Home » Modest » roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused

roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused

[warning: I am going to be talking about sensitive, sex-related issues today, including rape and sexual assault. ]

wilted rose

First, let me share my rationale for talking about this. When I started this blog, my intention was to leave a lot of what I’m about to say unsaid. I wanted to discuss, mainly, more of the philosophies and ideologies entrenched in the IFB movement and conservative evangelicalism at large, instead of some of my personal hang-ups.

But, I’ve been doing an incredible amount of reading recently, and her.menutics at Christianity Today has announced they’re going to be talking about some of these things, and they have been under heavy discussion by many writers, including Dianna Anderson and Sarah Moon. However, there is one area of this discussion that I’ve noticed is missing, and that’s what I’m going to be contributing today.

Essentially, I will be arguing that the modesty/purity/virginity culture, especially in more conservative areas, is one of the main reasons why Christian young women stay in abusive relationships.

Many writers have already made the connection between the purity culture and the rape culture, and they have done a much better job establishing that than I ever could. I encourage you to read their arguments. You can find more links on my “other dragon fighters” page. What these men and woman are arguing for is incredibly valuable, and they’re establishing a healthy, productive rhetoric; what I’m offering here is merely a subset to that discussion.

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When I was fourteen, I went to a month-long summer camp at the college I would later attend. Like most Christian summer camps, this one involved going to a chapel service twice a day. Most of the time they were fun, lighthearted– until one evening they split up the girls and the boys. Great, I remember thinking, because I knew exactly what was coming. Segregation can only mean one thing– they were going to talk about sex. I sighed when they made the announcement. Again? I thought wearily.

That evening, when the camp counselors had shooed all the men and boys out of the building, the speaker got up to the podium. She didn’t even beat around the bush, but launched right into her object lesson. Holding up a king-size Snickers bar, she asked if anyone in the audience wanted it. It’s a room full of girls– who doesn’t want chocolate? A hundred hands shot up. She picked a girl close to the front that wouldn’t have to climb over too many people and brought her up to the stage. Very slowly, she unwrapped the Snickers bar, splitting the package like a banana peel. She handed it to the young woman, and asked her, very clearly, to lick the chocolate bar all over. Just lick it.

Giggling, the young lady started licking the chocolate bar, making a little bit of a show of it. At fourteen, I had no idea what a blow job was, so I missed the connection that had a lot of girls in the room snorting and hooting. The young lady finished and handed it back to the speaker. As she was sitting down, the speaker very carefully wrapped the package around the candy bar, making it look like the unopened package as possible.

Then she asked if anyone else in the room wanted a go.

No one raised her hand.

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My sophomore year in college, another speaker shared a similar object lesson– ironically, in the exact same room, also filled exclusively with women. She got up to the podium carrying a single rose bud. At this point I was more familiar with sexual imagery, and I knew that the rose had frequently been treated as a symbol for the vagina in literature and poetry– so, again, I knew what was coming.

This speaker asked us to pass the rose around the room, and encouraged us to enjoy touching it. “Caress the petals,” she told us. “Feel the velvet.” By the time the rose came to me, it was destroyed. Most of the petals were gone, the ones that were still feebly clinging to the stem were bruised and torn. The leaves were missing, and someone had ripped away the thorns, leaving gash marks down the side.

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I could go on. I imagine many of you have heard similar object lessons. These “object lessons” aren’t isolated to evangelical culture, either– Ariel Levy writes about one she saw involving packing tape in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs.

However, all of these object lessons contribute to one message: your identity and value as a woman is tied to your sexual purity. If you surrender your virginity, you are worthless. Disgusting. Repulsive. Broken. Unwanted.

My generation has gotten that message loud and clear. Our virginity is the “greatest gift a woman can give her husband.” My own father, who was a virgin when he met my mother, on repeated occasions has told me that my mother having sex when she was in highschool bothers him — to this day, and they’ve been married twenty-six years. Mark Driscoll, in his new marriage-advice book, tells his readers that if he had known of a single sexual encounter his wife had at nineteen, he would not have married her. Finding out about it, over a dozen years into their marriage, sent him into a self-admitted emotional tailspin (however, we’re supposed to completely ignore the fact that he had sex, too).

There are so many other examples I could cite, both factual and fictional. The ultimate message is that if we give up our virginity, or even our “emotional purity,” which I’ll get to in a minute, makes us completely repulsive to “good Christian boys.”

I know a young man who told me, point-blank, that finding out his ex-girlfriend had sex made her unattractive to him, and that he would no longer consider “getting back” with her, even though until that point he had been relentlessly pursuing her.

He is not a virgin.

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But what if your sexual purity, or your virginity, is stolen? What if you are sexually abused, or raped?

The answer, terrifyingly, is the same.

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I met “John” at the tail-end of my sophomore year. He was handsome, charismatic, an excellent musician, talented, popular, and respected. He was running for student council president, was a part of the “in,” crowd, and… I was not. That had never particularly bothered me. Growing up IFB kinda means you get used to being a weird outsider. But, I could still appreciate those qualities. The night we met, he basically ignored me, which, I assume you can imagine, felt pretty typical.

