This article focuses on a little-discussed, negative effect of American Christian purity culture on women. Purity culture conditions women to not trust their body. This conditioning can negatively affect women’s bodily response when they experience physical trauma.
I know that lack of sex and consent education harmed my husband’s and my sex life in the early years of our marriage. But as I look back, I realize that’s only one side of the coin. The other was biblical illiteracy.
Female students at my evangelical university experienced both misogyny and racism. We were asked to conform to impossible standards. And we are not the only ones to struggle against injustice in the classroom. Women and girls all over the world face bias in school. From primary school to undergraduate to seminary, the system is not built for us.
Anxiously regulating what girls wear is not going to make this world better. But raising thoughtful people will. I believe God wants something better for us than fairytale witches and sexist dress codes.
All parents—and especially egalitarian parents—should talk to their kids about boundaries, consent, bodies, shame, double standards, peer pressure, and sexism in school. Have you had these conversations with your kids yet?
I have my own particular kind of body shame, but most women have experienced similar mortification about their physical beings—a heritage of enmity with the structure of skin and bones and viscera in which we daily move.
Because eating disorders often flow out of a desire for control and because patriarchy grants women so little control over their lives and bodies, it’s no surprise that many see a link between the purity movement and eating disorders.
Consent: a word so bland I once found it almost ugly. Why would I base my framework for romantic relationships on a word as flippant and perfunctory as a waiver to have my photo taken? Bodies and relationships are deeply important to me as a Christian. Naturally, sex is also deeply important to me. Even after I left purity culture behind, I still searched for a rich, God-honoring sexual ethic. Consent seemed like a pretty bare standard for behavior.
I was raised in Christian purity culture. I proudly wore my “True Love Waits” ring. I read Joshua Harris’s Christian cult classic, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. And today, I’m a psychologist and a vocal critic of purity culture.