My Brothers Too: Purity Culture and Double Standards

Every time purity culture issues come up—purity rings, purity balls, saving your first kiss for the wedding—someone inevitably makes an argument about double standards. Sometimes these commenters are absolutely right—modesty discussions almost without fail involve a double standard—but other times, well, it’s not so simple.

In the conservative evangelical homeschool circles I ran in as a teen and young adult, boys didn’t get a pass on not having sex before marriage. Guys were expected to “save themselves for marriage” just as girls were. In an atmosphere that took purity to such an extreme that a commitment to “emotional purity” ruled out casual dating, guys were most definitely expected to arrive at marriage just as virginal as girls were. You can see that today in blog post titles like “My First Kiss and His Second Chance.” Indeed, there has been much digital ink spilled in the Christian blogosphere by young single Christian women hoping their future husbands will remain sexually pure.

Christian music artist Rebecca St. James included these lyrics in a song she called “Wait For Me” :

Darling did you know I dream about life together
Knowing it will be forever
I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine
And darling when I say
Till death do us part
I’ll mean it with all of my heart
Now and always faithful to you

Cause, I am waiting for
Praying for you darling
Wait for me too
Wait for me as I wait for you
Cause, I am waiting for
Praying for you darling
Wait for me too
Wait for me as I wait for you
Darling wait
Darling wait

Rebecca’s lyrics were about a couple waiting for each other, not about women being expected to remain pure while men were allowed to sleep around as they saw fit. Rebecca’s lyrics don’t suggest a double standard.

And like Rebecca St. James, my parents did indeed expect my brothers to remain just as physically pure as they expected my sisters and I to be. While they believed that their sons would struggle with saving sex for marriage visually while their daughters would struggle with it emotionally, they didn’t give anyone a pass. Indeed, my parents gave my brothers purity rings when they turned thirteen just like they gave us sisters. The entire process and ceremony was the same. In my family, purity standards were extremely evenly applied. With this as my background, I cringe every time a commenter makes some quip about how girls are expected to be virgins while boys aren’t—in my experience that is absolutely untrue.

One thing that brought this to my mind lately was a blog post called Future Husbands: Your Future Wife Does Not Belong To You. In that post Samantha wrote about a letter from a man complaining that he can’t find a suitable wife because all the women he knew have already had sex. Here’s an excerpt:

After he opens with not finding women who meet his standards as a “potential,” he then labels the act of a woman having pre-marital sex as infidelity.

Infidelity.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

Because, ladies, having sex before you’ve even met your future husband is cheating. And, in this frame of reference, it’s cheating because, guess what– you belong to him already. . . . Behaving like you’re not already married? Not possible. Because you are, before you’ve even sworn that vow. Your body, your vagina, isn’t yours. It’s his, your future husband’s. Always.

Thing is, I believed that about my future husband as well—that his body belonged to me even before he got married, and that if he had had sex (or had even kissed a woman) before we met, well, that was cheating. Indeed, when I met Sean and we began our relationship, I was very upset that he had dated before, and that he had been physically involved with previous girlfriends. Very upset isn’t enough—I was crushed. I know I sure didn’t have a double standard. I expected my future husband to arrive at the alter just as physically “pure” as I was.

So where does the whole double standard thing come in? Well first, of course, is modesty. Girls are expected to follow all sorts of nit picky modesty rules, and when boys are required to dress modestly so as not to lead their sisters in Christ into lust—and in my family this was indeed a requirement—that generally simply means not going shirtless. Next is that there is a lot of talk of fathers guarding their daughters’ purity, and much, much less such talk of either parent guarding sons’ purity. It is girls’ purity that needs guarding while boys are expected to guard their own purity (with the added boon of girls helping them do so by saying no to their sexual advances, of course). This can tend to skew things and create a gendered division in the way purity expectations play out.

I don’t have an answer to why there is sometimes a double standard and sometimes not. I think that one thing that is going on is that in the past there was a very strong double standard, but that what with the rise in feminism and the breakdown of patriarchy evangelical purity culture has responded by applying the virginity expectation to both women and men. Then again, even in the past when there was a strong and enforced double standard, conservative evangelical Christianity was not apt to give young men the same pass that as the mainstream. Regardless of the exact implications of these swirling legacies, evangelical purity culture is sometimes very evenly applied and other times fraught with double standards.

I am extremely grateful to my parents that when it came to sexual purity, they didn’t hold a double standard. This didn’t eliminate all the problems the purity culture left me with, but it did mean that I was taught to be sexually “pure” because everyone, male or female, was required to be so, not because I was simply being groomed to be a possession of my future husband. And for that I am glad.

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.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com/ KevinKat

    The purity culture around my family made me scared to death of masturbation as a teenage boy. A natural, physical part of growing up terrified me so much that I felt dirty and ashamed doing what every teenage boy does.

    • The_L1985

      And a lot of teenage girls. I hated myself for having ever let my hands venture toward my girly bits. :(

    • Patrick

      Exactly. You become ashamed for doing something that comes naturally. I remember starting masturbating before I even knew what it was. I didn’t feel shame until I found out what the word for it was and that it was sinful. Well, Pandora’s Box was already open. Very hard to close at that point.

      Also, I remember begging god for forgiveness after falling prey to the temptation. Then, because I knew there was no way to ever remain pure enough to make it to heaven, knowing I was forgiven, ask god to let me die before I woke up. Yep, purity teachings don’t lead to screwed-up thoughts at all. No sir-eee.

      • Mira

        I used to ask for that kind of stuff too. Not because of masturbation, but definitely when I felt like I was the “dirty, miserable, pathetic worm you are” (to quote our bible teacher). I’d just beg and beg, often in tears, for god to just let me die.

      • The_L1985

        I was 2 when I first realized that touching certain parts of my body felt really nice. I was way too young to have any idea what sex was or why people would want to have it. I just knew that Mom didn’t like to see me with my hands in my pants, so I’d have to only do it when nobody else was in the room.

        It was years before I realized what I’d been doing, and unfortunately this came about the same time that I learned of Thomas Aquinas (a.k.a. the Very Worst Saint Ever) writing that masturbation was “an intrinsically disordered act.” Well, that doesn’t make me feel like a monster at all, Thomas. Thank you so very fucking much.

      • Mira

        I didn’t start masturbating until, like, three years ago. No joke. It’s not something I do often either, and I’m somewhat ambivalent about it. Sex is still so weird to me, in concept.

      • KyukiYoshida

        Honestly, I grew up in a very fundie filled environment. I must be a special case because I have always had an idgaf attitude. i never had problems with masturbation, relationships, sex etc. in fact, when I was like 13 I was already telling myself that I wasn’t saving it for marriage, but for when I felt like I was ready. I do however, still have nightmares about when i was put up on stage like I was a freak show, or when all the parents would wait around and have their children jump me. Ironically enough, I ended up becoming a bisexual, feminist, wiccan lol. I hope you’re able to overcome negative feelings about your sexuality, no one deserves to feel less than, for being normal.

    • Sally

      I know Dobson went off the deep end politically at some point, and I know his discipline books have issues, but I will say that I watched a series of “movies” at my rather conservative church in the early 1980s featuring Dobson talking about raising kids, and one particular episode taught that masturbation was normal and Christians shouldn’t be shaming their teens for it. Too bad he didn’t push that more instead of getting drunk with political influence.

      • “Rebecca”

        When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with avoiding lustful thoughts and I was so very broken and miserable because of it. It was actually in a Dobson book where I first found out that it’s normal for teenagers to have frequent sexual thoughts and not to worry about it. It was such a relief to read that, but it’s weird looking back that it was Dobson of all people to help me recover from my anxiety around sex.

      • Danielle

        I’m embarrassed to say that I first learned what intercourse was from Dobson’s “Preparing for Adolescence” audiobook that we listened to as a group in 6th grade Sunday school.

  • AAAtheist

    The purity culture (double standards or not) formulas for success:

    1. Purity pledges = mutual relationship ignorance

    2. Mutual relationship ignorance = future martial bliss

    (face palm)

  • Scott_In_OH

    Thank you for brining this up, Libby Anne. This was absolutely true for me in my relatively liberal evangelical upbringing. Sexual (although not emotional) “purity” was expected of boys and girls alike, and it could have similarly screwed-up effects on both.

    You may be right about the historical sources of the sometime-double standard, but my sense was it came from a gender-essentialist understanding of sex and attraction, plus a tendency to blame girls/women. Boys are visual/physical, girls are emotional/spiritual, so somehow it’s up to girls to make sure boys don’t get aroused.

    Going back to the first paragraph, however, there’s still tons of guilt that can build up in a boy who does get aroused. Ironically, I think it’s worse in someone who is quick to see his own faults and doesn’t want to hurt anyone else–in this case girls/women by “objectifying” them, which is what he’s been taught sexual thoughts do. I.e., the sex-based guilt and shame may be worse for a liberal, “hippie-Jesus” kind of Christian than for one whose Christianity is an excuse for self congratulations and judgment of others.

  • Alice

    My church and family also did not have a double-standard growing up. Actually, now that I think about it, neither talked about purity/virginity much at all because it was taken for granted the same way churches don’t have lessons entitled “Kidnapping Is A Sin: Don’t Do It.” The ones I heard were almost all at youth conferences, and they weren’t sexist or shaming. However, most of the girls and a couple of the guys had purity rings either from their parents or their own money.

    Besides, my youth pastor was already deep in over his head constantly trying to keep the hormonal teenagers from…dating each other. *GASP* This wasn’t a IKDG thing. He believed dating was okay, but should be done outside the youth group because dating drama destroys group unity, so we should all be like brothers and sisters. Ha-ha. There was no penalty for dating, but it was *Severely* frowned upon, and most people did it anyway. :) He was also constantly fighting hopeless wars on cliques, PDA (little things like a guy putting an arm around a girl’s shoulder), and modesty.

    He said one time that he was grateful we were good kids, and he didn’t have to worry about things like catching us having sex at youth conferences, which had happened to another youth group pastor that summer. When he said this, one of the kids cried, “EWW, they did WHAT?!!?! That is so disgusting!” and everyone burst out laughing.

    • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

      Am I the only one who wouldn’t mind a sermon on “Kidnapping: The Sin!”?
      I think that would be great! Pull in some Bible references, maybe an appropriate pop culture reference?

      Wow. I’m suddenly thinking of “7 Brides for 7 Brothers”! Bless your beautiful hide, wherever you may be…

      • AnotherOne

        Lol. I haven’t thought of that movie in years. We didn’t have a tv for most of my growing up, but we did occasionally watch movies. Little House and old westerns were some of the only things we were allowed to watch, because, you know, Roseanne and Saved By the Bell and Wonder Years send people to hell (I never saw a one of these shows, and I only knew of their existence because I heard them preached against and whispered about in tones of hushed horror).

        But boy, now that I think of it, 7 Brides is pretty much the most fucked up movie imaginable. What, you just go carry off women to force them to marry you? And then the happy ending is they LIKE it?!? To say nothing of the blatant sexism and glorification of violence as conflict “resolution” in your average John Wayne western.

      • Theo Darling

        UGH my boyfriend* was trying to defend this film not long ago. He thinks the brides were “in on the joke” and that it’s a happy ending. ABSOLUTELY NOT, boyfriend. Absolutely. Not.

        *who’s British, and wasn’t raised religious anyway, and while I see this as a gross misinterpretation on his part–he is so horrified by even the most microaggressive stories from my past and he’s also a staunch feminist, and I chalk this one up to a) having seen the film only once, and a long time ago, and b) his growing up completely outside the circle of crazy, where shit like this is enshrined as “godly” entertainment.

      • AnotherOne

        Well, it does have good dance scenes (says the person who is embarrassed to admit that she went straight to youtube to watch the barn dance scene after commenting about how reprehensible the movie is).

  • forgedimagination

    When everyone is still a virgin, I think you’re right. Men and women both get brutalized by purity teachings. I think the double standard enters after. If a woman has sex, she is now completely worthless. If a man has sex, it’s horrible, but… Meh.

    • John Kruger

      This is my impression as well. I would also point out that when the male temptation is visual and the female temptation is emotional a double standard is fairly inevitable. The blame can be shared for visual stimuli (don’t wear that, the boys will see too much!), but not so much for emotional “failings” (why didn’t you keep your heart for Jesus?).

    • Rachel Heston-Davis

      Here again, I think it depends on the family and the church. The most regret I ever heard expressed in my church over sexual mistakes came from a man. Meanwhile, we had a couple of pregnant teen girls coming to youth group and no one tried to scold them or make an example of them. Now, I can’t speak to what every individual family in our church thought about the sexual worth of girls vs. boys….and I can’t say with certainty that all the parents in my church had a strong grasp on whether they had mental double-standards…but I do think it is at least possible in conservative atmospheres for women and men to be treated the same regarding sex. I also knew a lot of couples who had premarital sex and it seemed to affect both of them about the same in terms of emotional fallout from families.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        But if they were pregnant, they likely weren’t scolded because they “were accepting God’s judgement” with grace, or some BS like that.

      • Pofarmer

        “I also knew a lot of couples who had premarital sex”

        Ya know, that’s really interesting, because it tails in with other research that indicates that evangelicals have sex on avg just a few months after others in their same age group. So, the purity culture isn’t working, but they are essentially going in blind with regard to things like birth control, which probably means that MORE girls will wind up pregnant.

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

        It does mean that, sadly. Teen pregnancy rates are higher in “red” states- the places with abstinence only sex education and more conservative populations.

    • Gail

      This jogged my memory (I try to keep most of these memories suppressed). At our True Love Waits ceremony, there was a man speaking who talked about how he didn’t wait for marriage but his wife did. His lack of virginity was seen as unfortunate, but not that big of a deal (although he was encouraging us all, boys included, to wait). I can imagine if it had been the wife who wasn’t a virgin, the reaction might have been different.

      • Leigha7

        She probably wouldn’t be his wife.

  • Gail

    This is my experience from growing up evangelical as well. We went through the True Love Waits program and our youth pastor would also give us lots of sex talks, and they were aimed at the boys just as much as the girls.

  • Space Blizzard

    “I cringe every time a commenter makes some quip about how girls are expected to be virgins while boys aren’t—in my experience that is absolutely untrue”

    Ironically, while this may not be true in hardcore evangelical circles I think it is true in the culture at large, where woman are much quicker to be demonized as “sluts” or whatever for sleeping with too many people (where too many usually means “more than one”).

    • The_L1985

      Sometimes “too many” even means “one.” I’ve seen it.

      • Nancy Shrew

        Hell, you don’t even have to be a non-virgin in order to be called a “slut”.