My junior year, though, we were both percussionists in my college’s symphony orchestra, and the conductor asked us to be a part of the school’s major production that semester– The Pirates of Penzance. Rehearsals were four nights a week, from 6 pm to 1 or 2 am. As percussionists, we didn’t have a whole lot to do, except occasionally whack the cassa bass or the triangle. That left a lot of time for bonding… and, by the end, we were “talking,” the evangelical intermediary between “acquaintance” and “monogamous relationship.” We were official by February, and he proposed in August.

For my own emotional stability, I will be brief. The relationship was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. Like countless other stories, the abuse slowly escalated– I had no idea what was happening until it was too late.

Women in, or who have recently escaped from, violent relationships typically get asked “why do/did you stay?” Very frequently, they don’t have a solid answer to that question. There are a host of common reasons– daddy issues, economic stability, shame.

I know exactly why I stayed. I was crippled, paralyzed, and overwhelmed by fear. Fear that he would abandon me. Fear that, if he left, I would no longer have any value. John had literally ruined me, in my mind, for anyone else.

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Long story short: he did leave me, breaking our engagement two months before the wedding. His reasoning: I was not “submissive” enough. One month before he broke it off, I had cut off anything sexual. I would no longer participate in the degrading phone sex where he referred to me exclusively as “bitch” and “whore.” I shied away from his touch. And I had the audacity to tell him that he couldn’t call me a “God damn fucking bitch” anymore. Yup. Definitely not submissive-wife material. I was certainly not Created to be his Helpmeet.

It’s been three years since then, and I’m now married to the most amazing, loving, gentle, tender man I couldn’t have even dreamed to ask for. But, I’m still healing from a lot of the abuse, and there are a few things I still violently struggle with, mainly that:

my internalized “purity” narrative tells me that what John did was not rape.

The first “sexual” thing John ever did was to put his hand, facing palm-up, on my percussionist’s stool. I was standing to turn the page, and when I sat down, he grabbed my ass. I found this titillating, exciting. I didn’t protest, I didn’t correct him. I coyly asked him what he was doing, and he said “oops.”

I wore v-neck sweaters that just barely showed off my cleavage, because he liked it. I wore a skirt that showed off my ass– because he liked it.

By the time he had become fully abusive, these behaviors continued, largely because I was terrified of what he would do if I didn’t. At one point our relationship was long distance, and he bought me a webcam. The first time he told me to take my shirt off, I told him no. I even shut my laptop. He spent the next two hours screaming obscenities at me, and he was violent the next time he saw me in person. The first time he raped me, I fought him– for one brief second, until he dug the band of his watch into my knee– leaving a cut so deep I have a long, puffy scar. It was a warning.

I have to constantly fight against the oppressive lie that an outsider looking in would think that I had consented. Geez, just because you never had an orgasm doesn’t mean he violated you. C’mon. You’re just frigid. 

I have to constantly fight that lie that because I didn’t “fight enough,” because I didn’t choose to immediately leave the relationship, that it meant that I deserved what happened to me.

I have to constantly fight against the lie that says because I wasn’t pure enough, that because I had “dressed provocatively,” because I had allowed myself to be alone with him, that I invited it. That I had allowed it to happen.

I have to fight the lie that says that maybe I’m making all of this “rape” stuff up to make myself feel better about allowing it to happen.

He didn’t actually rape you, you’re just saying that because you’re blaming him. You didn’t keep yourself pure, that’s all. You just know that if you really allowed yourself to face the facts, you’d see the truth. You’re a disgusting piece of shit. You’re worthless.

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That last one is why the modesty/purity culture can be so incredibly damaging. Many girls and women I’ve talked to have it so deeply ingrained into them that it’s virtually inescapable. When it comes between choosing what’s worse– staying in abusive relationship, or facing the “reality” that you’ve “surrendered your purity,” guess which one we choose?

38 thoughts on “roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused

  1. Very gut-wrenching and, to say the least, horrifying. Not that I’m naïve, but I’ve just never made the connection with the “modesty/purity culture.” A question comes to mind, but of course I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer: How does the IFB culture contribute to the mentality of boys/men like John, or does it? Are the “sins” of men generally overlooked … excused? But mainly, I suppose, I’m trying to understand how the IFB (and I’m not even sure what to call it) culture/theology/perspective forms and shapes individuals like John? (Or, again, maybe it doesn’t … I’m asking.) Thank you for being so courageous to share something so personally, deeply painful.

    • I think the most significant way that the purity/modesty culture contributes is through re-assigning blame for sin. Modesty, in the way that it gets presented to young men and women (through things like “The Modesty Survey”) is that young men are not really responsible for their lust. Her skirt was too short. Her neckline was too low. Her shirt was too tight. She wore her hair up. She didn’t have her hair covered. She bent over because she dropped something– right in *front* of me.

