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Purity Culture

Purity Culture: A Perspective from the North of England

Today’s post is by Libby Jackson. Libby recently graduated from the University of Manchester and is about to continue her studies there towards an MA.

I walked into my undergraduate degree as an 18-year-old, naïve Christian, who thought they would be interested in the philosophical part of theology. I thought I would deeply ponder why there is evil in the world, what free-will really is, and how the Church was formed. I found it quite a shock when I realised there were many theological issues that hit much closer to home.

Much to my surprise, I left my undergraduate degree, still as a Christian, but with a burning interest in the great lack of women in leadership roles in the Church, when there are plenty of women in the Bible. I left wondering why I never hear a sermon about the Daughters of Zelophehad, Rahab, Phoebe, or the Shunammite Woman; I only hear that God is great through the stories of Noah, David, and Elijah. I left wondering why it should be that my body is inherently sexual, why would I form a soul-tie with a sexual partner, but my male counterparts do not? And why is it that my virginity seems more precious than who I am as a person?

From learning about the complete misunderstanding of Eve that we have developed over time, to knowing that Jezebel’s is a classic case of double-standards and sexualisation, I now know my life’s mission is to change the way we view biblical women. My hope is that this will ensure a place in the Church for today’s women. For me, this mission began with researching the ways in which purity culture impacts masculinity and femininity and by starting a blog.

Please feel free to contact me about this post either by email (libbycj11@gmail.com) or through twitter (@libbyjackson29)!

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Purity culture’s teachings have been ingrained in my life for as long as I can remember – I just didn’t know it. I thought what I was encountering was ‘just Christianity’, not a damaging evangelical sub-culture.

I’m Libby. I am 21 years old and have just finished my undergraduate degree in Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester. I commenced my dissertation on the topic of purity culture to explore its impact on my personal life (as I discuss below). Next, I am embarking on my Masters in Religion and Theology at Manchester in September 2021. My aim is to help dismantle the patriarchal culture that gate-keeps attitudes to women and the Bible. It was through researching purity culture that I realised just how important that is!

I grew up going to church every single Sunday (much to my 7-year-old self’s dismay). I still go to the same church today! In fact, my family have attended this church for generations: an evangelical, Pentecostal church in the North-West of England. My church does not use the designation ‘purity culture’ to describe itself; but some of purity culture’s teachings have found themselves into the mouths of our leaders and congregants.

Over the past year and a half (whilst doing my dissertation) I was troubled by the realisation that some purity culture narratives were being taught. So, I am currently working with our pastor to change significantly the way we speak to and about women. From challenging peripheral comments made by teenagers, to developing a statement on womanhood for the church to use as a code of conduct, my aim is to address the pitfalls of purity culture and to create an environment where we exercise Jesus’ love without shame and with copious amounts of forgiveness and love.

Purity culture is a sub-culture within contemporary evangelical Christianity. It is a feature of some Protestant Christian movements that promote sexual abstinence before marriage through the application of scriptural passages, interpretations, and teachings. Tamara Anderson asserts that purity culture first arose in the 1970s in opposition to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Purity culture enjoyed a peak in the 1990s, with its ideas spreading rapidly throughout the United States and beyond, including online and in popular culture.

Purity culture’s advocates argue that that sex is powerful, special, and intimate and that the Bible specifies and regiments when, how, where and by whom it is to be expressed. Once notable among these advocates is Joshua Harris, who has since distanced himself from his influential book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (available here), which has been something of ‘a bible’ for Christian purity culture.

The implementation of such teaching has, however, become somewhat adrift, as I will show.

My Dissertation findings:

My dissertation discusses how purity culture encourages modesty regarding female attire in particular – because immodest dress may cause males to fall into lust, and therefore to sin. This teaching stems from the idea that female bodies are inherently a locus of sexual desire and sin, an idea spread through misinterpretations of texts about such characters as Eve, Mary Magdalene, and Jezebel. This has led to a sense of shame around female bodies and to the responsibility for male sexual sin landing on women and their dress choice. Furthermore, it suggests that men have no self-control and constantly desire sex. Sex, moreover, is framed in heteronormative terms. Homosexual sex, meanwhile, is framed as horrifyingly deviant.