    • AnotherOne

      Yes. In some sense I appreciate evangelicals’ attempts to apply a standard across the board, even though I think the standard is stupid and harmful, and that it ends up being a double standard more often than not.

    • Miss_Beara

      Women are sluts and men are studs.

    • luckyducky

      The biggest question I have regarding this is what happens with a boy fails to maintain his virgin status vs. when a girl fails to maintain his virgin status. In some sense, there may be parallel expectations… but if the girls are shunned, demonized, automatically less than or unworthy and boys have just “made a mistake” and are forgiven for their trespass, then it isn’t really parallel. Part of that is wrapped up in the consequence of pregnancy — stakes are nearly always higher for the girl than the boy.

      I myself didn’t grow up conservative evangelical but I grew up in a community that was predominantly conservative evangelical (not homeschooling though). So I know the premarital sex message was pretty evenly directed on the surface… but there wasn’t any similarity — short of a few shotgun weddings — in how those the boys and those girls who failed to follow those teachings were treated, pregnant or otherwise.

      • luckyducky

        grrr… *when a boy fail and *a girl fails to maintain HER virginity

  • Angela

    I was raised in the Mormon faith and boys are certainly expected to remain pure. In fact the church goes to great lengths to enforce this. All Mormons are strongly encouraged to marry in a Mormon temple but before you can do so each partner must have 2 separate interviews with church leaders where they swear that there is no sexual sin between them (or from a previous relationship for that matter). If they confess to any sin then they must either marry in a civil ceremony or postpone the wedding for a year during which time you demonstrate complete abstinence. Either way you must basically announce to all of your family and friends that you must change your wedding plans because you are not worthy to be married in God’s home. Of course to lie would be unthinkable because God would know and it would be a desecration of his temple.

    Growing up I saw several young couples publicly shamed in this way and become the fodder of family/church gossip for YEARS. A couple could be married for 10 years or more, have 4 children together and still have a few gossips whispering behind their backs, “Well they didn’t marry in the temple you know…”

    • AnotherOne

      Wow.

    • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

      Which is silly, because there are plenty of “good” temple marriages that end in divorce, or which both parties are unhappy. It’s like Mormons think temple=happily ever after.
      In general, I’ve noticed that the more “Godly” a people try to be, the more judgmental they are of everyone else.

      • Mira

        And more miserable they are themselves! They seem to like to spread the misery.

      • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

        Yeah. Not just Mormons though. Anyone with strong beliefs.
        Which, I suppose makes sense. The more right you are, the more wrong everyone else is.

      • Jayn

        I think it’s just a defense mechanism to avoid having to admit that the ‘right’ choices were actually wrong.

      • The_L1985

        Of course. Admitting that you ever made a wrong choice would be tantamount to admitting that there really is nothing particularly special about being a member of your in-group.

      • Stev84

        The highest level or Mormon heaven is reserved for married people, where they can have all their spirit wives and get to be their own god, lording over their own planet. If you aren’t properly married in a temple you only get a lesser version of heaven.

      • The_L1985

        For real? That’s so sickening. Why would I want to be a god?

      • Stev84
  • AnotherOne

    But do you think your parents would be as upset if one of their daughters had pre-marital sex as they would if one of their sons did? And do they monitor their sons’ interactions with the opposite sex as stringently as their daughters? My parents definitely intellectually believe that both men and women are equally responsible for being pure. But their actions showed that they actually felt it was worse if girls weren’t.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      This is such an interesting question! I think it probably varies by family. In my family I would say that they would be just as upset either way with two quick caveats. First, given that girls are supposed to be being protected by their fathers while boys are to hold *themselves* accountable, I think the parental response would be different when it comes to what went wrong, and when it comes to trust. Second, since boys are assumed to be more sexual, if a girl has premarital sex there would probably be a good bit more along the lines of “WTF were you THINKING?!” than if a boy does so. In my personal experience, though, speaking as one who has watched both sisters *and* brothers go further than my parents would like, they actually responded fairly equally to each. But then, I think my parents were a lot more forward thinking than many, so I probably got the good side there.

    • AnotherOne

      That’s not to say that I don’t think purity culture has damaging effects on guys. My husband suffered terribly as a teen, mostly because he took the purity standards very seriously, and thus experienced tons of self-loathing and guilt over perfectly natural and healthy aspects of his sexuality. I’m also starting to realize that my brothers didn’t escape my family’s dysfunction and fundamentalism nearly as unscathed as I thought. Previously it seemed like the aspects of our raising that were so scarring to me rolled off them like water off a duck’s back, but things I’ve only found out about recently have made it patently clear that that wasn’t the case.

      • Pofarmer

        Any details you can share without being too extremely personal?

      • AnotherOne

        No, I’m sorry. It’s really not my information to share.

    • dj_pomegranate

      I grew up in an evangelical home and can say without a doubt that my parents held both my brother and me to the same standard. They would have been equally upset by his “impurity” as by mine. We were both expected to marry similarly pure partners (so, virgins.) We got the same lessons, often while we were sitting together with my parents. It’s not like my mom talked to me and my dad talked to my brother. What’s good for the goose, etc. I don’t think this is necessarily true in the greater evangelical community, but there are absolutely individuals who see through the double standard and don’t buy into it.

    • alwr

      I directed drama in a Christian school. I had a male student with a purity ring cast in a show. His father called me a few weeks into rehearsals because he had seen a stage direction that required his son to put his hand on a girl’s shoulder and wanted me to know that his son did not touch females outside his immediate family because they were “keeping him pure for his future marriage”. Interestingly enough, I saw the kid at a community event about five years after he graduated and he exuberantly hugged me. Guess dad didn’t win out.

      • Gillianren

        I read once that Kirk Cameron won’t kiss anyone who isn’t his wife, so when the part requires it, he gets her to fill in for the other actress during that scene. Which struck me as a) crazy and b) really difficult for directors to accommodate.

      • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

        c) the only movies Kirk Cameron does anymore (Fireproof) are movies such that the director will just use his refusal to kiss anyone but his wife as publicity.

      • Gillianren

        Fair point, and I guess that doesn’t matter to him. In a way, I’m kind of relieved by it–I never have to run into Kirk Cameron in movies I actually want to see.

      • Theo Darling

        It always seemed to me to be c) a really creepy way to ensure that he never accidentally had to portray half of an interracial couple, WHOOPS

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        You know that’s an interesting point. IIRC, this came about while they were still on Growing Pains together, and at the same time was when network TV was beginning to move into portraying interracial dating(always with the excessive audience reaction).

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    My understanding is that, it’s not that there isn’t pressure on boys to stay “pure”, it’s more of that, if boys “stumble” it’s not as damaging to them as it is to girls. That because of the physical “nature” it was highly unlikely that they would be able to maintain their own purity. This belief was actually one of the things that put me on the path to feminism, but it came from a belief of feminine superiority, because we had greater self control.

    It’s great Libby Anne that you weren’t put under this double standard. But all the girls I knew who were waiting for marriage, were also under the complete expectation and understanding that their husbands WERE NOT WAITING. This double standard completed my transformation into a feminist.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Wow, this is interesting! Yeah, that last bit — that’s totally different from my experience. All the girls I knew were waiting *and* expected their future husbands to be waiting too. The only exception I suppose is that we knew that if we married someone who had been *of the world* and then converted as an adult, he would probably have a past to repent of and apologize for, but then I would assume that the boys would think the same of girls who had originally been *of the world* as well. But maybe they would be less likely to be able to overlook and forgive that? It seems like perhaps whole bit about boys being more sexual than girls trips this all up on an unconscious psychological level, such that both can be expected to abstain but boys’ indiscretions can be more easily forgiven? It can be hard to differentiate *what I was told* from *how things went down.*

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        The interesting part is, is that these “purity” values were imparted to me, while I grew up in a non-religious home, which could help explain why there was so little emphasis on boy’s behavior. We were to remain virgins, not because Jesus said so, but JUST BECAUSE that’s what good girls do.

