In the past, I’ve been told it isn’t a good idea for me to write about about religion. But I can’t help it–I’m drawn to spirituality. It’s a huge part of people’s lives. Here in Canada, only 23.9 percent of the population claims to not have some sort of religious affiliation. Therefore, those who believe in (a) God are in the majority.
Whether it’s discussed or ignored, religion has tremendous cultural and personal power. Most people’s understanding of the divine likely colours the way they view themselves and others. Faith also has the power to determine the way folks perceive every part of their lives, including their sexuality.
When religion has a healthy influence over the way someone sees relationships, it can promote a deeper level of things such as commitment and self-care. When its impact is unhealthy, it can lead to distorted ideas concerning oneself and others. Among Christians, this negativity can manifest itself through purity culture, an entity that
…encompasses the emphasis on virginity before marriage and on maintaining emotional purity that pervades fundamentalism and evangelicalism, made visible in purity balls, purity rings, purity pledges, and modesty teachings. These teachings are not limited to fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and can be seen in the culture at large with the slut/virgin dichotomy and the prevalence of abstinence only sex education in public schools. In its most extreme, the purity culture involves giving up dating for a return to parent-guided courtship, and even arranged marriages.*
Fortunately, some are daring to turn the tide. Not too long ago, I got in touch with Lola Prescott, creator of No Shame Movement, a platform committed to countering purity culture’s stifling hold on Christianity.
I asked her some questions, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to share her thoughts on my blog.
What’s your religious background? Were you born into a church family?
I grew up in a Christian household, around conservative evangelicals and Pentacostals. I also attended Christian schools during my preteen and teen years.
Growing up, what were you taught about sex?
Explicitly, I was taught to believe that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed between husbands and wives. Implicitly, I learned that sex was something that men do to women: Men want sex and women must do everything they can to keep them from getting it.
Any discussion of sex outside of marriage was considered disgusting. For instance, TV characters who talked a lot about sex were thought of as “raunchy” and cast in a negative light.
Policing or shaming people’s sexuality is an integral part of purity culture. Can you give me an example of a purity culture tool that you think has been especially harmful?
[Purity culture] infantilizes teens and young adults. They’re taught to “avoid temptation” in a variety of ways instead of learning how to set healthy boundaries and communicate with their partners; it also doesn’t teach the concept of consent.
It’s harmful because it has resulted in a whole generation of Christians who have no idea of how to have a healthy relationship and believe they’re “damaged” [because of] any physical activity they’ve engaged in outside of a heterosexual marriage.
When it comes to myths that some Christians perpetuate about sexuality, what do you think is the biggest one?
You’re either Chaste-y McVirginton or you’re a sex fiend, running around having sex with any and everyone. Also, [there’s] the notion that having sex outside [of] a hetero marriage will ruin your life…When you’re told consistently that sex will result in heartache and depression, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Suppose someone tells you that we need “purity culture” to keep us on the right track in our Christian walk. What would you say to them?
I have a website full of receipts that say otherwise. One of the main reasons I started NSM is to have a place for people to share stories. It’s easy to argue with one person, but a multitude of people sharing stories with a common theme is harder to ignore.
In terms of deconstructing or destroying purity culture, what do you think people can do? Do you think it’s possible…? Better yet, how can people heal from its influence?
It is definitely possible, but it’s an ongoing process. People [need to] start with educating themselves. Many people who grew up in purity culture are woefully uninformed about sex ed. Get to know your own body and discover what you like and don’t like. Be patient with yourself. Recognize whether or not you’re ready to be sexually active, and don’t be afraid to communicate that clearly with your partner.
Also, [it’s important to] talk to people who share your experiences.
The bottom line is to understand that the things that are best for YOU don’t necessarily equal things that are best for ALL.
How can people find out more about you and the No Shame Movement? What’s your URL, social media handle, etc.?
Thanks again to Ms. Prescott for her time.
*Definition taken from The “Purity Culture”–a definition and resource list on pathos.com