Growing up, I was always surrounded by toxic purity culture. I vividly remember reading parts of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris at my Christian school’s small group after chapel. Things like kissing, holding hands or going on dates alone were deeply looked down on in the book. It’s funny our small group leader at the time, never mentioned that the author went public about how much he deeply regretted publishing that book and is now vocal about how purity culture when focused on in an unhealthy way, is harmful.
Purity is an important value for many people coming from different backgrounds. In my experience as a Christian, I believe how sex and purity are discussed, needs to change in the church and it needs to change now. No more used piece of chewing gum analogies when referring to women who’ve had sex (because yes, the analogy is only used against women), no one’s a used piece of chewing gum here. If the church truly wants to share the importance of their purity teachings, it should allow for real and genuine conversations about how to set healthy boundaries rather than finding the whole topic taboo. It should discuss how the root of actual purity teachings are based on guarding one’s heart and avoiding possible heartache, rather than using fear and shame tactics.
Both toxic purity culture and toxic hookup culture create an unhealthy cycle of women basing their worth on sex. And both cultures can affect anyone of any gender, but there needs to be some serious transparency and acknowledging the double standards for men and women when it comes to sex. It is young girls, as young as elementary school, who are asked to write letters promising their virginity to their future husbands. It is also young girls who are given a purity ring and have a purity ball, because that’s what their worth has come down to. And in college, it is women who are expected to remain pure, but at the same time fulfill men’s sexual expectations. How does that work?
The conversation of healing from toxic purity culture is an uncomfortable one. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. It holds leaders and members of the church who have taught women these damaging notions, accountable, and people don’t like accountability. It also shocks victims, because deep down, they truly want to believe that their leaders and families are right. On the other hand, it’s also an uncomfortable conversation for those who take part in hookup culture, especially in high school and college. And remember this isn’t the shaming and The Handmaid’s Tale scene you think it is, of pointing the finger at women. It’s about acknowledging the reality of hookup culture and how many need to heal from that as well. Society feeds women lies of how their purity determines their worth, and it also feeds them lies that their sexualization is empowering, even if that’s not what they are comfortable with. What do I mean by that? So many women break their physical and intimate boundaries to please the hookup culture they are surrounded by. This often leads to coercion, as well as non-consensual sex.
How do you unlearn all the attitudes that have been forced upon you, and start to set those necessary boundaries? There are some main steps. Heal from negative experiences and reject shame. Many people can relate to feeling shame, disgust and regret from past sexual experiences. I believe it’s important to not allow any of these feelings to tie us down and prevent us from now establishing boundaries to make us more comfortable and actually heal. Many within these two different cultures have experienced sexual coercion and sexual assault. Recognize that, that is NOT your fault. You are worthy and deserving of healthy intimacy. To heal, you need to take things at your own pace and only do things that you are comfortable with. Another important step is to: Determine those boundaries and communicate. Defining what you enjoy or don’t enjoy is important. You might find it uncomfortable to be vocal with your partner, but see it as an important step to fully enjoy intimate moments. Always be honest and transparent.