What Is Purity Culture and Why Is It Harmful?

For the past several months I’ve been posting what I call my Sexy Sunday cartoons that challenge Purity Culture. I frequently get comments or messages such as, “What’s wrong with purity? And what’s wrong with a culture that promotes it?” 

So I want to write a short post on what I think is wrong with Purity Culture.

Right away I want to make a couple of disclaimers.

  1. I am not a sex therapist.
  2. I am not a psychologist or therapist.
  3. What gives me a little authority in this area is that I grew up in conservative Christianity. I was a pastor of local congregations for 30 years. I have my own experiences and observations of Purity Culture. So what I’m sharing here are my own opinions on Purity Culture.

What Is Purity Culture? 

Purity culture, found mainly in evangelical Christianity, stresses the importance of young unmarried women's purity. It encourages waiting until marriage for sex, discourages any sexual exploration, and reinforces traditional gender roles. The central message is that a girl's or woman's worth is tied to her purity, particularly her virginity.

Purity Culture and It's Use Of Fear To Control

Fear serves as a powerful mechanism within purity culture to maintain adherence to its ideals of chastity and sexual restraint, often at the expense of individuals' mental and emotional well-being.

3 Reasons Why Purity Culture Is So Harmful

Purity Culture has a Negative View of the Body

Even though Purity Culture seems obsessed about the body, especially the female body, it is negatively obsessed with it. It condemns or at least is suspicious of the body… the flesh. It uses a lot of scriptures, such as Paul’s dichotomy of the flesh versus the spirit, to justify its negative view of the body. It believes it cannot be trusted, and that its propensity is towards sexual misbehaviour. Its primary belief is that it must be tamed rather than enjoyed.

Purity Culture Cultivates Shame

Because of purity culture's negative view of the body and it’s attempt to master it, it uses shame as an effective way to control people and their attitudes and actions around sex. Shame, one of the most powerful motivators on earth, is often a toxic emotion instilled by a Puritanical hyper-moralism around the body. Shame around such things as the body, physical touch, sexual intimacy, and masturbation, is so deeply instilled in people that they find it extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome it and just enjoy their bodies and the bodies of the one(s) they love.

Purity Culture Targets Women and Girls

Wikipedia says that “Purity Culture is a subculture within Christianity which emphasizes subjective individual ‘purity’, generally associated with female chastity.” Yes, men and boys are also included in Purity Culture. But the emphasis is on girls and women to remain chaste, virgins, until they marry a man. I believe Purity Culture is rooted in patriarchal ideology. It is sexist and even misogynistic, since it elevates women to an unrealistic fantasy men imagine about women. For example, it is far more devastating to a woman’s reputation and future to have sex before marriage than it is for a man.

Cartoons Depicting Purity Culture

For the past several months I’ve been posting what I call my Sexy Sunday cartoons that challenge Purity Culture. Here is one of them titled, Future Husband.



I think it’s harmful to have such a negative and suspicious view of the body. It robs us of our agency and makes us victims of our own bodies and ultimately our own selves. When we have to constantly rely on an external authority— legislation or person— it makes us lose our independence and stifles our growth to maturity.

Shame, although it may prevent someone from administering immediate harm to someone, is a toxic emotion in the long term. It is an unreliable control of behaviour and robs us of our autonomy and independent decision-making abilities. Healthy adults can decide how to behave in consensual sexual relationships.

The patriarchy runs deep, and its roots sink way down into Christian culture. Christianity is and always has been a patriarchal religion where sexism and misogyny abound and where women and girls are second-class citizens and suffer as a result.

What’s so bad About Purity Culture.

It’s anti-body, uses shame, and is misogynistic.
That’s enough to make it a serious problem.

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