatibility of the bodies or personalities would appear to be saying that one should find someone who they find attractive, and who they like their personality, intellect, and religiosity rather then focusing on any one of those traits at the expense of the others, which is very good advice.

      What did they mean by soul? Do you know where this disconnect in the meaning of soul originated?

      • Gail

        It’s been a very long time since this session, but I think I remember her saying that bodies and personalities can change, but souls don’t. So I don’t think she was advising what you describe in your first paragraph, which would have been much better advice. I really have no idea what she meant by soul in this case.

      • The_L

        This sort of Christian tends to view the soul as something totally separate from your body or your intellectual desires. Your personality and drives are viewed as totally sinful. The “soul” is some sort of abstract thing that appears to contain one’s religious beliefs and not much else.

        Hence the viewing of “finding the right mate” as basically being a religious-views checklist–if the only requirement is that your spouse be “Godly,” and other forms of religious belief–even Christian religious belief–are wrong, then there really isn’t anything else you’re allowed to check for.

        It’s like gnosticism on steroids. These are the same people who can look at a bird’s instincts to care for its young as good and God-given, but see a human mother’s instinctive desire to comfort her baby when it cries as sin and temptation. Because humans are the only ones with souls, and thus we should not have anything to do with the urges of our evil, yucky, sinful, fleshly bodies.

      • Anonymouse

        So, it would be perfectly okay to marry a person of the same sex, as long as your souls were compatible? :-)

  • ScottInOH

    I was generally brought up with this way of thinking, albeit without some of the excesses and darker overtones. I don’t want to raise my own children that way regarding attitudes towards sex, but I find myself wondering what I should tell them about looking for a life partner.

    I’m not going to tell them that “praying about it” is the best way to figure out if they’ve met The Right One, and I’m not going to let them believe they should get married so they can have sex without going to hell, but I find myself wondering what kind of positive advice I can give them.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

      Don’t tell them there’s One Right One. There’s not. There’s a plethora of people they can love and who can love them. Tell them to take it slow, to really sit down and think. Have a list of internal questions if thinking about a permanent relationship:

      Do I love this person?
      If sex is important (ie neither of us is asexual), are we compatible in the bedroom?
      Do I think I can deal with the things that annoy me about this person for the next 2/5/10/25 years? Do I have unrealistic expectations about changing this person?
      Will this person support my dreams and will I support this person’s dreams?
      Do we have similar views on saving and spending money?
      How do we feel about children?
      How do we feel about religion?

      I think the most important thing to tell them is to take each person as a person, not an ideal. Don’t look at anyone as their Soul Mate, or The Right One. There’s no such thing. There’s just two fallible people who love and and trust and support each other and make the decision to make a commitment to do it forever. Tim Minchin has a fantastic song about this: it’s a love song to his wife call If I Didn’t Have You. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeZMIgheZro.

      • Laurie Schiller

        I think you are missing the most important question:
        Do I love spending time with this person?
        When my husband and I were dating, going to our separate dorm rooms at the end of the night was akin to torture. We simply didn’t want to be separated because we loved the time we spent together. Now, eight years into our marriage, the favourite parts of my day are still the parts that we spend together. My husband and I work at the same university, and one of the things I love most about working together is the fact that we get to have lunch together almost every day.

      • Stony

        The best way to find a healthy whole person is to be one yourself. Encourage your kids to build a happy, full, interesting life for themselves, and they will be more likely to find people who share their interests. And, speaking for my old single self, I was way too busy and active to be lonely.

        I would add: fights well. If one partner retreats at the first sign of conflict where the other aggressively tries to face, it can lead to resentment. And vice versa.
        And do you have the same social and societal viewpoints? Do you care or not care about similar things?

        Agree wholeheartedly about not being One Right One. There are infinite permutations out there and the self is amazingly flexible….there are many who can suit.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        @Laurie: I dunno if I’d make that a criterion for everyone. My husband and I are both introverts, and we both need alone time. There were plenty of times when we were dating that one of us would have a stressful day or just an over-peopled one and need some time alone to decompress before spending time together. We still spend quite a bit of time in the same room not interacting- I’m reading and he’s playing LoL, for example, and that works for us. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend every second together, but there’s nothing wrong with not wanting that either. It just depends on the person and the couple.

