Purity Culture is any teaching that place the honour of a girl/woman on her sexual organ and reinforces the idea that premarital sex makes women worthless. Purity is the quality of being pure. Pure means being clean and not containing any harmful substances. Purity Culture is blaming Eve for giving the apple to Adam and enticing him to sin. Every Christian girl knows Eve is the architect of our misfortune. Every bad thing women experience today is a result of Eve’s sin. Purity Culture is comparing girls who are sexually active to expired food products. Because you know, girls automatically become “expired milk” after they have sex. It is placing the burden of the sexual urges of men on women. Purity Culture is telling girls that they are responsible for the sexual purity of men, because unlike men who are inherently sexual, we are just vessels who are not supposed to be sexual. Many churches practice and teach purity culture targeted mainly towards girls.
Purity Culture is the term often used for the evangelical movement that attempts to promote a biblical view of purity “1Thessalonians 4:3-8” by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage, often through the use of tools such as purity pledges, symbols such as purity rings and events such as purity balls.
Purity pledges are vows taken by teenagers and young adults to abstain from sex before marriage. A prime example is the original pledge from True Love Waits (1993), which read: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future husband to be sexually pure until the day I get married”.
Purity rings are sometimes worn as outwards symbols by those who have made a purity pledge. Some wear purity rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, which they eventually take off and replace with wedding rings after they get married and have sex for the first time. The rings were popularized by the Victory Apostolic Church “The Silver Ring Thing”, which promoted abstinence primarily through music events. A decade ago, the rings were worn by several young actors and pop stars, including Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers.
Purity Balls(or Father-Daughter Purity Balls) are formal dance events attended by fathers and their daughters that promote virginity until marriage for teenage girls. At the balls, the Fathers would often sign a pledge that they would be the example of purity and model integrity for their daughter. The dances were originally commenced in 1998 by a California Couple, Randy and Lisa Wilson, as a way of “celebrating God’s design and life’s little growth spurts”. Nobody throws purity balls (chastity balls) for boys asking them to pledge their virginity to their mothers and the church, nobody makes women the gatekeepers of the sexuality of men so why then do people do it to girls? Double Standard!
How did the Purity Culture movement get started? The purity culture movement began in the 1990s as Christians who were children or teens during the beginning of the 1990s (era of sexual revolution) began to have children and teenagers of their own. By the early years of 1990s, AIDS had become the number one cause of death for United States men ages 25 to 44, and the teenager pregnancy rate had reached an all time high rate. The number of premarital sex partners had also increased substantially since the 1970s. At that time many evangelicals were reacting to the negative effects of sex outside of marriage and attempted to once again ground sexuality in biblical ethics. In 1992 Richard Ross, a youth consultant at LifeWay Christian Resources, presented the theme of a “True Love Waits” in a brainstorming session for a potential christian sex education campaign. A year later Southern Baptists adopted the program with the goal of 100,000 signed commitment cards (i.e, purity pledges) by the time of their next annual convention. In 1994 True Love Waits held a rally in Washington D.C with 25,000 youth and displayed 210,000 commitment cards on the National Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
Was purity culture effective in reducing pre-marital sex? After the launch of the True Love Waits Movement, there was a significant decline between 1995 and 2002 in sexual activity for girls ages 15 to 17 and boys ages 15 to 18. A study published in 2009 found that the sexual behaviour of teenagers who had taken a purity pledge does not differ from that of closely matched non-pledgers. (Five years after the pledge, 82 percent of pledgers denied having ever pledged). Another study found the sexually transmitted diseases (STD) infection rate of those who had taken the pledge also did not differ from non-pledgers.
Purity Culture is as a result of Ignorance and Lack of Sex Education among Christians.
When the conversation on Purity Culture was first opened on twitter, I had no idea how hard hitting it was for many Christians. A few different women came on twitter and talked about their experiences with Purity Culture. With so much hurt and baggage that these ladies had to face through purity culture, I had to blog about it. But, if you would like to read up on the conversation, here are some tweets on Purity Culture.
Growing up, I’ve always question why losing virginity before marriage is an abomination? Why is it that when girls lose their virginity, they bring shame to the family or they are not fit to get married or in some cultures, they get punished. Why? Most Nigerian movies I have watched, girls/women that lose their virginity before marriage always have miscarriage or lots of problems in marriage, or they get disrespected or people tell them to be ashamed of their body. Why?
Dangers of Purity Culture:
•Purity Culture teaches shame and Guilt. It teaches girls to be ashamed of their body and ashamed of their desires. Some girls/women carry the shame into their marriage and it cripples the ability to accept themselves as a whole, normal, sexual person. What I don’t understand is how people expect women who finally have sex after they get married to just shake off this feeling of shame and guilt they have associated with sex because of what they were taught. The problem with Purity Culture is that it has been used as a form of control to instill guilt and shame into young adults. Many women have been told that the way a man looks at them dictates whether they are worthy or not. “Put more clothes on”, “Cover up your shoulders”,”If you wear leggings, have a dress over it”, “If a man lusts after you, then you probably looked or dressed a certain way to entice him” etc. These are just some of things women are told about their identity. When we tell women that they are in full control of how a man looks at them, we aren’t allowing women to have full control over their bodies. By placing women on these pedestals, it places the onus on women to cover up and ensure that they are not temptations for man, forgetting that rapists are not dissuaded by the physical appearance.
