Guest Post: 7 Thoughts from a Married Woman Healing from the “Purity Culture”

Today, I am excited to share a guest post with you.  Rebecca Lemke is the author of The Scarlet Virgins: When Sex Replaces Salvation.  I value the perspective she brings to this discussion because she is married.

Too often, when I talk about things like the purity culture, I think people erroneously believe I say the things I do because I’m single.  “Jessica, if you were married, then you would understand. When you get married you will see why we need to do things this way.”

No. No, I actually won’t.  And I firmly believe that.  So does Rebecca.  She also grew up in the purity culture and it affected her marriage.  She sent me an e-mail after I published one of my posts and I asked her to share some of her experience and perspective with you!

I grew up in Christian purity culture. This means I was surrounded by purity rings, purity pledges, purity balls, True Love Waits conferences, and books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye. While all of these things were meant for a worthy goal, impressing the importance of sexual purity on young people, the efforts had unintended consequences and took on a legalistic tone in the lives of many.

Children like me were taught that having a crush meant you had an emotional STD. We were told, if you had a crush, you had given an irretrievable part of your heart away to the person you felt attracted to, even if you never expressed that attraction or lusted after them.

Kissing, hand holding, and hugging were seen as “gateway drugs” to sexual intercourse and were forbidden before marriage. Failure to obey these rules, often set by Scripture being used out of context, would result in us being told that we were damaged goods, de-petaled flowers, dirty water, etc. Our worth, we were taught, was directly tied to our sexuality, and if we didn’t follow the rules, we were worthless. After all, who would willingly choose someone damaged?

There are so many aspects of the damage and legalism within purity culture that must be unlearned. I’ve already spoken about getting used to sex after being raised to be ashamedthings purity culture failed to teach me about sex, and many other aspects of recovery in my book. But today, I wanted to share some of the spiritual and relational ways to overcome purity culture in a Christian marriage.

1.Be Patient

Purity culture has a way of creating sexual hangups and shame. This can lead to sexual dysfunctions and abnormal/immoral sexual behaviors like pornography and sexual addictions. Sexual dysfunctions like the ones that come out of purity culture can be compounded by sexual assault and rape. Many victims are told that any loss of virginity makes them damaged goods, which sends an abhorrent message to survivors of this type of violence.

It may take a while to ease into being okay with sexual touch in certain areas or to discontinue unhealthy sexual behavior. Be patient with one another and bear each other’s burdens, just as Christ does with His Church.

2. Be on the Lookout for “He/She Wouldn’t Understand” Thinking

Shame, especially sexual shame, can lead us to believe that no one understands what we are going through. It silences us and causes us to fear intimacy with each other and with God. This leaves us wide open for the trap of finding someone that we do believe understands and telling them things we should tell our spouse and God, opening the door to an emotional affair. Be aware of this possibility and guard against it.

3. Do Not Cease Communication

A friend of mine once gave me an invaluable piece of advice: never stop talking to your spouse. She didn’t mean constantly be a chatter box but never let the lines of communication completely die. She attributed her divorce to having done this. When you stop caring, you stop talking. It may be tempting to close yourself off to intimacy with your spouse because of sexual frustration brought about through purity culture, but resist the urge. If all you can manage to communicate with them is that you are upset, then you can begin to unravel exactly why and work through it.

4. Develop Genuine Convictions

So often in purity culture and courtship culture, children are told to do as their parents say because God says so., even when he really doesn’t. When these children grow up and begin rebelling or having tendencies towards it, they often think they are rebelling against God and decide to abandon their faith. This can even happen to “good kids” who seem to have their lives together with a marriage and family. I know at least a few wives who got into sex work as married women after upbringings such as this. The lines of moral right and wrong were blurred and they didn’t care to try to clear them after everything they had gone through.

I think it is crucial for husbands and wives coming out of purity culture to dig into the Word of God and find what He really says about sexuality, lust, and marriage.

Let His commandments, holy and righteous, be etched in your hearts in the context that He gave them to us in Scripture. Develop genuine convictions together so that you are no longer operating under behavioral modification or fear, but love for your neighbor and for God’s commandments.

5. Research Sexuality and Differences Between the Sexes

Purity culture often comes with a lack of sexual education. Because of this, I recommend learning basic anatomy and physiology as it pertains to sex. For me, this happened after the wedding and way too late, but for others, I think it would be beneficial in the weeks leading up to their wedding. I have found books on relationships between the sexes to be beneficial as well, like “His Needs, Her Needs.” It is helpful to know our differences so we can enjoy them fully.

6. Pray Together

While studying God’s word is important to developing genuine convictions, I find that praying is an integral part of the healing process when it comes to overcoming the indoctrination of purity culture. Praying is an intimate act between you and God. When you pray with your spouse, it is all the more intimate. I believe it is helpful for your earthly relationship, but also to work on being completely known by your Creator. Yes, God knows our hearts, but I believe he delights in hearing what is in them from our own mouths. Work on confessing your sexual challenges and struggles to Him as a couple and giving them to Him.

7. Recognize the Enemy

While it can be tempting to feel like your spouse is the enemy when sex has continually not gone according to plan, it is crucial that you both recognize what you are really fighting. It isn’t your body, or your spouse’s body, or your parents who may have taught you poorly when it comes to sex, or the youth pastor that made you sign a purity pledge. What you are really fighting is the effects of a broken world and Satan with his goal to corrupt God’s gift of sex.

Remember that you are God’s children. He loves you. No matter how much your heart asks the question of who would really love you when you are “damaged goods,” the answer will always be Jesus. He doesn’t begrudgingly love us, He doesn’t hold our sins or our pain over our heads.

The truth is, we were never “pure” to begin with, even if we saved ourselves for marriage.

We are sinners, every one, but He has made us pure with His precious blood.

Thank you, Rebecca!  I love that next to last line: “We were never pure to begin with, even if we save ourselves for marriage.”  It just points so well to what the heart of “purity” really is, which isn’t our sexual status, but our status before God.
As a reminder, if you are a parent and are wanting to help your daughters develop healthy, Biblical and comprehensive views of sexuality, don’t forget to check out my friend Sheila Gregoire’s course, “The Whole Story.”