I think I’ve lost count of the analogies I learned by heart in the 2000’s purity culture.
the one I remember most clearly was one in which two pieces of construction paper were glued together.
“these two papers, the pink and the blue, represent you and the person you choose to sleep with,” we were told, as we watched the the glue-dampened pages being pressed together and set aside, before we were launched into the same sexist “purity lesson” we’d heard a hundred times before. a few minutes later, the pages were picked back up and violently torn apart, shreds of the blue still left on the pink, and vice versa.
“look how disgusting that is? do you want to be like that? of course not! no one does! and no one wants to be with someone like that, either. if you want to marry a man who loves Jesus, you have to make sure you never do something that would leave the pieces of another person’s heart in you, or else no good man would want to pursue you. a good man only wants a pure woman.”
honestly, just thinking about that makes me angry now. just thinking about it makes me sick.
I sat and listened to these purity talks and every year it was the same. and every girls’ small group was so uncomfortable… it was assumed that for me as a woman, the waters of biblical purity that I must wade, went no deeper than what I wore and how often I ventured further than a side-hug and how well I controlled my unruly and over-dramatic girl feelings.
and I sat there, full of life and passion and love to give and thought “I have to stifle all of this.”
and I felt guilty for hugging my guy-friends.
and I felt all skeptical eyes on me whenever I ventured to have an honest and meaningful conversation with someone of the opposite sex.
I sat and listened to these purity talks, which once actually included the sentence “so in their small groups, the boys are going to discuss pornography addictions, but we obviously don’t need to do that here, do we?” and I watched girls silently cower in humiliation, glancing around to make sure no one saw. because who would voluntarily raise their hand “yes” to a question intended only to bring shame and judgment?
and the overbearing assumption that of course in our youth group there was no sex before marriage (I mean, except for like the REALLY wild people that were only kind of welcome there because their evil deeds might poison the rest of us, right?). there were no pregnancy scares. there were no terrified young women who sincerely believed that because of their mistakes no one would ever want them again. and I watched those girls silently melt into the background, nodding vigorously so that no one would assume it was them that had fallen seemingly past the point where grace could reach.
and I was so angry I wasn’t sure how to contain it.
“Be good,” we were told as women “be gentle and soft-hearted and modest, and then you’ll be wanted.” is what we were constantly reminded of. but we weren’t told nearly so clearly or emphatically that we were already wanted. already loved.
we were expected to use our voices to “say no to boys who want to have sex“, even though we were never taught to use our voice say no to boys for anything else within the church, and we were sexualized as girls who just needed to cover up more because the only boys worth having all believed that modest is hottest.
we weren’t told how to get help if we were feeling pressured in ways that bordered on abuse- only that we needed to make good choices. we weren’t taught how to distinguish between someone who cares about you and someone who wants to manipulate you. it was never explained to us that we were still wanted, still cherished, still loved if everything we dreamed went wrong, and if through our own choices or the forcing by another’s stronger voice, we found ourselves like that pink piece of paper.
it wasn’t until I was older, and I made mistakes out of manipulation and fear, that I truly felt the weight of this Christian shame culture. and it wasn’t until I began dating the man who would be my husband that I understood the fear instilled into the young men as well. it wasn’t until then that I felt the pressure so intensely that I was forced to take a deeper look at the culture that was causing sickening guilt without reason in a relationship that was beautiful and healthy and holy… that had caused guilt like that for years (read more about why that made me choose NOT to save my first kiss for my wedding day here.).
we’ve got a culture of guys and girls hiding in their shame, and it needs to stop.
so can we make a pact? can we make some decisions to eliminate this “purity culture” that has turned into shaming and sexist habits?
1.) let’s teach guys that girls’ voices hold weight and honor- in all situations, including when they’re saying “no” to something they’re uncomfortable with sexually, and to treat their emotions as valid and important instead of stupid.
2.) let’s teach girls to own their voices– in every space, empowering them to voice their thoughts and convictions and emotions. let’s remind them that they are seen as more than a pair of walking yoga pants… and prove it in the way we treat and interact with them.
3.) let’s stop assuming porn is a guy problem and modesty is a girl problem- you’d be surprised how many people you’re alienating by telling them that their struggles don’t exist in their gender.
4.) let’s start telling girls AND guys that they’re valued and loved and wanted– regardless of what they have or haven’t done. regardless of their struggles. regardless of anything because their soul has already been paid for by the blood of Jesus, and who are you to declare unworthiness over them?
5.) let’s start cultivating community and love and belonging- and worry less about hugs vs. side hugs and more about the precious ones who are slipping through the cracks.
I believe we can do it, church.
I believe we can replace this shame culture with a love culture.
I believe we can replace this sexist culture with an empowering culture.
let’s work on it together.