Becca Andrews on Mother Jones wrote her personal story of the damage the “purity culture” and how it made her rationalize away the sexual assault that had happened to her. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence, as over the past few years there
But there are some men who have been victimized by this. My story is one where because of what I was told about sex in my late
Then, a couple years later, I was lost in a college-age passion in a relationship with a different female, but things proceeded with consent this time. But afterward, the extreme guilt of “having crossed the line” and probably the unconscious response from the past lead me to react in such a sharp emotional reaction that I disconnected myself from her for a time period, causing her great pain along with myself. The whole time leading up to this, I remember struggling with “lust in my heart” that made me have great difficulty with the relationship itself. My sexuality was something to manage and to control to the point of its extinction;
The way the sexual purity culture caused me to respond to these events got me to the point that I was hyper-vigilant down the line of any signs of sexual attraction from another woman. If they had that look in their eye during a date or a time out with friends, if they made a comment or reaction that was suggestive of some mild innuendo, it would lead to a “distancing” or “get out” mentality.
The various ways that the “purity” culture had formed the way I responded to this events is complex, and I don’t intend to systematically explore the ins and outs of it of all the practices and instructions and the negative impacts. But instead, I want to highlight the basic problematic psychological dynamic that undergirds the purity culture, the problematic interpretation of Biblical passages and reconstruct how this could lead to my traumas.
Firstly, the best metaphor I can give for the purity culture is fencing off. Evangelicals concerns about purity were preoccupied, sometimes obsessed, with walling off anything and everything sex. Much as the traditions surrounding the Torah around Jesus time and afterward were built upon constructing a whole set of rules to prevent the possibility of breaking any commandment, evangelical culture had done the same but primarily for one thing: don’t have sex outside of marriage. Popular books like Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye essentially creating a set of fences to keep us from every cross into the dangerous zone of sexual impurity. Women were to never risk being an object of sexual attraction and men were to avoid their sexual lusts. Sex was taboo. It was at the point that during college Sunday School
Now, there was a good intention behind this: sexual activity is something that really is best kept for a marital covenant commitment. Not because sex outside of marriage makes us “dirty,” but firstly due to the procreative powers of sexuality but also the fact that if we decouple sex from that commitment, we are creating the grounds to sexually objectify persons. There
But, the psychological reality is that we are sexual creatures. Our sexuality does not have an on-off switch that we can flip whenever we need or want to. If you try to avoid what you are forced to experience, you don’t tend to handle those things well. The fear and aversion of avoidance prevent us from understanding the forces at play, thereby leaving ourselves unwitting victims to the directions these forces can have upon us. In other words, if we avoid our sexuality, we can not understand it; and if we do not understand it, we can not direct this impulse in appropriate ways. So, when sexual desire is on in a way we can’t control, we are left helpless to deal with it except in rather extreme ways, whether it is to be lost in the throes of lust despite the consequences (either in consensual or nonconsensual ways) or to avoid it all with great fervor. Rule-bound avoidance of sexuality only gives sexual desire more power over us. This echoes Paul’s sentiments in Romans 7 about how the commandment can lead us to sin despite our desire to do otherwise. Avoidance just doesn’t work when you are dealing with a powerful, pervasive force.
However, mild forms of avoidance would work if it is only selectively applied, but if avoidance is your primary style of coping with sexual desire, then it will become increasingly fruitless. As the methods of avoidance don’t work, instead of giving up avoidance, you just try harder to avoid, with more rules, more limitations, more efforts to control. Therefore, as an evangelical culture’s attempts to regulate our sexual behaviors was becoming increasingly powerless in a highly sexualizing culture, the response wasn’t to shift from avoidance to a more direct and honest style of dealing with sexual desire. It was to propound more and more steps and rules with greater passion and fervor, creating unrealistic expectations and false notions and leaving those instructed by it incapable of identifying and healthily participating in romantic relationships. Close relationships are hard enough; adding sex to the equation made it all the more unstable. Combine the sexual passions of youth with false “wisdom,” and you have the recipe for a powerful cocktail of confusion. In short, I would suggest that evangelical purity culture was ill-equipped to address the sweeping culture changes; there are many thoughts I have about this, but perhaps for another time.
In the midst of this, I remember the one passage that was
But here is the problem: that passage isn’t about sexual attraction to just anyone. It is firstly about adultery, which is about having sexual relationships with someone who is already married. What Jesus was talking about wasn’t any female, but was talking about the intentional gaze and focus on a woman who was already married with sexual intentions in mind. One could not argue one was acting righteously simply because you failed to actually engage in adultery in that was the intention within your heart. And, this wasn’t simply coveting a wife to be part of your own household; this was a sexual desire for the wife of another. In this context, Jesus words about cutting
This is a different way of seeing sexuality within the Scriptural witnesses. It isn’t that the feelings exist; it isn’t that we have desires. This view of sexuality encourages respecting of boundaries, including but not limited to the wisdom of a marital boundary for sexuality activity, for the sake of each other. It wouldn’t put burdens upon people to control everything about themselves, whether it be a female controlling her looks or a male controlling his thoughts, so that they might avoid the risk of doing something wrong, but a basic sense of respect for people.
But I wasn’t taught to blend sex with the notion of interpersonal respect by my church upbringing. So in my case, while I had a natural respect for other people (although, I had to grow and learn myself how to show this respect), I didn’t learn that respect was also something I should receive. So I didn’t understand what happened to me in my college years in the violation of my boundaries and then the hurt I brought upon another person and myself. I saw my own sexual nature as something to avoid, rather than something to learn how to direct in a relationship. I was taught that God was looking at me negatively for these feelings and struggles, rather than Jesus being sympathetic with the struggle.
So, I don’t go so far as to identify myself as “