I also discovered that purity culture teaches that men are slaves to sex. It gives simultaneous rise to men repressing their emotions (which might compromise ‘masculinity’, and ‘masculine strength’) and to a constant preoccupation with sex. This sex drive is, on the one hand, expected of masculine men but it also must be channelled into directions deemed ‘acceptable’. Alongside this, purity culture teaches men they are to have headship and be leaders – in the family, in church, and in wider society. Central to this is purity culture’s gender essentialism. This can have negative potential for those men who find leadership a burden. Moreover, repression of emotions and of sexual feelings deemed inappropriate can transpire in mental health issues, as well as in victim-blaming.

Another key teaching of purity culture calls on women to remain virgins until marriage. This is pivotal to signifying female morality, purity, even salvation. It stems from the idealisation of virginity in the Bible, particularly of the Virgin Mary, and verses such as, ‘And he shall take a wife in her virginity’ (Lev. 21:13-15), pertaining to the holiest of men, the priests. The Bible presents a worldview where premarital female virginity is desirable, expected and legislated. This is evident, for instance, in the legal text of Deuteronomy 22:13-21: ‘I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity… then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity…’. Premarital virginity is the mark of a pure and good woman, as exemplified most prominently through Mary. Whilst this may create an affirming environment for those who desire to remain virgins until marriage, or who are uncomfortable with the pressures and troubling consequences of ‘hook-up’ culture, it also creates a double standard that tends to play down emphasis on male premarital virginity (possibly, to excuse the aforementioned inevitability of males’ constant sexual desire), whilst shaming females who are not virgins at the point of marriage (for which there may be many reasons), or who feel sexual desire.

Along with modest dress and the expectation of women remaining virginal prior to marriage, another key teaching of purity culture is the idea that when you have penetrative sex with a man, this breaks your hymen, which, in turn, leads to the formation of a ‘soul-tie’. This soul-tie is understood as an eternal spiritual, emotional, and physical connection between a man and a woman. Purity culture teaches that this soul-tie finds fulfilment in marriage.

Purity culture teaches that virginity until marriage is indicative of moral decency, respectability, purity, and worth. This is conveyed through purity balls, and the ways virginity is constructed and symbolised. The converse notion is that women are no longer (or less) moral, pure, and worthy if they do have sex before marriage, which feeds into some dangerous ideas – especially when considering sexual assault victims.

My Personal Experience:

I was taught that each time I had sex outside of marriage I would be giving a part of myself away. Eventually, I would have so little left of me that I would not be able to give to or to love my future husband as my virginal self would have done.

Meanwhile, my male best friend was also taught he should aim to steer away from sex before marriage. But, if he failed, it was fine. Indeed, it was somewhat inevitable that he failed because he is male, and ‘therefore’, sex driven. This provided a very confusing line for both of us, as well as for other young girls and boys.

I was taught when you have sex with somebody (that is, heterosexual, penetrative sex, of course), you form a soul-tie, meaning you become one flesh with that person. So, if you break up, you rip half of yourself away. This idea concerned me from a very young age, including because the threat of rape was a presence in my life (as it is for most women). Would I form a soul-tie with a rapist? Would it tie me to my rapist ever after? Would all sexual acts I had (willingly or not) hinder my love for a future spouse? I felt trapped in my own body because of the awful repercussions of unwanted sexual attention and, especially, of sexual assault. Would I end up an emptied soul?

I grew up thinking that once I got married, I would be far less prey to sin, because I could exercise my sexuality in a Godly way. The enormous emphasis placed on the sin of premarital sex made me believe it was the foremost, or only sin. If I could turn off my sexuality until I was married, then I would go to heaven. Essentially, I was repressing my sexuality. And the fact I was taught these things in a church in Northern England makes me realise the impact that purity culture has on the church and its people, and that this impact is widespread, worldwide.

Discussing the impacts of purity culture in the UK is crucial to the wellbeing and safety of all – including where rape culture is concerned. As the #metoo movement has highlighted, the frequency of sexual harassment, assault and abuse is immense. From this movement, there emerged also #churchtoo, highlighting that abuses happen in churches too. Both within wider society and the church, victims (disproportionately women though men, too) are silenced. Within the church, purity culture contributes to this silencing, stigma, and damage. The way that purity culture makes God complicit in this process is often especially distressing for victims.

