Sex and Chewing Gum: The Danger of Purity Culture

Remember how I wrote recently about how the belief that one’s virginity is of utmost importance can make women stay in abusive relationships they might otherwise leave? Well, it’s worse than that. Elizabeth Smart, a girl who was kidnapped at age 14 in 2002 and held captive for almost a year before she was rescued, recently explained that these exact ideas about sexual purity can aid and abet human trafficking.

Rescued kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart said Wednesday she understands why some human trafficking victims don’t run.

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

This is why taking on these ideas is so important. People need to be fully aware of just how dangerous it is to teach girls (or boys for that matter) that their value and worth is tied up in their virginity. If you think your value lies in your sexual purity, it’s only natural to conclude that losing that will render you worthless. It’s worth noting that the same and worthlessness an abuse survivor feels is not at all unique to what I call “purity culture,” the evangelical obsession with purity balls and purity rings and purity pledges, but when you mix purity culture ideas in the cocktail becomes more toxic.

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