(Photo by Natalie Reed)
Confessions of A Purity Culture Survivor
By Zelda Dominguez
Have you ever wrestled with something within and never really expressed it out loud? You might have thought, “Who am I going to share these feelings with?” “Will I be judged or will there be someone who’d understand?” “Will my feelings even make a difference?”
Perhaps you’ve said these things and have kept your feelings to yourself. It has been a few decades now since the Purity culture movement arose. I think originally, with good intentions behind it. But looking back at how things were executed, the outcome was not as positive as those who started the movement desired. Here is a first-time personal confession of a person who pledged and experienced purity culture.
“Why am I even here?” I asked myself! I didn’t want to talk about sex or relationships at that age. I was 12-years-old when my parents forced me to go to a purity conference for all ages. The day felt uncomfortable, like wearing a sweater of dry grass. I went from only talking about God and the Bible at church, to puberty, sex, and God all in a few short hours. It was like going from a tricycle to a motorcycle in five seconds; I wasn’t ready for it. I would say this was an unhealthy conference that should’ve been dealt with on a more personal level at my age.
I walked away from there with a mindset that….
1. Attraction to my opposite sex is wrong.
2. You should just save your virginity so someone will want you.
3. Boys are attracted to girls, so girls should dress in a way so they don’t make them sin.
4. Anyone who made the mistake of giving away their virginity sinned but they could be forgiven.
This may not be what was taught, but it’s what was translated to a 12-year-old mind at the time. The conference made me feel embarrassed to talk about anything personal with my parents. I didn’t want to tell them about any attractions I had at my age and this continued well past dating my future spouse.
While being attracted to the opposite sex as a teen was a natural thing, that opinion was not preached. The conference also made me feel like I couldn’t dress in an attractive way. The way a girl dresses could stumble a boy – then feminity and dressing like a girl was wrong. I always had a desire to dress pretty but anytime I did, I got scolded.
And, the conference wasn’t personal. I wasn’t like the others who happily began puberty, had a wonderful relationship with their parents or knew when others liked them. In fact, it was hard to transition to something like this so abruptly with no warning at all. It was like getting thrown into a “purity culture pool” without knowing how to swim. It did not teach me how to react to others who would have sex before marriage. I had an unhealthy outlook on this. If someone could judge my life without knowing me, wouldn’t it seem fair that I could go out in the world judging others? In short, no it wasn’t.
I wish I could have a list of the good that came to me from purity culture, however, it gave me none of that. The good came from personal relationships with other believers. One-on-one conversations which had topics that ranged from movies, clothes, pop culture, friends, food, healthy relationships, puberty, etc. It was never a public declaration of purity, but personal relationships between myself, God, and other Christians that helped me the most.
If I could rewrite anything, I would emphasize the need for parents to connect with their kids before their teen years. Don’t make the awkward years worse by trying to connect with the teen you don’t know. Secondly, I would encourage churches to run youth groups with sound mentors well past their 20s. Third, I would encourage youth to know how to distinguish between someone’s opinion and what the Bible says. The only way to do that is to teach them to read the Bible themselves and then actually do it.