Let's Talk About Purity Culture

Purity culture can have a range of definitions depending on the context, but for the purpose of this article it is the belief that women should be submissive to men, shouldn't have sexual desires, should refrain from premarital sex, and basically teaches girls from a young age that their virginity is the only thing of worth about them and that without it they're worthless.

As women, it seems like we can never win. From an early age, I became aware of the sheer amount of judgment and pressure placed upon women to adhere to the patriarchal ideologies that are perpetuated by society’s continuously toxic behaviours.

I appreciate gynecologist Mama Dr. Jones’ criticism of the words virgin and virginity: “I don’t like the idea that you’re losing your virginity, like you’re not losing anything, right, this is an experience...I’ve heard Brenda from God is Great talk about it like that and say it should be sexual debut, then you’re not losing something, you’re gaining an experience. Let’s rephrase that: we’re not using virginity anymore, we’re using sexual debut."

I've witnessed firsthand how harmful it can be to a woman's sense of self-worth to feel as if they've lost something and feel as if their image has been tainted. This is a toxic cycle and those who have started to speak up about it are bringing attention to an ever-present problem.

During high school, it was always a huge discussion topic. In hindsight, none of the comments anyone made regarding either their own or someone else’s sex life were healthy and it created an extremely toxic environment. Girls who had an active sex life were made to feel dirty and less than. I clearly remember someone talking about a hook-up between two students, watching the guy high-fived by his buddies, and a few days later hearing that girl’s name slandered and talked about. Although it seems like something you might only see on TV, it was unfortunately a reality during high school, or at least the school I attended.

One of my best friends only recently started using tampons because she said her mom and many others from her culture believe that using a tampon is equivalent to losing your virginity, which was viewed as one of the worst things that could happen to a young woman. My friend often talked about the judgment that is so frequently placed on women, when there is little to none directed towards men. Asian woman looking at reflection Photo by Jessica Ticozzelli from Pexels

The media always exacerbates these issues as well, with many TV shows and movies portraying the teenage girl who is made to believe sex is a mistake, and who is always punished if she willingly has sex. Sometimes their feelings of shame, perpetuated by the years of "sex is bad" commentary from their parents, overwhelm them and they are never able to enjoy sex without something bad happening. It seems to be almost a tradition in the world of film to portray teenage girls feeling an unbearable amount of shame after having sex with someone else.

After paying closer attention to the vocal opinions of several other girls from high school, I learned how truly judgmental they were/are of others, especially of other women. Sometimes they would go out of their way to let everyone know they have never been sexually active and indirectly shame those who were. Is that the way a friend would act? No. Since then, I realized how incredibly fed up and drained I feel just by being in the same room as them. I know they’ve always felt a great deal of pressure to live by these patriarchal parametres, and the way I’ve seen them lash out, judge, and openly shame other women is incredibly sad.

Double-standards that women are held to across the world are inhumane and honestly ridiculous. As Kacey Musgraves said in her new song Follow your Arrow,  “…if you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore; if you don’t save yourself for marriage you’re a whore-able person; If you won’t have a drink then you’re a prude, but they’ll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one” …while I don’t typically listen to country music, I do think that the lyrics of this song contain a great message for listeners. The world is full of judgmental people and you should do whatever makes you happy. While I understand and respect the significance of marriage in many religions, I absolutely cannot tolerate the shaming of other women, especially over something that is none of anyone’s business but their own. Maybe they want to try it before they buy it and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Although we’d like to think we’re progressing as a society and becoming increasingly more inclusive, until people start recognizing that you can’t treat women who have had sexual experiences like a used jacket, it will be difficult to make any progress—there is still so much work to be done.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people! Wow, ground-breaking.