I believe the more people research, write about, and speak back to purity culture, the better survivors can understand the effects and harms it causes and access support and help. In the course of this, the more positive experiences can be highlighted also – because purity culture is complex, and it would be disingenuous to deny this. There is a reason, after all, why I am still in my church today.

Purity culture is not only a US phenomenon but exists (with differences) around the globe. The silence, distortion, and repression it fosters around the topic of human sexuality cause harm and need attention – not least, because silence is fertile ground for abuse.

My own experience is evidence of the negative impact on mental and spiritual health that regulations by the church around sexuality and purity can have. It highlights the necessity for gaining a better understanding of what repercussions particular teachings can and do have on those who receive them: whether that be purity culture teachings, teachings about the superiority of men, or even the prosperity gospel. Going forward, I hope, and I believe, things can get better.

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Why we need to address purity culture in the UK

Today’s post is by Chrissie Thwaites, a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds researching purity culture. She will be looking for participants to take part in this research later this year. Chrissie can be contacted by email at prct@leeds.ac.uk and on twitter.

Purity culture and its problems

I’m currently in the first year of my PhD researching purity culture. My working hypothesis is that purity culture has made its way to the UK, and I hope to explore this further through conducting qualitative research later this year. Over here, purity culture seems to appear in a much more muted and insidious form compared to its US counterpart. So for many years it has gone unnoticed. Recently, however, this has started to change.

See, for example, Hannah Baylor’s recent Shiloh Project blog post on purity culture, where she begins to introduce the ways in which purity culture in the UK differs to the US movement, which reached its height in the 1990s and early 2000s. If we are to untangle the influence and impact of purity culture, we need a wider acknowledgement and understanding of its interaction with (especially evangelical) Christianity in the UK.

The interest in purity culture behind my PhD project arose from personal experience. For example, some of my peers encountered the flower metaphor in their church youth groups – a flower being passed around the group, crumpled up, and used as a symbol for (female) virginity. As a teenager I’d heard of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and today I know of people who continue to recommend it, even after the author’s public apology and statement. Friends have recounted to me how they were told to cover up their shoulders in church, when it was simply a hot day – the implication being their bodies are primarily sexual and problematic for others around them. I know of couples who didn’t kiss until engagement or their wedding day. And more recently, I’ve noticed the new ‘modest is hottest’ trend taking hold in some UK circles, rehashing the classic purity culture tactic of body shaming women.  

To me, these practices indicate a Christian subculture which goes beyond abstinence. It places the responsibility on women for gatekeeping male sexual behaviour, views female bodies as inherently sexual (and as existing primarily for male pleasure), emphasises virginity as the foremost aspect of a woman’s worth, and gets so pre-occupied with delaying sex until marriage that sex is framed as an inherent danger and something negative, rather than something good – often with fateful consequences, even for those who did everything right according to the rules of purity culture.

The need for research and understanding

In the age of #MeToo, we have turned our attention afresh to the long-standing mistreatment of women in its unfortunate variety. Many individuals have begun the hard work of considering the ways in which they themselves, or the organisations, institutions or social structures they are a part of, are complicit in systems of coercion, inequality and subjugation.

In Christian circles, something of a reckoning has begun. Well-known US Christian figure Beth Moore recently made waves by leaving the Southern Baptist Church, having previously been vocal in her criticism of sexism and outspoken in her advocacy of sexual abuse survivors. The likes of Beth Moore, and recent sexual abuse scandals such as those of Ravi Zacharias, and Jonathan Fletcher here in the UK, force us to examine the cases of sexual abuse and harassment that lie behind #ChurchToo. We need to evaluate what’s being taught about women, female bodies, gender, sexual relationships, and power dynamics (especially within marriage). Purity culture has something to say about all of these things, so it has come into focus as something that needs to be addressed.

This is reflected in a growing public interest in purity culture. I was recently interviewed for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 as part of a discussion on this topic. I was pleased that purity culture was being given a public platform for discussion, but it disappointed me to see that the media interest didn’t correlate to understanding.

