First let’s talk about what I mean by purity culture. The big highlights include, but are not limited to: not having sex outside of marriage, behavioral expectation, how one is expected to dress based on cis-gender role and how our innate thoughts or desires are sinful.
The term was coined and heavily used during the ’90s evangelical moment to encourage abstinence. This “culture” was encouraged with its tantalizing slogan, “true love waits,” motivating others to abstain from sinful desires, while also hopefully limiting the amount of teen pregnancies and slowing the spread of STIs.
While it may have happened a little over 20 years ago, the slogans could have had potential influences in our parents’ ideologies. This should be considered, as these familial beliefs would have affected the youth and young adults of today.
We must also recognize that the idea behind purity culture has not disappeared completely. Many religions still encourage and teach it during their studies. While it might not be as outspoken as it was in the past, it still lingers in the shadows.
If I could pinpoint a specific reason in my religious journey that pushed me further from the Catholic institution, purity culture is to blame. The topic became more applicable as I grew into my feminine body and with it, my shame.
Through numerous conversations with family members and church groups, I discovered that my worth and closeness to the divine would be affected by my sexuality and physical expression.
When it came to forming my self identity, it wasn't necessarily something I chose. It was more of a requirement and a role I have to fulfill as expressed by the church. The script went a little like this: Protect your virginity and don’t cause the men in your life to stumble. This ideology being placed during such formative years made it difficult for me to break away from as an adult.
To this day, I continue to struggle with changing my perception regarding purity and what it means to “respect my temple.” I question if my worth is summed up to how many people I’ve slept with, and if I will ever release those beliefs from having so much power over me. How can we move away from this toxic mindset and move towards a more progressive future when it comes to sexuality?
In a recent article by The Guardian, they covered how the separation from purity culture is essential for the safety of our youth. Creating a culture of fear and punishment makes it easy to associate sexual encounters with pain and suffering.
They emphasized that increasing education on the difference between consensual versus non-consensual experiences would make a difference in the amounts of uncomfortable encounters. It may seem insignificant, but it could be impactful in helping adolescents and young adults gain more control over their autonomy and decisions.
This idea was also brought to light in The Revealer, where they talked with individuals born in the ’90s about how they were affected most. The population from the ’90s expressed concerns and feelings related to their lack of bodily autonomy, and this shows how the ideologies can damage one’s relationship with not just the idea of sex, but what they have control over when it comes to their bodies. This can serve as an example to avoid causing the same damage to a new generation.
From personal experience and through observation, purity culture is oppressive due to its ability to condition individuals during their formative years. While it may not be blatantly spelled out, there is an underlying tone of shame and even blame towards women. It may be targeted towards both genders, which in itself is limiting, but it is heavily pushed on girls.
A disturbing example of this is being told that if we were to have been sexually assaulted, we have to ask ourselves, ‘well how did I contribute to it?’ As if how we dressed or carried ourselves called for and enticed the attacker, which relieves them and turns the fault to oneself.
We are living in a new age where these ideologies are outdated and inherently wrong as there are no laws related to what we choose to explore sexually. In fact, limiting people on the ability to learn about contraceptives in the effort to emphasize abstinence can result in a lack of women’s health literacy. Which contradicts the intent behind purity culture.
Looking back, these rules relating to purity were created by the patriarchy and men. Who I might add, do not take as much accountability for their actions as the blame they place on the woman’s body for enticing the lustful feelings.
A few weeks ago I came across a video discussing abstinence and using analogies such as the lock and key, all of which I find extremely disturbing, especially since this is targeted towards adolescents.
More on this can be found in an article by CBS News where they illustrate the different metaphors that are used to explain sex to children. These phrases encourage abstinence which can have long term effects by damaging one’s perception of their worth and value as a person.
There is a strain that begins to form with one perception on what it means to have multiple partners, questioning if worth and respectability comes from that insignificant number. Through self reflection and research I’ve come to the conclusion that we are not defined by our physical body and it does not reflect someone's sanctity or value.
Alexly Campos-Martinez is a photographer at The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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