Yesterday, I stumbled across an interesting blog post by David Murrow of “Church For Men.” Interesting in that it is revealing of the way Christian purity culture operates.
Purity Culture claims to be an anti-sex movement, but it’s really not. As I’ve pointed out before, in purity culture is often all about sex...in marriage. Just take a gander at Mark Driscoll’s infamous “Can We ____?” chapter of his book Real Marriage wherein he extols the virtues of marital sex–even oral sex, anal sex, and roleplay.
No, purity culture isn’t really anti-sex. You could say it is anti-premarital sex, and you would be partly right. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I don’t think premarital sex is purity culture’s primary concern, and I think blog posts like Murrow’s exemplify this.
In this post, Murrow discusses the “Yes Means Yes” Bill: SB967, which “would make sex illegal [on college campuses], unless there is ‘an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision’ by each person to engage in sexual activity.”
Certainly there are reasons to critique this bill. Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), for instance, recently spoke on Twitter about how laws/criminalization/the threat of incarceration has not succeeded in ending sexual violence. In fact, more legislation and incarceration often ends up harming victims, especially in communities of color (as we are seeing now in the way the state is using these anti-violence laws to incarcerate Marissa Alexander–a victim of abuse). I am not writing this post in support of SB967, as I am also skeptical about whether or not this bill will actually benefit victims of sexual assault. But I do want to say something about Murrow’s response to it.
Murrow, in his post, calls the SB967 a “good thing.” However, his thoughts about the bill don’t seem to be rooted in concern for victims of sexual assault at all. Murrow is more interested in the bill for another reason (emphasis mine):
The law’s noble purpose is to eliminate campus rape, but its greatest impact will be to throw cold water on the campus “hookup” culture. We can expect to see less promiscuity among men – and that’s a good thing. The Bible has been warning men about this for thousands of years. (Read Proverbs 7:6-27)
…anything that makes men think twice before engaging in a casual hookup is a step in the right direction.
Does he really approve of the bill, though? It’s hard to tell when he also says that–along with sex workers/pornography directors (who he thinks will be getting more business now) and campus ministries (which he believes men will flock to for help controlling their sex drives)–the only “winners” from this bill are feminists (emphasis mine):
Women can now exercise total power over the men they sleep with. Think about it: a vindictive woman can send her lover to jail (or at least get him suspended from college) any time she wants. Women have been given a powerful tool they can use to keep their men in line.
The reasons Murrow claims to support SB967 (even if he’s just really trying to make an ironic point about the dangers of sex) are the same reasons why many Christians extol purity culture values.
And it’s not because they’re anti-sex.
Take another look at that first block quote where Murrow references Proverbs 7 as the Bible’s warning against male promiscuity. What does Proverbs 7 actually say? This is the passage where Woman Wisdom (the female personification of wisdom) is contrasted by Woman Stranger (the female personification of folly).
Woman Wisdom is a woman that the author of Proverbs believes men should embrace, for her ways will lead to blessings and life. Woman Stranger, on the other hand, should be avoided–she is a seductress who lures men to their deaths. All of this is analogy, of course, for choosing wise ways of living rather than foolish ones. But Christians often use it as a literal warning against “unacceptable” women.
Now, take another look at the second block quote, especially the last line: “Women have been given a powerful tool they can use to keep their men in line.”
This quote, combined with the ideas drawn from Proverbs 7, is really the key to understanding much of purity culture.
Purity culture Christians believe that sex outside of marriage gives women power, and that is one of the main reasons why they advocate for abstinence before marriage.
Many purity culture Christians cannot wrap their heads around the idea that maybe women just want safe, healthy, consensual premarital sex. In Murrow’s mind, feminists advocated for SB967, not because they want sex to be consensual and want to have more protections against sexual violence, but because they want “a powerful tool…to keep their men in line.”
Murrow is not the only one who thinks that women don’t want sex, but power over men. Joshua Harris makes this argument pretty straight-forwardly in Sex Is Not The Problem…Lust Is (thanks to Dianna Anderson for sending me this quote–emphasis mine):
“‘I believe the root of women’s struggle with lust is that we want to dominate men, control them, and manipulate them through sexual appeal,’ a married woman from Knoxville wrote me. ‘If a couple is driving down the street and they both see a very seductive advertisement, they can both be tempted toward lust but in different ways. The man might be tempted toward sexual pleasure with the woman in the ad. But women want to look like the woman in the ad because we know men want that.’ (pg. 87)
Part of the reason Christians should wait until marriage for sex is because the context of marriage–as defined by Christian complementarianism–is one in which the male is unquestioningly in charge as the head of the household. Indeed, Christian relationship books demand that women have sex once they are married. Books like Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage accuse married women who deny their husbands sex of selfishness and of dishonoring their husbands’ headship.
Christian purity culture is less about avoiding sex, and more about disempowering women until they are in a context–complementarian, heterosexual marriage–where they are supposedly required by God to have less power than their male partner.
Could that be the reason for Murrow’s seeming ambivalence about SB967? So long as the bill is only encouraging men to avoid premarital sex with women (which would put them under a woman’s power) it is “a good thing.” But Murrow notes that “some observers believe it’s only a matter of time before California expands the law to govern all relationships.”
Would he still promote the bill if it began to give all married women in heterosexual relationships a “powerful tool” for keeping their men in line? Or would he join Mark Driscoll, Carson T. Clark, and others in telling married women that refusing sex is sinful?
What is purity culture really about? Avoiding sex? Respecting and defending women? Or preservation of male power?