Lies Purity Culture Taught Me: Sam’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: All names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

My lightbulb moment occurred in my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old when I woke up half naked in my debate partner’s twin-sized bed with an astounding lack of regret. Using the word whirlwind to describe a romance is probably clichéd, but it definitely captures those first few months of that spring semester. Despite telling him that I was a firm believer in “waiting until marriage” and that “I wasn’t one of those girls who found loopholes – no sex, of any variety,” and despite him saying he would respect that belief, within a few days we were cuddling on his couch, toeing the line to second base. A few weeks in, I had come to campus on a Saturday – in popular homeschool fashion, I lived at home for the first few years of college – to do some homework. I had begun texting back and forth with Mark*, and he told me to get home before snow hit. I blew it off and went back to finishing up my paper. When I got to the parking lot, it had iced so badly my car started skidding before it even made it to the road. I tried calling a few girlfriends, but they had all gone back home for the weekend. I anxiously texted Mark, and he politely offered his couch. We spent the weekend in his dorm, and I lied to my mother saying I was at one of the out-of-town-girlfriends’ apartments.

I did not sleep on the couch once that weekend.

We did not have sex that weekend. However, we came close enough that I should have been racked with guilt. I wasn’t though. I was only worried about what consequences would come from me sleeping with (literally) Mark.

In the following weeks, Mark treated me the same as he always had – with respect, kindness and that playful banter people get when they’ve hung out for a while. This is not to say that we pretended the previous weekend hadn’t happened; we continued to have impromptu sleepovers.

You see, when I say that my now-boyfriend treated me the same way that he always had, I mean that in that moment I realized that the purity teachings my mother had drilled into me were wrong.

Purity culture obsesses over keeping your virginity until marriage. I won’t delve into the religious aspects of it, because keeping yourself pure for God, if you so choose to, is not something I like to denounce. However, purity culture has a number of almost “secular” reasons to exist. One of these is that if you remain pure before marriage, you won’t experience pain and heartbreak. (Because apparently, you can only have your heart broken if you’ve had sex with a person.)

Another secular reason to stay pure is that men supposedly don’t respect women who put out. I remember reading countless comments from teenage boys on the Rebelution Modesty Survey that said something to the effect that they had more respect for the girls who were saving themselves, for the girls who were modest. That girls who dressed immodestly and behaved indecently disgusted them. This was even said to be true for boys who weren’t Christian. (Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper had a little anecdote in it about how these two guys had a goal to sleep with a different girl every night, and yet these two guys still wanted “a different kind of girl” to settle down with.) So in my head, this atheist man who I was sharing a bed with was supposed to see me as less. All he was doing though, was seeking more of my company, asking my opinion on things, and letting me decide whether or not to initiate physical contact between ourselves. In a few words – respecting me. I even tearfully asked him one afternoon if he thought I was damaged goods, for I’d read many articles that day condemning what I was doing. His response was somewhere along the lines of “what the hell are you talking about?”

It was then that I realized that perhaps the things that I had been taught were not all-encompassing truths that could explain the universe.

And true, while before I had gotten involved with Mark, I was slowly warming up to the idea that homeschool teachings weren’t entirely true. I still operated under the framework of conservative Christian homeschooling – when arguing with my parents about letting me do certain things, I still used Biblical evidence, I still used homeschool teachings to finagle what I wanted from them. I was reading articles online, trying to find someone saying that you could be Christian and engage in premarital sex without losing some part of yourself. Forcing myself to adhere to this framework made me intensely unhappy – which was ironic to me, because my parents told me that in the end, I’d be happier for following these beliefs. It was only when I had my lightbulb moment, half-naked in Mark’s bed that I let myself build a new worldview for myself that was not based on what my parents had drilled into my head. It was then that I was free, and able to think for myself and create a new framework in my head that led to true happiness.

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