I was raised by evangelical parents and though we went to church every Sunday as a kid, I never really bought into religion. Sure, when I was about four years old, I sat on the maroon suede chairs that smelled like old books in our living room and begged Jesus repeatedly to get into my heart to avoid hellfire and gnashing of teeth and all, but I was never the religious type – I was more of the rebellious type.
By middle school I found myself partying, getting kicked out of every school from seventh grade until my junior year of high school, and basically living that pseudo, teenage, rock-n-roll lifestyle - much to my Christian parents’ dismay.
Through the parting and influx of hormones, I also started having sex pretty young and something weird happened. Though the immorality of the drinking, flipping out on any supposed authority figure, and drugs, internally weren’t an issue for me – pre-marital sex screwed with me for years. For whatever reason, throughout most of my life, the lies of purity culture stuck deep within me, constantly whispering that I was “ruined goods.”
The idea that pre-marital sex was like the worst thing I could ever do and that god would punish me probably forever for my immoral actions was imbedded deeper than I would like to even admit. And with this frame of mind came shame, a lot of shame.
You see purity culture didn’t stop me from having sex, it just deeply ingrained in me that I was lesser-than and would now never deserve a decent relationship because I had sex outside of marriage.
What purity culture did to me was wreck my sense of self-worth and I wasn’t even religious.
Purity culture perpetuates the rape culture that runs rampant in our society.
It told me that unwanted sexual comments from men when I was eleven were my fault. It told me that if a man grabbed my ass for any reason that was my fault. And for fifteen years it told me that what I now know was rape - was my fault.
I was thirteen years old, he was thirty-three. I said no over and over. But he wouldn’t listen with his bodyweight holding my body down, eventually I just froze. I didn’t fight him, I froze sitting outside my body while he forced himself inside me. I disconnected and when it was over, I couldn’t wash off the disgust I felt with myself for “allowing” it to happen. And for fifteen years, I told myself that it was my fault, by not freezing, I had given my consent and I was disgusting for it.
Until one day, years later at twenty-eight years old, after someone asked me, “If that was your daughter, what would you have called it?” and everything inside me broke and rage consumed me. For the first time in my life, I saw it wasn’t my fault. I was a child and a grown man raped me.
This is what purity culture does. It’s a disease and it tears us apart in the exact place that we need to be empowered.
You see if instead of teaching girls that sex is bad and takes away from our worth, we empowered girls in their sexuality, we encouraged them to own their sexuality knowing that they are in control of their bodies; we would have the greater ability to fight rape culture. If we taught our girls consent, not just yes or no, but the fact that their sexuality is powerful and they can choose to explore it with others or withhold it from anyone and that either choice is okay as long as it is their choice, we could change this culture that rips women apart.
If I would have felt empowered by my sexuality, instead of being told to be ashamed of it, it may not have stopped my rape, but at least it would have taken away or at least lessened the years of me blaming and tearing myself apart. Maybe, I could have healed instead hated myself. Maybe I would have known how wrong it was and maybe my rapist would have been held accountable for what he did to a child.