My heart hurts, tonight.
It hurts for my fellow women who were raised in a culture so steeped in purity culture and modesty culture. Who were constantly surrounded by it, who were indoctrinated into it from such a young age.
It hurts for those who have realized there is another way to live and have chosen to leave. For the struggle they continue to experience and all the thoughts and behaviors they have to unlearn.
For the unspoken messages that were learned. For those who learned that their bodies were shameful, dangerous things, and for the body hate that they learned. For the women who learned that it was normal for their bodies to be objectified by men and that it was their responsibility to protect men from the desire to lust. For those who feel the weight of that responsibility in a daily basis and struggle to bear the weight of it.
For the women who absorbed the implied message that sexual assault was their fault for having a body that is too alluring, too much of a temptation for men, and that the way they dressed was clearly too immodest and caused their assaulter to stumble into lust and sin. For the women who felt they were worth less because they no were no longer virgins, regardless of whether that virginity was lost by choice or by force.
For the women who learned to shy away from the slightest touch of a man. For the women who are now struggling to learn to accept the touch of a man, whether that is within the bounds of a marriage or a dating relationship. For the women who feel dirty or ashamed of their sexual desires, or are trying to learn how to speak for themselves and the importance of consent, which was never taught within the bounds of purity culture.
It hurts for the men who are afraid to even look at an attractive woman for fear of stumbling into sexual sin. For the joy it robs them of in everyday life, for the constant need they feel to guard themselves from every temptation. For the idea that is implied in purity culture that even the slightest feeling of attraction to a woman’s beauty must be a sin.
It aches for those who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, for the heternormative ideas that make it so much harder and more confusing for them to understand and come to terms with themselves.
It hurts for those whose sexual orientations don’t fit into the neat virgin groom + virgin bride model put forward by purity culture. For those who learned that a marriage between a man and a woman is to be valued above all else.
We shouldn’t have to struggle with these things. We shouldn’t have to work to unlearn these damaging messages, whether they were intended or not. We should be able to find a sense of worth in ourselves as people, not in whether or not we still possess our virginity.
We should be able to enjoy getting to know another person without having to struggle with the ingrained rules of purity culture that try to govern our every move. We should relish those first, sweet moments of expressing affection for another for the first time, rather than simply rejoicing over being able to express any affection at all.
We should be able to go to the beach without worrying about if a swimsuit shows too much skin, or about being tempted by a lovely woman in a bikini. We should be able to express our gender or sexual orientation without the baggage that has been learned from years of heterenormative training and expectations.
This isn’t the reality that many of us live in, though. For many of us, unlearning these negative messages from years of purity culture indoctrination is a long and slow process. I won’t claim to have made it through this process, yet, because I know I am still far from it. One thing I have learned from the progress I’ve made so far, though; it is worth it. The struggle is worth it. The discomfort is worth it. Having to pause to mentally reassure yourself that what you are feeling, what you are wanting is okay is worth it. It gets better.
A few weeks ago, I was still uncomfortable with even chatting with gentlemen via email on a dating site. Simply walking into a coffee shop or restaurant to meet them on a first date took every ounce of determination I had. Even that has already gotten better, though. I’ve come to a point where I can enjoy getting to know a gentleman or lady via messaging and then look forward to meeting them, once we get that far. I still get nervous and a little uncomfortable about meeting them, but that is starting to ease, too. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m confident that, if I keep working on it and challenging the assumptions I learned from purity culture, I can get through this and learn to truly enjoy having a relationship with someone else.
If you’re struggling right now, too, know that you aren’t alone. It gets better with some time and persistence. We didn’t learn all the thought and behavior patterns of purity culture overnight, nor can we unlearn them in a day. We shouldn’t have to deal with all of these hurtful ideas at all, but this is our reality. If we are patient with ourselves and each other, and offer support to each other, though, we can change that reality, one piece at a time. It won’t always hurt like this. To quote one of my favorite songs by Josh Groban, “Don’t give up, because you are loved.”