      • The_L1985

        Ugh, I hate that. So many things were posed to me, not as “That’s rude,” but as “Nice girls don’t do that.”

        “Don’t let your knees spread out like that. Nice girls sit with their knees together.”

        “Don’t sing ‘Susie Had a Steamboat.’ Nice girls don’t pretend to curse.”

        “Don’t sing that other playground song either. Nice girls don’t say ‘underwear.’”

        It baffled me at the time, because I certainly didn’t consider myself a mean person, but at the same time, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a “nice girl” or a “lady” if I had to be so much more constantly stifled than my brother.

        Later on, I realized that what my mother was really trying to get across was, “People won’t think as highly of you if you don’t act like an old-fashioned lady.” Good thing I don’t care so much what people think.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        If there is one thing I think I’ve done a pretty damn good job of instilling in my daughter, it’s to DGAF.

        This bites me in the ass occasionally, when she DGAF what mom wants, but having a girl who’s not gonna be brought low over other people’s concerns, is worth it to me.

      • The_L1985

        Even as an adult, I’m not sure how much of my mother’s concern over my life choices is about “you could be harmed by this,” and how much is about “what will the neighbors think?”

      • Gillianren

        I’m wondering how many more girls than boys would even expect to marry someone “of the world.” It’s an interesting thing to consider; how often did that issue even come up?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I don’t remember it being discussed, to be honest.

      • Mogg

        I expect it would come up a lot in many Christian circles, seeing as more young men than women leave during teenagehood and young adulthood. The only hope of many women in such circles is that some man from outside becomes a convert, or that a “lost sheep” repents and returns to the fold.

      • Gillianren

        Possible. There are enough Catholics out there so that it’s not something we ever discussed–and my dad was a convert anyway.

      • The_L1985

        ” It can be hard to differentiate *what I was told* from *how things went down.*”

        I second-guess my past all the time, and I wasn’t nearly as isolated. Indoctrination in the classroom messes with your head so much. :(

  • John Small Berries

    Are boys given the same sort of “used-up chewing gum” analogies that convey the message that, should they have premarital sex, they will have ruined themselves forever?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      This is where I wouldn’t want to speak too far from my experience. I never actually attended a True Love Waits conference or saw those sorts of analogies, though I got some of it in the literature. I think part of what happens is that parents *say* they are applying these ideas evenly but can often in practice give a heavier does to the girls, but then the girls buy the whole thing and expect the guys they eventually date not to have sex since that’s what the rhetoric says, and it ends up being applied more evenly by them than by the adults. You are absolutely right that those analogies are most often applied unevenly, which I find confusing given that the rhetoric is that BOTH are to abstain until marriage. :/

    • AnotherOne

      In my experience, no. Instead, they are shamed like crazy for causing irreparable harm to the fragile females they’ve betrayed and ruined forever. Oh yeah, and they’ll be more responsible before God on judgment day because penises are in charge.

      • Scott_In_OH

        [Boys] are shamed like crazy for causing irreparable harm to the fragile females they’ve betrayed and ruined forever

        Indeed, this is how some Christians argue they are pro-woman–men are told to to protect women physically and spiritually, and this includes not “taking” her “purity.”

        If a boy/man take this seriously, has an honest sense of empathy, and believes he’s just a sin waiting to happen, it will have some pretty nasty effects on his psyche.

    • alwr

      The abstinence presentation I sat through in college was a co-ed event full of such analogies which were by no means presented as if they applied only to the girls. It was at an interdenominational evangelical high school retreat. (I was there as a group leader).

    • Sarah-Sophia

      I think the reason girls get the “used-up chewing gum” analogy is because of the belief that having sex physically changes the you; not only that you loose your “maidenhead” (which all female virgins are assumed to have), but also that your vagina becomes wider, and if you have sex too much it’s basically “throwing a hotdog in a hallway.”

      • The_L1985

        The hotdog-in-a-hallway thing baffles me. I’ve had sex a fair amount, but if your vagina got wider, wouldn’t I not be able to use tampons anymore? Tampons are definitely thinner than the average penis by a good margin.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        Never mind that the vagina is muscle, and common sense tells you the more you use your muscles, the better conditioned they are.

  • Mel

    I grew up in a Catholic Church. I learned that sex should wait until marriage, but that came from my parents and a single yearly lesson at my parochial school. There were never any particularly dramatic side-effects if you had sex before you were married. You could still participate in the sacraments including marriage. Not having sex before marriage was framed as a way to keep your relationship with God strong. No one ever brought up the idea of staying “pure” let alone doing it for your future spouse since the church requires priests, nuns, sisters etc to not have sex. It was a spiritual thing not a “ripping off your spouse” thing.

    I decided to save sex until marriage because sex was something that I wanted to share with a spouse. My husband had had two sexual partners prior to marriage. Under purity teachings, I should have been crushed. I wasn’t. My husband is a sweet, gentle and caring man. When he chose to have sex with his previous partners, I know that he was making a loving choice in the context of a serious relationship. I know this because he’s loving, caring and responsive to what I need. That makes him a winner in my book – not his purity status at the time of our marriage.

    • The_L1985

      I do wish more people saw it that way. :)

  • “Rebecca”

    The way I was raised was similar: Abstinence was expected of both boys and girls. I remember the first time I heard the “A boy who sleeps around is a stud, a girl who sleeps around is a slut” double standard pointed out. I was confused by it because I had been taught it was sinful no matter who was doing it and I was not aware of the larger cultural context.

    There definitely was a difference in the way modesty teachings were presented and emphasized, though. The boys in my church didn’t give a rat’s patoot about going shirtless while all the women wore one-piece swimsuits/t-shirts/board shorts to protect their modesty. And this article: http://www.lastdaysministries.org/Articles/1000008635/Last_Days_Ministries/LDM/Discipleship_Teachings/Melody_Green/Uncovering_The_Truth.aspx , which was the main framework for my beliefs about modesty, definitely had a stronger focus on women despite a couple of throwaway lines aimed at men.

    • dj_pomegranate

      I agree with everything you say here! I also remember the first time I heard “stud vs. slut,” and I was similarly confused. It was totally illogical to me (And still is. Don’t these people know it takes two?!? Seems pretty basic!) However, the modesty teachings were very frequent and definitely directed at girls.

      I guess I would characterize it as, “Both men and women should remain pure. This is equally hard, but for different reasons. For women it’s hard because they have to worry about tempting dudes with their dress and they are more emotional so may give in to sex in order to please guys or because they want a relationship. For men it’s hard because they’re visual and have a higher sex drive.” Sexist reasoning, yes, but at least the standard for each was, “Don’t have sex.”

      • Scott_In_OH

        Very well said.

    • Jayn

      OT, but I’m reminded of a line from Mental that rephrases the sentiment. It’s something along the lines of:

      “Why is it when a woman wants lots of sex she’s a nymphomaniac, and when a guy wants lots of sex he’s…popular?”

