Before my wife and I got married, I became a full-on feminist. The more I’ve learned about how evangelical purity culture damages girls, the more against it I’ve been. I’ve either shared or liked articles whose advice to men was more or less like this:
- Suck it up.
- Girls can wear whatever they want, it’s up to guys to control themselves.
- Keep your eyes up.
- Respect women.
- Treat women as human beings.
Speaking now as a happily married man, I’m like, “Yeah, totally. Women should be able to wear whatever they want without feeling objectified or (God forbid) afraid of being attacked.” But as a young man in purity culture, I felt very differently, and I think I know why.
I’ve read a lot from the girl’s perspective. Like a lot. What I’m about to share isn’t intended to tell girls that purity culture isn’t hurting them as much as they say it is. I want to validate that difficulty and say, “It hurt you? Yeah, it hurt me too.”
Purity Culture Teaches Men To Objectify Women
Yeah, I just wrote that.
Instead of being sex objects to be lusted after, purity culture objectifies women as objects that men must resist the horrible temptation to lust after. Christian singer-songwriter Todd Agnew explains the struggle in his song “If You Wanted Me”:
Cause I think I’ve fallen for more than Bathsheba
Your creation’s a temptation for me
He’s talking about lust. The first time I heard that song, I completely identified with it.
Another time, I heard Shaunti Feldhahn, author of For Men Only and For Women Only on Focus on the Family and she explained her journey toward realizing how visual men are and how terrible it was to discover how women are torturing men by dressing provocatively. When I heard her say that, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt that finally, somebody understood how hard it was for me!
And it is hard, sisters. Ladies, hear this: for men in purity culture to be around beautiful women, particularly if they aren’t “covering up,” it is very hard, but it is not your fault.
Let me say that again.
It is hard for Christian men in purity culture to be around you, but it is not your fault.
The blame for that idiocy falls squarely on purity culture.
When your average 20-something single guy walks onto a beach full of beautiful women in bikinis, he might check them out and be interested in them, but his “temptation” is absolutely nothing compared to what a young man in purity culture feels. He knows it’s wrong, which feeds his desire, which feeds his guilt, which feeds his desire. That poor kid has a molotov cocktail of guilt, shame, and knowing-it’s-wrong with a fuse of temptation sticking out and soaked in gasoline. All he needs is the spark of a beautiful woman who isn’t ashamed of her body.
Purity Culture Makes Our Bodies Our Enemies, Too
I’ve heard over and over again that in purity culture, girls’ bodies are the enemies – problems, temptations, things that will cause men to stumble. Ladies, don’t feel alone… Purity Culture does this to men, too, but in a different way.
Guys tend to associate lust with being turned on. Honestly, sometimes that just happens. It doesn’t mean you’re lusting if your pants have a protrusion. It just means you’re turned on.
And let’s talk about the M word. Purity culture treats any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage as bad. Remember that cocktail that is a purity culture man’s mind? Yeah, try stick pornography in front of it. It’ll do the same thing, and if he’s alone, he’ll go further and feel even more guilty.
The problem’s not the woman.
The problem isn’t even the man.
The problem is the training the man got from his church.
And the worst part about it is that even if the poor schmuck burns his magazines and destroys his computer with a baseball bat, his worst enemy is still there hanging between the front of his legs, waiting to pop up like a jack-in-the-box. A jack-in-the-box bent on sin.
Yeah, girls. It’s not just your bodies that are the enemies. Our bodies are enemies, too. And this is psychopathy. It’s unChristian. Scripture teaches that God created everything good, including your body. When you teach men that their bodies are rebelling against God, you end up with all sorts of weirdness and psycho-ness and eunuchs.
This is, I think, the cause for the popular teaching that men can’t control themselves: when it comes to the little jack-in-the-box, we really can’t control it. It’s a product of evolution. Guy sees girl, gets turned on, goes and has sex with her, potentially dominates her, she gets pregnant, reproduction happens, the human race continues. But we can rise above this. That’s part of what it is to be human, I think. We don’t have to jump on top of a girl and have sex with her just because our genetics recognize that this is someone of the opposite sex and procreation is a possibility.
Unfortunately, I think most of the folks in purity culture don’t believe in evolution so they probably don’t get the genetic predisposition part and just call it “Sin nature.” It gave Augustine no end of problems, or so I’ve heard.
Purity Culture Keeps Men from Seeing Women
It’s crazy. I was in purity culture for a long time. I was fighting my desires for a long time.
Then one day at camp one of the girls did a Bible lesson. She got out paint. We all stuck our hands in the paint and left our handprints on a big white piece of paper. I can’t remember what the lesson was, but I was struck with the realization that she wasn’t just a potential wife or a temptation, she was a person.
That’s what purity culture does to you. Every woman is one of two things (yes, things): A potential future spouse, or a temptation. When you start dating a woman, it gets more psycho, because she literally becomes both. You have to keep yourself pure for your future spouse (yes, at least some guys do think about this too) but what if she’s the one? Is it still cheating on your theoretical future spouse if you become physically involved with someone before you’re married – if that someone is your future spouse? (Trying to keep it PG, folks).
And then when you do get married, all women other than your wife are just temptations. (That link takes you to a wonderful blog post by Luke Harms about this, which you should read.)
Purity Culture Has No Understanding of Grace
I hesitated on that one, but I think it’s valid, or at least it was for me, and I know it’s been valid for girls as well.
When I was dating the girl I dated before I met my wife, I was struggling with a porn addiction. I use that phrasing because it was an addiction (I couldn’t stop) and because I’m confident that was caused by how wrong I felt it was. I had discontinued using pornography but the jack-in-the-box still popped up. Sometimes I won, sometimes the guilt won.
I told the girl often how privileged I felt to be dating her and how I really was a wicked sinner and had done some things that she would find horrible, but she always talked about how much she liked me and how it couldn’t have been that bad and I tried to tell her, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it until near Christmas when our pastor told me that I should tell her. I did, and my fears that she would find it all horrible were confirmed.
It took her a day or so to recover enough from the shock and horror to call me and break up with me. I honestly don’t remember much of the conversation, but one line stuck with me for years. I still remember like it was yesterday exactly where I was when she told me that her parents had asked, “I thought you wanted to marry someone who was pure.”
I wasn’t pure, and there was no way that I could turn back the clock and get back to purity, and no forgiveness for this horrible sin was remotely possible.
Why? Because purity culture is at its core a culture of self-righteous legalism. The less you’ve done, the better you are. I’m reminded of the parable of the rose that gets passed around a room until it’s lost all of its beauty and goodness from being handled. Everything you do sexually that is outside the context of marriage will destroy you forever.
Little kids, plug your ears.
Grace is big enough to erase all of it. This isn’t to say, “Oh cool, everybody should go out and have sex with everybody all the time.” This is to say that purity culture has no concept of grace. If you fall, you can’t get back up, and even if you do, your relationship with your future spouse will be forever marred by that failure.
My life was marred for a long time, yes, but it wasn’t by my addiction. I have the words “I thought you wanted someone pure” burned deep into my soul. Those words affected my relationship with my wife. I always thought that either she or her family would one day realize that I wasn’t pure and throw me away like that rose.
Healing started before we even started dating when I told her the story and she just loved me more (though she didn’t admit it at the time). That and our married relationship we’ve enjoyed for the past year have helped heal me to the point that it’s just a scar, and a fading scar, but it’s still there. I’ll probably still remember those words for a long time, but they don’t hurt anymore.
Purity culture hurts everyone involved. It’s horrible to women, and it’s awful to men. It turns every day living in grace into every man’s battle against temptation – and by temptation, I mean women.
Burn it with fire.