      I know one young man that actually told his girlfriend that her ankles tempted him and she had to wear floor-length skirts in order for him “not to stumble.”

      The “she was asking for it” mentality is the biggest problem with the typical conversations about “modesty.” It’s not that they necessarily overlook sin from the men, it’s that men aren’t really the ones responsible. If women didn’t dress like sluts, men wouldn’t lust after them. She did the bump-and-grind, she made out with him, what did she expect? It’s ideas like this that predicate statements like Mr. Akin’s about “legitimate rape.”

      It’s more complicated than that, but that’s probably the core of it. If you want more perspective, I’d recommend that you read “Created to be His Helpmeet,” by Debi Pearl, “Beautiful Girlhood” by Mabel Hale, and “Fascinating Womanhood” by Helen Andelin. I’ve actually since thrown those books away or burned them, as I couldn’t keep them or in good conscience give them away. But, they pretty much sum up, from the fundamentalist/complementarian perspective, a lot of what’s wrong.

      And thank you. I’m glad my story prompted questions.

      • Hi, I’m new on your blog and came via Love, Joy, Feminism. Please overlook any grammar mistakes or wrong vocabulary as I am not a native speaker. Thank you a lot for sharing your story on this site. I have an honest and serious question about something you wrote above in your comment. You mentioned the boy who asked the girl to wear longer skirts because he was fighting against his lust and it could cause him to “stumble”… I really get the problem in this culture about charging the women for the men’s faults and how you criticize the “it’s that men aren’t really the ones responsible”. I totally agree with you on this point. My personal problem is that when I was told all the modesty teachings it was never about responsibility, but always under disguise of “loving our brother in Christs and helping them”. I guess you heard similar teachings. And I still don’t know what to answer. I have a very good male friend who is all on this modesty thing and he once told me that he thought I was wearing some shirts that were too “low-cut”… For sure I changed my clothes when I was with him. I do love him as a brother in Christ (honestly) and I know that he’s really trying to do the right thing. I feel like being very hard and rude if I told him: You are responsible on your own for your feelings and I won’t help you by wearing another shirt. I myself was asking other people sometimes to for example not smoking cigarettes when they were with me because I just quit and didn’t want to fall back… I know that it’s not their fault when I start smoking again but I really appreciate it when they consider my situation and are thoughtful. Do you have some thoughts on this perspective of “being considerate/loving and helping”? Thank you very much for reading my comment.

        • Thank you– I’m glad you’ve made it over here and found something :) And your English is awesome, so no worries there.

          For your question– perfectnumber actually has an entire blog dedicated to that very same thought:

          http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-story-of-me-and-modesty.html

          However, I would like to specifically address your comparison, which was an amazingly good one, about the cigarettes and smoking. I’ve been there, too, so I know what you mean. This is a compelling illustration, for a number of reasons; however, there is a significant difference that I believe is important.

          If your friends ignored you and continued smoking around you, and you fell back in to your smoking habit– would you blame your friends? Or would you look primarily at yourself and maybe think “I need to get some extra help with this, maybe I shouldn’t try it cold turkey, maybe I could try gum, or the patch, maybe I need to work on self-discipline.” I’m not you, so I can’t guarantee that this is what you might do, but I think that would be a “typical” reaction, and from your comment, seems like it would be true for you.

          However, let’s apply that principle to women and modesty– if you ignored your friend and continued dressing however you want, and he fell into a lustful thought– would he examine himself, or would he blame you? Would YOU blame you? That is the important distinction– if your friend would truly just examine himself and not blame you, then that would be . . . wow. Extraordinarily rare. In my experience, that has never been the case.

          Here’s another part of the illustration: cigarette smoking has been proven to be dangerous and harmful to your health. This isn’t in the realm of opinion– it’s a medical fact. Smoking *is* the cause behind a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, lung/throat/mouth cancer, etc. These are not up for debate.

          However, “modesty” IS, inherently, “up for debate.” It’s subjective, and it can’t be any other way. So– what are we supposed to do as Christians when something is inherently subjective? I think the last part of Colossians chapter 2 has the answer:

          “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

          If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—-“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

          “Loving our brother with our modesty,” in my mind, very much falls under “having an appearance of wisdom” BUT “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

          The only behavior we have any hope of controlling is ourselves. Do YOU feel modest in the shirts he thinks are “low-cut?” I’m not really in the habit of baring my chest or my legs– but not because I’m afraid of what my chest or my legs could “do” to a guy– but because it is a personal comfort level matter. However, I have a beautiful teal lace dress that comes to mid-thigh, and I love it. It’s beautiful, and I feel lovely in it. That should be your question, I think. If you feel comfortable in something, if you like the way you look in something, if you feel pretty and beautiful and yes, maybe even a little bit sexy sometimes– that’s up to you.

