Why I Regret “Waiting Until Marriage”: Purity Culture Explored

PURITY RINGSI was raised in what many people refer to as “purity culture”: I was taught that abstinence was the only acceptable way to live, I was encouraged to wear a purity ring and “save myself” for marriage. And I did it all- I got myself a purity ring, saved my virginity and even my first real kiss for my wedding day, and encouraged everyone else to do the same. And at the time I convinced myself that all this was good, that I wanted it this way. But looking back, I wish I’d done it differently.
I feel cheated out of romantic moments that should have happened in a natural progression within my relationship.
Instead of having my first kiss in front of two hundred people, I wish it had been PRIVATE, and in our own time. I resent the fact that this incredibly intimate moment was shared with everyone, instead of happening at a romantic moment earlier in our relationship. I was indoctrinated with the idea that this somehow made me morally superior- so we waited. As a result, my first kiss was sort of an awkward shock instead of a tender, loving experience.
The Wedding Night
As for the wedding night- well, I could write a book on this subject. The wedding night is painted as this magical experience, more so because it’s your “first time” together as a “pure couple”. But what they don’t tell you is that your first time is often not very romantic at all.
Both people barely know what they’re doing, for one thing. You’re not supposed to know too much about sex prior to marriage because it can cause “inappropriate thoughts”, so how can you be fully prepared? I used to subscribe to a Christian forum that was about marriage. They had a separate thread for engaged couples and didn’t allow them to view threads for married couples. And of course you can’t watch porn or read erotic fiction, and even love scenes in movies are considered bad. Most people who fully devote themselves to purity culture have no sweet clue what to do.
It’s sometimes painful for the gals the first time! The hymen usually has to be stretched or torn, and because you’re nervous and it’s been so hyped up in your mind, you’re probably not creating much natural lubricant (bring lube, people!)
You’re exhausted after an insanely long wedding day- it’s not the greatest time to have such an intimate experience for the first time. I really wish I had been having sex beforehand because then I wouldn’t have had to deal with those issues on such a special night. I wish that my first time had been a part of our natural relationship progression- not forced into a wedding “schedule”, waiting until society said it was ok for me to enjoy it.
It’s also awkward knowing that people KNOW it’s your first time- when you leave the reception as a couple known for your purity stance, you get the winks and nudges of people who know full well that you’re about to get laid for the first time. Awkward! And even if they aren’t actually thinking it or poking fun, it’s still awkward. Especially when your parents drop you off at the hotel. (Red face) When you’re already sleeping together, it’s not a big deal- nobody is really thinking about your “deflowering”. Or at least YOU’RE not thinking about them thinking about it.
Relationships must progress in an unnatural manner to be deemed “appropriate”.
All couples reach a point where they are emotionally and physically ready to go farther than just holding hands. Normally, a couple can simply take it as it comes- when they’re ready, they make love. But in purity culture, you have to deny yourself those things- and that can put a strain on your relationship. If you can’t move forward, where does that leave you? It keeps you in a constant state of stressful limbo that can only be fully remedied by getting married or splitting up. That’s why so many Christian couples get married so young- often before they are really ready for it. I have no doubt that this is partly the reason for the high divorce rate among Christians- it’s even slightly higher than “the world’s” divorce rate. What does that tell you? Purity culture isn’t working!
Purity culture demonizes masturbation.
I used to feel absolutely disgusted with myself if I broke down and masturbated. I thought I was gross, a terrible sinful person. For women, how can you instruct your man to bring you to orgasm if you don’t know how it all works? Speaking from experience- it’s pretty difficult. Since I got over my indoctrination against masturbation, my sex life has gotten SO much better. And contrary to what purity culture teaches you, masturbation and porn do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people don’t use porn but still masturbate. Masturbation is also a lot of fun during sex- a lot of guys get very turned on watching their partners touch themselves, and it’s lots of fun to touch each other that way. But when you grow up hearing how bad it is, you either lose out or constantly feel guilty about enjoying it.

I regret waiting until I was married. I know some people regret not waiting, for other reasons. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what a couple decides- as long as it’s genuinely THEIR decision. If they want to wait, great! If they’re consenting adults and they’re being safe and healthy about their pre-marital sexual actions, great! No one should look down on them or judge them for their choices, and young people should not be raised to think that there is only one acceptable way to conduct a relationship. Humans are far too diverse to slap one solution on everyone and expect it to work. Shouldn’t we realize this by now?

Every couple should decide what’s best for THEM specifically, not what society or their social groups tell them is best. And believe it or not, I fully support a couple’s decision to wait if that’s what they feel is best for them. I also support a couple’s decision to live together and/or never get married at all if that’s what they want. It’s none of my business!

So why do I even talk about it? Because I grew up in social circles that told me that there was only ONE way to have a successful relationship, and anyone who dared to step outside of this narrow mold was treated differently. They were “sinners”, “doomed for relationships problems”, and were always pressured and encouraged to get married as soon as possible. I was taught that girls who had sex were low hanging fruit, they were dirty and used, somehow broken and less worthy. It may not have been said in those exact words, but the message was crystal clear. I grew up with this intense shame about my sexuality, and I hope to prevent another generation from growing up with the same shame and limitations. I want everyone to realize that they can choose their own path, and for other people to stop shaming and judging  them for doing so.