        @Stony: Right on!

    • ako

      You might talk about what healthy and happy relationships look like? How they should treat the person they’re with in a relationship, and how they should expect to be treated? How to argue respectfully and how and when it’s appropriate to compromise? The importance of making sure that both people in the relationship enjoy each other’s company?

      I think there’s a strong tendency to push unrealistic extremes when it comes to happiness and personal fulfillment versus compromise and work in a relationship, and it would be really helpful for a kid to grow up hearing about relationships that were mostly happy with some time and effort put into resolving problems.

      I also think it’s helpful (particularly for girls, but also for boys) to hear that finding someone to marry isn’t the be-all end-all of life goals, and it’s acceptable to be single and do other things with their life.

    • ScottInOH

      Thanks, everyone. Lots to think about, teach, and live.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    Personally I think that the idea that people needing a legal document to be together is a legacy of the days when marriage was not about love.

    • Sarah-Sophia

      *idea of

    • JohnH

      Marriage is primarily about the raising of the children; that best occurs when the parents love each other so love in marriage is important but the point of socially sanctioning marriage is to establish lines of inheritances and responsibility for children and for the support of the women that will raise the children. If marriage is just about love then there should be no point in having the state have any say in it, no tax benefits to marriage, and should have just as much prestige and legal obligations as any other limited liability partnership.

      • http://republic-of-gilead.blogspot.com Ahab

        First, speaking as a childfree-by-choice person, not all married couples have or want children. Second, even for couples who have children, marriage is about a LOT more than offspring. What about love, trust, joy, and forging a path in life with someone? Finally, why are you assuming that the woman automatically raises the child? In every married couple I’ve seen, BOTH parents raise the children, and BOTH parents contribute income to the household. That applies to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

        Your vision of marriage is woefully stereotypical. Human relationships are far richer than you give them credit for.

      • JohnH

        Ahab,
        I am not assuming the women are raising the children in marriage, I am assuming based on evidence that women will raise the children even if the men are not around. The number of single mothers caring for children is many times greater then the number of single fathers. Marriage ties the father to the children so that they do help in raising the children, where as without marriage all evidence is that the father is not involved with the children and the mother still raises the children.

        The other benefits of marriage are great for the individuals in the marriage but nearly irrelevant to the health and well being of society at large.

      • Kodie

        No, Ahab, I think the institution of marriage was originally intended with regard for offspring, that they be cared for in a functioning household. The general human situation expects new people to be born because there didn’t used to be any way to prevent it. And for example, the “sin” of having sex outside of marriage was also intended with regard to these largely unavoidable offspring and how they would not have sealed upon them some assurance that they be cared for and raised until able to separate from their parents as an adult would do. Purity culture and marriage is basically primitive birth control, insofar as it could control births until it is assured that any offspring would have some promise by its guardians (and creators) to stay with each other and maintain a household together. Without such a contract, people could just up and leave and disinherit their children.

      • Kodie

        @JohnH – there is no reason for that now. As I describe, marriage was once an institution that was probably very difficult indeed, but that did mostly accomplish what it set out to do – legally bind fathers who could otherwise disinherit their own children. That doesn’t speak very highly to sexual responsibility for the man. That sounds like every unmarried man is a cad and every unmarried woman gets a bad reputation. I think this is very bad for men and women to resist modernizing our concept of marriage, love, childcare, and outcomes like divorce or not being married legally. Pregnancy is preventable or avoidable now, as a reaction to women not wanting to be tied down to someone their father sold them to, and for men too, men can and do enjoy sex with someone they might not love and/or might not want to have children with, without having to worry they’ll be sending checks to what’s-her-name’s kid. You know? People can marry someone compatible and also do something else with their adult lives than have so many children.

