Purity Culture Fallout: “I wanted to die because I had ruined ‘God’s plan for my life’”

This weekend I read through your stories about the harmful effects of purity culture. I found myself nodding, laughing and weeping. For many years I felt very alone in my struggle with sexuality and the purity culture. That has all changed and I can’t thank you enough for so bravely honoring me with your stories. I learned so much and I hope you, too, felt a sense of relief and community.

I want to highlight a few of these stories because I think they are almost archetypal of purity culture—representing a common experience of purity culture fallout.

These are our real stories. I can only hope the church starts listening……

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I had bought fully into the myth that sex would be Wonder And Delight as long as you keep everything in the package until the wedding day, and that was about seventeen million miles from the truth.

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While I was supposed to stand proud because I had mastered my desires and maintained my white knuckle grip on my virginity, I was ashamed, confused, and insecure about the sudden shift in our relationship. One moment it was forbidden and defiling and impure, but a few hours in a white dress and I was supposed to suddenly feel free and open and wildly passionate?

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No one talked to my husband or I about it beforehand ever. He thought it was like the movies, where foreplay is optional or only lasts a couple of seconds. No one told him or me that going for it before the female is ready can cause actual pain and physical trauma. The poor guy was baffled and wanted to take me to the emergency room. I cried for an hour and thought God was punishing me, a virgin, for not being “pure enough”.

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I can highly identify with many of the stories here; I have my own sad marital sexual problems. The issue with using Catholic teaching as the “answer” is that the teaching doesn’t recognize or even care to look at the real problems of intimacy that are affected by sexual abuse, guilt, rape, sexual confusion, previous sexual relationships, sexual misinformation, and God knows what else. People deserve to have these often scary and debilitating issues dealt with PRIOR to having children. In a way, it’s the process of being open to your own life and the new life you have with your spouse before you can be open to another life.

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I grew up in the church, read every book about waiting/purity that I could find. I still ended up having sex before I got married, with a married man at that. Here’s the deal-I think we need to discuss the issue of purity but within the context of full discipleship, not as a separate entity.

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I was so sick of feeling that my worth as a young woman had to do only with the condition of my body and nothing to do with my mind or spirit. If my future husband thought the greatest, most precious gift I could give to him was an intact hymen, then I wanted nothing to do with him. I think abstinence is good. I wish I had been a virgin when I met my husband. I’m not sorry for rejecting that dehumanizing attitude, though.

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I had a purity ring and I was raped the day after I recieved it. I almost married the guy because I was told nobody would want me and after growing up in the church it was easy to believe this. Once I got married it took forever to not feel guilty about married sex. Then he had an affair. I was told I needed to have more sex (I did the whole time during the affair to try to win him back). I healed and learned and grew and got grace. Then I got remarried and really learned that things can be good. I wonder how my life would have been different had I believed I could talk about what happened to me.

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I was raised a Mormon, and purity, virginity, chastity, and virtue were all equal qualities. I was molested, and according to my leaders after I told, I should have told the first moment he touched me. I was 7 when he first touched me, and 13 when I told. He abused me for two years, then we moved. He was not a member, and my parents didn’t press charges. He was a good ole boy, and I was expected to simply move on. At 21, I was raped. I never reported it because I assumed it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter as a kid, why should it matter as an adult? When I did tell (a year and a half later), tge first response was, why did it take so long to tell? Second, what were you wearing? Third, well, you shouldn’t have opened the door.

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Pastors say: “Oh, the sex you’ll have! It’ll be amazing! Look around at all the married couples here – they’re all having incredible sex!”. They do it to make the waiting seem worth it. So sexually, yeah, you’re supposed to go from nought to sixty in a day. I had a friend who was a virgin and was marrying a virgin (I think). She was certain that on their wedding night, they’d just leap on each other with pure animal lust (these people who’d only ever kissed). Turned out that he felt guilty for ‘robbing her of her innocence’, and she needed stitches.

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I’m 21, and God brought me the love of my life. My best friend. And we blew it. What I’m struggling with now, is yes, our mutual loss of virginity, but the feeling of impending doom that I’ve always had preached at me, that our relationship will fizzle out because of one mistake. We are dealing with this mistake, the toll it will inevitably take on our future, the possibility of pregnancy, and we are happy to be walking through it together.

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I wanted to die so many times because I had ruined “God’s plan for my life” by my responsiveness to a man’s attention. It drove me into deep depression. And yet I kept going back because I just wanted to be loved. And he kept taking me back because he just wanted to be loved, too.
  • Anon

    If we are told every day that sex will make us feel guilty, dirty, ashamed, and various other miserable emotions….guess what’s going to happen. My mom lived in shame because of her past and said she didn’t want that for me, so I should wait to have sex until I’m married. Well at 29 I’m not married but if decided to skip the shame. I almost feel guilty for not feeling guilty about sleeping with the love of my life . Almost. And the sad thing is, I have to post this under anon, should any of my Christian friends read it a feel overcome with the need to pray for my heart to be convicted.

