How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Dinah” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

I’m going to be honest—growing up in the Christian homeschooling world is hard.

People in the community that I grew up in were picture perfect families, with all their perfect children all in a perfect row, making perfect grades, milling their own wheat and making their own bread.  They were highly esteemed Christians who (of course) have a home church and serve their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These people sound like they’d be lovely to be around, however, that was not the vibe I got at all. There is a heavy feeling that comes with being around those families—judgment:

You don’t mill your own wheat? Shame on you! Don’t you know store bought bread has chemicals? You don’t pastor your own church? Shame on you! Don’t you know about all the horrible mistakes large churches make? You don’t use the same curriculum as me? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you’re going to be dumb? 

Every homeschooler I talk to tends to make me feel self conscious and guilty for not being the same as them. But there’s one thing that I can not stand. You don’t have a purity ring? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you are dirty if you even think of having sex or kissing before your wedding day?!

You. Are. Dirty.

This is the message I got every single time I listened to anyone who spoke on purity. That’s what I was being told every time I went to a “purity seminar” or read a book on purity. People were going around telling girls that “God doesn’t want you having sex before you’re married. It’s a horrible sin, and if you do it, you won’t be pure anymore. You won’t have a gift to give your husband on your wedding. You’ll be used goods.”

I didn’t want people to think I was dirty—so that’s why I didn’t speak about my sexual abuse for 7 years after it stopped.

I didn’t tell anyone. I put on a façade. I am a quick learner, and always have been. I learned all the answers. I knew all the Christian responses to many situations, I knew what purity was and what was required of girls who wore a purity ring. So that’s what I fed anyone who wanted to talk. I put on this mask. I pretended that I had never had a sexual encounter, that I was oblivious to sexual desires, that I would never kiss a boy until my wedding day. Every time I lied, or just fed people answers, I was digging a deeper, and deeper hole for myself. That hole is what became a dark depression.

Every girl struggles during puberty. It’s exciting, but often times it’s hard to accept your new curves and all the changes that are taking place. You notice that boys look at you differently. You hear about purity, and how you should dress modestly so that men and boys don’t think about you in a sexual way. That’s what made puberty a living hell for me—a living hell that I could tell no one about.

“You must dress modestly so boys don’t think sexual things about you” translated to “Your new body is going to attract more men and boys, and if you mess up or dress wrong they’re just waiting to rape you.” There’s no way in hell that I wanted to attract anyone. I didn’t want these curves. I didn’t want to look like a woman. I didn’t want to enter this world of boys and sex and marriage because of what I had experienced for 5 years. When I was 4 years old a family member molested me and sexually abused me– forcing me to do things, and forcing himself on me. This went on until I was 9 years old.

By the time the abuse had ended, I knew much more than any 9 year old should know about sex. I knew so much, but I also knew that if I told anyone, I’d be in a lot of trouble. My abuser made me believe that what he was doing was okay, but if I told anyone he would hurt me. Because I was only 4, he was able to scare me so badly that I didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. I listened to him and kept quiet.

Well, when puberty hit me when I was 11, I was introduced to the concept of purity. This scared me because I knew that I had already had sex, and already kissed, and already did everything that I was being told not to do. That’s when the depression set in. I was so depressed that I became suicidal, started cutting and started struggling with an eating disorder. I didn’t want to be attractive. I didn’t want attention from boys. I was afraid that my abuse was going to happen all over again. I didn’t want anyone to find out about my abuse.  I just wanted to get away from this guilt and shame. This feeling that I was used goods, and that I’d never find a man who will love me.  I wanted to die because that was the only way to escape the pain.

Never ever make purity such a priority that it makes a girl want to commit suicide.

Looking back, I know that if someone had said that sex is a wonderful thing that is supposed to be enjoyed, I would have told someone about my sexual abuse a lot sooner. If I knew that sex was good, I would have known that what was happening to me was wrong. It was not good, it was not enjoyable. Because people were telling me that sex wasn’t good, that I would be dirty if I had sex, I didn’t tell anyone because I was full of shame. I didn’t want to be the girl with a scarlet letter. I didn’t want to be dirty. So I didn’t tell.

I’m still coming to terms with my abuse. I still struggle. But I no longer hold myself to the standard of purity. I’m not going to wear a purity ring, because that doesn’t mean anything to me. I am going to obey my heavenly Father and I’m going to honor Him with my body. That’s really all that matters.

I want people in Christian homeschool circles to talk about sex in a positive way. I want parents telling their kids that sex is amazing and enjoyable, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I want people to stop shaming girl’s bodies, or boy’s sexual desires. I want people to be careful about what they talk about when they talk about purity. Talk about sex in a way that is positive, because if someone is being abused they’ll know that something is wrong with what is being done to them! Never ever tell someone that they’re dirty. Never encourage the shame that is already abundant.

I’m not “pure” by society’s standards, but I’m pure by God’s standards. That’s all that matters.

