In my previous post, I explained my reasons for deciding to leave the purity culture, and told how monumental this decision felt to me. I truly did fear the consequences of my decision, or rather, of my future intentions of living out my decision. And it felt like the biggest shift I'd ever made in religious doctrine. But why was it that big of a deal? I've certainly known many Christians who didn't take it as seriously as I. Sometimes I'm made to feel immature for taking so long to realize my own independence. When I was recounting all my reasons to quit my belief in purity last week, objectively it looked so simple and clear. But it didn't feel that way to me at the time. So I'm going to explore why.
My personality lended itself well to this kind of discipline. I'm a perfectionist. I'm a logical thinker. I get passionate about the things I believe in. I care that my actions are consistent with my beliefs, and I hate hypocrisy. I've never been the type of person who has to learn from their own mistakes; I can learn and take advice from others unquestioningly (for good or for bad). So when I am convinced a certain belief system is right, like the purity movement, I'm going to go all the way. I am going to live it, and not question it. I won't even be tempted to live another way if I believe it's right. Living purity was not hard for me, overall, at least in the areas where it seemed to matter.
The purity movement gave me the protection and excuses I craved. As an introvert, I never wanted to go to high school dances, college mixers, or awkward dates. Purity culture gave me validation for those desires. God would bring the right one to me at the right time, so I didn't need to put myself out there. I could run away from boys rather than try to develop maturity in relationships.
I thought my own self-worth was directly tied up with my sex life. This was something I didn't realize was true until afterward, when I read and watched Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. If my sex life was pure and good, I was pure and good. The thought of having premarital sex would be like turning me into another person, regardless of how I thought, acted and believed in every other area of my life. It was a huge part of my identity, and I'm sad to say it influenced how I saw other women, too. A bad reputation was terrifying to me.
I was taught that God punishes his children. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this idea that God disciplines believers more than unbelievers, because they are his children and he loves them and wants them to grow correctly. I interpreted this to mean that if I messed up, I would be more likely to suffer the negative consequences than the average girl would. Whereas she was playing with normal odds, I had the odds stacked against me. I assumed that if I had premarital sex, my odds of getting pregnant or an STD were really high. So sex scared me.
I was taught that there would be rewards for waiting, and conversely, punishments for not waiting. This is a topic I want to write a separate blog post on in the near future, because this idea we were sold that saving ourselves would reap amazing benefits was such a bold-faced lie yet swallowed so easily that married people continued to believe it even after experiencing the reality. I wanted the reward. I expected it. I wanted the fairytale, magical sex life that was promised to me if I waited so bad that I didn't want to have it tainted in any way. I feared that any deviation from purity was going to be totalled up and subtracted from the happiness of my future married sex life.
The people I respected for their faith had all waited. At least, that's what they said. If they had not waited, they expressed regret and a belief that they should have. All my friends at bible college who were marrying young were waiting. It seemed that the only people who weren't were outsiders or people who weren't serious about their faith. And I wanted to be in good company. The social pressure felt strong to me. I knew how my friends would view me if I chose a different path than they did.
If I left now, I would be behind. I knew most people who were not a part of the purity culture were dating around, gaining experience, growing up in ways I wasn't. The older I got, the scarier the thought of leaving was, because I would have so much catching up to do in the world of relationships. I was afraid anyone I dated would think I was a freak for being so sheltered and inexperienced.
I hope that helps explain the uphill battle I faced when trying to free myself from purity culture thinking. Now, they do not bother me, though I still find myself worrying about how I am perceived by friends and family who would disapprove of my choices. I would love to hear from anyone else what difficulties they had to overcome in this area.