My Experience with ‘Purity Culture’ and what I Have Learned


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We live in a culture that is drenched in sex…it is EVERYWHERE. And, it is mostly women that are used to sell anything and everything with sex/sex appeal. Huge billboards with women seductively eating chocolate, women music artists wearing little to no clothing to sell their CD’s, magazine covers with scantily clad women. Women singers sing songs about using sex and their body to keep a man interested. We live in a society that teaches women that our value is determined by whether or not men find us sexy, if a man wants to sleep with us. Our identity as women gets wrapped up in men– finding a husband, not being a temptation to men, saving our virginity for our husbands, dressing modest to not cause men to sin, being a good wife, etc etc. Our value and self-worth are often found in men because we have been (indirectly) told that’s where it will be found.

Please stay with me and hear my heart…I urge you to not check out as you continue reading. I absolutely believe in the importance of, and Biblical idea of, saving sex for marriage. I completely believe in modesty. I understand why we teach girls that sex outside of marriage brings baggage and that it can cause unwanted pregnancies, disease, and other things. I am a believer that sex IS a big deal. What I want you to consider is the idea that our value as women has absolutely nothing to do with virginity or sex, and has nothing to do with this “ultimate gift” for a husband…which is an idea purity culture has tried to impose on women. I want you to consider a different approach to talking with girls about sex, worth, and virginity. Purity culture promotes virginity, saving sex for marriage, dressing modestly, and being a Godly example of a woman (all things I am for) but a lot of these teachings are centered around reasons I don’t agree with.

menIf a man is objectifying a woman wearing a short skirt we are told that if the girl hadn’t worn a short skirt the guy wouldn’t have looked–this puts all of the
responsibility on the woman (like she was asking to be objectified) and makes men look like brainless, sex driven sheep (which, they are definitely not)…this scenario says less to me about the woman than it does about the man.  I understand modesty and believe in women dressing in a way that is honoring to God, but who sets that standard? Who decides what is modest? What may be OK for me to wear may not be OK for the next woman. It is not my job to control a man’s thoughts or his eyes or to tell another woman how she should dress. Men are fully capable of looking and not allowing it to go past that in their minds, that is called SELF-control. Maybe society has taught men that their sex drives are uncontrollable and men have been manipulated into believing they are slaves to it. Your value as a woman is not placed in how you dress, how much of your body you can cover, or the label of being a modest woman. The subject of modesty is one I am praying through/seeking Scripture on right now and will be posting a blog on at a later time.

While our American culture pushes sex and wraps a woman’s identity in it,  we have the Christian community going hardcore trying to teach women the opposite. But, are we really? Are we really teaching girls their identity has nothing to do with sex and virginity?

Purity culture puts a lot of pressure on girls. Some common beliefs are:

  1. It is a girl’s job to not be a temptation for a guy
  2. It is a girl’s responsibility to dress modestly so as not to be a stumbling block/distraction for boys, or (my favorite) keep them from sinning.
  3. It’s the girl’s job to say “no” to sex because boys are wired differently and it is harder for them to say no.
  4. If you have sex before marriage you will have nothing to offer your husband on your wedding night.
  5. It is your job to value and protect your virginity from boys.

As a teenage girl in the early 2000’s I grew up hearing talks and attending youth conferences where I was taught the importance of purity and virginity, dating and boys. I remember teachings comparing purity to flowers…where I was taught that the more a girl lets a guy touch, kiss, (or God forbid do anything further than that) her that it was like a flower whose petals were being ripped off and dropped and eventually, if the girl kept on that path, she would have either a flower missing half of its petals or nothing at all to give her husband on her wedding night. I also heard the gift box analogy…that my virginity was like a treasure wrapped in a box that once unwrapped could never be wrapped up again and I would have to give my “gift” to my husband already opened. This idea basically taught me that a man wouldn’t want a gift another man had already used. So, while the world feeds us this idea that our value as women is wrapped up in sex and our sex appeal, a lot of purity culture teachings do as well.

Value: the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something

Worth: the value equivalent to that of someone or something under consideration; the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.

I remember being 17 and feeling like it was my mission to protect myself and other girls from boys and felt it my responsibility to ensure that none of my friends in relationships were “giving their petals away” or letting any boy have access to her “gift box”.  I read books like, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “Lady in Waiting”. I was taught it was a woman’s duty to dress modestly so as to avoid distracting men or “causing a brother to stumble”. I was taught that sex was a huge deal and should be saved for marriage (which, I still believe in). I was taught that girls who had given their virginity away before marriage had less value and a true, Christian man is less likely to want a woman that had had sex with another man.

When I was 22 I met a guy at a friend’s wedding named “Brian”. Brian was a stud, he followed me around the entire night, and texted me the next two days incessantly. So, I
went out with him. We had a decent time but I was terrified to make any physical contact with him because of the “flower” I was picturing in my mind. However, we ended up kissing on the date and I was so angry at myself because I knew I wasn’t going to date him and felt like I had let myself, and God,  down. I felt the invisible petals fall off of me and the ribbon on my gift box loosen. I sat under guilt and shame for weeks, all over a minute or two of kissing…a minute or two I felt had decreased my value as a future wife.

