Ticking Time Bombs of Atomic Hormones

I’ve written a lot about my experiences being raised in what I call “the purity culture”—evangelicalism’s obsession with the virginity and sexual ignorance of its young, an obsession that manifests itself in purity rings, purity balls, modesty teachings, and the rejection of dating. Some readers have asked what it’s like for males growing up in the purity culture, and I’ve had to say that while I could guess, I honestly didn’t know. Most of those speaking out against the purity culture have been female. Today that changes. 

A Guest Post by Abel

Growing up in my homeschool world, I heard constantly from everyone around me talk about the importance of modesty and purity. Women were supposed to dress up like Victorian-aged puritans because men are so susceptible to lust and we just can’t control ourselves. I never understood this. But I accepted it because everyone else around me seemed to and I never felt I had the right to question it. If I tried to question it, wouldn’t that just be the sexual freak inside me trying to fight God?

Oh. Yeah. I kinda got ahead of myself.

There’s a sexual freak inside of me. Or, well, there’s a sexual freak inside of every male. According to my culture, all males are sexual freaks waiting to happen.

We’re like ticking time bombs of atomic hormones.

You don’t want to let those time bombs out until marriage. And it’s really easy to let them out. That’s why women should all dress so carefully. If a man happens to see a woman readjusting her bra strap, all hell could break loose and men could turn into savage beasts. There is a rapist inside of all men, including me.

I never thought there was a rapist inside of me. I never felt a desire to force myself onto a woman when I accidentally saw a bra strap peaking out of a woman’s denim jumper. But I still felt sick to my stomach when I caught myself looking one second too long at that bra strap. I felt that indicated my inherent dirtiness. I felt nothing but pure disgust for my body. I felt God staring at me from that bra strap, as if he was about to turn me into a pillar of salt, just like he turned Lot’s wife into salt for looking back at Sodom.

I’d stay awake at night, begging God to forgive me.

I’m surprised there’s not a whole generation of homeschooled males that have fetishes about bra straps.

But really, what I took to heart from all this talk about how obsessed men were with sex was not just that there was a rapist inside of me. It was that apparently I had a broken rapist inside of me. Because, honestly, I never felt so overwhelmed by semi-exposed skin that I couldn’t control myself. I spent years thinking there was something wrong with me. Men were supposed to “stumble” when they saw a midriff, or a shoulder, or too much leg. But I never “stumbled” like that — meaning, I never saw a midriff and went home and masturbated about it.

So I decided when I was sixteen that I must be gay.

In retrospect, that only made me feel worse.

Because men never made me “stumble,” either.

Because I’m not gay.

I was actually straight. And as far as straight people go, I was actually normal, too. Apparently normal people — straight or gay or whatever you are — don’t obsess about sex as much as homeschooling parents do.

I was conditioned by all these myths that pervade homeschooling that males are so overwhelmed by sex that they can’t exercise any semblance of self-control. But you know what? We can. And we’re not only hurting women by saying that women are responsible for mens’ thoughts. We’re also hurting men by making us all out to be monsters with uncontrollable sexual urges.

Rape is a horrible thing that should be opposed by everyone. Normal human sexuality is completely different. And I am sad that I grew up in a world that saw no problems with blurring the lines between the two.

It took me years to figure that out. What I used to think was me being gay eventually became me wondering if I just had a really low libido. But then I went to the doctor and found out, no, my libido is fine, too.

Apparently my problem was that I’m not a stereotype manufactured out of thin air by the I Kissed Dating Goodbye courtship cult.

But after everything I’ve gone through, that’s a problem I am ok living with.


Originally posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous. Posted here with permission.

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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.

  • Silent Service

    I wasn’t home schooled and your childhood sounds too much like mine.

    My parents got married young. Mom had just turned 17 and Dad was still 16. The long running joke is that after the best man passed out they propped him up with Grandpa’s shotgun. Not kidding, that’s the joke. Apparently Dad couldn’t keep it zipped up as a teen, so from as young as I can remember I was constantly being told about how I’d get a girl pregnant if I even thought about sex. It made sex in general and women in particular very terrifying to me as a kid. I didn’t even start dating until I was a 19 year old sophomore in college. Really screwed me up for years. I still have to fight myself over how nervous I am around women. Men is a different problem al together. I like men too, but I got enough Bible thumping about homosexuality to make me wait another 10 years before I was finally willing to try that out. So much missed time and so many possibilities missed over something so natural; all because I was terrified to ask anybody out for fear that I might lose control.

    • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Truthspew

      Interesting experience you had there. Me, it was Catholicism. My first sexual encounters were in my teens and with other guys my age.

      But the message I was getting in Catholic schools ran strongly against what I knew to be natural. But the pressure was enough to sort of screw up my life until I was close to 30 years old.

  • smrnda

    I think it’s really a control issue. You create anxiety about normal sexual feelings, which aren’t really harmful in themselves, get people to feel immense guilt and shame over them, and then you can control them. Gurus like this Joshua Harris then get to create little empires since they’ve sold you you have a problem and that they have the solution. Of course, they don’t, but since they make everybody feel so bad they manufacture the need for their product.

    • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

      Yes, and don’t forget the blanket condemnation of harmless outlets like masturbation for those whose sex drives aren’t low and may face years until marriage. That’s another bucketload of guilt right there.

  • Andrew L

    Actually I think we are ticking atomic time bombs when we hit puberty. In fact that is actually how I’ve described it in the past. “When I hit puberty it was like nuclear warhead had gone off inside of me”. Sex and sexual thoughts consumed a large amount of my free time, what was it? how did it work? where can I find more? I even snuck into a neighbors house so I could look at their porn mags. I can’t speak to whether the female experience is similar but I know enough about my mate’s experiences to know I wasn’t the freak outlier. The question isn’t whether many/most kids are going to experience this nuclear detonation; the question is how are we going to channel it.

    • Michael Busch

      Human sexuality has a very wide range of normal, for women and for men and for any other categories that people may want to assign themselves too. Don’t make this a gendered issue.

    • Kit

      I’d like to make the point that as a woman, I felt the same way. When I was 12 or 13, I started having sexual fantasies very frequently – every night, at least. And I went online and read erotica because my parents didn’t control my computer. It’s not a gendered thing – it’s probably more about sex drive and curiosity than anything else.

      That said, it’s important to recognize that a wide range of normal is possible. Some people don’t have my kind of sex drive and that’s perfectly normal too. I can’t speak to “stumbling” because I didn’t grow up religiously and therefore lacked most of the guilt referred to here, but I don’t really think sexuality is something that needs to be “controlled.” For OCD patients, one thing therapists recommend is forgiving yourself for having tics – it actually stops you from obsessing about it more, because the more you think you CAN’T look at something or you CAN’T do something, the more you will actually obsess about it and the guiltier you will feel. In my experience, I never felt out of control because for me, sexuality and masturbation and fantasies were just very normal things, very natural things.

    • Silent Service

      Oh, I hit the time bomb as you describe it in my late teens and was consumed with thoughts of things I’d been taught would be the downfall of me, but I didn’t ever think of forcing myself onto anybody. I doubt that you did either. You wanted to experience sex but that’s normal. The abnormal part is the obsession with a lack of control so extreme you will rape anybody you get a chance to shove your little boy parts into. That seems to be the extreme position fundamentalist Christianity and most of modern Islam takes. That if tempted by sex even a little bit, men will forcibly take it without control regardless of the consequences. Their answer is to scare boys too young to understand and to closet girls for life in black body bags.

      I bet you though very much about the consequences of sneaking into your neighbor’s house to look at his porn, but as you weren’t hurting anybody found it to be worth the risk while your hormones were raging. That was wrong, but not nearly as wrong sneaking into the neighbor’s house to rape somebody. Not many guys even consider doing that (I hope). Those that do consider it are very disturbed. Those that actually do something that abhorrent are seriously messed up; possibly even evil. But they are not typical, are they? I don’t think so.

  • http://fantastikate.com/ iamfantastikate

    I’m a woman who grew up in a similar environment. There was certainly plenty of shaming and guilt surrounding female sexuality, but I also heard a lot about “uncontrollable” men, too. As an adult and atheist, it interests and saddens me how many men never recognize how vile this belief is–what it says about men, what it makes men believe about themselves, how much fear it builds in women’s lives. Worse, it seems many formerly religious atheist men don’t often get past it, either, choosing, instead, to “explain” their “uncontrollable” desires (which women, of course, never have) with a poor understanding of biology and anthropology.