          I asked my husband about this, actually– and he initially didn’t understand what I was talking about. For him, he has cultivated an inner discipline of conscientiously trying not to lust after women. He has made it his responsibility to exert temperance and self-control. He told me it took a long time, and it wasn’t an easy habit to make, but he did it, because it was the right thing to do. This doesn’t mean he NEVER lusts, but when he does, it is because of a failing in personal self-discipline, not because of what the woman in question was wearing. When Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, and he asked men if they had lusted after a woman in their heart, did he say anything about what that woman was wearing? No, because lust isn’t, truly, linked to our clothing. It’s a much bigger idea than that

          Hopefully I’ve answered your question, as it is a very important one, and thank you for asking it.

          • Thank you very much for your detailed and helpful answer. Especially thank you for the link to the other blog – I’ve started reading it and I guess it will be very helpful too.
            I also understood the difference you pointed out between smoking and lust. So on the one hand I think it was a good example that I brought in, on the other hand I think it should have been a more difficult one. For example if I think about eating habits. If there are some vegetarians or vegans eating with you – would you stop eating meat in front of them? Probably not. Yes, you’d help and support them in their decision by not serving them any meat, but you wouldn’t stop eating in front of them. You might think: It’s their decision and if they want to do so, they have to be strong enough to hold on to it. I think this is because it’s an optional thing to avoid eating meat. They might have good reasons, but they don’t have to. Another example that’s a bit different: Several years ago I was suffering from a lot of food allergies. I wasn’t able to eat milk, cheese, wheat, eggs and a lot of vegetables. It was a very hard time for me to sit together with my roommates while they were eating all the stuff I really wanted to eat but got sick from. At the first weeks I couldn’t stand it and I went in my own room for eating. That means I had to isolate myself because of my eating habits and the trouble seeing others eating what I would have liked to eat too. But did they also stop eating cheese? No. I think this is because it would have been kind of irrational if every one pretended to have the same food allergy I had. Though it wasn’t optional for me to avoid eating this food, it was such a hard restriction that no one would have voluntarily joined me. When I think about modesty now and also about the survey on the other blog, I’d compare the standard of modesty you should follow as a girl with my last example. Yes, there might be a boy who has about the strictest view on modesty and is troubled a lot by a girl wearing jeans – but should every one join his very special / “weird” position? Probably he needs to separate himself from others for some time, but once he will come back and learn to get around with other people who don’t share his standards. That’s just like you told it about your husband. He “just” had to learn to control his lust.
            I also like to answer on your passage if my friend “would truly just examine himself and not blame you”. YES, here I’d really subscribe. He’d never blame me. He is very, very strict with himself. The trouble is that he wouldn’t allow himself any more being around me – so maybe you could also interpret it in kind of a punishment towards me. If I want to be around him, I have to accommodate to his rules. I don’t know if he sees it as a punishment for me, I guess he much more sees it as a punishment for him because he really enjoys spending time with me. And once again, we have a “weird” position…. (Hey, writing this really helps me!) I don’t want him to sit in his room all alone. Maybe I’m too compassionate (if this is the right word for it).
            Your question: “Do YOU feel modest in the shirts he thinks are “low-cut?”” – is a very hard one. To answer it, I think one has to really deconstruct and identify all the standards that were brought up to you. It’s like always having an inner voice and really having trouble to find my very own perspective. Thanks for your impulse!

  2. I saw early on how purity culture was harmful to my Mom, but figured since I rejected it so young it wouldn’t impact me, but I think it did in sneaky little ways.
    http://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/contraception-and-female-control/

    I figure you feel like you put up those boundaries much later than you now wish you had, but that stuff gets in your head in an insidious way. My Mom spent 20 years dealing with the kind of behavior you talk about facing and then, 9 kids later, finally set up boundaries that made him want to leave. Thankfully you did not have that.

    It was still gut-wrenching to read how it played out for you, but I think it is good and brave to share it, to let people know just what they’re doing when they send these messages to young people. Sadly, I think some of them do know what they’re doing and that’s the purpose – control, colonization, so giving young people a heads up about the lies is equally important.

    • Thank you- it is vitally important to me to try to explain what can happen, but sometimes I feel like people think I’m crazy for making this connection. That what I’m thinking is just a stage and I’ll move past it.

      I saw what your mom went through so many times with so many women growing up. thankfully my mom physically couldn’t be one of them (hysterectomy), and my parents have a decently healthy (if complementarian) marriage.

      It was difficult getting to this point, because for a long time afterward I couldn’t see the lies I was telling myself. Hearing and reading about similar experiences from you and others helps me put the truth into words.

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    • Hello Gabi– Thank you for your kindness, and for taking the time to respond.

      I’m going to be very careful in what I’m about to say, and I hope that you keep in mind that I am in *no way* criticizing you or what you said. When you say “Praise God that Jesus makes all things new,” I understand that you were extending encouragement, and I very much appreciate that– truly, deeply. I thank you for that.

      However, I’d like to point some things out for you, and maybe for someone else who has read or heard something like it. There’s a lot of rhetorical baggage tied into the ideas behind “Praise God that Jesus makes all things new.”

