Even after faith transition or leaving a harmful religious community, you may find your life and relationships ruled by damaging teachings and belief systems that no longer fit. Why is the shame of Purity Culture, in particular, so hard to leave behind?
In order to unpack this question, let’s start with a definition of Purity Culture.
Purity Culture refers to a broad range of teachings from various religious and social traditions that promise fulfillment and safety through a narrow definition of acceptable sexual behavior: abstinence from sexual intercourse until and only in the context of heterosexual marriage.
There is a never-ending list of rules associated with Purity Culture, from modesty rules and dress codes for girls, to pledges of saving your “first kiss” and “virginity,” to warnings to “guard you heart” and notions that dating is “practice for divorce.” If you grew up in Purity Culture, you probably have unique stories of your specific community’s metaphors for being sexually “broken,” “unvirtuous,” or “impure.” You may have been ostracized for your own sexual experiences or sexual identity, or had your sense of sexuality “shut down” by shame and fear of disobeying God. You may have not disclosed or gotten support for sexual abuse because of the mistaken belief that it was somehow “your own fault.” Purity Culture relies on restrictive, patriarchal, homophobic rules rather than an ethical, consent-based, sex-positive, inclusive view of human sexuality.
The impacts of Purity Culture can include: extremes of shame and guilt, anxiety around sex, judgmental attitudes, difficulties with relationships, challenges with sexual functioning, avoidance of intimacy, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, body image concerns, feeling “out of control” about sexual behaviors, trauma responses to triggers around sex, and disconnected from one’s own body or pleasure. It can seem overwhelming to face Purity Culture on your own, but there is good news! Just as you were taught to fear your sexual identity and experiences, you can also learn to embrace your body and sexual self in healthy, holistic, ethical ways.
Purity Culture can be challenging to overcome because these messages were often some of the first things we learned about sex and relationships, especially from social contexts we trusted most: family, religious communities, school, and friends. Healing takes time, effort, and a supportive community.
Purity Culture attempted to separate our sense of selves and our choices about who and when we experience our bodies and intimacy, but we can return to a sense of enjoyment in our bodies and agency in safe, healthy relationships.
Are you ready to heal from Purity Culture? Join our 6-week, Purity Culture Recovery virtual group, led by Emily Maynard, MA, AMFT, starting February 1, 2022!
Outcomes for the group include:
1. Understanding the emotional and relational impacts of Purity Culture.
2. Processing your unique experiences with Purity Culture in a supportive group setting.
3. Learn how to get more of what you want from dating and relationships.
4. Connect with your body in ways that feel good and push aside shame.
5. Develop healthy, ethical boundaries for your sexual experiences.