  • alwr

    This was also very true in the Christian high school where I taught, Libby Anne. There was very little double standard. As many boys as girls had purity rings and students were regularly divided up for talks about purity. Boys were warned about even looking at girls while girls got modesty lectures and all were equally stuffed full of ideas about emotional purity and premarital infidelity (in spite of the school having a wide variety of denominations and many of the kids being allowed to date). I think the perceived double standard may come in part because girls are very much taught in that culture (and even in our secular culture) that they are the gatekeepers and are somehow responsible for not only their own “purity” but for that of the males around them.

  • http://cuterus.blogspot.com/ Palaverer

    I went to Cake Wrecks immediately after reading this article and there’s a cake today that is so relevant to today’s post, you’ve got to see it. http://www.cakewrecks.com/home/2013/7/18/wreckily-ever-after.html

    • TLC

      Oh, how funny — I saw that cake on Cake Wrecks BEFORE I came here and was going to post the link. Great minds think alike!

      Having seen saved when I was 43 years old and divorced, I got the purity lectures, too. I think women were held far more accountable, especially in matters of dress.

      What really made me stop and think was all the sermons about this “perfect husband” and what he was supposed to do for you, then realizing that my megachurch with +4,000 members did not have any unmarried men in their 40s to even date. So finding one with ALL the required attributes was going to be next to impossible.

      • Rosa

        That’s always been a problem in Evangelical churches. It’s part of why preachers like Piper (and Billy Sunday, back in the day) are always talking about the evils of the church being feminized.
        We went to an Evangelical wedding one time where the groom (a college friend) had been the only young man who joined the young adult Bible study class after college. One of the bridesmaids basically said “We all tried but she won!” in her toast.

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    Good points, Libby-Anne. As a young teen, I once heard a sermon from a male pastor regarding his regret over sexual encounters he’d had as a teenager. His was probably the most direct message I ever heard as a teen about why to save yourself for marriage and what the emotional consequences might be. I don’t think I ever heard such a strong message coming from an adult woman and directed solely at girls. So, it was weird for me to then grow up and hear people saying that “all” Christians who buy into purity culture use a double-standard. My environment certainly didn’t match that.

    Obviously, though, my experience is not the norm for every person who grew up in the purity culture.

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    I think it’s still adoue standard because the pressure on girls is higher. Men should be virgins, women should have never fallen in love. Men should wear shirts, women have a huge list of things not to wear. Men should wait for the ‘wife of their youth’ but women belong to their husband – at least this is my experience growing up in purity culture. My parents were much more relaxed with my brothers too. One bro dated while mom read all my emails with my fiancée until the wedding. Lots more pressure on girls, even the pressure of making sure boys stay pure is on how girls dress… I still find it a disgusting double standard.

  • Patrick

    Growing up in my church (Assemblies of God), the sexual purity teachings were definitely aimed at the both sides. Both were expected to save themselves for marriage. The largest difference as others have noted was in terms of modesty. The list of clothes that girls could and couldn’t wear at church camps was a lot longer than the boys (if I remember, the only thing that was really off limits was tank-tops). I find this funny now as we were essentially kept segregated except for services. This does lead to the double-standard that women can lead our poor male sex-addled brains into temptation but not the other way around. Though, in my experience, the sermons and talks were geared toward everyone and everyone was supposed to work hard to stay pure.

    The fun part was the after-effects. I remember talking to one of my brothers about how we approached relationships and sex. At this time, we had both left the church. He was married and still felt guilty about sex afterward. While I’m still a virgin, I remember making out with a girlfriend and going into a shaking-fit (a combination of nerves and I guess the evil trying to escape?). Again, the notion that the effects of purity teachings stop at the moment of “I do” is complete nonsense. If you’ve trained your brain to assume that all sexual feelings and inclinations are wrong, you can’t just flip a switch and become some sexually-liberated adult. I still avoid relationships well after leaving religion simply because I dread having conversations about how those teachings affected me.

  • Miss_Beara

    The Catholic school I attended was very heavy on the “girls must stay pure because you don’t want to end up as a used up piece of gum” thing. The problem is that it isn’t just a Catholic or any other religious school or homeschool problem. This is a problem throughout the country. There was never any talk about the boys being pure before marriage, ever.

    • Japooh

      That mirrors my experience as well. It was up to us, the girls, to make sure we weren’t “enticing” the boys. I can’t speak for all schools, but there was certainly no equivalent lecture given to the boys at mine; something on par with “girls look like they look, so you best get used to it and start managing your responses” would have been a nice touch.

  • H.E.G

    It’s interesting to read these comments and see such different experiences. Mine was very much a double standard as illustrated by two numbers.

    Number of times all girls at my Christian high school were pulled out of classes and lectured about modesty,not causing our brothers to stumble, etc. during my 4 years there: 6

    Number of times all boys were pulled out of class to discuss anything during this time: 0

    While “purity” was expected of everyone, the responsibility was pretty clearly one sided. Especially, whenone lecture named a male teacher who was “struggling” because of howwe dressed. This was very clearly presented as our fault and something hecouldn’t help. Even as teenagers, we were more responsible for the actions of adult men than the men were.

    • The_L1985

      Not to mention, it’s pretty skeevy for an adult to be all, “Those teenagers look so sexy they way they dress.” Reminds me of the old “joke”: Ephebophile teachers get older, but teenage girls are always exactly the same age.

      I am so glad to have gone to an artsy high school where the dress code was “Clean and Covered.” An assembly at the beginning of each school year elaborated on this just a wee bit:

      - No tube tops, because they had a tendency to slip downwards and expose your breasts.

      - No walking sticks/fashion canes, because they tended to trip people up.

      - No swear words, ethnic/racial/gender slurs, or explicit nudity on clothing.

      - Other than that, as long as nobody’s genitals are showing, anything goes.

      As a result, I saw a lot of interesting fashion styles: spaghetti-strap tank tops, punk outfits held together with lots of safety pins, students whose hair color changed from week to week, unusual piercings–but most of the students generally wore normal, “modest” clothing.

      The only time I saw anything remotely inappropriate for public display was the time when we had a “cross-dressing day” as part of Halloween week. One student wore a knee-length skirt. This was OK. However, the classroom in the class I shared with him was set up so that all the desks faced towards an aisle down the middle of the classroom. We were on opposite sides of the aisle, and he sat with his legs sprawled way out, the way he always did. This meant I got a clear view of his boxer shorts. (I wasn’t particularly attracted to this fellow, so instead of a sexy distraction, it was an awkward, unpleasant, “I really wish he’d put his legs together” distraction.)

      • KyukiYoshida

        No walking sticks? What about blind people?

      • The_L1985

        The rule was about canes/sticks that the student didn’t actually need, because if you don’t need one you have a tendency to swing it around. If there had been blind students, I doubt they’d have been discouraged from using sticks, because they would have used them responsibly.

        In hallways so crowded you have students pressing on you from all sides, though, I don’t think even the most easily-disoriented blind person who ever lived would get much good out of the stick. You kind of have to have room to tap it in front of you.

      • KyukiYoshida

        Oh ok, i was just curious. I went to a private school back when I was a child in utah. And all canes were actually banned. Blind students had to go to special ed classes away from other students in a separate building, and seeing canes weren’t allowed, they had to be lead around by an appointed adult at all times, in fact, it was the same for deaf and dum students, as well as students who were physically disabled or those with things such as ADHD, anxiety etc.So that’s why i asked lol.