    Just to illustrate how destructive this belief is:

    When I last visited my family, my mother and grandmother told me about a fifteen-year-old girl in their community who was beaten and raped by an eighteen-year-old boy. At the end of the story, my mother said, “Of course, she was wearing some skimpy little dress. He probably couldn’t help himself.” She said this while chuckling.

    After swallowing a scream, I replied as neutrally as possible (because it’s the only way I can sometimes get them to listen), “I think he would have raped her, regardless of what she was wearing.”

    My grandmother shook her head and said, “No. My father used to tell us girls, ‘Little lambs shouldn’t go out dressed and ready to be eaten by wolves.’ It’s true. He was right.”

    Never mind that my great-grandfather was a lifelong alcoholic who beat his wife and children, including my grandmother. He was the man of the house, a Christian, who understood the value of feminine modesty and uncontrollable masculinity, and so his words are final and live on, even many decades after his death.

    I’m glad you’ve discovered you’re not broken, Abel. It’s one of the greatest gifts you get when sloughing off years of abusive (and pro-abuse) indoctrination.

  • “Rebecca”

    So sorry to hear you went through this, Abel. It must be so horrible not only to have to force your sexuality to be squashed (as I did also), but also, since you’re male, to feel like you’re a monster waiting to happen. The people responsible for these messed-up views on sex have a lot to answer for.

  • Nimue

    This sounds so familiar…I also grew up in a conservative, religious family with the same ideas about sex. I always figured I was good at abstinence, since I was never “tempted” by boys….lol. Turns out there is a word for people who don’t “struggle” with attraction to others: asexual. A bit of a bitter joke that I didn’t come to understand this until after I became sexually active (read: until after I got married).

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia
    • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Truthspew

      Now that one is too funny. I’ve heard Lifetime referred to as “The Cramp Channel” too.

  • Jerry Cluney

    I was never tempted to force myself on anyone. I have never accepted any excuse and I don’t care what was going on. The man who rapes is using force to get his criminal way. If a man can not control his sexual impulses he needs to see a psychiatrist, be in jail, or castrate himself.

    Men Ageist Rape

  • emptyknight

    My experience was very similar, minus the homeschooling. Well, that and I did actually turn out to be gay. My father is a minister and there were strict rules — no dancing, no swimming in a pool with girls, masturbation is giving in to Satan’s temptations to lust. We couldn’t even go to water parks or beaches because women might be wearing bikinis. Of course it never occurred to my parents that a properly raised Xtian boy might turn out to be gay, so my male friends could spend the night all they wanted, which made for some turbulent cycles of sexual experimentation followed by extreme guilt, remorse and self-hate. I’ll admit that I never really completely got over my screwed-up upbringing, though I’m in a much better spot now, emotionally.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Thanks for posting this. It’s good to hear men speaking out against the lies that purity cultre/ modesty culture tells them.

    And one thing I will say about bra straps: So, modesty culture teaches that girls must keep bra straps covered up all the time. (I even remember reading a magazine article addressing the question of bra straps when a girl is wearing a tank top. If your bra straps aren’t showing, guys might think you’re not wearing a bra- oh no! But if they are showing, guys will think about your bra- oh no! Better not wear tank tops.) Anyway, the idea was always if my bra strap shows, then I’m being inconsiderate to guys, “flaunting my body”, whatever… umm… right. If a bra strap sticks out, it’s because of PHYSICS. Like, I can’t make every bit of clothing stay where I want it at all times BECAUSE PHYSICS. Not because I’m trying to tempt guys. It’s just a completely normal piece of clothing- why does modesty culture need to turn it into something sexual?

    So now I don’t worry about it any more. I’d like them to be covered but it’s really not a big deal if it sticks out every now and then. Really. Not a big deal. :)

    • Silent Service

      Well said. Being sexy is about personal attitude not clothing. If you want to be sexy what you are or are not wearing does not really matter. A woman in a burlap sack could choose to be sexy and pull it off if she wanted. A man in a skirt? Scotsmen. Need I say anything more?

      And being sexy, masculine, or whatever you want to be is never an invitation to violence of any kind. It is all about expressing yourself.