  • Rachel

    There are studies that support an assertion that compared to the general population, girls who take purity pledges as a demographic are more likely not to use protection and therefore to end up with a STD, pregnant, and to have an abortion if they do end up pregnant. The pressure is unbearable, degrading and dehumanizing. I love that you are taking on this topic. We as parents, mothers, women, sisters, and friends need to find a balance to convey a whole person value to our daughters, sons, sisters, etc. I love that people feel so free to comment with their experiences here!

  • http://www.jesusrockstar.tumblr.com/ Bethany Grace Paget

    I am so glad, so so glad you are all talking about this right now. This purity/virginity/the church owns my vagina struggle has been holding me down for so long. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, trauma, rape and other sexual struggles coming into the purity culture at 24 as a single, pregnant, just off drugs and totally naive. I bought into it all because I didn’t know any better, because everything was driven by emotion and because I would have done anything to cling to God so I didn’t go back to being “that girl” Then the struggles come. The lasting effects of trauma that the church told me was lust and I needed to flee from it, memorize more verses, pray it away. I was in a relationship and everytime we would fool around he’d feel guilty (he was a virgin) I’d feel guilty and confused and like it was my fault because I was the experienced one. This has been a rough thing for me. The battle of realizing that my struggle is not with lust but with the effects of trauma so “No church I’m not a sinning whore” and breaking out of that ultra conservative Christian box where things are pushed as truth and necessary when actually they are damaging.
    You bravery to continue to speak out is beautiful and I admire you. Keep writing because its through your words that God is opening my eyes.

  • Taunya Henderson

    Thanks so much for your posts on this subject Elizabeth. I found myself reading each and every comment, something I rarely do. I am thankful that my family and I divorced from abusive religion before my girls became old enough to marry. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to de-program them. They are both teens now and I want to make sure they don’t take this false teaching with them into adulthood and ruin one of the most beautiful gifts God has given us. I instructed my oldest, who is 17 to read your post and to read the comments and we discussed it all. It was so freeing!!!

  • Christine

    It hadn’t occurred to me before reading this that idea that “sex will be amazing as soon as you get married” is a huge problem too. My husband and I had a lot of fun on our wedding night. A lot of it was giggling at not knowing what the heck we were doing. It would have been horrible if we’d expected “good” sex.

  • Lindsey

    I didn’t grow up in the church but became a Christian at the age of 18..long after I had lost my virginity. I remember a male Christian friend of mine once saying he would only marry a virgin (not knowing I, in fact, was not one) because he didn’t want “used goods”. While I was relishing in my newness and rebirth as a Christian he was essentially telling me I wasn’t new. That God cared more about my virginity than He did about ME and I would never be good enough for a “good Christian man” (at least that’s how I internalized it). That lie could have stuck but I’m thankful to have been a part of a church that never undermined the grace of God, so I quickly called bullshit on his views and slept like a baby knowing God loved me no matter what. My heart breaks reading these stories of women not having the support they needed and deserved as daughters of the King. Thanks for posting this. It needs to be talked about more often!

  • Margaret Feinberg

    Elizabeth, these stories were powerful! Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11018683 Elizabeth Larson-DiPippo

    This is so my story. I grew up in this culture as well and fundmentalist Baptists may have “Grace” in their name a lot, but it certainly isn’t evident by the teaching that comes out of them, especially towards the children/teenagers of the members. The incredible amount of pressure I felt, once I had “fallen” with my first boyfriend to “make it work” since we were already “married in spirit” was HUGE! I haven’t felt God speak to me very many times in my life, but I remember being so sad about some horribly cruel thing this guy had said to me once again and praying about it and KNOWING God was telling me to walk away from this damaging relationship. My husband was a virgin and didn’t care at all that I wasn’t. I thank God for him every day but it has taken me a long time to come to terms with my “failures” and I suspect there are more layers to this shame thing to unpeel. Thank you so much for the work you are doing in allowing people to tell their stories. Grace & Peace.

  • nodding my head

    I can so relate. I remember being confused after my own marriage, because our bedroom stuff didn’t “heat up” as fast as I thought it should…meanwhile, some of our friends who hadn’t waited for marriage had incredible sex lives from day 1. Looking back, I now know that different couples simply have different sexual experiences, and some may get the hang of it faster than others. But at the time, I had been taught that your sex life being good was tied to whether you had waited. I felt, frankly, cheated…not that I regretted waiting for marriage (still don’t regret that!), but that the church had promised me something that it had no right to promise.

    I think the church should do a better job of explaining to kids (in a positive way) that sexual relationships take experimentation, time and patience. If you’re going to talk about waiting, frame it as “Learning sex is a process everyone goes through. When you get married, you get to begin that process!” rather than “Sex can reach epic proportions, and you get it all as soon as you tie the knot!”