      • Christine

        My sister went to a Catholic high school, so there was in theory a uniform. In practice, you had a lot of leeway (less so if you were in vocal, more so in dance, when you had to change clothes during the day). The only time they enforced uniform at all when during performances.

  • Christine

    I went to a publically-funded Catholic school for K-8 (some provinces have gotten rid of the other 2 school boards, mine has not yet). So obviously there were really strong limits on what sort of nonsense they could teach, because they had to meet the provincial curriculum. (Even if you go to high school, all they can do is require you to take a religion course every year, and those are the standard ones, they don’t get to make up their own. And if you fail to do so they are still obligated to give you your high school diploma, although I believe they’re allowed to not let you participate in the ceremony.)

    I have a very clear memory of the “Fully Alive” textbook (it wasn’t just sex, also relationships and stuff) discussing in grade 7 or so that we couldn’t control what sorts of thoughts popped into our heads, but to deliberately entertain & focus on [vague phraseology here that I'm fairly sure basically meant sexual fantasies] was sinful. So while modesty was definitely more of a “thing” for the girls than for the boys (I don’t think the standards that were enforced were really any stricter than the public board, even though “this is a Catholic school” was tossed around in justification/ire), there was none of this “leading your brother astray” or having a duty to be modest. Like Mel says when talking about how premarital sex was considered a sin, but not the end of the world, modesty was something you should do, but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. And yes, not being too titillating is considered a beneficial side effect, but it’s considered your duty to not look at something which causes problems.

    So, in a way, despite there being more shame for girls in the system, the onus was on the boys. (The fact that the clothing requirements are comparable is counterbalanced by the fact that the same amount of coverage eliminates a lot more women’s clothing than men’s clothing.) Not that we every got directly told that boys were more sexual, or more visual, but that is common in mainstream culture, so it would have been assumed.

    I think that’s some of where the double standard in purity culture might come from – purity culture teachings say “sex before marriage is a horrible thing”, mainstream culture says “it’s more ok for men to have sex”. When you combine the two, even if that’s not how they were taught, you get “women will ruin their lives completely if they have sex before marriage, and men shouldn’t have sex before marriage”

  • Mira

    Reading the part “our body, your vagina, isn’t yours. It’s his, your future husband’s” made me feel physically ill. I DON’T belong to my significant other. Not in the slightest. Sure, we’re committed to each other, but he has no more claim to my body parts than I do to his. I have the right to say “no, don’t touch” if I don’t want, and so can he.

    I guess that concept reminds me too much of how I was raised, whether intentional or not–it’s not “right” to say no if he wants sex because you don’t have the right to your own body anyway. I still struggle with saying no, even though a lot of the time I vehemently don’t want it. The reason I was raped to begin with was because I froze and didn’t think I could keep saying no since he refused to listen to my first request. In the “men are right and might” world, when a man holding you down says “I have the right to keep going because it’s your fault that I want you now” it’s hard to argue.

    • KyukiYoshida

      Wow, I’m sorry that happened to you. i know how that feels though, people often tell me that I deserved the molestation I went through as a child by the hands of a family friend. My current BF often talks about “owning me” and if i tell him I don’t want to be touched on my butt, breasts etc, it’s instead met with either forcefulness with him thinking we are having fun, or a nasty attitude.

  • Mira

    The way I was raised made me think that I was asexual for a long time–I had no interest (even revulsion towards) sex, and couldn’t understand for the life of me how people found the concept even interesting. Meanwhile, we were never told anything about men needing to wait. Maybe it was implied, maybe it wasn’t. However, the focus was definitely on girls being modest and so on. Shame tactics were used so much that I’m surprised I think I’m worth even existing half the time. I could tell it shocked and hurt a lot of the other girls, too. It created this weird thing in my head where I thought I was never going to get a guy’s attention–I was too fat, or too ugly, or too “non-Christian” looking–but at the same time if I got a guy’s attention it was because I was being a Jezebel, or a harlot, or trying to get him to stumble or something.
    Man, growing up religious was exhausting.

    • Liz

      It’s so good to hear that I’m not the only one who has halfway convinced they were asexual because of purity culture. Funny thing is now I lean more towards bisexual, although figuring it out has been difficult because I’m left feeling deeply uncomfortable when I *do* experience attraction to someone and I have trouble even identifying who I’m attracted to in the first place.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Not just you. Me too. To literally all of that.

      • Liz

        Thank you for sharing, it’s good to know I’m not alone!

      • Mira

        Definitely the same for me. I know I’m solidly bisexual (prefer females, I suppose), and I too struggle with sexual attraction. Because I guess I was so stifled for so long, I have a hard time understanding if I’m physically attracted to someone or emotionally. Emotions tend to get me in trouble more, but I was never taught how to deal with attractions at all since my community just pretended they didn’t exist.

      • Liz

        I have no trouble being emotionally attracted to someone, but as soon as sexual attraction enters into it a guy becomes ‘unsafe’ and sends off all kinds of alarms in my head. I haven’t had any real experiences with women yet so I can’t compare, but as it is I feel really uncomfortable around men when there’s even the possibility for attraction. A lifetime of policing and being afraid of attraction, I suppose?

    • Mogg

      I was slightly different, in that I had the “somehow not good enough to attract a guy’s attention” thing, but at the same time I somehow had to know that it was entirely on the basis of him liking me as a person rather than being physically attracted to me – which would more the guy’s fault than mine for being a sexual predator (yes really!), because I most certainly didn’t go out of my way to be attractive in a physical sense, and had quite a lot of disdain for girls who did. Also, I was always taught sex was good, and not to be ashamed of being attracted to someone – the IKDG stuff didn’t come until I was already well into my 20′s.

      The moral of the story is that this stuff can mess you up even if you were brought up under a milder version if it :-( Fortunately I’ve managed to get past most of it, but it was hard work.

    • The_L1985

      I learned about the mechanics of sex just before I underwent puberty, and it took me a while not to find sex disgusting. “But he pees out of that! Why would I want it in my body?” It took me years to get past that, even with the usual teen urges going on.

      • Kate Monster

        YEP.

        Though, honestly, almost every bodily function is incredibly disgusting if you think about it too much.

  • itsdanilove

    I think where the double standard comes in is that girls are expected to be “gatekeepers”. The purity culture may expect boys and girls alike to stay virgins, but it’s still heavily gendered. Boys are controlled by their hormones and can get carried away more easily by their physical urges. Girls don’t want to have sex like boys do so they need to be the ones with the level head (or so they say). It makes the concept of consent really murky for both boys and girls–girls feel deviant if they actually want to have sex, so they get the message that they’re supposed to be reluctant and “resist”, even if it’s just a little. Enthusiastic consent isn’t a factor. And I think we can all see how that could be confusing for boys too. :-/

    • phantomreader42

      I am Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer. Are you the Gatekeeper?

      • itsdanilove

        THERE IS NO DANA, ONLY ZUUL

        That movie would be funnier if I didn’t here the “gatekeeper” analogy a billion times growing up to refer to my lady-duties in purity culture

    • The_L1985

      So much this. The “gatekeeper” stuff was pushed on me so hard by both Protestant and Catholic schools that I felt like something must be wrong with me for having a sex drive. I wanted to tear out my ovaries or even kill myself. (I haven’t had suicidal thoughts in YEARS, thank the gods, but they were particularly strong back then.) I felt like a monster for having ever touched my own genitals. At all. Even to clean them.

  • kisarita

    I had a similar experience as an Orthodox Jew- boys and girls were expected to arrive at their weddings with no sexual experience. Although we didn’t describe it as “purity.” But no double standard, at least not on this issue.

