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Because I am not a psychologist or a sex counsellor, I can only address this issue from my own experience and observations.
Having, like many of us, grown up in Purity Culture and experienced and seen its effects on my sex life and the sex life of others, I want to share how I’ve seen Purity Culture affect our sex lives.
I grew up ignorant about sex. I was taught basic sex education in elementary school, but that was it. The rest I had to try to learn on my own. But I wasn’t allowed access to materials that would educate me about my own body and the bodies of women. I had to secretly explore this alone because it was such a taboo subject. The result was that by the time Lisa and I were married and began our sexual journey together, we were ill-prepared. Yes, exploring this domain together had its pleasures, but we were basically starting from scratch when we could have had a bit of a head start in sexual knowledge. Now, decades into our marriage and our sexual life together, we are learning more about how to pleasure one another. Don’t get me wrong: it’s been fun. But if the taboo of sex wasn’t instilled in us, we could have been enjoying sex a lot more a lot sooner.
When the topic of sex is taboo, the fear associated with exploring it is profound. Even though once we were married sex was now legal, so to speak, the residue of fear remained. What if we’re doing it wrong? What if we’re crossing a line? What if God is not pleased? How can we lose ourselves in the throes of pleasure while remaining a holy person? If our flesh, and therefore our bodies are carnal and sinful, how can we sink into our bodies and the sexual act innocently and freely? I was taught that sex wasn’t introduced until after the Fall, therefore sex is a product of sin. With this scary thought planted in your mind, it’s difficult to live joyfully in the moment without fear of eternal repercussions.
Because of the way I was taught about sexuality, every form of physical pleasure was theologically frowned upon. I remember in Bible College, one of our teachers insisted that we needed so speak in tongues while having sex. In other words, physical pleasure wasn’t good enough. It had to be elevated to the spiritual plane with constant prayer. The pleasure of physical touch, connecting with another so intimately, and losing oneself in orgasm with another, was held suspect. The idea of Adam and Eve being ashamed of their nakedness was passed on to us as a given. When we are naked with our lover and we are involved in a fallen act, shame ensues. The legacy of shame around sex is so great that many feel dirty before sex, during sex, and after sex. Some even feel the urgent need of cleansing themselves, physically and spiritually, in order to overcome the sense that they’ve done something wrong. There is no division between physical and spiritual, and good, loving, consensual sex unites these two.
I remember Lisa and I reading a Christian book on sex in marriage, and it was pretty clear how narrow a scope it allowed around sex. This is how you do it. This is how it’s done. This is how you do it right. The result is a boring sex life. Like religion can do to us, it makes us conform to its rules rather than live freely in the moment. Instead of, “What feels good to us?” It’s, “Are we doing this correctly?” Always in our religious heads, we never sink into our own body and the body of our lover where there are miles of unexplored vistas of pleasure. You see, even me talking about pleasure may be seen by some as fleshly, worldly, and carnal. Sex, for the religious mind, should be about pleasing God, procreation, and fulfilling some divine decree. The best sex is when you are completely one with yourself and your body and feel the oneness with the person and body of your lover. When we overcome our ignorance, fear, and shame, and are present in the sexual moment, the ecstasy is actually very physical and spiritual, since I don’t believe there is a division between the two unless we make it.
I see so many couples wrestle with Purity Culture negatively affecting their marriage to the point where they eventually split up. I think what happens is that they begin to realize that their religious ideas of what should happen doesn’t align with what they desire. I’ve known couples who’ve agreed to not even kiss before their wedding, only to discover very early in their marriage that what’s expected can’t match what they want. The divide built between their faith and their sexuality is so great that they can’t experience the ecstatic reconciliation of the two in their sexual lives. The utter disappointment of not being able to enjoy one another drives them apart. If one partner is bound in a Purity Culture mentality and the other wants to break free from it, this often leads to a divorce in so many things, including their marriage. The religious mentality is sticky, and it takes work to liberate oneself from it in order to live freely, especially in our sexual lives.
Purity Culture is toxic, not only to entire groups, but right down to our marriages. I hope this short list of the negative affects Purity Culture can have on your marriage helps you to see how it has affected yours.
There are steps that we can take to overcome these, and I plan on writing a post about that soon.