Purity Culture and Staying in Abusive Relationships

There is one part of the purity doctrines that I don’t think has been talked about often enough, and that is that the emphasis on sexual or emotional purity leads women to stay in abusive relationships rather than leave, because if they leave, having given up their sexual and emotional purity, they will be ruined and no other man will have them. This reality was recently elucidated in a rather moving post by Samantha of Defeating the Dragons:

When I was fourteen, I went to a month-long summer camp at the college I would later attend. Like most Christian summer camps, this one involved going to a chapel service twice a day. Most of the time they were fun, lighthearted—until one evening they split up the girls and the boys. Great, I remember thinking, because I knew exactly what was coming. Segregation can only mean one thing– they were going to talk about sex. I sighed when they made the announcement. Again? I thought wearily.

That evening, when the camp counselors had shooed all the men and boys out of the building, the speaker got up to the podium. She didn’t even beat around the bush, but launched right into her object lesson. Holding up a king-size Snickers bar, she asked if anyone in the audience wanted it. It’s a room full of girls—who doesn’t want chocolate? A hundred hands shot up. She picked a girl close to the front that wouldn’t have to climb over too many people and brought her up to the stage. Very slowly, she unwrapped the Snickers bar, splitting the package like a banana peel. She handed it to the young woman, and asked her, very clearly, to lick the chocolate bar all over. Just lick it.

Giggling, the young lady started licking the chocolate bar, making a little bit of a show of it. At fourteen, I had no idea what a blow job was, so I missed the connection that had a lot of girls in the room snorting and hooting. The young lady finished and handed it back to the speaker. As she was sitting down, the speaker very carefully wrapped the package around the candy bar, making it look like the unopened package as possible.
Then she asked if anyone else in the room wanted a go.

No one raised her hand.


My sophomore year in college, another speaker shared a similar object lesson– ironically, in the exact same room, also filled exclusively with women. She got up to the podium carrying a single rose bud. At this point I was more familiar with sexual imagery, and I knew that the rose had frequently been treated as a symbol for the vagina in literature and poetry– so, again, I knew what was coming.

This speaker asked us to pass the rose around the room, and encouraged us to enjoy touching it. “Caress the petals,” she told us. “Feel the velvet.” By the time the rose came to me, it was destroyed. Most of the petals were gone, the ones that were still feebly clinging to the stem were bruised and torn. The leaves were missing, and someone had ripped away the thorns, leaving gash marks down the side.


For my own emotional stability, I will be brief. The relationship was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. Like countless other stories, the abuse slowly escalated—I had no idea what was happening until it was too late.

Women in, or who have recently escaped from, violent relationships typically get asked “why do/did you stay?” Very frequently, they don’t have a solid answer to that question. There are a host of common reasons—daddy issues, economic stability, shame.

I know exactly why I stayed. I was crippled, paralyzed, and overwhelmed by fear. Fear that he would abandon me. Fear that, if he left, I would no longer have any value. John had literally ruined me, in my mind, for anyone else.

Be sure to read the rest. What Samantha is saying here makes so, so much sense to me. We were given this idea that if we’d given our heart away, we couldn’t get it back, and that if we’d given our bodies away, we were forever sullied. Sure, we were told that Jesus could make us pure again, that people good be “born again” virgins, but who were they kidding? We knew that wasn’t how it worked. We knew that guys wouldn’t want girls who had had had sex before, and that even something as simple as dating a guy threatened to dent our purity—even without any physical contact at all.

I only ever dated one person—the man who is now my husband—but I remember thinking when I was first getting into the relationship that I was playing at a dangerous game. I only started dating him because I was already about 90% sure I would marry him—I felt “moved by the spirit” that he was the one. I knew at the time that if it didn’t work out, I would no longer be perfectly pure and completely unsullied. It was a gamble I was taking.

What Samantha points out is so, so important—because the consequences of the first relationship not working out are so, so huge, especially if you’ve had sex and thus lost your “sexual purity,” you’re likely to stay in that relationship even if things become abusive or turn out not so great. The option is making it work even with glaring problems, or jumping ship and hoping to catch someone else in spite of being damaged and sullied. In other words, these purity teachings have the effect of encouraging women to stay in abusive relationships.

The deeper you dig, the more toxic these purity teachings appear. Also, many thanks to Samantha for sharing her story. It can’t have been easy to write all of that out, but these are the things that have to be said—and every additional story we tell has the potential to help someone out of these toxic teachings.

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