12 comments

  • Great article. I am sorry for what you went through. May healing come to you.

  • The churches’ obsession with sex is not what Christ modeled. It is perverse. Their obsession with purity is dirty.

    • Umm even a quick reading of the Bible shows that your statement is false. It is good to be pure. It is not good to be taught that it is ok for someone to hurt you and you are damaged goods if you are sexually hurt or mess up.

      It is not the grace of God shining through then. Children and all peopel should be taught how to stand up for themselves and what is OK and what is not ok.

      Yet, that doesn’t mean that Jesus and the Bible has nothing to say about staying pure.

  • I am so sorry you experienced abuse when you were 4. I am also sorry that no one told you that it wasn’t your fault, that you aren’t responsible for what happened, and that you aren’t “damaged goods” (that’s what my generation used to call it) or dirty. I homeschooled my children in the ’80s & 90’s and watched the legalism creep into a movement that was once fun and enjoyable. No where in your post did someone teach you about the grace of God. This doesn’t surprise me as grace based teaching and parenting is often viewed as license among the legalism set. I could go on, but my prayer for you is to learn that you are completely accepted in Christ, that you are viewed by Him as without sin RIGHT NOW, and that you are not at fault for someone else’ sin.

  • I am so sorry. i think of a little boy i thought was so cute when i was an older girl at church – and how i found out later that his dad had abused him. I wish wish wish somehow someone could have said something at any point in time that would have showed him the truth and gotten him free (and his dad punished…). I hate that this happens, ever, to a child.

  • I’m so, so sorry that this happened to you. As I read though, your description of female shaming about modesty and clothing choice bears a striking resemblance to the Muslim tradition of making women wear burqas so as not to entice men. Fundamentalism is strikingly similar regardless of the religion. I always thought that this was entirely weird practice. So what is the newly married couple supposed to think, “Oh, now we’re dirty and soiled, but it’s ok, because we married first.” And as you bravely illustrated, this also cruelly and callously stigmatizes sexual abuse victims who got absolutely no say in their purity “status.” Heartbreaking to say the least. I’m sure the pain of something like this never completely goes away, but I do hope that you find peace and strength to move beyond it. It sounds like you are well on your way.

  • Once again, jail these parents that push this stuff on their children, get these children into an environment that is normal and talk to them. Homeschooling is a horrendous abomination and should be outlawed.

    • I am not an atheist. But this does anger me. I completely agree with you!

    • Don’t make the mistake of thinking only fundies homeschool! My parents (left-wing Christians) homeschooled me for high school because I was being bullied and my education wasn’t meeting my needs as a gifted child. There is pretty much no resemblance between how I was homeschooled and what this post describes. I’d been sexually abused by foster siblings (from 1-5 years) and my parents not only put a stop to it as soon as they suspected it was a possibility, but also when I told them they got me counseling and encouraged me to be open about it. When I began to suspect I wasn’t straight, my parents were the first people I talked to. They helped me figure it out by telling me what sexual feelings are supposed to feel like (with me able to shut down the topic if I felt uncomfortable). It was with their help that I realized I have never actually felt any sexual feelings (I’m asexual). My parents always made it clear that they would love me no matter what, and long before I was in puberty I remember them taking me to gay rights events.
      If homeschooling hadn’t been an option, I might have committed suicide. The school experience was absolutely toxic to me. It did almost as much damage to me as the sexual abuse did. Homeschooling saved me from that. I relearnt how to feel safe and happy, spending hours just reading whatever interested me. The frequency of interactions that made me feel unsafe dropped from several times a day to only a couple in several years. No one was trying to trip me or calling me names or tricking me into humiliation.

      • i am glad that homeschooling was an option for you, and that your parents did it right. and i am glad it saved your life.

        no one is saying only fundamentalists homeschool. we are saying that homeschooling can be a dangerous tool in the hands of certain kinds of faiths and certain kinds of parents.

        regulating homeschooling will make it harder for these kinds of people to homeschool in order to abuse.

  • Like many of the others I was sorry that you were abused and wish that events had prevented you from suffering that type of thing in the first place. I hope it is very healing for you to communicate about it, if only to read and hear those who really do care about you – even if we do not care so much that you can live with us forever or we buy you everything…but we care much more than not at all. I really hope that you are able to let go of the shame you felt over having been a victim. Know that the problem was the fault of the perpetrator. Sexual expression really is meant to be wholesome, healthy, good and both emotionally and physically very pleasurable for both people. For many reasons from raising children and people being more emotional if they had sex with someone, you are right to mention that there is a lot of responsibility and that people need to be careful with sexuality to use it well rather than accidentally or intentionally harming others with it.

    Healing is possible. God is on your side in the matter. God would want the person who did that to you to not ever harm anyone else that way and regrets that you were harmed. You are still precious and can heal and can have a good life without hiding that someone did something bad to you. That really wasn’t your fault.

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