        I would maintain that if children are a factor, it takes at least two adults to care for that child, but that it does not necessitate 2 active parents. A single parent needing to care for children would not be able to work for pay and keep up all the house needs and childcare, so it is nice in modern life that some of these things can be hired out to another responsible adult. It is similar to a man paying a father for his daughter, he has basically hired “in” his help. Nowadays, we don’t have to be as strict with gender roles, it’s still true that dishes need to be done, but it doesn’t matter who does them or if both parents have a penis, or whatever. Marriage as a contract for the care of offspring is still arguably in use, but we have found a lot of other practical methods for getting the job done. Arguing that a father needs a contract to stay makes a pretty bold declaration that men are weak and irresponsible and need to be coerced by the law to care for their own children, which is unfortunately true in too many cases. What is wrong with them? Comparatively, women are judged harshly for not keeping their knees tight together since they know they could have gotten pregnant, and this supposes that marriage would have made her less ashamed or something. Abortions are ok. We have made progress in our human quest to keep from being pregnant. In the olden days, marriage was pretty much a sentence to constant pregnancy, and religion calls this divine and the way it should be, and calls anything outside of this remedy a “sin”. No, we have made a lot of other remedies. People who want children don’t have to be married to anyone, or they can be married to someone with the same genitals (where it’s legal; it should be legal everywhere). They can solve not being able to functionally create children together with other options like adoption and surrogacy and sperm donors. I know the religious think that’s willy-nilly, but we’re a problem-solving creature. If a problem can be solved, the only obstacle left here is people still holding onto the notion that marriage is “for children” and nothing else, and that gay people can’t, but yes they can, but they shouldn’t! have children, so call marriage equality an abomination that threatens the one holy version of one man, one woman, no birth control, strict gender roles, complementarianism. It’s rigid, it just doesn’t suit everyone, and there’s nothing magical about it. It’s an antiquated form of birth control that oppressed women.

      • Anat

        Marriage is primarily about forming a long-term partnership of mutual caring. Children may become part of the picture for a while, but aren’t a necessary feature.

      • Emmers

        Marriage is was primarily about raising children.

        Fixed that for you! (It was also about property distribution and political alliances, depending on your social class.)

      • BabyRaptor

        This is…Complete bullshit. Marriage is a relationship between two people. It’s about how they feel about each other, and how they want to spend their lives. It has exactly zero to do with children.

      • JohnH

        Kodie,
        Given that swearing is already occurring on this subject on this thread then I think it best if I don’t respond to everything you say here, as even suggesting that marriage is about the children (or that the children have anything to do with the marriage apparently) has touched a nerve of some here. What you said is the discussion that needs to happen as opposed to the group asserting that marriage has nothing to do with children that is otherwise going on.

        Laws are made not on the basis of how people should act but on the basis of how they do act. Men should not abandon their children, but the sad truth is that they do.

      • saraquill

        In short, John H is saying “There’s swearing, the argument is invalid,” and “People don’t like my statement, hence they are going off topic and I won’t respond.”

        To John H I say, I don’t like how you paint half of the adult members of the species as icky with your statement. Not all men are horrid, not all women are paragons. Sometimes you get both in the same person.

      • Anat

        Before the church made marriage more popular only the property owners married. The poor paired up and broke up as they felt like. So historically in the West marriage was primarily about property.

  • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

    There’s an above comment thread that touched on something I find fascinating – the concept of The Right One. I was always taught to believe that God decided ahead of time who everyone would marry, and that we had to be godly men and women to find him/her. I’m looking back and realizing how effed up that is! I agree with one of the above commenters, there is no Right One. I think The Right One is just more purity culture nonsense. My husband and I met in a very fluky, random way, and we almost didn’t meet at all. Now of course I can’t imagine my life without him, but I’m logical and objective enough to know that had I not met him, I would likely have met and married someone else, as would he.

    This is a little off-topic from the article, which was very good and quite illustrative of some of the problems of purity culture. But I would be curious to hear your thoughts on The Right One, Libby Anne.

  • Karen

    Just as there is no Right One, there is no end of people you can be attracted to after you’re married. A good marriage is so much more than attraction: love, trust, caring, forgiving, supporting. While my husband is attractive to me (he gets more attractive, because he gets more sensitive, as the years go by) I have met a few men since my marriage who attracted me more. But it’s the base of love, trust, caring, forgiving, and supporting that keeps me married faithfully to this same man for 33 years.

  • MNb

    “the exact opposite of what i’m supposed to be”
    Christianity is not about happiness during earthly life, but about happiness in afterlife. That’s one main reason why it sucks.

    “to not trust my own heart”
    And that’s what Original Sin is about. Second reason.

    “Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires”
    Third reason – this also shows why I dislike the teachings of Jesus.