The online summary of this ‘purity conversation’ says that ‘“purity culture” is used in conservative households attempting to promote a view of purity’. This understanding also comes across in the feature itself. Yet purity culture is part of Christian subculture. It relates closely to theologies of gender (such as those of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), evangelical use(s) of the Bible, and the social-political context of its origins in 1980s-90s USA. That it was framed as a household phenomenon based on parental teaching was therefore very interesting; especially as I hadn’t said or even implied this was the case, and was quite clearly discussing my own experiences from being immersed in evangelical culture. References I made to my own (current) Christian faith were also cut out in the editing process, which again felt like an attempt to remove the religious elements of this discussion and downplay the broader socio-cultural aspects of purity culture.

Within the context of this increasing public interest, it’s important that we discuss purity culture well, clearly, and give space for nuance – rather than employing ineffective caricatures or simply prioritising the ‘spicy’ topics.

Through my PhD, I hope to deconstruct and make sense of purity culture in a way that can be helpfully received in Christian contexts. I want to explore how ideas from purity culture have merged with, and are evident within, teachings on bodies, sexuality, gender, and human nature in UK Christianity. I see my research as part of a budding new area of discussion and research – I hope that you will join in the conversation.

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Bearing the burden

Today’s post is an honest and moving piece by Stephen Pihlaja (@StephenPihlaja) and examines the personal experiential journey of purity culture as a man who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment in the USA. Stephen recounts his experience of purity culture in the Japanese church in comparison.

Stephen Pihlaja teaches and researches Language and Religion at Newman University in Birmingham, UK. His latest book Talk about Faith: how conversation and debate shape belief (Cambridge University Press) explores how changes in belief emerge from interaction between people of faith.


In the past several years, increasing critical attention has come to Evangelical Christian teaching on ‘purity’, and its particular focus on abstinence from sex before marriage. A recent New York Times article highlighted the pressures this placed on young Christians, and young women specifically, to avoid sexual expression, to keep both themselves and others free from sexual sin. Joshua Harris, the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which outlined the ideology of abstinence and pressured young Christians to consider romantic relationships only in the context of a potential marriage partner, has since denounced the book and pulled it from circulation, The Times reports — Harris himself is no longer a Christian.

Highlighted in The Times’ reporting are stories of personal experiences of the Evangelical church and of the damaging effects of its theology. These are brought to the forefront and highlighted by such figures as Blake Chastain and Chrissy Stroop. The attention in reporting about purity culture has rightly focused on the pain and trauma this teaching inflicts on young women in the church, because they bear the burden of both keeping themselves pure from sexual sin, but also not appearing as a temptation for the men in their community. The complementarian, patriarchal teaching of sexuality in these contexts sees women as subservient to men in the home and in the church, but also as responsible for sexual sin. These teachings understand sexuality in women as primarily oriented towards men — sex is what men want and it is the role of women to withhold it or give it.

The consequences of this teaching aren’t, however, limited to young women in the church. As a young man, I, too, attempted to kiss dating goodbye. Having grown up homeschooled in the USA, in a fundamentalist home in the nineties, sexuality was something that we avoided entirely — you changed the channel when the joking turned sexual, you didn’t watch movies with sex in them. My friend couldn’t watch any films for a year after he secretly saw Titanic because there was nudity in it.

At the same time, the older I got, the sexual prosperity gospel offered a way out — if you were faithful, God would bless you with an incredible sex life once you got married. In books like Every Young Man’s Battle, we were told the reward for abstinence was a kind of sexual fulfilment that couldn’t be found outside of marriage, a fulfilment that would make any part of the struggle to stay pure pale in comparison. So, I was focused on marriage, even when I was sixteen, accepting that this was the only acceptable way to express my sexuality.

In my final year in high school, I began a relationship with someone in the church youth group. Both of us had read Harris’ book and committed to dating ‘intentionally’ (as we would have said). We looked at wedding rings and discussed how big our family would be. I remember having just turned 18, asking her father, who was far less religious than I was and much more pragmatic, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He told me it really wasn’t his decision, I could do what I wanted, but his suggestion was that I wait a year, at least. What was the rush.

