Purity Culture and My Sexuality

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on April 17, 2015. 

“I know that it’s a secret,
And that I gotta keep it,
But I want the lights on
Yeah, I want the lights on
And I don’t want to run away anymore
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on
What would they say, what would they do?
Would it be trouble if they knew?” –Meiko

I had my heart broken twice before I realized I’d been in love. That might sound like an exaggeration or melodrama, but it’s actually possible thanks to the wonders of purity culture.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read books like Sarah Mally’s Before You Meet Prince Charming, Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, and Debi Pearl’s Preparing to be a Help Meet.

They kept me strong in my dedication to never think about sex, or to think about members of the opposite sex. I had my obsessions and celebrity crushes, but if the image of seeing someone naked ever entered my mind, I’d fight it out with quoting the Bible.

I knew I would only ever give my heart to one person – the man I would marry. He must show interest in me; women don’t initiate. The concept of mutual consent, mutual interest, was never introduced. If he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, it was a meaningless feeling, and feelings were worthless. I needed to control my very thoughts, so I could give my whole heart to my husband, along with my first kiss. Just toeing the line of saving sex for marriage was too low a standard for me.

Blame doesn’t fall on any one person for how I controlled my thoughts. It was a personal choice, something that was very important to me. The people around me reinforced the notion that I was doing the right thing. Some people were better at the game of self-thought-policing than I was, and they made me feel like I could never be good enough. Some people saw me as unapproachable because I was so sincere. Every failure looked like rebellion and felt like despair.

Surely I didn’t love my best friend when I started college. He didn’t love me, so I told myself to “guard my heart” and push away all emotions of attachment. At the same time, our late-night conversations kept me going through my darkest depression and most intense stress. I finally told him that I needed space to figure out why the sight of his name gave me such indecipherable pain.

It would take me months to unlearn what purity culture had taught me to do: conceal all desire, even from yourself.

So it was that I fell in love with a man, and didn’t realize what had happened until afterward. I just assumed I was straight because I was attracted to men. It never occurred to me that I might make the same mistake twice, equally blinded to my desires toward a girl.

It was similar – I had a crush on her, but didn’t know it. She once kissed another girl in front of me, and I desperately wanted to kiss her. Even that feeling was not enough to make me think I wasn’t totally straight. I figured I was just curious, having never been kissed. Giving gifts is something I rarely do and often feels like an obligatory chore, but I gave her thoughtful things that I knew she’d like.

When we had a fight that ended our friendship, I was devastated. Another friend asked if I’d been in love with her. I said no, of course I wasn’t.

A few months later I got an email, and was instantly interested – this person, who hadn’t revealed their gender or identity, matched me intellectually. I assumed the sender was male, and entertained thoughts of meeting, and we exchanged lengthy emails.

The person who wrote these intelligent, complex, and beautiful emails revealed that she was a girl, and I realized it made no difference to me.

I started asking my friends questions – you don’t see both the male and female body as equally attractive? I’d assumed that everyone appreciated the aesthetic differences between the genders.

In the world I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: straight, and broken. Nobody was born gay, the church and chapel services insisted. The idea of other identities on a spectrum was far outside our reality. The idea of romantic and sexual relationships other than marriage was blanketly labeled as “sin.”

Of course I’d think I was straight. If I could close off my feelings for men, I could certainly close off my feelings for women. It was only after I started to learn what attraction felt like, that I knew I liked girls. I always had liked girls. I just didn’t know that my experience was any different from anyone else’s, because we never talked about our feelings. We never defined our terms.

Humans are beautiful to me – whether they’re male, female, or non-binary.

You could call me sapiosexual, in that I love people for their intelligence, and my level of attraction depends on how smart and interesting the other person is. Many sapiosexuals, though, don’t find the human body sexually attractive, and I do. It’s also accurate to call me pansexual, because I’m open to dating non-binary or trans people, in addition to the binary genders. For me, the title I’ve chosen is bisexual.

I’m bisexual. There, I’ve come out, now you know.

4 comments

  • “Purity culture” and sexual satisfaction for someone who is not heterosexual are not mutually exclusive. I know from experience.
    It is easy to read your personal experience into a narrative that is both forming while people adopt it, the narrative of “oppressive patriarchy” and every other wicked thing this blog seems to uncover about some Christian subcultures, esp. homeschooling culture.
    But what you ought not to do is make something that doesn’t exist. The narrative this blog is forming–and this post is contributing to–is a narrative written to meet personal hurts. But, it’s not going to cut it.
    No matter how functional or beneficial certain “dogmas” or “beliefs” or practices might actually be, there will always be brokenness (I’m not talking about orientation here at all: I’m talking about sin) found. Homeschooling is an amazing thing, for example, but it is never a great thing if it is divorced from love and freedom. Nothing is.
    So much good fruit has been born from what this post seems to attack: purity culture. I do agree that even something good like purity or no sex before marriage can be turned into a horribly oppressive thing. Just like every other good thing under the sun.
    Is the thing wrong, or is the way it has been treated wrong?
    When the practical conclusions of truth, like not having sex outside of marriage, are used to conceal desire and not discipline it instead, then there is something for serious messed up. This is just the classical balance of asceticism and hedonism, which seems like an incompatible divide for everyone, no matter their experience.
    I think purity culture at its worst is when it never discusses the goodness of sex–or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there is the idolization of marriage. Either way, there is oppression; oppression of sin, though, and people interpreting the ramifications of truth for the truth itself.

  • Joseph, purity culture is a de facto excess and thereby undesireable. That is not to say that something good cannot come out of it. Something good can come out of a car accident too. Purity culture is part of an oppressive, crushing emotional choking and when you add homeschooling to the mix, I call it abusive. Children have a right to be exposed to something other than their parents’ excess and to not be trapped in a closed system, no matter how pretty you say it can be.

  • Pingback: 25 Sept. 2015 Religion and Atheism News | Evangelically Atheist

  • Yay! Another bi homeschool alumni! Congrats on coming out, good luck with the ladies and gentlemen in your life!

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