(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Uncovering The Lies of Sex and Purity
By Cherise Stewart
Lies. It’s something that we have all told in our lives to avoid consequences or to not hurt someone we care for feelings. Are lies ever okay? What happens when a whole generation is lied to? This might be okay if it is something that does not impact our lives on a daily basis. But, what happens when we are lied to about the bigger things in life, like sex.
Purity culture is one of those “lies” that led to a whole generation of people being confused, misinformation, and duped into believing that sex that wrong and immoral.
The origins of purity culture were rooted in trying to protect Christians from sexual immorality and preserve the beauty of sex within a marriage. The root of the message was good, however, the message of why Christians “should” abstain from sex was riddled with lies. These lies (little and big ones) seemed innocent at first but in time created a ripple effect of hurt, pain, and shame that cannot be erased.
Purity Culture was a driving force behind many of the myths and lies Christians believe about sex. The impact is still influencing our relationships daily and often drives couples into therapy. Purity promises us happiness, a better marriage, and fantastic sex. However, as Psychologist Camden Morgante points out that purity culture messages “use false promises, misinformation, and shame to persuade people to abstain from sex.”
One of those promises is what many refer to as the “Flipped Switch” which preaches that if we are to stay sexually pure before our wedding day, on our honeymoon night, we will be “switched on” and sex will be amazing, fulfilling, and easy.
The problem is, that our human brains do not work that way. Neural pathways are created in our brain with repetition and reinforcement.
If we are told from childhood that sex is off-limits, bad, sinful, lustful, and something to resist, then when given the green light, it is going to be hard to change those neural pathways and allow ourselves to feel that sex is now healthy, positive, and a gift from God.
After marriage, many couples are left with a sense of being duped. Sex is not instantly “mind-blowing”, hurts, and often takes a lot of time and practice for both partners to feel fulfilled. This lack of immediate gratification can lead to frustration and often sexual dysfunction due to not being able to “switch on” our brains from understanding that sex is now “good” and no longer “off-limits”
One of the biggest impacts on our sexual health is shame. Relationship and sex therapist Andrew Aaron, LICSW says that “Most of us have internalized shame just from growing up in a culture that believes deeply that sex, our bodies, and our sex parts are bad,” therefore making it difficult to “switch on” our sex drive after years of being told that it is wrong.
Shame can lead to a lack of self-confidence, lack of intimacy, and an inability to feel sexual pleasure. This is not what God had in mind when he created intimacy and sex.
In fact, the Bible is filled with “pro-sex” messages including wanting husbands to “fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 7:3) and in Genesis 2:25 NLT it states that the “…man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” No shame.
God did not design sex to include shame, quite the opposite, he wants our “…manhood [to] be a blessing” He wants us to “rejoice in the wife of your youth. Let her charms and tender embrace satisfy you” He wants love to include sex and fill us “with delight” Proverbs 5:18-19 (TLB).
If you are caught up in the lies of purity culture which now is reinforcing that neural pathway of shame in you, here are some steps you can take to help change this narrative and heal from the lies you were told.
- Pray. Pray that God will reveal his truth to you. Pray that he will heal your heart and mind from the false messages you were told to believe.
- Talk to someone. A friend, a therapist, a pastor. Being able to identify “the common thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns associated with sexual shame is the first step to overcoming it” Andrew Aaron, LICSW
- Explore your body. What feels good? What feels safe?
- Journal your thoughts and feelings around sex. This will help you identify thoughts and feelings you need to challenge and process through.
- Work toward forgiveness of yourself and others.
Trying to undo and heal the effects of the lies we believed in going to take time. Most of us will need some help on this journey of healing sexual shame, and that’s okay. The first step in any change is being able to acknowledge that it is there. Recognizing that you have a normal reaction to an abnormal expectation of being able to switch on and off your sexual drive will hopefully help you feel compassion for yourself and others.