      One of these ideas is that a woman can “reclaim her virginity,” or have a “second chance” of sorts. This is very commonly presented to women, in Christian environments, who have had sex before marriage. Either the young woman has been a Christian for a while, or has just converted. Either way, she is told that she can “become virginal again” if she just promises to remain chaste until marriage.

      While I’m not badmouthing abstinence as an ideal, I would like to question the underlying idea here: frequently, for women, the only thing that is valued about a woman’s sexuality in Christianity is her hymen. Not the wholeness of her sexuality, not her womanhood, not even her vagina is valued for *itself*– but only her virginity. This is a problem, and it was the main problem I was trying to address above. The precious gift I could give my husband was not my “reclaimed virginity,” but the wholeness of my sexuality. I couldn’t (and he couldn’t) care less about whether or not I was a virgin.

      Second, “Jesus making all things new” is intrinsically tied to “Jesus washing our sin away” (2 Cor. 5), and I find this connection . . . offensive, in the context of this post. I did not sin in the situation I described. I realize that you were *not* trying to offend, in fact I know you were intending the opposite, but I have heard this before, from other well-meaning people, and the connection has always bothered me.

      But, thank you again for reading, and for encouraging me– which you did. I hope you stick around.

      • Hey, I understand and unfortunately you have taken me out if context! I say this with a smile. As briefly as I can…. I was raised by abusive, molesting pedophiles that served up abuse before breakfast and followed it with a stiff drink! Obviously, my teen years were not going to mirror that of an amish lass! Long story short…3 marriage (8 children, 3 different dads)later I found myself (now saved)in a fellowship with Mennonite people that after our first meal (we’d only talked on the phone until this point) they informed my husband and I that our children were bastards, our marriage an abomination and we were in no way saved! So I guess my comment is coming from a woman that has experienced the ‘newness’ only Christ can offer. I never claimed to have a ‘new’ virginity, never wanted or needed it! I just love that Jesus reached down and dusted off a hurt little girl. And when I say Praise God….far out I MEAN IT. Praise God, for there is no man, no pain, no filth, no religious nut job that can remove the love that filled my heart and even after a life of abuse and religious wandering has been redeemed by the only One Who is able.
        That is all I meant, it was from a heart that rejoices daily in His goodness, that seeks after Him like a crazy woman and that trusts Him like a child. I don’t need to get doctrinally deep, I just wanted to love on you!!

      • And, I understood what you meant. :) I went to your blog and read for a while so I could get some context, so I could clearly see where you were coming from, personally. I just wanted to establish some more context for the women who might read this later. Thank you for sharing some of your story here.

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  7. Your blog is making me crazy – I didn’t realize I’d gotten into the habit of stuffing my feelings about all this (abuse, purity culture, modesty, authoritarian Christianity, etc) until I started reading your blog. I’ve been wondering why I can’t seem to break away from “happy happy” mode on my blog, and now I know – I’m scared. I’m scared of baring my soul, of saying “this is what happened to me” or “this isn’t okay” and having it trampled underfoot, not just by strangers, but by all the people who know me in real life who read my blog. I am pretty sure this is my childhood talking, and not my current reality – for instance, one of the people I have held up all these years as an example of a “nice Christian person” who responded in scary ways to my story turns out to be nothing more than another guy who bought rape culture ideals and used them against me. I need to write, but I’m scared. Your blog is helping me get through that, and I thank you.

    • Oh, Alena… I’ve been there, too. This can get really hard and really scary sometimes. I’ve had a bunch of people de-friend me on Facebook I’ve gotten really hateful comments from people who both know me and are strangers, and my relationship with my parents is suffering. Writing these things is not easy, but so very necessary. Hearing from people like you gives me the strength to keep going.

  8. I remember when I first witnessed the “rose” analogy. Even as steeped as I was in patriarchy and the purity culture…heck, I was one of the guys who helped set up the Modesty Survey…I knew there was something horribly, terribly wrong with the idea that a girl (or a guy) who made mistakes was less valuable and unwanted like a bedraggled rose.

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  11. I was flabbergasted the first time someone explained the “rose” analogy to me. My daughter’s best friend’s Sunday School class is “exploring” the Radiant Purity movement this year, and the best friend was trying to explain to my daughter why dating is bad, and why you should only court the person that you’re pretty sure you’re going to marry already. I was pleased to see that my daughter wasn’t buying it, either, but we could find absolutely nothing to say in response, other than “That sounds interesting.”

    I want to thank you, Samantha, right here and now, for mentioning the “Boundaries in Dating” book in an earlier post. I am reading it now and I’m going to give it to my daughter when I’m finished. So far, she and her best friend are able to be respectful of their differences in opinion, and I’m praying that that will continue, but I foresee a time where it’s going to be very difficult until (if) the best friend successfully breaks away from fundamentalism.

  12. Your openness touches me. It calls for an openness of my own, and the agonizing struggle of a confession that I am NOT ruined by my past. I am not defined by violated virginity.

