Is 'purity culture' good for society?
- ‘Purity culture’ first originated in the 19th century in America alongside other movements, such as the abolitionist and temperance movements. Stemming from Christian sexual morality, it emphasized: “feminine virtue and purity by protecting young women and girls from prostitution, contraception, abortions, and male sexual predators.”
- Making a prominent recurrence from the 1990s to the early 2000s, popular books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Joshua Harris, 1997) and True Love Waits (Josh McDowell, 2002) shaped the movement emphasizing abstinence, virginity, the dangers of STDs, and rejecting promiscuity.
- During this time, AIDs had become the number one cause of death of US men aged 25-44, and teen pregnancy had reached an all-time high.
- In recent decades, talk of ‘purity culture’ produces a negative connotation, with both religious and non-religious voices critiquing it.
- A 2020 Pew Research Poll showed that half of the self-identified Christian sample size says that “casual sex—defined in the survey as sex between consenting adults who are not in a committed romantic relationship—is sometimes or always acceptable” with 62% of religiously unaffiliated respondents saying casual sex is always acceptable.
There's more to purity culture than abstinence, which is perhaps why it's quietly returning despite calls to abolish it altogether. And contrary to what most of its opponents believe, purity culture doesn't treat women's bodies as ‘sinful.’ The movement elevates human bodies, teaching people to value their bodies more by not giving them away so freely.
The movement further protects females of all ages by teaching how dressing modestly is a practical way to avoid being objectified by men. Meanwhile, with its roots deep in Christianity, it also instructs men to avoid lust and respect the gift of sexuality and women as fellow image-bearers of God, and not sexual objects. When producing a right understanding of biblical sexuality, purity culture creates a community where mutual respect thrives between the sexes.
Additionally, society benefits from the reduced risks of unwanted pregnancy, early parenthood, and the spread of STIs. If religious views regarding reserving sex for marriage were followed, 'there would be far fewer sexually transmitted diseases, far fewer abortions, far fewer unwed mothers and unwanted pregnancies, and far fewer children growing up without both parents in their lives.'
Likewise, removing sex immediately from the dating equation allows couples to focus on truly connecting. Even modern daters, especially Generation Z, are opting for abstinence, allowing for deeper and more passionate connections. Abstinence also helps them overcome the psychological distress associated with casual sex, as sex doesn't just affect the body; it also impacts people mentally and spiritually.
Married couples who waited get to create a unique bond, quite literally, as the hormone oxytocin binds parts of the couple together. Moreover, being each other's first eliminates 'uninvited sexual memories' that may impact the newlyweds' intimacy. Purity culture has inspired a way of life that benefits individuals and society as a whole.
The name 'Purity Culture' seems harmless enough on its own until one starts peeling back the layers of the true meaning of this movement. This is an outdated and oppressive practice, which forces girls and young women to suppress their true feelings in favor of what is considered 'proper' for females. As a society, gender roles have always been challenged. This is because more and more people have come to realize they are capable of much more than the unnecessary limits gender roles put on them. Purity Culture challenges the way women ought to think of themselves, outside of the strict ways their sex is told to behave and do.
This movement, and renewed versions of it, do more harm than good, as often they will create a false sense of how people truly think, act, and believe. It is essentially a form of brainwashing that also causes suppression of sexual identities, leanings, and desires that are biologically based. This is especially dangerous, as many cases where this has occurred have led to an identity crisis, forms of body dysmorphia, and sometimes even violent acts. Some who have lived the purity culture lifestyle still have problems accepting their own bodies as their own, even after leaving the faith that led them to believe these things.
The relationship between men and women in purity culture is also affected in a highly negative way, as men are trained to see women as nothing more than something that causes them to lust and must be covered up, and women are trained to consent to the will of the men in their lives.