When I was 26 I was in a relationship with a guy I was convinced I was going to marry and after being together for a while we ended up being  sexually active and eventually had sex for our entire year long relationship. I believed that since I had sex once there was no reason not to keep doing it since I had already ruined my “gift”. I believed that having sex with him showed him that I loved him.  I will never, ever forget that night. I remember telling myself I was fine. I told him I was fine. I told my best friend I was fine. 2 days later it hit me what I had done and I was keeled over in a parking love equalslot shaking with sobs and pouring out my feeling of failure through my tears. I cried for hours, feeling like I had no value or worth, and feeling as though I had broken God’s heart and disappointed Him for not waiting until marriage. I didn’t realize it until later but I had been a participant in a culture where we teach girls that sex = love and love = sex. I had fallen prey to the purity culture that taught me that my value was wrapped up in saving my virginity for only my husband. While I knew I was against sex before marriage I believed that sex was the ultimate way to share love with somebody. I had put love and sex as the same thing. Because of the various “purity culture” teachings I had grown up being infused with I had attached my value and worth to my virginity. When my “ultimate gift” was gone I felt devastated, worthless, and that I had nothing to offer my future husband anymore. I kept seeing that flower, petal-less. I saw that gift box, opened and useless. Shame, guilt, and condemnation were my constant companions for 2 years of my life.

Fast forward to the present, age 30. I have finally come to a place where I realize that my value and worth has absolutely nothing to do with sex, virginity, or a man. I have spent the last year and a half healing from a purity culture that made me feel like I was of less value and worth for not saving sex for marriage, for making a mistake I couldn’t take back. The “petals” and “boxes” I was taught about created fear in me and a performance driven relationship with God. I found my identity in being a virgin amidst the numerous girls I was friends with who were not. Purity culture did not give me a sense of self-value or self-worth, and rarely pointed me back to Jesus —the One who holds my identity, my being.

My value and worth come completely from my identity as a daughter of a King, a beloved child, a woman who was created by hands that lovingly and carefully formed me. My value and worth come out of the knowing that nothing I can do can separate me from Christ and that He is always for me and never against me. He is my source, my heart’s One true love, and His desire is always for me.

The idea that a girl’s value and worth has anything to do with sex is a lie. My value hasvalue.png not decreased one iota because I had sex outside of marriage. Yes, it created some hardships and baggage, but my worth and value has NEVER decreased. Purity culture teaches the importance of virginity, which is great. But, what I see lacking is teaching girls their worth and that it has nothing to do with sex, virginity, boys, or any of that. We teach about the flower petals and gift boxes, and teach impressionable girls that the more they do with boys the less valuable
they become. This is an absolute lie that I believed for most of my teen and adult life. It is time we stop comparing girls to flower petals and gift boxes and teach them how strong, capable, worthy of love, and valuable they truly are just because of who they are and not what they have to offer a man.

I have met a lot of teen and young adult girls who have had sex and nothing to do with.jpgregretted it. Many of these girls lost their self-worth with their virginity. Many of these girls picked up the idea that they had already given their ‘greatest gift’ away so it wasn’t a big deal anymore. This makes my heart extremely sad. We need to let girls who have had sex know that their value hasn’t changed and that there is a wonderful Father who created them perfect and loves and adores them as is.

So, my conclusion is this:

I will never teach my daughters, or other girls, these flowers and gift box lessons.

I will teach my daughters, and other girls, how amazing, valuable, and worthy of true love they really are.

I will teach my daughters that their value and worth have nothing to do with a man.

I will teach them how much God adores them and that He created them to change the world.

I will never make my daughters feel that their value is attached to sex or their virginity.

I will teach them the importance of why sex should be saved for inside the bonds of marriage and what Scripture says about it.

I will allow them to fall so in love with Jesus that they choose self-respect and self-love.

I will teach my daughters that they have more to offer their husband, so much more than just their virginity.

My daughters, and any other girls I can reach, will never be scared or guilted into waiting for marriage but will, hopefully, choose to wait because of their relationship with Jesus.

I want women to wait until marriage because they recognize their own value and the worth that God has placed on them.

You are priceless. You are valuable.

Sex, virginity, and men have absolutely nothing to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “My Experience with ‘Purity Culture’ and what I Have Learned

  1. This is good. I gave it a quick read, but I believe I agree with almost all of it. I have been in the chastity education ministry for a couple decades. I realized early on that equating girls losing their virginity to chewed up gum was counterproductive and just wrong. For many years I have stuck to resources that promote the beauty and power of sex, the scientific facts that back up waiting for marriage as a rational choice and have always given the same message to both guys and girls. I absolutely agree with you that a real relationship with Jesus is a young person’s surest strength in this tired old world. I will be sharing this on my facebook group. Thank you for your honesty and compassion.

