Author’s Note: I am a non-religious, liberal, feminist and, personally, I find the concept of virginity puzzling in the context of modern society. So I decided to explore a concept that seemed pretty foreign and obscure to me, Purity Culture.
Purity culture, the act of remaining “pure” until marriage, has been around for thousands of years. But what is purity culture really, and does it still have a place in modern society?
The idea of remaining “pure” until marriage is found in many different religious practices. Most commonly in the United States, it is perpetuated by the Christian Faith. It stems from the idea that your body belongs not to yourself but to God. Around the U.S, families are partaking in events known as Purity Balls, ceremonies where daughters pledge to their fathers to remain a virgin until marriage. Children as young as five years old are being encouraged to make such a promise for chastity. The ceremonies are, for lack of better word, creepy. But they remain an integral part of many religious communities. If you’re interested more in the subject I highly suggest you check out this documentary (note to feminists, this WILL piss you off).
In my rummage through the internet I learned that there are actually different ways of abstaining from sex before marriage. Like most things, people have different approaches to their “practice”. There’s the most extreme level of abstinence in which one does not so much as date before marriage. People who follow this lifestyle believe that, “God has somebody perfect in mind for you”, and you will recognize that person when you meet them. Until God brings you that person, you are to abstain from dating at all. This undoubtedly, leaves a lot of room for personal exploration, as well as allowing for deep friendships with all genders (which, I have discovered,can cause some issues). How nice to not have to worry about dating, and just focus on yourself.
On the other hand, however, abstaining from dating poses some questions. How exactly do you know when you’ve met “the one”, and what are the chances of it working out? As someone of no faith, these are somewhat difficult questions to answer. However, it is understandable that if one’s life is entirely dependent on God and religion, and one’s spouse’s life is as well, then this central belief in something greater than your individuality will be the initial and overriding bond of the relationship. A group of sisters known as BarlowGirl are advocates of this lifestyle, and state that their “dating years” should be dedicated to forming a relationship with God, and trusting that He knows what’s best for you. They claim that God created Adam and Eve, “ not Adam and five Eves” and that each person is destined to be with just one person, forever.
Yet, in the absence of devout religion, this way of approaching dating (or not dating) seems a little ridiculous. Dating allows us to learn how to have relationships. It’s like the quiz before the test, the more quizzes you take, the more studying you do, the more likely you are to pass the test. Not only that, but the rate of divorce in America, and around the world, is on the rise -this is due in part to changing beliefs in the stigma surrounding divorce, but is due also in large part to plain old choice in spouse. The divorce rate in America alone is close to 50%. We are human, we change, we fall in love, we fall out of love, and we keep secrets. In dating people, we not only explore what it means to be in a committed relationship, but we also learn so much about ourselves. By not really getting to know someone before you get married you are risking so much. Also, fun fact, male brains don’t fully develop until the age of 25, and females just slightly sooner, so you know, don’t rush it.
The next approach to abstinence is the idea that dating, kissing, and holding hands are ok, but everything else is not. Most commonly when you meet someone who has chosen to abstain until marriage, this is how they do it. The last form of abstinence is the “everything but”, which may or may not actually be a form of abstinence depending on your definition of virginity, which is a topic for another day. People who choose to remain pure in either of these ways, have the freedom to get to know several people until they find “the one.” This is much like “conventional dating”, with of course one slight deviation from mainstream society. Nothing wrong with that. Getting to know someone, then settling down and getting married with your white picket fence, dog, and 2.5 children. However, it still poses issues in the inherent stigma surrounding purity culture.
Issues Surrounding Purity Culture:
- Purity culture perpetuates the idea that a woman’s value lies “between her legs”. This is not a particularly new concept in society. For thousands of years virginity has been treated as a commodity, as a measure of worth, which leads to the objectification of women. It goes back to a time when daughters were traded and sold as a form of financial income or stability. The purer and more beautiful your daughter the more she is worth and the more money and stability for your family. Though the initial idea has changed throughout the years, expecting women to remain virgins until marriage is reinforcing the idea that women are objects, meant to please men ( that’s not to say that every woman who decides to abstain until marriage is being expected to do so).
- Purity culture also creates a distorted view of sex and sexuality, which is arguably very important to our lives as humans. We are inherently sexual creatures, and yet it’s difficult for us to feel safe in our own sexuality. Because there is a stigma around sex and sexuality, that is ingrained in us from such an early age, more and more women (and some men) are finding that that their fire has been put out. Support groups for women whose sexual desires have diminished, or who just can’t seem to shake the guilt surrounding sex, have been popping up all over the internet. Most famously, The Forgiven Wife, a blog-site dedicated to helping wives whose lack of sexual desire is “hurting their husbands”. These women all share the same sense of shame surrounding their lack of sexual desire. After having been told for years that sex is shameful act, and then being expected to do the no pants dance whenever their husbands feel like it. What do you expect? It can be difficult to set that feeling of shame aside. After reading through the blog, it appears that some women never do. Horrifyingly these “support blogs” are seemingly unknowingly perpetuating rape culture. On the blog one woman describes sex with her partner as, “just lying there and waiting until he was done”. Yes, that’s right because you are to be used for sex whenever your husband feels like it, whether you like it or not. The blog shares first hand advice to overcome a pure wife’s aversion to sex, “My next step was to stop refusing. Did you know that it is normal for a woman to not want to have sex until she’s already having it?”. Yes you read that right. Women are feeling like they owe their partner sex. Once again, sex is not a commodity!
- Purity culture also hurts men, although less than women. It puts a lot of pressure on men to be responsible. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it sets up an expectation for men to be the protectors and women the protected. Do you smell that? The gentle scent of misogyny wafting all over this idea?
The fact of the matter is that virginity is a social construct; an idea created to further commodify a woman. If you’re ready to have sex in a safe and empowered way, and you’re not, wait for it, married, then great, awesome, go for it! Pro tip: for truly amazing sex, make sure that there is mutual consent between partners (this applies to married couples too). Remember, consent is sexy. If you feel like you should wait for marriage, then great, awesome, do that! Do it for the right reasons. Reasons being that it’s your body, and your choice, and your decision to do what you want with it. Know that being a virgin doesn’t make you any better than the other women and men. It doesn’t make you any less, or any more, valuable. It doesn’t make the girls around you who aren’t virgins a bad person, it doesn’t make them any wilder, or less intelligent, or of less faith. Remember that you do not owe sex to anyone, EVER! When you choose to have sex is your choice, not anybody else’s. Don’t let this idea of “Purity” build up such a stigma around sex and sexuality. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty about sex before marriage, and you shouldn’t make others feel guilty for it either. DON’T let a man make you feel like you’re less desired because you’ve “lost it”. I encourage you to help end the stigma by being open to other’s sexuality, and exploring your own (this is a good place to start). The more you know, the more empowered you can be. So go forth, and do you!