Purity Culture.

Megan Carter   -  

This blog is written for everyone who has grown up in the purity culture movement. How is your raging anxiety, negative self-image, overthinking/questioning everything, and fear of breaking all the rules? How are we doing? Yes, I said we because I just described myself and I may have described you too. If I didn’t describe you, stick around; you might learn something. 

I have talked about this some in my past blogs, but as I was having a conversation with a friend this past week it made me realize that I am not the only one fighting this mental battle. I want to say up front that I believe purity in the correct context is something that should be desired, especially if you are a Christ-follower. But purity culture that had a choke hold on youth groups everywhere in the ’90s got it wrong. It focused only on the body and sex, rather than focusing on Christ. 

Let me set the scene for you. The year is 2002, you are wearing jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt and a “safety” tank underneath. If you are not familiar with what a safety tank is, what you need to know is it played heavily into the modesty piece. And it should also be noted that other women and I still struggle mentally with picking outfits out every day. Back to the scene. This night you are sitting in youth group, unsuspecting that this will be the night, once again that you will have “the talk”. Nope, it’s not the birds and the bees, close though. This is the night in youth groups everywhere where they split the girls and the guys to talk about purity. From what I heard the guys had a brief overview of how you should abstain from sex and then goofed off the rest of the night but the girls, the girls got destroyed. These talks were usually filled with words of shame, guilt, and condemnation. 

During your adolescences you are trying to learn who you are. Then top that off with leaders in your youth group telling you that you as a female have the weight of whether or not the guys in your youth group fall into sin by the way you dress. That can start to shape your thinking and your mental health. The pressure is on you as a girl because “boys will be boys and they can’t control their thoughts and hormones”. 

The example used was: You see this piece of bubble gum? You are like this gum. Having sex is like being chewed. Even worse if you have multiple partners, your piece of gum becomes devoid of flavor and then has no worth. Then the leader would ask, who would want an old piece of gum?

Y’all I wish I was joking, but that is only one of the many examples they used. They also used a rose that the petals fell off, spitting in a cup, and tape losing its stickiness. Even with the best intentions each one of these visual examples twisted the true meaning of purity. The definition of purity is, “freedom from adulteration or contamination.” I’ve also read this definition, “purity helps with development of a conscience, self-control, and respect for themselves and others” 

This culture that was built around purity became more than a subject to talk about, the way I see it, it became an idol in the church. An idol is anything you put above God. Purity culture told us that God was mad at us because we screwed up and sinned. Instead of going to God and asking him to help us dig deeper and find the root of the issue, we were told to go to accountability partners and share all the details with them. I’m not hating on having accountability but when our first move is to go to someone else rather than God, we miss the mark. It made women feel responsible for the sexual purity of men, made us feel like we could never be forgiven by God or even ourselves because we were told it was something we couldn’t come back from, we had fear of rejection by God, fear of making mistakes, and we felt like damaged goods. We were lonely, hurting, and confused. Some even experienced traumatic events and a lot of us were trying to find ways to numb those feelings. Purity culture was absent of the voice of God. 

This created an environment of sin or don’t sin, there was no middle ground. Here’s the thing humans, we live in the middle ground without God and without grace. Grace is what this culture missed the mark on. It was clear that you can’t have grace or receive grace when you fail. That sin, typically a sexual sin, needs to be fixed first. And there’s the problem, sin will never be “fixed” until you fix the heart. We can’t do that on our own. Only God can change our hearts. We need to go to God first and have a real conversation about what’s going on beneath the surface. Running into the father’s arms saying, “God, I’m a mess without you, I can’t stop this sin. I can’t stop this battle in my mind.” When you run to him like this, he is not here to condemn you. He wants to show you a true father’s love and extend grace. In this, you can find breakthroughs, a solid foundation & safety. 

Going to God first can change everything because he is the only one that can change your heart. Now that doesn’t mean you don’t have any work to do, you do. But God has to be first and then the help of counselors and accountability can follow after. There is so much more to unpack about purity culture and I will in later blogs but I need you to hear something and maybe if I described your personal experience earlier you’ve never heard this before. 

You can be redeemed. No matter your situation, no matter your past, no matter your sins. If you come to your Heavenly Father, he is there to greet you with open arms. 

If you need someone to talk to I am always available, e-mail me at megan@churchanywhere.us 

Talk to you soon!