This is an installment of the Religious Fundamentalism and Sexuality Project. You can read the full list of questions here and the posting plan here. The first six participants whose stories I’ll be posting are Melissa and Haley, Lina and V, Latebloomer and Katy-Anne.
2. To what extent did “purity culture” affect your beliefs about sexuality (in any sense of the word)?
Melissa and Haley
I took being pure very seriously. I was simoultaneously proud of how good I was at not flirting with men or “leading them on”, and worried about how few men I could actually imagine myself with. I felt like I should be able to mold myself to fit with any decent guy who came along, and I felt guilty for not being that excited about many of them. It was this miserable battle between trying to get excited about a guy, and then feeling guilty for having a “crush” of any kind. I feel that I became even more introverted than I naturally was, because I was afraid of my sexuality and my sexual attraction. It was hard for me to be friendly with girls, and it was forbidden for me to be friendly with guys. I felt lonely. I worried that I was the only one with this problem. I desperately wished for a guy to marry me and make the whole miserable complicated mess go away by virtue of being “taken” and not having to worry about it all any more, and yet I was afraid I would never find a guy I was willing to submit to and felt attracted too.
Purity culture repressed, repressed, repressed. And yet in a way the rigid gender roles made it easier to avoid the humiliation of my femininity being observed by others in that context.
Lina and V
Sex was saved for the wedding night, though most of us girls hoped we could convince our poor sex-starved new husbands to spread things out over a few days since so much would be new. Kissing while horizontal was a no-no – you’d practically slide right into sex from there. Kissing while vertical could be okay, but it could never be casual. Masturbation was a big evil, a slippery slope into addiction (along with porn). Thankfully, my dad never really got into the whole father-daughter purity thing, which is good, because I was such a Daddy’s girl, I would’ve gone right along with him.
It was my duty to dress modestly. If I dressed provocatively, I was inviting lewd comments, gestures, or activity from men, or I was leading men astray. As we said in my youth group, “If you don’t want to be treated like meat, don’t dress for the cookout.” I would say that attitude was a little scarring.
The purity culture hugely affected my beliefs about sexuality. To be honest, it completely defined them, because that was all I was exposed to as an isolated fundamentalist homeschooled student. Because of the purity culture, I believed that homosexuality was a sin, a choice to rebel against God. I believed that sexual attraction was sinful until it was directed at your opposite-sex spouse. I believed that I needed the support of the courtship system in order to get a husband without compromising myself sexually. I believed that I was responsible to dress and behave modestly to keep men from “stumbling” (i.e. having sexual thoughts about me). I did not start to rethink these beliefs until I was in my twenties.
Purity culture ruined my wedding. My husband and I, influenced by purity culture, decided to save our first kiss for the wedding day, which he and I both regret because it made the kiss so awkward and sloppy. The pastor who did our wedding told us in pre-marriage counseling that my husband was supposed to “ravage” me on the wedding night. He was basically advocating rape… he told me that I should let my husband do anything he wanted even if I was not comfortable with it because he had kept himself for me and I was his reward. This is another area where purity culture harms both men and women…it teaches men that they can rape their wives and have “power” in sex and it teaches the women to be victims.
I only wore long skirts and shirts that didn’t show cleavage because as a woman I was told it was my job to make sure men didn’t lust after my body. The purity culture negatively affected me by telling me it was my fault if men were lustful. But the truth is that men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions.