This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Deep Drinks Podcast where we had a panel of specialists talking about purity culture and the harm it can do. It was a lot of fun, you can check out the link for the full video. In this week’s blog I just want to touch on a few things that maybe didn’t get a lot of time, so some of this might seem out of context if you didn’t have time to watch the panel. At the end of the blog I’ll also include links to the various resources that I highlighted during the stream.
So, one thing that I think was implied, but maybe not said outright, is that using fear as a motivator is not a helpful way to have informed discussions about sex. Fear of getting pregnant, or getting an STI, or even fear of hell, being shunned or judged, all of these contribute to the culture of shame around our bodies and normal, healthy sexuality. Shame also plays a heavy role in the culture of abuse in organized religion. Fear and shame around sex means victims deal with a lot more shame that gets in the way of them speaking up and getting the help they need. Fear does work to motivate humans, but it limits our natural critical thinking skills and is more likely to short circuit into a fight-flight-freeze trauma response than allow for healthy, informed decision making.
Purity culture is all based on patriarchy. This definitely was mentioned, but I just want to highlight that virginity isn’t a possession. No one owns it, no one claims it, it should be a non-issue. Virginity taking on any special importance goes way back to the days of women as property, and in order to value a woman as property virginity was highlighted as increased value. It’s definitely a harmful idea for females, as there is no clear parallel to male virginity, and our culture has very mixed messaging for girls who sleep around are judged harshly but guys who sleep around get to high five their bros. Patriarchy, plain and simple. Also, bad sex ed! Bleeding on the wedding night doesn’t actually correlate to virginity, and the idea that an “intact” hymen is somehow proof of virginity is a basic misunderstanding of human biology and what the hymen does and does not do (it doesn’t break, and it isn’t some virginity keeping seal). So, yeah, purity culture’s obsession with virginity is just misogyny.
Sex should be pleasurable. There are several issues with biology for both (either) men or women that can cause pain, these are concerns to talk about with a doctor, who may refer on to a sex therapist depending on the issue. Your body is wired for sex to be pleasurable, and pleasure can and should be a big part of a healthy sex life. Some people are wired to pursue that pleasure, some are still wired for that pleasure but don’t feel much desire to pursue it. Pleasure is a part of sex, for all partners, and even if sex is happening specifically with the goal of conception, pleasure can and should still be a part of sex. If something hurts, stop and do something else. If sex consistently is causing pain, talk to a doctor. Some people take time to learn about what gives them pleasure, and masturbation is a natural, healthy way for many people to connect with their own sexual response cycle. Knowing what pleasure looks and feels like for you personally is important for communicating to partner’s about what they can do that is pleasurable. Having an orgasm is good for your body and brain, it has a bunch of health benefits and is a great stress reliever, so practice pleasurable sex!
Here’s the awesome resources I shouted out near the end of the panel:
Recovering From Religion Resources Page
Here’s a great YouTube channel covering a lot of sex ed topics:
And here are some self-compassion links because they’re awesome and if you grew up in purity culture there’s room for some more self-compassion in your life: