Favourites, Health & Wellbeing, Religion

Confronting Sexual Purity Culture

Purity culture within religion is problematic. Reflecting on my time as a Christian, this is one of the fundamental parts of it that still makes me angry, and its ghost still lingers. Today, I consider myself empowered, liberated and sex positive – yet I know I’m still affected by what I was taught by the church as a child and young teen.

I want to preface my discussion by outlining that my intention is definitely not to bash anyone who makes an informed and empowered decision to wait until marriage before they have sex – that is absolutely their right of course and is totally cool. Instead, I am unpacking the aspects of purity culture which I consider harmful and have been personally negatively affected by. Namely, the guilt and shame imparted both implicitly and explicitly around matters of sex, masturbation and homosexual attraction. This leads so many to a suppression of sexuality and sexual identity, and a feeling of shame – when in actuality, sex, sexuality and gender and sexual diversity are the some of the most natural and normal things in the world.

When religion suppresses and limits these expressions, feelings, acts, experimentations etc, in any capacity, it is damaging. My experience of Christianity taught me implicitly to fear and feel guilty over these things. I was consuming media like this and this, and crying and confessing to ‘accountability partners’ and praying together when I (supposedly) messed up. These experiences were often humiliating, but to everyone around me in those circles, this was the right and godly thing to be doing. This was what pursuing purity looked like.

Over the last five years, I have had to work to extricate myself from religious ideas, values and beliefs that were imparted to me from a very young age. Rewind to my early teenhood – I was throwing myself into Christianity to find answers, a sense of identity, community and comfort. And I did find those things, to an extent. As time went on I slowly realised it just didn’t fit right with me, and that it was actually burdening and hurting me.

In 2016, I rediscovered a page in my old bible. I “upcycled” it.

Excerpt from teenage Abby's bible: Bible excerpt text reads - 
"Am I Gay? Homosexuality in focus: Most teens spend some time thinking deeply about who they are. In the process of establishing their identity, some also consider experimenting sexually. Being abused or feeling that they were 'born that way' may contribute to homosexual feelings. If you're in that situation, then what do you do with those feelings? Is it okay to experiment to make sure you know who you are?" with black pen scribbled over the text that reads SAME LOVE; fuck this creepy message disguised as logic; I AM VALUABLE FULL STOP.
Excerpt from my 2016 Zine, The Colours of the Rainbow

Out of the last five years mid- and post-coming out, the first few were the hardest: when I was 17, anxious, depressed, closeted and grappling with my lesbian identity, trapped in the Christian identity I was known as amongst my high school peers. When I was 18, having finally come out, I immediately moved to Bahrain – a Muslim country; societally homophobic and transphobic. While it was an incredible experience, and I got to work, travel and explore a completely different culture, the timing of it all and the feeling of isolation from a community I’d barely joined was extremely difficult.

It has taken a long time for me to process, unpack and analyse these messages, values and ideas that I was fed during my eight year long stint with Christianity. Below is a spoken word I wrote to express and clarify my thoughts about my religious experiences in March 2018.

The Wages of Sin (March 2018)
I was preached to at nine that my life should be sold
To the one on the cross ‘til my blood went cold
 
You held me as I wept, as it dawned on little me 
That my parents were bound for devil’s destiny
 
You said god could save them too, and that there was time
To pray them to heaven, to teach them the skies
 
You put on little shoulders the weight of the gospel
The absolute truth, that I should speak to the lost souls
 
I question my middle name, for Joy was not me
When I worried where they would spend eternity
 
You said god had all the answers
So why wouldn’t he share them?
His knowledge was secret
and his doctrine a burden
 
I found comfort, I worshipped, I made lovely friends
But the hope I was feeling could not hold me earnest
I was wrapped up in love and wondrous community
But the worldviews they held were a closed door with no key
 
For the wages of sin is death
But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord
 
Not particularly light reading for a ten-year-old kid
With perfectionist tendencies and the need to forgive

It is not normal to ask god at twelve: can I just die now
Because my faith is intact and I know I’d be allowed
At the gates of heaven so pearly white
I’d rather not worry in the dead of the night
 
Sinners go to hell
But the sheep who abide
By the blood of the lamb
Take the world in their stride
 
I have much judgement to give your doctrine
And I know I’m not god; that I’m covered in sin
But the words that you speak, and the way that you live
Had me trapped at auction, I no longer bid
 
So, nowadays
I make my own way
And it’s not always right
But it’s always okay

Essentially the take away that I want us to have here is that we all get to be in charge of our own empowerment. Sexually, romantically, socially, intrapersonally; in any and every respect. If you made it this far, thank you so much! I would love to hear any thoughts you have, whether they’re in agreement with, or contrary to my own. I know this is a heavy topic for some, and I just want to encourage and tautoko however and wherever I can.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

– J. Reuben Clark

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