There is a new song trending right now on TikTok called “God is a Freak” and it is quickly becoming an anthem for atheists and those who have left the church because of religious trauma. As a Christian, my knee-jerk reaction was just to scroll on, but as it popped up more and more, I realized, in a way, I could relate to the feelings behind the lyrics.
The truth is I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when Purity culture was at its height. We had promise rings, abstinence pledges, and layered tank tops not just for fashion but for modesty. I was taught that the thoughts of men and boys were my job to protect by the way I chose to dress, lest I become a stumbling block.
I was taught that sex before marriage could only result in doom and damnation.
There is a lot wrong with this tiny snippet of what we were taught with Purity Culture. But I am realizing that many of the things I struggle with today stem from what I was taught at such a young age about sex, and my body. Sex was dirty, shameful and if you didn’t do it the way the church wanted you to then you were dirty and shameful too.
As a teenager, I was terrified of sex.
That didn’t stop me from getting into sexual situations, I was a mix of hormones, confusion, and rebellion. And I was being told this one thing was off-limits. I was being told only people in love could experience and feel these things. Well, I was in love right? I felt like I was in love, and if we are going to be together 4eva (like I have written in my notebook) then why not?
These situations never panned out though, I was always left with shame and a broken heart.
Then, in my 20’s, my ability to say I had not “gone all the way” was taken from me.
During a night of underage drinking with people I did not know well enough, I had that one thing – the thing that purity culture told me was the most important thing – taken from me. By force.
I hate to say that it is purity culture that kept me from ever reporting this and holding the responsible men accountable for their actions, but it was.
I blamed myself. I made the bad choices, I wore the wrong clothes and I was in a place that only promoted these things, so of course the blame and the shame were mine to bear.
To anyone that was hurt by the church or Christian Purity Culture, I am so, so sorry. To anyone that I personally played a part in by touting and promoting the propaganda, I apologize. The truth is I was just as damaged and confused as anyone else. Purity Culture has been successful at one thing….creating a generation of people that struggle with expressing themselves sexually, even in the confines of marriage. Myself included.
Sex is not dirty.
Sexuality is not something to be suppressed.
You can be a woman and have a sexual urge without being shameful or dirty.
What I wish I would have been taught is that you do share yourself with anyone that you come into contact with sexually. So there are emotional ramifications to sex. That is why marriage is the “ultimate goal” that the church promotes. When marriage was created it was a holy covenant where ultimate trust between partners should have been able to exist. Meaning if you are waiting to express your sexuality with your marriage partner then this is a space where you can trust your body and heart, fully with the other person. It was not EVER explained in this way. It was ONLY ever explained in terms of sin and sinfulness. To avoid sin, get married. This is problematic by itself. How many in my generation ended up in damaging marriages just trying to avoid being a sinful person.
I wish I would have been taught the beauty that comes with sex when you have a partner that you love and trust. But instead, I was made to feel like sex was just a necessary part of life, and that as a woman it was my “job” to please my husband and make babies.
If sex ed is giving the mechanics, and Purity Culture is giving the shame. Who is going to make sure that our kids know that sex is not a bad thing! That sex (even for women) is good and something that is ok to be explored and enjoyed? If we are all too uncomfortable with the words and the explanations this cycle is going to continue.
Do I hope that my children wait until marriage or at the very least a long-lasting and mature relationship to engage in sex? YES, of course!
Not because of sin or spiritual ramifications; but because I never want them to experience the emotional turmoil that comes with sharing such a vulnerable part of themselves with someone that doesn’t fully appreciate it.
This may get me kicked from the Christian group, but truthfully the sin aspect of sex and sexuality is really the least of my worries in regards to myself or my kids. Because none of us are perfect, we all have issues and hangups. That comes with living in a fallen world. Not one sin is better or worse than the other, isn’t that what we are taught. So if they are all even, should that really be the driving force for why we are teaching abstinence?