    I was taught that dating was only permissible with the clear, stated intent of marriage, and in that context, boyfriends were to be respected–obeyed–as husbands and leaders of the home. Ken’s desires were to be esteemed above mine as a spiritual obedience to “honoring” him… yet our relationship was to be kept pure* (*in my case, my parents directed me to withhold all manner of touch, including hand-holding, until my wedding day). Breach of the purity code would brand me a “whore,” a “slut;” breach of the obedience code would label me unready to be a godly wife. Breach of either would get me excused from the fundamental Christian college I attended.

    You spoke of physical and verbal abuse in your relationship with “John”– I dated a man, “Ken,” for almost two years. He was strikingly similar to John: charismatic, popular and well-liked, handsome and humorous. He never hit me. But he emotionally battered my heart and sense of self.

    Six months into our relationship, he began asking (and taking) sexual favors. At first they were innocent enough… a warm hug at the end of a long day. A tender kiss on the cheek. an arm wrapped comfortingly around my waist. I loved the affection and tenderness, ate it up like a dog too long ignored. But then Ken began moving forcefully into unwelcome territory. The affectionate touch was not enough to satisfy his raging testosterone, and he encouraged me to wear provocative clothing… reached uninvited for my breasts and thighs, and when I protested that I was uncomfortable, he said he needed me to welcome his advances in order for him to feel like a man. If I “loved him,” I would comply. I was trapped. The man I believed I loved would deprive me of affection if I rejected his advances, but by accepting them, I would be deprived of affection by my friends and family. I had already crossed a “purity” line by accepting his embrace. I did the only thing that seemed to leave me with affection: I let him have his way. Touching me quickly ceased to provide Ken with the fix it had at the beginning, and he demanded that I *desire* to touch him. To service him with hand jobs. To participate in repeated, demeaning phone sex.To do things that I hated and am terribly ashamed of. For months this went on, interspersed with tears and pleadings to let me tell a friend, or my mom, or a counselor, and end the demeaning, guilt-ridden cycle that bound me. These were always shut down over a sharp reminder of what a confession would do to him (expulsion, diminished reputation).

    The abuse only ended when a fellow student reported us to the college administration. We were both expelled on the spot.

    I went home to a family that considered me a whore. I never heard from many of my college friends again. The college administration left me with the statement that “God was done with me.” I was conditioned to believe that the guilt was not partially, but entirely, mine.

    I tried to kill myself three times.

    Then… grace. Uncalculating, unreserved, un-rationed GRACE. Grace whispered to me as to Ephraim, typified by Hosea’s Gomer, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms… I led them with ropes of love. To them I was like one who eases the yoke from their jaws… My compassion is stirred! …for I am God and not man, the Holy One among you, I will not come in rage… I will freely love them” (Hosea 11:3-4, 9; 14:4).

    Defeating my dragon is claiming that I am not ruined–that God is not done with me. I am freely loved by God, and in that truth I rest.

    • This is the story for so many of us- and it’s heart breaking that this is what we’ve gone through. Every tinge I hear this, I sit and cry for all of us who have gone through this. What happened to us was wrong, and it wasn’t or fault, and we can step out from under this “back breaking burden” of shame that isn’t ours to bear. In this place, you’re loved by the people who know your story from having lived it, and by the God who comforts the broken and the hurting.

  13. I wanna thank you so much for writing about this. Sorry for the long ranty post that’s ahead, but this has been on my mind for a while! I never really thought about how damaging “purity’ culture could be until about last year. My parents (especially my mom) have been talking about marriage and how I should remain a “pure maiden” for my husband since I’m of marrying age (in my early 20′s). A lot of my family members and church members have the same idea, shaming those that didn’t wait until marriage to have sex.

    I started having flashbacks of being sexually molested as a child last year during my last relationship. I chose to have sex, but it was awful! I was always anxious and felt like I was being pushed to do things I didn’t want to do.The flashbacks would happen when “Jack” forced himself on me or held me down in similar ways like when I was molested. When the flashbacks started, I was so mortified I stopped having sex and the relationship soon ended. I couldn’t handle the shame of losing my virginity and having flashbacks. “Jack” tried to be understanding, but wanted to keep having sex and be rough with me, even after I told him about the flashbacks. After that, I knew never wanted to be in a position where I felt powerless again.I knew pre-marital sex was wrong, and also realized being molested would affect any future relationship I had.

    I think the way I was taught about sexual boundaries and purity was skewed from a young age. From the time I was 4-5, I remember my mother telling me things like, “Don’t let a boy touch you; if you put yourself in a situation where a boy inappropriately touches/rapes you, it’s your fault.” She always talked about how being touched/raped would make a girl dirty/impure, so by the time I was molested, I thought I was dirty and it was all my fault.