    “we talked in circles about what “I love you means.””
    I have had my share of problems – including a divorce – but never needed to talk about this. I just knew, or rather felt.

  • UrsulaL

    I’m not so sure about marriage being primarily about raising children.

    If you’ve read Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” by Richard Wrangham, he has hypothosized that marriage began as an early, even pre-human, adaptation to the logistics of cooking food. According to his theory, evolutionary evidence, in the form of changes in the digestive tract so that raw food could no longer be easily digested, but fewer calories were burned digesting food in general, since cooked food requires fewer calories to digest, led to extra calories for brain growth, pinpointing the introduction of cooking as coinciding with the evolution of Homo erectus.

    Cooking food creates the problem of having to gather and hang onto food until it can be cooked, and keeping others from stealing food as it is cooked. In his hypothesis, early marriage was a sort of protection deal between smaller females and larger males, where the female would cook for herself and the male, while the male was expected to protect the food from theft. Not just physically fighting, but also social organization, and agreements between males not to steal each others food and eventually to cooperate in some forms of food gathering. Because if you’re going to spend hours gathering wild fruits, vegetables, roots, maybe small animals or grubs, and then more time cooking them to eat, the last thing you need when you’re tired after a busy day is to be faced with someone larger or with less initiative than you, who has been resting all day, challenging you for your food. Even if you can beat the first challenger, others could steal your food while you’re fighting.

    Wangram’s theory is that male interest in a given woman’s children, and even sexual exclusivity, came much later. HE also observes that the expectation that a woman will cook for her husband is one that is near-universal in pre-modern cultures, and far more consistent than either expectations about sexual fidelity or cooperation in child-rearing.

    I don’t know enough about anthropology of this period to claim that this hypothesis is 100% accurate. But I do find it interesting. And I find the understanding of how cooking affects digestion, and how having consistent access to cooked foods as a primary part of one’s diet could have a strong evolutionary effect, by removing a significant biological stress in the form of the metabolic requirements of digestion, and the percentage of calories available from food after subtracting the calories required to digest it to a usable form. It is also a form of anthropological evidence for cooking and fire use that isn’t tied to how well the remains of a small cooking fire can last over centuries, helping clear up any confusion about whether evidence for the practice is present or absent based on whether it was going on versus whether physical evidence could survive.

    I also find it interesting to think about pair-bonding as something that arose for a socially less complicated reason than the years-long commitment that is child-rearing, (even cooperation for a few meals, in shifting relationships, would be a benefit, if you can just be sure to have access to your gathered and cooked food through the end of dinner, and maybe leftovers for breakfast the next morning) and that as couples cooperated in one way, other, longer-term forms of cooperation followed.

  • UrsulaL

    Ack! Sorry for the runaway italics, just pretend I closed the tag properly at the end of the book title, please!

  • Rae

    Now that I think of it, they’re promoting relationships where people don’t experience strong sexual attraction towards the person they intend to marry – so when they get married and they’re supposed to have sex, yeah, that’s going to fail.

  • TicklishMeerkat

    When I got married to my first husband, I didn’t love him. I didn’t even especially like him. I only did it because I was too young to realize what a crock my church preached and taught about marriage. I had this idea that if it was God’s will that we get married, I’d learn to love the man God had chosen for me. How did I know God had chosen this? Why the man himself–and our pastor and other senior Christian mentors–all said this was true. And my husband-to-be was heading straight toward a particularly anointed-looking ministry, so everybody thought he talked directly to God. Beside that wall of patriarchy, what did I know? I was just a teenaged girl. I trusted them. I thought they were right, and that all two people needed to make marriage work was a shared commitment to Jesus; everything else would follow because of course the husband would want to be a godly leader, and of course I would, as a proper Christian wife, want to be a submissive and sweet follower. I didn’t realize how inherently abuse-prone the evangelical marriage paradigm is. It did not take long for purity culture to wreak its havoc on my first marriage. We lasted for way too many years like a pair of rabid cats in a too-small cage, till I deconverted and he began to physically threaten me to keep me in line. It took fear for me to run; I’d have left much sooner, but I couldn’t bear the humiliation of admitting that either I just wasn’t good enough to conform to God’s will, or else everybody in my life was wrong about what God’s will had been for me in the first place. The third possibility, that it was all a total crock meant to control me and cow me into giving up my power to accept shoddy treatment and second-citizen status, hadn’t yet occurred to me, but it would in time.