    • The_L1985

      I’d argue that calling abstinence “purity” is what makes this even more damaging among conservative Christians. Because if you have sex, you’re suddenly impure in a way that can’t be fixed. I was strongly convinced that I was going to Hell because I had masturbated and was thus “impure.”

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    For example, my daughter is attending Fuge with her church this week(for those who don’t know what that is, my boss describes it as Disneyland for Christ).

    She’s been a member of this church since kindergarten, she attends when she wants, mainly because her friends do and they all hang out. She know that neither of her parents is Christian and when they asked if she wanted to be baptized, she said no. We discuss the things they talk about, and we explain why we don’t agree.

    One of the tracks at Fuge is called “For Girls Only” with an accompanying “For Boys Only”.

    My deduction was that these were going to be centered on purity, and I asked my daughter to refrain from selecting that track, and I explained that I felt they were likely to give her a harmful lesson about sex and how it determines her worth(and then I told her that sex doesn’t determine your worth, so remember that, and go if you want). My question is that if they are related to purity, why separate classes if there is no double standard?

    • Christine

      I agree with your advice to your daughter, but having separate classes doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a double standard. (I agree it’s a red flag that there might be one though – just because A doesn’t require B, doesn’t mean that there’s not a strong correlation). It might be that talking about sex in a mixed-gender situation would be considered embarrassing or likely to “arouse lust” (because we all know that you can only be attracted to someone of the opposite gender!).

      That said, this was entirely outside of purity culture, but a case where the separation was probably good, but ended up being a horrible double standard: for my grade 10 class trip we went camping in Algonquin Park. It’s not really very far North, but there are blackflies and mosquitoes and bears and raccoons. The hygiene talks were (in theory) given separately – the standard “no perfumed stuff”, as well as a discussion for the girls on how crucial it was that all used menstrual products were disposed of properly. (The content of the talk was from a middle-aged male teacher, but the assumption of disposables was probably reasonable, given that we were all young enough to be embarrassed by the topic, and that no one wants to risk losing anything down the vault toilet). What did the guys get? Absolutely nothing. The real irony in this is that they probably needed the rest of the talk more. My guy friends all tell me that scented products are even more the default for men’s products. (I don’t know if this is a product of or separate from the stronger cultural imperative for men to be perfumed.)

    • Kate Monster

      What kind of rides are there at Jesus-Disneyland?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Thanks for that, Libby. I constantly encounter talk of the same “double standard”, which has always baffled me because I’d always seen men and women kept to the same (rather strict) standard. Glad it’s not just me.

  • oywiththepoodles

    My experience definitely included the expectation that boys would remain pure, but in practice if a boy missed the mark, he was judged much less harshly than a girl who made a same (or sometimes lesser) mistake. By ‘lesser’ mistake I mean perhaps the girl was known to frequently kiss a boyfriend, and she would be called “slutty” or “loose” behind her back. But a boy could fully have sex and people were much more forgiving- boys were never called “slutty” or any equivalent. So I grew up with the impression that we all had the same goal, but it was not a big deal if a guy messed up- whereas it was extremely bad if I messed up, as a girl. Even though the pastors told us it was bad for any of us to have sexual experiences, the boys got off much easier socially and in respect to how much guilt was laid on them.

  • Christine

    One other thing that stood out – your comment on feeling betrayed that Sean had had other relationships before yours. I worry that I’m going to pass on something like that to my kid(s). I don’t see anything wrong with dating. I think it’s a good idea, and a practical one. And neither my husband nor I had ever dated anyone else before we started dating… (and we might be a case where “courting” wouldn’t be an inappropriate term). So as much as I think it’s bad to say “you HAVE to date”, by not doing so I may cause problems later.

    • Rosa

      I think if you leave out the value statements on either side, your kids will at least not be super disappointed or judgemental about their future partner’s choices.

      It seems like with almost all these things, it’s not the actual behavior, it’s the ideology behind it. Lots of couples that preach courtship & abstinence to their own children didn’t practice it themselves and manage to heap on the whole serving of judgement and guilt anyway.

      • Christine

        Forget how they feel about their future partner’s choices, I don’t want THEM to feel guilty if they date. And there are a lot of examples here about parents who said one thing, but managed to heap guilt on differently – they thought they had the same standards for boys and girls, but not really.

      • Rosa

        unfortunately there’s a lot of purity culture nonsense in all sorts of parts of our culture, and you can’t really control how your tween/teen encounters it.

  • MaJoRoesch

    As a guy that grew up in the purity culture, I’m glad this came up. While I certainly won’t claim guys have it worse – patriarchy has assured that isn’t the case – it is bad on either side. I’ll try to explain my experiences growing up.

    In purity/patriarchy culture for guys (I’m combining them, cause they’re the same freakin thing), the pressure was immense. Girls are told that if they have sex they become used goods to be discarded; guys are told that they are time bombs, that at any moment we could just “go off” and turn into some sex crazed drug using murderous bastard. They would list example after example. One sip of alcohol? BOOM having sex with every girl he lays eyes on, run away from the church, doing drugs, broken homes, disease, robs a bank, shot dead by police. It didn’t matter whether you were a Christian or not, a time bomb is a time bomb. Personally, it made me feel like I was already discarded. Already beyond hope. I mean, if I’m some time bomb that has no chance of being stopped, then… what’s the point in pretending there is a happy future? Obviously that wasn’t what they wanted us to pick up from the message, but that’s what I got out of it.

    Then of course, there was the patriarchy side of the coin. Right after telling me I’m a time bomb, that one look at a girl or one sip of a drink and I’ll become some sort of monster…. they then tell me that I’m supposed to be chasing after girls and trying to win them in courtship. And THEN I’m responsible for the new wife and the new family before God. WHAT. I’m a freakin time bomb, I should be staying away from girls and alcohol and everything as much as I possibly can! I don’t want to turn into some murderous bastard, I’m a nice guy and want to REMAIN one. But, then they say it can all be ok! Oh God YES, finally, a way out of this mess. They tell me that after dodging bullet after bullet in courtship, if I finally get the girl and get married without blowing up first, then everything will be ok. Alright, phew, so there is a way out, I just need to run through the minefield and get a girl as fast as possible and then- CHEATING.

    That’s right, they bring up cheating now. Even after getting a girl, being married, having kids, loving family, allll that, I was told I was STILL a time bomb, and that I could still go off at any second. And they gave examples, mid-life crisis stories and such, of loving christian fathers who were leaders in the church would just SNAP and become horrible monsters. This is madness! I’m supposed to be this strong and powerful person, in charge and directly responsible for the family to God, in command, the boss over everything as patriarchy demands. Yet at the same time, I’m a time bomb that could go off at any second, and that when I go off I’d abandon everything, betray everyone and everything I ever loved and LIKE IT, then live in horrible guilt and regret in heaven for all eternity.

    What was their answer to all this? How do they end such a horrific session of “you are dirt, and going to become far worse than dirt any second”? What Christians always do of course: Trust God! ….seriously, that’s how they ended that stuff. “Trust God and repent and it will be ok! Whelp that’s all the time we have for the camp, see you next year!” Alright, I trusted God already. But I was just told that I’d BETRAY God at the first opportunity. I didn’t trust ME.

