This is why purity culture is dangerous
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    7 minutes read
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    Aug 8, 2023
    The Dangers of Purity Culture
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    Written by: Taylor Maness

    Have you ever winced when someone used anatomically correct language as opposed to an expected euphemism? Do your eyes ever scan the room around you when a sex scene comes on TV? Do you avoid making eye contact with the mirror when you step out of the shower to avoid seeing your own naked body?

    While these acts may seem like natural reactions to seemingly ‘uncomfortable’ situations, let’s take a step back and simply ask ‘why?’ Why do we feel ill at ease in situations that even subtly hint towards sex, sexuality, or even just our own bodies?

    
    

    Well the root of all of these questions can be answered with two simple words: purity culture.

    Purity culture is our society’s perpetuation of (and obsession with) with sexual purity. This puritanical way of thinking overtly ensenates that sex is inherently shameful and individuals that ‘circum’ to their sexual desires are somehow immoral and even deplorable. And even in a time where the sex positivity movement is actively growing and thriving, somehow purity culture is just as relevant today…and it might have a greater stronghold on us than we even realize.

    So let’s take some time to unpack our society’s obsession with sexual purity, how insidious it is in our lives, and how we can begin to separate ourselves from this harmful narrative.

    We are introduced to purity culture before we are even able to comprehend what it truly is. This can come from misogynistic school dress codes that specifically target young girls, the almost-inevitable ‘abstinence’ talk you receive randomly in PE (which also doubles as health) class, and parents warning (and even threatening) their children not to engage in sex while simultaneously refusing to have open conversations with them about it. We also grow up hearing derogatory terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ being used like weapons against anyone that dares explore their sexuality.

    As we internalize all of these small but significant moments, we begin to fear our own sexuality and develop unhealthy (and damaging) relationships with sex. Let's go over a few of the MANY ways purity culture negatively effects how we see ouselves, others, and the world around us.

    Systemic Misogyny

    ‘Boys will be boys’ is a phrase you’ve probably heard at some point in your life…unfortunately. This phrase is rooted in the idea that women are natural born ‘temptresses’ and men are so entranced by them that they simply MUST have them. Now if this sounds absurd it’s because it absolutely is. When we act like men have no agency over their sexual actions, the responsibility then shifts to the women. This means women are expected to suppress their sexuality and act, dress, and speak in a way that will not promote ‘impure thoughts’ for men. And these unspoken guidelines are strict to say the very least. If a woman dresses in a way that shows off her body, seeks out birth control and sexual healthcare, speaks openly about sex, or acts outside of this rigid, pure-as-snow box, she is deemed a ‘whore’ by society and ultimately seen as a less-than human being. And if you think this sounds dramatic, think about the amount of times you’ve heard someone say, ‘what was she wearing?’

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    LGBTQIA+ Erasure

    If you noticed the paragraph above highlights a very heterosexual, binary-focused way of living, it’s because purity culture only recognizes (and supports) heteronormativity. This means all sexualities, genders, and identities are not seen as valid. The blatant homophobia that purity culture reeks of props up the systematic hate that LGBTQIA+ individuals face everyday just for existing. It also not only excuses violence, but encourages it. And the worst part of it is, people then feel justified in their heinous actions. Can you tell I’m getting heated?? Because I am.

    Read More: Celebrating PRIDE 101!

    Absence of Pleasure

    Sex should feel good. I know this is far from a profound statement, but I think it’s something that our society seems to forget. When we look at sex through a puritanical lens, pleasure is completely taken out of the equation. This is because sexual pleasure is seen as a ‘sinful’ indulgence that should be shamed. This deep seeded shame can cause us to feel anxiety, distress, and detachment over sex and even our own bodies…and there’s nothing orgasmic about that. But, in case no one has told you, sexual pleasure is important! It helps us feel connected to our bodies, increases intimacy between partners, and ultimately increases your overall quality of life (I could literally give a laundry list of benefits, but I’ll stop there).

    TW: topics of sexual assault

    Sexual Abuse

    When we are only allowed to speak about sex in hushed tones, this leaves room for unchecked violence and cruelty to run rampant. We speak so seldomly of sexual violence that many may presume that it isn’t an issue, but that is far from correct. In fact, 1 in 6 women and AFAB people in America will become a victim of sexual assault. And while we should be embracing these victims and providing them with the resources they need to heal, we instead stifle victims and force them to suffer in silence. This is enforced through our society’s overwhelming tendency to blame victims for their own assault. “What were they wearing?” “Were they drinking?” “Why were they out so late?” Because simply blaming victims is more palatable than facing the fact that sexual violence is a major issue in our society.

    To all victims: we see you, we believe you, and we stand with you. Here is a list of resources to help you in your healing journey.

    *AFAB means assigned female at birth, this refers specifically to an individual’s biological sex. AFAB people can have a wide range of gender identities and expressions.

    Increased Sexual Health Risks

    Sexual education in public schools is a not-so-funny joke and few parents take the time to provide this education themselves. Most of the ‘education’ includes using scare tactics to force young people into abstinence (which we all know doesn’t work). This means that young people grow up having little to no awareness of what STIs are, how to prevent them, and how to take care of yourself if you contract one. However, once you learn that STIs are incredibly common (literally 1 in 2 Americans will get one in their lifetime) and, depending on the infection, there are treatments that can either cure an STI or manage the symptoms, you can go into sexual situations knowing the best way to keep you and your partner(s) safe. But guess what…you can’t do any of this if you were constantly told that ‘abstinence is the best policy.’

    Read More: What is Sex Coaching and Who Can Benefit?

    So now that we’ve broken down a few of the MANY ways ‘purity culture’ is harmful to us, this is where we start the work. We now have to unlearn all of the toxic narratives we’ve been fed and begin replacing them with healthy, informed, and compassionate thoughts about sex. While taking the time to reeducate ourselves may take some time, it is completely worth it to have a happy, sex-positive future!

    Reviewed by Adrienne Ton, APRN-CNP on Aug 7, 2023

    This article provides information about sexual health, healthcare and/or related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of TBD Health Inc.

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