Abuse In The Purity Culture
I was born in the middle of the True Love Waits Purity Movement, right at the peak.
Thanks to Josh Harris (1), I kissed dating goodbye and said hello to courtship. I dutifully read the Modesty Survey (2) and took the results to heart. I wrote my own purity vow at age 13 and was encouraged to limit my sexual education until a few weeks before marriage.
I did not know about french kissing until I was 18, two years after I finished high school. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I realized the thing I had felt so guilty for as a very young child was called masturbation... and no, it didn’t compromise my virginity. In my 21st year I learned that there was something called ejaculation and that oral sex wasn’t the same as tongue kissing. I didn’t know what all of my body looked like, what all of the parts were named or how they functioned until then either. I was 22 when eHow taught me how to kiss, and Google taught me about the stages of sexual arousal. I learned about erections just months before my wedding, as well as what birth control options were available. It wasn’t until after I was married that I learned the definition of consent.
You might think this is unusual and possibly unbelievable. How could a grown woman in the 21st century not be aware of these things in our blatantly sexualized culture? Unfortunately, for those of us who grew up in the Purity Culture and also dabbled in the Patriarchy Movement, this is far from uncommon (3).
Naivety is a coveted trait within these circles, especially for women. The idea is that the less you know about sex, the easier it is to remain safe and sexually untouched. But as I found out, the truth is that the less you know about sex and sexuality, the more danger you are in.
Predators look for easy targets, the naive and unsuspecting ones. By combining the authoritarianism of the Patriarchy Movement and the sexual suppression of the True Love Waits Movement, the perfect storm has been created.
The suppression of healthy sexuality and proper sexual education produces two types of individuals: those who are vulnerable to abuse due to naivety, and those who perpetrate abuse by exploiting naivety.
This is precisely the reason why abuse is flooding the Patriarchy/Quiverfull world (4). The Patriarchal Purity Culture essentially produces both predator and prey, and places them in the small confines of a same faith community, where the prey is easily devoured.
We were so concerned about keeping ourselves or our children from becoming “damaged goods” before their wedding night, that we overlooked the real damage of sexual assault. They became susceptible due to the lack of education.
Sheltering children from a proper, timely sexual education not only creates shame and confusion for the developing child, it unwittingly places them in the path of danger.
So, what can we do differently? What can we do to promote sexual health and safety for ourselves and our children?
- Educate yourself and your children on sex and sexuality NOW! (See notes)
- Learn and teach consent, what it is, and what it is not.
- Question authority, good authorities will welcome accountability.
- Trust your gut and teach others to trust their own.
- Be quick to believe survivors and report abusers.
Sexuality isn’t something to be afraid or ashamed of, it is something to be embraced and understood. Education is everything. Implementing these five steps will go a long way in the areas of sexual abuse prevention, protection, and necessary reporting.
Notes and Sources:
Note 1: Helpful Information on Sex and Sexuality: Sex Education For Adults Ted Talks (video), Sex Ed Basics (video) for preteens, and God Made All Of Me (book) for children by Justin Holcomb. Help me fill out this section! Feel free to add links in the comment section with additional sex ed articles and videos (no nudity please).
Note 2: While I am wary of many of the strategies used by the True Love Waits Movement or Purity Culture, I am still a fan of saving sex for marriage. I do NOT however condemn those who made the choice (or had the choice taken from them) to do otherwise. Your worth or purity is in no way, shape, or form tied to your sexual history.
(1) Josh Harris, who pastored Sovereign Grace church after C.J. Mahaney left during the sex scandal (see below), seems to be reconsidering his cult classic book, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’.
(2) The Modesty Survey appears to have been taken down from The Rebelution website. This was a survey where Christian guys told which types of female clothing they felt caused men to lust.