Purity culture: any teaching that places the honour of a girl/woman on her vagina and reinforces the idea that premarital sex make women worthless.
Purity /noun/: the state or quality of being pure.
Pure /adjective/: clean and not containing any harmful substances; complete and total.
Purity culture is blaming Eve for giving the apple to Adam and enticing him to sin. Every Christian girl knows Eve is the architect of our misfortune. Every bad thing women experience today is a result of Eve’s sin. Purity culture is comparing girls who are sexually active to expired food products. Because you know, girls automatically become expired milk after they have sex.
It is placing the burden of the sexual urges of men on women. If a man lusts after you, then you probably looked or dressed a certain way to entice him. Purity culture is using “defile” to describe rape and saying Dinah was defiled, instead of saying Shechem raped her. Purity culture is telling girls that they are responsible for the sexual purity of men, because unlike men who are inherently sexual, we are just vessels who aren’t supposed to be sexual. Purity culture is telling girls that only “bad girls” enjoy sex.
Many churches practice and teach purity culture targeted mainly towards girls. Some go to the extreme, by holding daddy-daughter dances where girls pledge their virginity to their fathers, vowing to wait until they get married to have sex. Some wear rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, which they eventually take off and replace with wedding rings after they get married and have sex for the first time.
The culture that places women on a pedestal of innocence and purity enables the punishment of women that do not maintain this image. There are multiple way sin which purity culture and here are 5 important ones you should know.
Misplaced Sexual Responsibility
Purity culture has been branded as all of the ways women can stay protected and holy in today’s society. The truth of the matter lies in the fact that this only serves to subjugate women even more. By placing women on these pedestals, it places the onus on women to cover up and ensure that they are not temptations for men, forgetting that rapists are not dissuaded by the physical appearance. Purity culture is also set up in such a way that encourages women to avoid taking charge of their sex life. It paints women that deviate from this as whores who need to be shamed and punished, hence why when a women is raped and she is vocal about her sex life, it is brushed off because she asked for it by taking charge of her sex life. This is how purity culture normalizes and trivializes sexual assault .
It does not define Consent
Women who have been raised religiously have been taught in some way by socializing influences, that they do not exist for themselves. They are to keep themselves holy and covered up, and to wait patiently in their fathers’ houses until a man approaches said fathers for marriage. It is in all the biblical stories and anecdotes describing model women of faith and religious principles.
This is problematic because not only would the woman lack individuality, there are no boundaries of consent. There would be nothing that says that she can say no to her husband. In Nigeria currently the law does not recognize marital rape as rape. So even when it feels like rape, when she knows that it is rape, when there is physical evidence of rape, she says nothing because she has been conditioned to think that the man has only taken what was his in the first place.
Purity culture divides women into two groups ; the good girls and the bad girls and pray to God you don’t fall into the latter group. When a girl who is seen as a bad girl is abused sexually or physically, people see it as a punishment for her behaviour.
Guilt and shame are products of purity culture, when girls are taught that they become worthless after they have sex outside marriage they live with guilt and shame and it is even worse when they experience sexual violence because the victim automatically assumes it is just a punishment for the way she behaved or even dressed. What I don’t understand is how people expect women who finally have sex after they get married to just shake off this feeling of shame and guilt they’ve associated with sex because of what they were taught.
Nobody throws chastity balls for boys asking then to pledge their virginity to their mothers and the church, nobody makes women the gatekeepers of the sexuality of men so why then do people do it to girls? Double standard much?
Don’t get me wrong, abstinence is a good thing and it wonderful but not when it is forced on people. Instead of teaching and encouraging purity culture, instead of teaching girls to associate fear, shame and guilt with sex why not teach girls good and quality sex education. Teach them their body belongs to them alone and not to their fathers or the church. Talk to them about the clarity that comes with abstinence, tell them abstinence is a choice they can make without the pressure of the church. Teach them that they are not responsible for the sexual purity of men. Teach girls to love and embrace their bodies instead of seeing it as a weapon the devil uses to lure men to hell.