    So I took this to it’s obvious conclusion. If I’m a time bomb just waiting to go off and hurt and destroy everything I ever loved, the only logical course is to minimize damage. No courting, no wife, no kids, no life. At least then, if I do go off, I wouldn’t have put a loving wife and family through it. I held out the tiniest hope that God would save me from that, that if I held everything in and just tried to keep things safe, that God would deliver a girl to me in some obvious manner and I’d be like “It’s ok now God said it will be fine!” and I could have those things. Yea… that’ll happen.

    Mental breakdown and leaving the faith later… I haven’t really recovered from all of that. Obviously I had a lot more beating me down that what I just described. Most of the guys that went through the above got the message the camp bosses wanted, and got married before 20 and have a whole bunch of kids, and are continuing patriarchy exactly as they were told to. Me? I have never had a girlfriend. I have never had any relationships of any kind. I was beaten down to fulfill a “lead” role, but I wasn’t the arrogant bastard that had to be beaten into line. I was a sickly shy kid who wanted nothing more than to please everyone. And I was a true believer; everything they said I believed was the literal truth. So I absorbed everything exactly as it was told to me, and I still haven’t recovered from that. Maybe I never will.

    I know this will sound crazy, but in a way I am jealous of how you girls made it out of this mess. I’m not saying girls have it better in purity/patriarchy, I know how bad it is to be beaten down and it would be horrific to be condemned to live that for one’s entire life. But… I was beaten down by patriarchy just as you were, and when you girls are let out into the world broken and damaged, it’s… gentler on you. If a girl is abused growing up and has trouble starting her life, the world is understanding of that. For a guy? Nope. I am expected to be strong, even outside the purity/patriarchy culture. Even now that I have help, amazing people that are generously donating their time and effort to help me through the quagmire that is my life, that pressure to measure up has never gone away. I feel like a failure. And in every measure that society would use, I am a failure. That doesn’t help my recovery…

    So yea… on other side of the fence, this culture destroys lives. Purity, patriarchy, religion, it’s all the same damn stuff. It’s about controlling people. I know how easy it must be to be angry at guys for being designated “the boss” in the grand plan, but please understand, boys are not made that way. People are people regardless of sex or gender. Patriarchy is forced onto them just as it is forced onto you. And with both guys and girls, purity is one of their primary weapons. After alienating guys and girls all their lives, sex is the connection that brings them together. So, of course, it must be controlled. Two roles, one giant club: purity.

    • Mogg

      MaJo, I’m so sorry that you have suffered such damage from the hands of those who are supposed to care for you the most. I hope your journey through the quagmire eventually leads you to solid ground, and you become settled in who you are, not what that culture taught you that a man should be. While I despise what it does to women, men are also victims, particularly those who are not macho men or who have no particular desire for domination of others. I believe this has destroyed my father, who didn’t encounter this kind of teaching until his forties. How much harder for someone who was taught this from birth?

      Thanks for sharing, it is helpful to see another perspective. Good luck.

    • The_L1985

      I am so sorry for how you were hurt. :( I wish there were something I could say or do to help–patriarchy really is harmful to sensitive men, just as much as it is to assertive women. I hope you find healing and hope soon. And no matter what anyone says, don’t be afraid to go to therapy sessions if you feel like you need them. You know what’s best for you. :)

    • Katharine Spann

      I’m so sorry this has been your experience. I married a man that was a 33 year old virgin. He was so because he felt exactly as you have. He often said that he thought that if he allowed himself any freedom to date and love and marry, it would only be a recipe for hurting women, which is the very thing all women say men eventually do. Hum. What was he to do but to remain single?
      The only difference is that he was raised an atheist. Feeling this way , he believes, was a cultural fault. Open any magazine and you will find some reference to the expectation of our culture ( women) that the man will use a woman for sex only, and if a man marries a woman, he will beat on her or cheat on her. These are NOT Christian publications. Sadly, fine men ( as it sounds like you may be), arrive at your conclusion because they desparately do not want to be the culprit of a skewed cultural portrait of a man.

    • Scott_In_OH

      I was beaten down to fulfill a “lead” role, but I wasn’t the arrogant bastard that had to be beaten into line. I was a sickly shy kid who wanted nothing more than to please everyone. And I was a true believer; everything they said I believed was the literal truth. So I absorbed everything exactly as it was told to me, and I still haven’t recovered from that.

      Indeed. I keep coming back to the idea that people who are naturally humble, self-giving, and empathetic are the ones who take these teaching “too seriously” (i.e., correctly) and end up hurt this way. (Other people get hurt in other ways, but this one bothers me a lot.)

      And Katharine Spann is right, too, of course. A lot of American culture is both hyper-sexualized and sex-negative. It’s very easy to get the sense that sex (like relationships) is a transaction and to worry that you will be taking advantage of the other party.

  • Lisa Bennet

    I agree with everything you said but I think there is a major difference between women and men: purity incorporates modesty, and male modesty isn’t *as* important: a T-shirt and pants covering at least your knees are perfectly fine. Even more important, these modesty conventions for men aren’t hard to follow. Women, on the other hand, have so much more trouble finding clothes modest enough, and that’s where the purity cult has a major impact on a woman’s day to day life, while it doesn’t for men. Modesty, hence inevitably purity, both of these are much more prevalent in a woman’s life, impacting every aspect of what she buys, wears, does, says. It’s true that both men and women have to follow the same purity guidelines, but it so happens that these guidelines are much harder to follow if you’re a woman.

  • Katharine Spann

    My mom and dad never made us wear purity rings or anything, but they were serious when it came to saving ones self for marriage. They frequently talked to each of us ( and of course we all shared notes). No questions were too personal, and they answered some doozies! They told us that sexual feelings were natural…and expected, so it was best to stop at kissing ( and at the door when you say goodnight because clothes typically don’t come off at back doors). Yes. We all double dated until college, and even then, most of us continued until we were serious about someone. I asked my brother several years after he was married if he remained a virgin like us girls and he said yes. In fact, he told me that our mom sat him down the week before his wedding for 2 hours just to explain in detail foreplay, and how to excite and satisfy his bride. Wow. He said he would have been embarrassed, but he loved his fiance so much, he really wanted to make her happy. So although many have had very different experiences, mine was very different.

  • Snipe

    Rebecca St. James’s song had a segment that went something like:

    “Now I know you may have made mistakes, but there’s forgiveness, and a second chance.” After that, the song goes back to pleading for the future spouse to wait.

    To me, this seems to imply a double standard, or at least an acknowledgement that not everyone is going to adhere to the songwriter’s standards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rainie.flores.7 Rainie Flores

    This is interesting. Regarding double standards, i think it’s unfair how men and women are treated and regarded differently the moment they lost their virginity. Women are being judged and think of as worthless while with men, the idea seemed to be cool.

    SolidRockJewelry.com

  • Silent Service

    All I can say is that I do not remember any Bible verse that required young men to be stoned to death for not being a virgin or requiring a young man’s rapist to pay his mother for the privilege of raping him repeatedly throughout an irrevocable marriage. The double standard is built into the very core of the Abrahamic faiths.

  • Boo

    Your situation was the exception. I remember my mother telling me that no man would ever marry me if I was not a virgin. My brother practically lived with his girlfriend and my mom never said a word. And my grandmother flat out said things were different because my brother was a boy. I think the church started including boys in the wait for marriage speech because of feminism. If a boy lost his virginity it was just a sin, and he could be forgiven with no questions or consequences. If a girl lost her virginity then she was worthless, no man would have her, and no amount Jesus’s blood could ever right that wrong.


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