  • Sara

    I’m so glad you’re talking about this! The book Sex God by Rob Bell gave me another perspective to look at this topic other than the more fundamentalist view that takes the bible literally. I wonder that people in churches don’t realize how much they are hurting people with blanket statements and stark no grace views on life. My now husband and I started dating in our late 20s, we realized we were so crazy about each other, we had sex, and *gasp* it was fun, we got pregnant, moved in together-excited about our new family. Our churchy friends flipped out, tried to counsel us, said we were sinning and that god couldn’t bless us. What nonsense! Seven years later we have a rockin marriage, great sex, 2 happy kids and love Jesus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-Kendal/709952741 Amanda Kendal

    My father was (is) a clergyman of the evangelical variety – one side of his family were Plymouth Brethren, and oh how seriously they (or at least some of them) took their roll in life as arbiters of ‘morality’.

    I remember, just as was due to go to college to study for a degree in performing arts, one elderly such relative informed me, over the phone, that she’d rather die on the toilet than go into a theatre! You can laugh at such ‘logic’ now, but then it was infuriating and not helped by my father getting angry when I shot back some marginally annoyed comment about her knowing nothing of what she was talking about.

    Anyway, my sister and I grew up in that environment. We moved around a lot (I had five different schools in total) because my father’s church believed in keeping its clergy on their toes, so to speak. But it was important, I think, because I didn’t find it easy to make friends (clergy children were, along with the offspring of police and teachers, not particularly trusted), and so there was never the sort of friendship that might have acted as a counterbalance to the culture that I was being inculcated into.

    When I was 16, my parents took me and my sister to loads of services during a two-week long evangelical crusade. The inevitable happened, with a ‘born again’ experience.

    Now it’s funny how you pick things up, but the only sin I ever remember my father really getting hot under his dog collar about was sex. It’s as though I had always known that sex was a sin.

    I’d had almost no sex education – nothing at home and school was biology. My mother checked with me that I knew what periods were. And that was pretty much it.

    Crucially, I believe now, nobody told me what puberty would do to the mind. Nobody told me that you would get ‘urges’ and ‘feelings’ – and that that would be totally natural and normal.

    So knowing that sex was a sin, I couldn’t tell anyone about those feelings; I was so ashamed. I remember quite clearly thinking of myself as ‘unclean’. And it was all complicated because I was sexually attracted to women (not crushes on fellow pupils or teachers, but grown women).

    I didn’t know words like gay or lesbian or homosexual – I hadn’t a clue about any of that; the cocoon had been very successful.

    Later, I realised I was attracted to men as well – but again, it was years before I heard the word for that.

    And after that ‘conversion’ experience, I prayed – so very, very hard – for all those ‘feelings’ to be taken away. But of course they never were. And the guilt just grew and grew, slowly and like a cancer. It became all complicated over the years by other factors, and my sense of self-worth just slipped and slipped, but sex and guilt were always at the centre.

    I was nearly 40 when, to use a religious analogy, a sort of Damascene moment set me on the path to freedom. I actually learned to orgasm. I learned that I didn’t have to feel guilt about sex.

    I spent about five years after that going absolutely bonkers. And oh my goodness, it was fun and it was a release and it was a celebration of being alive and of so much else.

    A very good friend said that it was as though my whole mind had been locked in a cage. Getting over that – getting out of the cage – was quite some process. There are a few people who deserve big pats on the backs for putting up with someone of that age going through the trauma I went through – essentially, a delayed adolescence. But the impact was enormous: my confidence soared. My working vocabulary widened massively. The kind of things I read became vastly more challenging.

    My repression had ultimately been based in sex and in religious notions and attitudes of ‘purity’ and ‘sin’, and in the guilt that I had started to feel as a child experiencing growing up without the proper information. But the ramifications were so, so much wider.

  • KtR

    I grew up in a church and family that was pretty open to discussions and not so stringent legalism, but we still did the purity ring etc… After a couple failed “courtships” where I did not feel protected by my parents as they had promised to do I took my own path. I met a guy at work and we started dating. Looking back I think he just wanted some and it did not really matter from who. After breaking the relationship off I felt like no one would want me anymore and to this day I still have not told my parents about when and with who I lost my virginity. Just as I felt the lowest God brought forgiveness to me and showed that He still had good plans for my life. He brought my wonderful husband into my life. I felt like it was God saying that He still loved me and forgave me when I could not forgive myself. My husband showed me his full forgiveness and what true love feels like. It is still a journey, but the past has made me who I am today. My experience has made me more compassionate for others who have gone through the same thing and has allowed me to minister God’s love and forgiveness to them. I am so thankful for God’s grace in my life and my wonderful husband who loves me in spite of my mistakes.