    The idea that everybody has this one perfect mate is a particularly evil and malevolent lie told to get women to put up with horrible treatment. “You can’t leave! God said he was your perfect mate!” That’s what people told me when I fled in terror. Nobody could believe that a man who was such a powerful warrior for God could possibly be treating me the way I was saying he was. It’s all very romantic to imagine that we all have this perfect partner somewhere out there, but it’s a notion that lends itself to creating an atmosphere of abuse. That it fits so hand-in-glove with the sickest ideals of complementarianism should tip us all off about its potential abusiveness.

  • UrsulaL

    A couple of more thoughts on this:

    1.

    Spiritual compatibility seems to be being presented as something that is the opposite of physical/emotional compatibility. Or at least as the opposite of recognizing physical/emotional compatibility prior to marriage.

    Now, being an atheist, “spiritual” isn’t a huge deal in my life. But what they seem to be talking about is what I might consider “political” or “cultural” compatibility. Sharing the same values, treating the other person according to those values. In my life, if a man didn’t consider women his equal, and act in that way in his daily life, we would be politically/culturally incompatible – atheist, feminist me trying to live with some misogynist who wants me to order my life around serving the men in my life just won’t work.

    In much the same way in which the purity-culture folks are, legitimately, concerned that having one person who genuinely believes in purity as a value and a partner who considers it irrelevant is a combination that is asking for problems, because the things these two people value are just too different to create the basis of a good relationship.

    But they don’t seem to consider the possibility of compatibility across the board. cultural compatibility and shared values are important, but not actually in conflict with also having physical and emotional compatibility. Which is really strange, because they do value all three forms of compatibility after rings are exchanged, but you’re somehow supposed to get there by focusing on one form and not merely ignoring but deliberately avoiding the other two, prior to the moment where rings are exchanged.

    We do see examples of couples who are both physically and emotionally compatible and also sharing a commitment to the (awful) priorities of purity culture and US-style conservative Christianity. An obvious example being the Duggers, on television – while I’d hate their lifestyle, and I reject their values, the parents of that family do seem to have achieved all three forms of compatibility, being physically and emotionally connected as well as sharing spiritual values.

    Which leads to my second point:

    ***

    2.

    Emotional and physical compatibility or attraction are negative things during the process of a “courtship” where touching is forbidden and emotions are suppressed in favor of a checklist of spiritual/political/cultural points of agreement.

    If you’re spending a lot of time with someone but aren’t allowed to touch them or explore any sort of physical or emotional connection, then any sort of physical or emotional attraction becomes something painful rather than something enjoyable. If you’re physically or emotionally attracted to the person, then every interaction becomes a difficult process of turning off those attractions to focus on the approved forms of attraction.

    Also, if feelings of sexual attraction to someone you aren’t already married to is a sin, then any potential suitor for whom you feel sexual attraction becomes an occasion for sin, whom you are then obliged to avoid – only suitors who are not sexually attractive are allowed to stick around.

    On the other hand, in that sort of courtship, finding someone with whom you are spiritually/politically/culturally compatible with, but for whom you have little physical attraction, is the most enjoyable form of social contact. You can spend hours talking about mutual interests without any uncomfortable tensions that you have to suppress.

    Friendship where you have a lot of common interests, without physical sexual attraction, is a lot of fun.

    So for someone raised within purity-culture, the most enjoyable times they will have with someone of the opposite sex are not times with people they find emotionally and sexually attractive. Those people are associated with frustration and guilt.

    The best times, for an unmarried young adult within purity culture, are with people who are wonderful friends but in no way hot. Fun without either sexual tension or sexual resolution.

    ***

    So, in the “list of possible spouses” spiritual/political/cultural compatibility is carefully measured, but any markers of sexual or emotional compatibility are zeroed out.

    But in trying to live withing purity culture, spiritual/political/cultural compatibility becomes all-important, but any physical or emotional attraction becomes a turn-off rather than a turn-on. Because long-term sexual frustration teased by increasingly intense time spent with someone who is physically attractive is a slow torture and frustration.


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