Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who shared that a Christian leader once asked him to imagine offering someone a pan of fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies. These brownies were perfectly fudgy, warm, and delicious, except for one thing: there’s a little bit of poop in them. Yes, you read that right—there is poop in them. You really can’t taste it, but it’s definitely there. That leader went on to tell my friend and others that not offering yourself, wholly and sexually pure, to your spouse on your wedding day was akin to offering him or her that pan of poop brownies. The message was clear: sex with a virgin was the best thing to give your future spouse. Anything else was poop brownies.
Many of us who were surrounded by “purity culture” while we were growing into the faith heard a variation of that story through I Kissed Dating Good-bye or purity pledge type of teachings. The conversation was about purity, but the focus was primarily on the sexual purity of cisgender women. Even though purity is supposed to be for everybody, the conversation was often geared toward women. Women bought into it the most, which is evident in the fact that we were the primary purity ring wearers and the ones who attended purity balls with our fathers.
Last week during the Slate Project's weekly Twitter discussion, #SlateSpeak, many of us shared the shame and pain purity culture has caused us and the ways many of us felt marginalized within it, either because we are people of color, or we belong to the LGBTQ community. Although it is never explicitly stated, purity teachings benefit those who are primarily white, petite, heterosexual women or white, traditionally masculine, extroverted, heterosexual men. Those of us who didn’t hit the genetic jackpot by meeting those standards are encouraged to pray and wait or ask God to heal our “deviancy”. In that culture many of us felt that “whiteness” was a part of purity—it’s not coincidental that purity and the color white often go together.
Our discussion participants noted that absent from purity culture was any discussion of consent and sexual abuse or assault. One SlateSpeaker observed that purity culture left “…sexual abuse victims to feel like they will never be pure in the sight of God. Damaged goods.” Similarly, those who did engage in sex outside of marriage were now “tainted,” which another person noted was “…very sad in a religion that supposedly promotes forgiveness/rebirth.” We were left feeling, “a lot of heartache, depression and confusion. A lot of self-hate,” not to mention “…shame and sexual dysfunction.” In essence, purity culture denied us the opportunity to be healthy sexual beings before marriage and prevented us from the truth that God loves and accepts us as we are. We missed a chance “…to accept all parts of ourselves, [to] be integrated, whole.”
For me, the best part of the discussion was talking about ways that we are healing and/or have healed from purity culture. Some have embraced grace and reclaimed the beauty of human sexuality by refusing to link worth and virginity together. Another SlateSpeaker said, “We see our bodies as…bridges to divine connection. Incarnation is about bodies.” And that holiness and wholeness is more than just bodies. We talked the fact that “we as voices in sacred spaces need to make room for honest conversations about sex.” Another person said that healing for her came in knowing, loving, and caring for her body. Knowing what brings her body pleasure and joy. We need to be “homes and hospitals to each other,” and if that is not enough, we need to seek out therapy to heal from these wounds. My own wounds from these harmful teachings left me with lingering feelings of shame and inadequacy, but they have begun to heal through the formation of a healthy Christian sexual ethic and through the affirmation I’ve received in supportive communities like #SlateSpeak.
Each week this beautiful online community reminds me of how deeply we need one another to find healing and wholeness. #SlateSpeak is always profound and vulnerable. Every Thursday evening at 9 PM EST we have church on-line in real time on Twitter. You can follow this progressive Christian tweet chat at #SlateSpeak; we have a new topic and moderator each week. Join us for this edgy and real church.