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  2. Oh, I love this so much!! I grew up with those same things taught, good intentions that completely miss the mark. We have value because we are daughters of the King, not because of our actions. Because that makes our relationship with Him works based, not because of His grace, mercy and love.

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  3. I just finished reading this and my mouth is still hanging open. Thank you so much for your clarity and the boldness it took to come to these realizations and share them with others. I have 5 precious daughters, and I have been trying for awhile to figure out how I would approach this conversation with my daughters and allow it to deepen as they grow. I was raised in an unbelieving home, and abused by my dad. Physically and emotionally, he reinforced the idea that sex was a girls duty and that I was worth whatever the guy was willing to do to get it. I was not taught anything about self respect, boundaries, healthy relationships or even an example of a faithful marriage… Yet, almost every word you wrote of the sin being the girls responsibility, her shame, and her guilt and her pain, her future baggage all resonated with me the same. It breaks my heart to think that girls raised in the church were just as harmed by the extreme measures and methods withen the purity persuing, as I was having been raised worldly. I had to completely change( let God Change) how I thought, felt and reacted to everything. I am glad to have read this, and I’m sorry for the pain it took to get here but I am very thankful for your story. I hope that I can show my daughters that their worth and value is and always will be priceless and precious in Christ alone. It cannot decrease because of anything they do, or anything done to them. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amy,
      Thanks so much for your kind words!I am so sorry for what you have been through and am glad Holy Spirit has healed your heart from the damage done…I pray Jesus gives you clarity and the words to share with your daughters ❤

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  4. Thank you for this article. I was also given a similar message growing up. As an adult I realized that the message bothered me because sex was always talked about in relation to sin rather than the beautiful thing God created it for. It frustrated me that even though I had saved myself for marriage and sex was now permitted, it felt “dirty” to me because of it being painted in a bad/negative/shameful light for all of my young adult life. When all you hear from churches about sex your entire youth is that it is a perversion, shows a lack of self control, is a temptation that must be avoided, etc., it is hard to make that mental switch that it’s actually a beautiful expression when you have the freedom to engage in the gift. I didn’t even think about the points you brought up (how we were taught that a female’s worth is tied to virginity and what we can/can’t give to a man, etc…) but it would explain why I felt there was something else about the purity movement that didn’t sit right with me but I couldn’t put my finger on. It makes perfect sense. I’m still unpacking a lot of these feelings in regards to this message. I’ve spent years trying to reconcile the fact that sex isn’t something to be ashamed of and it is to be enjoyed in the vulnerability/intimacy of marriage. It’s just sad that after maintaining my virginity for marriage, I ended up not even being able to enjoy it! The older I get the more I think God is a practical God. He doesn’t instruct us to save ourselves for marriage for any other reason than it’s what is best for us – not because sex is wrong or because we aren’t allowed to feel attraction but because something He created to be intimate is better protected in a devoted relationship, reflecting his own devotion to the church. But if I’m being honest, the fact that I waited to have sex may have saved me from heartache and disease but it didn’t magically bless my marriage (I’m divorced and now remarried), nor did it ensure a healthy perspective about sex. If anything, I often wonder if obsessing about saving myself for marriage because “sex was bad” was more damaging than it would have been to have had sex with the serious boyfriend/s I had before I got married. I just wish I would have made the “purity commitment” for the right reasons. Now I just feel kind of duped by the whole experience. Thankfully I have a husband who is supporting me in having a better outlook on it. Thank you for sharing your heart. The message needs to be heard!

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      1. I’ve been told I’m a bit wordy – ha ha! I suppose I had more to say on the matter than I thought. You really stirred my thinking (in a good way) and confirmed for me that the only message we should receive on any topic is the one from God alone…..not man’s interpretation/misuse of it. I think you’d be a great person to start a movement for women’s self worth apart from their virginity, sexual history, etc., if you haven’t already! Best <3.

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      2. Mel, I meant that as a compliment btw 🙂

        Thank you so much. I am really praying through that idea actually and what that will look like! Thanks for the encouragement!

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  5. As a mom of 3 daughters i really appreciated this post. My husband and I did have sex outside marriage but only with each other. For a long time I wondered how I would share this with them. It is good to think about it from your perspective.

    Just the other week I was thinking about the “purity” ring craze when I was a teen. I thought about how I don’t want my daugher to participate in something like that as her dad isn’t the one who should “guard” her virginity or be the keeper of it.

    It is my greatest prayer that my daughters would first see and experience that true relationship with Jesus that shows us where all of our worth and value come from. Thank you for this post

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  6. I am so sorry for your pain. I grew up in the same culture though I am some years younger. While I waited, I experienced bad consequences from what I was taught in my own marriage. I’m writing a book now on it because my friends have believed their worth is tied to their virginity and in losing that, have turned from God because they feel they can’t be forgiven or tried to kill themselves from shame. I wish more people saw the destruction of the analogies and rhetoric of the purity movement.

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