Changing the Narrative

(Photo by Selma Komisky)

Changing the Narrative

By Zelda Dominguez

As a writer, there are many times I’ve written an article or story and then in reading it over, I have removed some things and began to rewrite sections. Sometimes eliminating the whole thing, and rewriting in another direction. That’s the beauty of writing your own story. You have the power to change it however you’d like.

Martin Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

Oscar Wilde quotes, “The One duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”

Frank Herbert notes, “there is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

That’s what I want to say regarding the Purity Culture. If you grew up in it or were deeply affected by it, don’t let the story stop there. You have an opportunity to rewrite and continue the story.  

Purity culture is the term often used for the evangelical movement which peaked in the 90s/early 00s that attempted to promote a biblical view of purity by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage. The undertone belief was to do this because it will make life better so bad things would not happen and you would have a happy marriage in the end.

Thinking about this, I did a survey of my own. I wasn’t fully aware of the repercussions of the movement, so I asked several random people I knew who grew up in the purity culture to tell me how they felt about it, how it affected them, and what would they change if they could something? So here it is, straight them their hearts. Some have never talked about it and I want to thank them all for sharing. They were happy to finally be heard.


Purity Culture Survivor #1: I think there was good and bad to the purity culture. I think there was harm in the way it was delivered. It’s always geared towards girls. We were required to wear one-piece bathing suits with shirts and shorts over them. But the boys ran around shirtless. I think that taught girls to be ashamed and boys that if a girl is wearing something that showed more, they’re a sex object. Also, women were raised in this culture of “sex is bad, don’t do it,” and then all of a sudden on your wedding night you’re expected to flip the switch?”

Purity Culture Survivor #2. It was bad. It was ingrained in my mind that sex was bad and affected me greatly. After I got married I couldn’t get the thought that sex was bad out of my mind. I felt guilty and dirty and did not enjoy it. I still struggle with that mentality to this day and obviously, it really hurt my marriage. My husband thought I wasn’t attracted to him and it’s a hard concept to even talk to him about. Obviously, they had good intentions, but I would rewrite the story and say maybe teach God-created sex for the context of marriage. It’s not bad. They should have focused on the beauty of it, once married.

Purity Culture Survivor #3 Purity culture affected me in a negative way. It made me feel ashamed and questioned everything I did or wore in order not to “stumble” boys and men. It put unnecessary pressure on me at a young age when nothing of that sort was on my mind. It made me afraid/ashamed to ask basic questions about sex or my body to my parents. Most everything about purity culture feels wrong. As a youth going to church camp, I felt pressured and had responsibility put on me and other females not to stumble our brothers. I never heard anything told to the boys about respecting the girls or any responsibility on them. There was a constant double standard for females. I don’t agree with the purity culture and believe it does more harm than good, specifically to young females putting on the pressure of needing to appease and protect the eyes of males and being made to feel shame for how I looked for simply being female. I am not sure there would be a better way. I think the church should take the pressure off girls and hold males more accountable. Respect should be taught.

Purity Culture Survivor #4. I agreed with the heart and intent behind the movement, but I do think it got out of hand in the overemphasis of sex = purity. That culture made it feel as if that was the most important and only way to remain pure. Instead of a more holistic way – heart, soul, mind, AND body. Focusing on Christ and what He did, not sex. It put a lot of pressure without having vulnerable real conversations. I do think by over-emphasizing the ideas of ‘purity’ would probably alienate and fill with shame those that haven’t remained pure and held to those standards. They talked about forgiveness but always in small bullet points. They never like really dug into it. I feel like the majority of the people in the church were guilty of messing up, and even our leaders and people who were teaching these things. I wasn’t really scarred by the culture, or it didn’t cause me to not take part in the church. On the contrary, it actually was rooted deep in the core of what I believed and wanted in a relationship. But looking back I don’t know if it created the healthiest perspective, nor taught me how to navigate through that in the best way.

Purity Culture Survivor #5. I think this was not at all a good way to set a foundation for my sexuality. It was presented negatively and as sinful not as God created our bodies, our sexuality, and sex, and it’s beautiful. My parents didn’t talk to me about it and the church didn’t really talk about my body, feelings, and what or how to manage through that. There was only guilt and shame. It makes me very angry that I had to go on this very negative journey and be made to feel bad, with no one to really talk to. I am now very passionate to have these open conversations and try to be there for others.

Purity Culture Survivor #6. I was taught to not date. And when you do have a boyfriend, that’s the guy you were going to marry. So being so young and being taught sex was bad, I remember just kissing my boyfriend and crying being riddled with guilt because I was evil to act upon those feelings. I felt very shameful because I was feeling things I was taught were wrong and hadn’t even had sex, yet I was feeling I was a bad person.

Purity Culture Survivor #7. It was treated as if purity was more important than your actual walk with God. It was more like sex was being an item and if you crossed that boundary you would never recover. We were treated as already tainted if thoughts or anything crossed anyone’s minds. I saved myself for marriage, yet it wasn’t taught about what I’d experienced, instead, it wasn’t good. I was a good Christian girl and heard about other people as I sat in marriage feeling like God betrayed me. Why was it demonized? Something that seemed so little, compared to everything else in relationships? Also, clothing, style, and the way we presented ourselves were judged. It shot major insecurities and made us hyper-aware of our bodies. We were taught modesty or we basically lead guys to porn if we wear something too tight. Which is absurd and not our responsibility.  Men’s accountability is their own, not women’s. I was looked down upon as tainted because I had guy friends. It made me feel insecure like I should try and do better. Men seemed more entitled. We never were taught about sex yet always talked about sex. We were taught dating was wrong and wasn’t healthy.   

Purity Culture Survivor #8. You have no idea how badly I’ve been impacted by this. I’m literally in therapy. I didn’t realize this was an issue until I got married. I waited and was told if you wait until marriage, you’d be compatible and live happily ever after. But it almost reminds me of the prosperity gospel. If you give enough, pray enough, and be good enough, God will give you wealth and success, and that’s not it at all! I knew nothing! I wish they would have shared realistically the truth about sex, and as a young person what were normal emotions that I would experience. They may have said, “Oh no, it’s not our place.” But why not, they told us everything else! Another thing I was told was that if I didn’t save myself, I would essentially be dirty used trash. And if I knew I couldn’t wait, just get married. On top of that purity, culture taught women that men lust all the time and it’s our job to help them. That they will push the boundaries sexually, so it’s up to the woman to stop when that happens. In general, the church needs to talk about sex and relationships A LOT better, and not ignore it. It can’t be taboo. I have many friends getting divorced in less than five years. We can’t shy away from this. We can’t keep the topic of sex or answering questions hush, hush. Kids are hearing about it already, from their friends in school if not from their parents. There needs to be healthy, godly conversations about this. We were taught women want to feel love and guys are very visually driven. It was very one-sided, like it’s not important to a woman. Telling guys all they want is sex. Where is that in the bible? Guys need that emotional connection in marriage as well, not just looking at the wife for his own satisfaction.