    The more my mother raved about me being a pure bride for my future husband (I’m single now so idk why she keeps talking about it), the more I cringed on the inside. I felt like trash. Hadn’t she remembered what my older cousins had done to me, and how they exposed my little cousins and I to pornography? How could my parents forget that they chose not to go to the police b/c family members didn’t want our family to be torn apart? For all the talk about father’s protecting their daughter’s purity, I felt like my parents left me defenseless in my own family. Since nothing was reported, more molestation happened until puberty.

    Since those flashbacks, I’ve felt so dirty whenever my preacher or youth pastor talked about purity and waiting until marriage to be intimate. From what I was taught, being pure was more than just not having sex. It meant setting boundaries and not engaging in behavior leading up to it (heavy kissing, touching another person sexually, etc.) Although I wasn’t raped, I know so many lines were crossed that have left me feeling impure.My first physical intimate encounters weren’t with someone I loved (like a boyfriend//husband) or consensual. They were against my will!

    When I think of being a future bride, I see myself as broken because I didn’t wait til marriage to have sex and I’ll have to tell my husband I was sexually molested. I feel like that’s double whammy or something :( I know being molested wasn’t fault, but it feels that way. Idk what to do. I’m praying God will heal me of my pain to move forward with my life. I’m also praying He’ll help me meet people I can talk to about this issue. Outside the internet, I’ve NEVER heard the issue of purity culture and sexual abuse brought up before. I hope you keep writing about issues like this! Now I know I’m not alone :)

    • Thank you for sharing your story here– I know how much bravery that takes, but every story matters. Every voice matters.

      I also wanted to touch on something you’ve mentioned here. It sounds like you grew up in an environment very similar to mine– especially how women are blamed, even when what happened to them was not their fault, and not something they could have prevented.

      In your relationship with Jack, which, from what you’ve said here, I am relieved you’re no longer in it… it sounds like a lot of the physical things were also non-consensual. I want to ask you a question, and I hope you’ll think about it.

      Have you thought that maybe what happened with Jack was rape?

      I only ask because what you’re describing here sounds terrifyingly similar to my thought process after I got out of my relationship with “John.” Because of what I’d been taught, I didn’t know that he’d raped me until a long time afterwards– almost two years later, actually. I had done other physical things with him– but they all happened under an extreme amount of pressure, very often threats (like “I’ll break up with you if you don’t ____” or “you’re ruined for anyone, so you might as well _____” ). The first time he raped me, the only way I had to think about it was as “sex I didn’t want to have, but was still my fault.”

      That was wrong.

      John raped me, end of story. Sex you don’t want to have is rape. And it’s not your fault if he blew past all your boundaries without ensuring that you wanted to have sex, too.

      This can also look like you being the one to initiate the physicality– I “initiated” a lot of the physical things I did with John, but not because I wanted to, but because he convinced me that if I didn’t act like that he would hurt me, or leave me. Any non-consensual sexual act is assault, pure and simple.

      Of course, I don’t know anything about your situation outside of what you’ve said here, but I just wanted to ask, because I wish someone had asked me four years ago.

      I also wanted to leave you with words of comfort– for a very long time, I was at where you’re at now. I’m married to the most impossibly wonderful man I couldn’t have dreamed out. He’s spectacular, and he loves me. Our physical relationship was difficult– there was a lot of things I had to get past, and it took time and counseling. But we did it, together, because he made me feel cherished, adored, and safe. That is possible for you, too. The kind of guy that will be upset because of your past is not the man you want to be with.

  14. Hi, thank you so much to responding! Honestly, it terrifies me to know I may’ve been raped. Thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. My mind keeps telling me no, it wasn’t rape…it couldn’t have been, it was just rough sex.

    Were you ever scared/shocked when you realized you’d been raped? Because that’s how I feel…scared to admit I was raped :’( The more I think back on some things that happened with “Jack”, I think it was rape.

    I remember how our relationship progressed after we went out for a few months and got to know each other as more than friends. Once I started hanging out with him alone, he slowly became touchy-feely. It started with tickles and kisses-I didn’t mind that at all. But soon, “Jack” started slipping his hands under my shirt and pants while we watched tv. He didn’t ask if liked that until after it was over.I felt awful. He apologized, but his behavior escalated.

    I don’t mean to get into too much detail, but he continued to act that way once we got physical. Before we did though, I remember him saying, “I’ve wanted to sleep with you for a long time…but I didn’t wanna rape you since that would hurt you …you’d never look at me the same. So I figured I’d ask first.” He tried to laugh it off, but it scared me. I couldn’t believe the thought of raping me had crossed his mind.When he wasn’t forceful when we were physical, things were good. He would listen, make sure I was okay and was gentle. But he got a real kick out seeing me powerless. When he’d get rough with me, he’d say things afterwards like, “I’m sorry, but it felt too good to stop” or “I can’t control myself when I’m with you.”

    I remember begging him to stop holding me down during sex once b/c the pain was intense. He continued to hold me down until he he was done. I curled up into a ball on his bed and cried. I told him he should’ve stopped and ignored him for a few days. Afterwards, he apologized and promised it’d never happen again, but it did. Similar incidents happened again or he’d wrap his hands around my neck and tell me to stop whining, stop being so tense and “take it” when I wasn’t enjoying sex.