•Purity Culture is the root cause of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): FGM involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women.
•Purity Culture teaches girls/women to think negatively about sex. The taboo aspect of sex does not suddenly dissipate once a girl/woman is married. Women/girls have to learn to see sex as a beautiful, positive act rather than a sinful, raunchy one. Purity Culture is also set up in such a way that encourages women to avoid taking charge of their sex life.
•Purity Culture teaches girls that their worth is tied to their virginity. It is highly important that girls remain pure until marriage so they offer themselves as an untarnished gift to their husband.
•Purity Culture teaches girls that beliefs about sexual intercourse were some of the most important dogmas of the Christian life. It seemed like biblical commands to help the poor and provide for widows and orphans were never taken as seriously as the command to remain sexually pure. If I didn’t act on the former, that was okay but I had better wait until marriage to have sex.
•Purity Culture is dangerous to the health and wellbeing of women!
•Purity Culture makes marriage an achievement. Purity Culture has made women to feel ashamed and guilty leaving an abusive relationship.
•Purity Culture leads to Rape, Sexual Assault. Most teenage girls do not know what rape is, what sexual assault is and what consent is or what it is not. Some girls get affected throughout their life because of purity culture. Purity Culture is using “defile” to describe rape and saying Dinah was defiled, instead of saying Shechem raped her. It paints women that deviate from this as whores who need to be shamed and punished, hence when a woman is raped and she is vocal about her sex life, it is brushed off because she asked for it by taking charge of her sex life. This is how purity culture normalizes and trivializes sexual assault.
•It does not define consent: Women who have been raised religiously are taught in some way by socializing influences, that they do not exist for themselves. They are to keep themselves holy and covered up and to wait patiently in their fathers’ houses until a man approaches for marriage. It is in all the biblical stories and anecdotes describing model women of faith and religious principles. This is problematic because not only would the woman lack individuality, there would be nothing that says that she can say no to her husband. In Nigeria currently,the law does not recognize marital rape as rape. So even when it feels like rape, when she knows that it is rape, when there is physical evidence of rape, she says nothing because she has been conditioned to think that the man has only taken what was his in the first place.
•Good girl/Bad Girl Binary: Purity Culture divides women into two groups: the good girls and the bad girls and pray to God you don’t fall into the latter group. When a girl who is seen as a bad girl is abused sexually or physically, people see it as a punishment for her behavior.
We can prevent the younger generation from experiencing the damaging effects of purity culture through the following ways:
•Stop using modesty messages to shame women to let men off the hook. Women are not responsible for men’s actions. Men are not mindless bags of hormones and they should be able to control themselves.
•Teach girls that their body belongs to them alone and not their father or men or the church. Teach girls that they are not responsible for the sexual purity of men. Teach girls to love and embrace their bodies instead of seeing it as a weapon the devil uses to lure men. Talk to them about the clarity that comes with abstinence,tell them abstinence is a choice they can make without the pressure of the church.
•Learn to accept girls/women the way they are: Stop slut shaming and body shaming women/girls!!!
Lizzo is an America singer, rapper, songwriter and flutist. Born: 27 April, 1988. She moved to Houston, Texas, where she began performing, before moving to Minneapolis, where she began her recording career. It is very sad that Lizzo has been body shamed in several occasions.
•Approach identity in a holistic way. Teenage girls are figuring out who they are in the midst of a confusing world. Don’t focus too much on whether or not they are virgins. Instead, encourage girls to strengthen their faith in God, to be spiritually,mentally, socially, emotionally and physically healthy. Teach girls about the way Jesus loved the outcasts and Gentiles (John 4:27,Luke 24:1-11,Mark 1:40-45) and how he got angry when the temple was warped into a place of economic gain (Matthew 21:12). Teach them how Jesus forgave people, experienced rejection and held women and men accountable for their actions. Encourage girls to live the kind of life Jesus did without overemphasizing virginity.
•Do not make the topic of sex, a taboo or sinful. Assure our youth that sexuality is a normal aspect of the human experience and it is a beautiful thing that best occurs in the context of a loving and committed marriage. Talk about the vulnerability and intimacy of sex as a reason to wait for marriage, not damaged goods or gift of Virginity. The gift is not virginity. The gift is sex. The trusting and loving act of sex is a gift we give to someone we have committed our lives to. We want to be discerning about who we share that act with.
•Show mercy to those who have had sexual experiences before marriage. A spirit of understanding and grace is much more effective than a spirit of judgment and hatred.
•Educate yourself and your children on sex and sexuality now. Learn and teach consent, what it is and what it is not. Sexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is something to be embraced and understood. Education is everything. Teach girls good and quality sex education.
•Question authority, good authorities will welcome accountability.
•Be quick to believe survivors of rape and report abusers.
The irony is that purity culture is anything but pure. It is woven with oppression and lies. It is yet another weapon of patriarchy to control and marginalize women. I believe that the church will continue to breed shame, sexual dysfunction and pain until purity culture is rejected and replaced with a new ideology rooted in Christ, one that celebrates the bodies God gave women and men and delights in the beautiful gift of mutual and committed sexual intimacy and sexuality.
It is my hope that Christians can create a positive paradigm of sexuality for the next generation.