I also want people to stop telling lies about how much better purity culture is. If it truly offered something better, then the church’s divorce rate should be much lower- but it’s actually just the same if not higher in the church. If purity culture was really all that great, then why do so many people come out of it disillusioned later in life, or have to deal with marital/sexual/mental problems caused by an unhealthy view of sex? And why do states that rely on abstinence only education have the highest rates of STD’s, teen pregnancies, and abortions? It doesn’t work. It just causes unnecessary shame and harm.

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Masturbation: A Religious Obsession

masturbationBeing raised in fundamentalist circles, I grew up with the all too common teachings of sexual purity. I remember many youth group meetings where guys and gals were split up into separate groups to talk about the issues we were each supposed to be dealing with: Boys were taught about the evils of masturbation, fantasizing, and pornography, and girls were taught that they were responsible to dress modestly so they didn’t cause boys to lust over them.
But what they didn’t teach us is that girls masturbate too, that girls also fantasize and have sexual desires. This was a presented to us as a GUY’S issue, not a girl’s issue, because men were portrayed as naturally more sexual than women (not true). Men were normal for having sexual urges, but women’s sexuality wasn’t even addressed because it wasn’t supposed to even exist. A sexually minded woman was unusual and sinful!
Because of this, I considered myself especially deviant for having these urges. Girls weren’t even supposed to think that way, otherwise they’d talk to use about it, right? But I did, so I thought I must be a sex-obsessed freak.
The messages I received were very clear. Good Christian girls keep their minds and bodies pure for marriage. They don’t think about or engage in any kind of sexual activity. An ideal Christian girl was essentially devoid of sexual desires until she got married. Giving in to these urges was considered a great weakness and one of the worst spiritual failings you could possibly have, so of course I couldn’t talk about my “deviance” to anyone else! So I hid my shame, as so many other Christian girls like me did. If we did talk about it, it was in hushed tones behind closed doors and with tears as we confided about our secret “struggle”.
I remember being disgusted with myself when I masturbated. I felt so guilty and ashamed, for a few moments after almost hating myself for not having enough self-control to deny myself. I’d occasionally fantasize or masturbate, like any normal person after puberty, but I would feel awful about it. I thought there was something wrong with me. This shame and guilt stayed with me until well into adulthood.
I remember one time in particular, I was preparing to leave for a missions trip to Bulgaria. This was the summer after my first year in Bible College, I was almost 18 years old at the time. The night before my flight was due to leave, I looked up pictures online and masturbated. Part of me felt so relieved, I hadn’t done it in a long time (most of us know how those urges get pent up and how relaxing it is to satisfy them), but I also felt this overwhelming, crippling guilt too. I went on my trip and enjoyed it, but in the back of my mind I was terrified that I had compromised my ability to have a significant spiritual impact on the trip because I had “fallen” and given in to my sexual desires. I seriously thought that what I had done was so horrible that my spiritual effectiveness was diminished. Talk about shame!
Masturbation and fantasizing is not wrong, immoral, sinful, or deviant. Unless you’re asexual, you will most likely start to experience sexual attraction, desires, and fantasies after you hit puberty. You’ll experience these things because this is how our bodies work. Our bodies evolved to desire sex because that’s how our species procreates. Its NORMAL- animals do it, our bodies and minds are designed to enjoy and crave it, and there are even multiple health benefits associated with it (orgasms can make your period cramps less painful!) But no one told me that. No one told me that it wasn’t bad for me to have sexual thoughts and desires, all I heard was that fantasies and masturbation were bad and disgusting. And god forbid if you ever got curious and looked at dirty pictures! That was the worst thing you could EVER do! So I went through my teen and early adult years with tears and shame anytime I gave in and acted like a normal, red-blooded woman.
This fundamentalist obsession with sex causes immense guilt and harm. A life transition and experience that should have been beautiful and healthy was tainted by shame and self-hatred. This is what many youth groups are teaching kids- they are teaching them to hate their own bodies and minds for what comes naturally. What is your teen’s youth group teaching your child?
Don’t hate yourself for thinking sexual thoughts or enjoying your body. It feels good for a reason- not because it’s “sin” and “sin” feels good, but because that’s how our bodies work. Just like it feels good to eat food because our bodies need and desire it, it feels good to satisfy our sexual desires because our bodies need and desire it. Satisfying your sexual urges is no different than fulfilling your need for food; like eating, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to satisfy these urges. Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy your body and sexuality- they are nothing to be ashamed of.
Over these past years, I’ve realized that I am a very sexual person. I’ve thrown off the shackles of puritan modesty and rigid sexuality to embrace myself as I truly am- a woman who loves sex, and lots of it! Both with partners and without. Shame me if you want, but I’ve never been happier. Maybe a little self-love would do you some good. 😉