Were some elements of Purity Culture actually good? Was it all bad?
A few weeks ago,on Facebook someone asked if I benefited from Purity Culture, after I wrote about how certain church teachings are harmful to women (and men!) I never got to respond directly, but I thought about the question, and here’s my response:
If not having sex, not partying, not dating, saving first kiss for wedding day, scarcely holding hands, et cetera, count as “benefits,” yeah, that happened.
I no longer see those as benefits though. Because I’d rather have had healthy motivations: I’d rather have had information and knowledge guiding my choices. Than fear, debilitating shame, and anxiety.
Being handed religious trauma and told it’s Christ is not a gift.
Being handed religious trauma and told it’s Christ is not a gift. I did not need Purity Culture.
What I needed was a God who saw and had compassion for my broken internal maps, who gently held my woundedness and growth—a God who knelt low and washed dusty feet.
What I got handed was a harsh, rigid, retaliatory, two-faced, mean, killjoy of a god.
Nobody needs bondage to be a good Christian. What we need are conversations, room for questions, space for compassionate exploration, and embodied faith in our journey with God.
Research by Bare Marriage, shared in their new book, She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic teachings on Sex, Self and Speaking Up, found that while there is no one-size-fits-all approach for young people as they explore relationships, when they are allowed to date and choose not to date, it leads to better outcomes overall.
“where teens are allowed to date but choosing not to date, it results in highest self-esteem in both adolescence and *adulthood*, least likely to marry an abuser, most likely not to have multiple sexual partners….” (asterisks mine. See more context below*)
It’s the same conclusion I came to. Nobody needs rigid harmful rules, like”do not date” and other ideas from Purity Culture. What we need is good relationships where healthy conversations can be had that help us make healthy choices.
Were some Elements of Purity Culture Good? American Authors and Their Impact in Non-western Cultures
I was born and raised in Kenya, where purity culture looks different because it was mixed up with our own local Kenyan culture.
My cultural background is one of the reasons I’m vocal about American authors and pastors getting it right: their teachings disperse around the world. And sometimes, they’ll land in non-western cultures with their own deep issues.
And instead of Christ being a liberator, He’s installed as the leader of the male pack: treacherous, mean, exploitative and obsessed with power over women.
It becomes near impossible to address and remove toxic cultural ideas from our local churches because what pastors and congregants read in these books, the theology they grab from Western Christianity, affirms what they already believe culturally.
And you have not encountered people more entrenched in their ways than when they believe God is on their side.
1. For context: These are results from a survey of 7000 Christian women. Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, Joanna Sawatsky (Bare Marriage team) found out that for teens, those who were
“Not allowed to date: Most likely to save sex for marriage, but less likely to get married; more likely to have low self-esteem and still just as likely to marry an abuser. Plus, if she does remain single, the low self-esteem of adolescence is more likely to continue to adulthood
Allowed to date and choosing to date: More likely to marry, but also more likely to marry an abuser
Allowed to date but choosing not to date: Highest self-esteem in both adolescence and adulthood, least likely to marry an abuser, most likely not to have multiple sexual partners, but also less odds of getting married overall.”
2. When we speak about the negative impacts of Purity Culture or answer the question, “were some elements of purity culture good?” in a way that doesn’t indulge harmful Christian teachings, some people wonder if we’re saying premarital sex is okay.They believe the lines are blurry, and it looks like we’re saying having sex whenever, however, with whoever is okay. My response to that: As Christians, we need to ask ourselves why when we talk about the trauma caused by Christian teachings, we think about the extreme as the counterbalance. It feels like saying, “okay, you’ll get pregnant and have STDs,” when a woman says, “how you teach about sex is very shaming, fear-inducing and hurtful,” We can’t be catastrophizing and saying it’s what people who reject purity culture are recommending. If you have questions or reservations, please read She Deserves Better! It’s a great book and addresses many queries and questions Christians have.