    So were those experiences with “Jack” rape? I think so, but part of me is still uncertain or would rather think no. Is that normal?

    Thank you for the words of comfort :) I think a really great guy will come along (or already has-idk yet) one day, but I’m not sure I want be with anyone right now. Dealing with what happened in my childhood and my last relationship is a lot to process.

    • Oh, Sunny, this breaks my heart.

      Part of what being able to call what happened to me “rape” was also the accompanying realization: it wasn’t my fault. It was something that had been done to me, not something I was responsible for. However, it did come with the uncomfortable realization that, when it came to “John,” I had been largely powerless and helpless. That was.. frightening at times. But, since then, I’ve learned much more about myself and how to respond to those who make me feel powerless.

      And yes– I think it’s completely normal for someone to consciously struggle with the idea that they were hurt in such a personal, intimate way. I still have problems thinking about what happened with John, so that I can understand.

      One of the important things to remember about consent is that just because you say “yes” to sex, you are not saying yes to anything your partner wants. You are saying yes to what you want. And at any point during sex, you have the right to withdraw consent any time you want if your partner is doing something you don’t like. If your partner does not respond to that withdrawal, then what he/she is doing after that point is rape– because it has moved from consensual to non-consensual sex. You have autonomy, and the right to decide what happens to your body. Someone who does not respect your rights to your own body is an abuser.

      Another important idea bout consent is that it is more your partner’s obligation to make sure you want sex. The person who wants sex needs to make sure that the other person wants it, too– and that goes all the way down to how you have sex.

      From other things you’ve described here (like Jack apologizing but then not altering his behavior)– it sounds frighteningly close to what I went through with John.

      Right now, I’m praying for you, and I love you, even though I’ve never met you. Your story is important, and sharing this journey is important, too.

  15. Pingback: learning the words: consent | Defeating the Dragons

  16. I know this post is a little older, but I can’t read & not comment.

    Thank you for speaking truth. Thank you for boldly pointing out the lies & damage of purity culture.

    I’m so sorry for what you experienced, sorry that your fundamentalist background & our culture cause you to second-guess the validity of your sexual assaults.

    I wish you continued healing & shalom.

  17. Pingback: Question: What Do Presents, Chocolate Bars, Roses, Chewing Gum, and Packing Tape Have in Common?

  18. Pingback: Crosspost: What Do Presents, Chocolate Bars, Roses, Chewing Gum, and Packing Tape Have in Common? | H • A

  19. So I know that this is an older entry, but I have just found your blog via the “God is done with you” post someone shared on FB. I have been reading some of your entries and find your perspective insightful. I have a hint of where you are coming from,as I went to PCS (now PCA) from kindergarten through middle school. That was about the point where I felt the rules became oppressive and fortunately, my parents let me go to another school.
    Your blog and the Becoming Worldly blog that you have linked to elsewhere got me thinking…
    These men, the ones who can’t be trusted to see an ankle, a knee, a glimpse of cleavage, without flying into a fit of unrestrained lust, are the same men that women (specifically those who follow a patriarchy or quiverfull mindset) are supposed to trust with every decision and believe that these men have the woman’s best interest at heart the minute the get married?
    I see a major flaw with that logic.
    Either these men can control themselves and should be fully responsible for their actions (and thus, not need to impinge on the woman’s freedom of expression in terms of dress and manerisms) or they are not the benevolent pseudo-god the the patriarchy thinkers make men out to be. They can’t have it both ways. Meaning that they can’t be blameless for their actions outside of marriage but then hold all responsibility and decision-making power within marriage. Just curious what you/others think about that…

  20. Just discovered your blog, it’s wonderful by the way. I’m single; never faced what so many of you have faced. Raised Methodist. Currently a hyphenated Quaker. What I’m reading, the blogs I’ve discovered, the politics of apology for domination and abuse has me asking a question I never, ever thought I’d ask. Is time to just let the whole cobbled together “Christian framework” collapse under it’s own weight and try to build something better when the dust settles?

  21. I started to cry while reading this. This is my life too. I had a fiancé who pushed things too far, and told me often he had to use porn because I wouldn’t put out enough. I thought I loved him too. We broke off our engagement and he told my entire church I was a slut. I’ve dealt with the shame of feeling broken, worthless and impure my entire life since. Thankfully, I’m now married to a wonderful who thinks all the purity culture stuff is pretty much BS, and he certainly doesn’t regard me as a used candy bar. I just think it’s sad and horrible that so many women seem to have gone through this as a result of the quiverful, fundie, purity cultures.

  22. I’ve read a lot of stories like this, but this one hit me harder than most. Well written.
    I shared this on The anti-purity movement facebook page (facebook.com/antipurity) because it is the most gut-wrenching narrative I’ve encountered yet.

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