The rush was, of course, sex. We were in a liminal space that no one seemed to account for in their theologies: we were supposed to be married, but we were too young to be married. Our sexual desire was from God, it was a good thing, but acting on it was not. The relationship couldn’t withstand these contradictions — we were teenagers. I exercised an unreasonable amount of authority and arrogance because it was my role — I would question how she dressed, what she did with her friends, all the while feeling the crushing guilt as our relationship grew closer and we slipped up or went too far more often. I became sick from the guilt in my first year of college — I went through a series of tests for chronic pain in my stomach and eventually, inevitably, we broke up.

Two years passed and I graduated college and felt called to the mission field. A friend of mine in the church had been asked to go to Japan to teach English at a church and was looking for someone to potentially go with him. I could go then and have an accountability partner, someone to help me avoid temptation and still serve the church. I found myself serving in a small church for a year, teaching free English lessons and leading Bible studies, which the students attended in exchange for the free English lessons.

Purity Culture in the Japanese Church

The church in Japan remains small — in the early 2000s we were told that only 1% of the population was Christian — and predominately female. The message of purity in the Japanese church that I experienced was different suddenly, much less focused on whether you were sexually impure (as there were far fewer teenagers in the churches), but more on when you would marry and start a family. The teaching in the Japanese church around this was against marriage to non-Christians, seemingly for understandable reasons: if a woman married a non-Christian, her in-laws would pressure her and the children to take part in Shinto and Buddhist religious ceremonies and eventually to leave the church.

But the churches always had a much higher number of Christian women than men. This led to a situation where Christian women were encouraged to marry and have kids (this being their primary purpose) but were unable to find Christian spouses. The ageing church leaders encouraged marriage in the same way as in the States, but with fewer options, the relationships between potential partners had one prerequisite: that you were both Christians and would have Christian kids. You could have, essentially, arranged marriages, where the basis wasn’t love or mutual attraction, but perceived fit in terms of religious belief, because what the church needed more than anything was more people.

I was oblivious to this cultural nuance and history, listening instead to the other American missionaries around me. Mostly, they were men married to American women and steeped in deeply racist and sexist understandings of Asian culture. They talked about marriage as a kind of service to the Japanese church, one which led to mutual blessings: that same sexual prosperity gospel, where if you were willing to step out and have faith to get married, God would bless you. It fit with the message I had heard in the American church, the same story: marriage was the only appropriate way to express sexuality, and marriage would bring blessings to you, because God intended it that way.

These two cultural expressions of the same purity myth touched in a predictable way — I met the woman who would become my wife and we were married within less than a year. Our first child was born ten months and seven days later. Any doubt about the success of the relationship was swallowed up in a belief about God’s will, and the truth that by doing the right thing, blessings would follow. When they did not, when both myths turned out to be wrong, the disappointment, anger, and depression stayed lodged within the relationship, affecting everything about our lives even after we had identified it as a set of irreconcilable false beliefs. You can stop believing anything, but it doesn’t stop living in you.

I, like Harris, couldn’t keep these contradictions from affecting my theology and I eventually left the faith. Now, fifteen years later, I’ve come to understand in my own life and through my research into religious discourse, how worlds of meaning are created by what you say about feelings and actions in the social world, and, more importantly, how the myths that emerge out of particular systems of power serve those systems.

Theologies do not exist in a vacuum, and religious belief which is not applicable without creating trauma in the real world needs to be rejected. The control exerted over sexual expression in the Evangelical church objectifies and shames women, erases gay and trans people, and demands that all men participate in the system without question. Everyone, including believers, benefits from its critical examination and deconstruction.


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Kissing Purity Culture Goodbye

Hannah Baylor

Today’s post is from Hannah Baylor.  Hannah Baylor is a PhD student in theology and Christian ethics at Oxford researching sexual consent and a Church of England ordinand. You can hear more about Hannah’s work here: Theology Slam: Hannah Barr on Theology and the #MeToo movement – YouTube


When people find out that I research sexual consent, it usually elicits three responses:

Ooo, that’s so important! (I think so!)

Have you seen that brilliant cup of tea video? (That cup of tea video is terrible; here is my ten-points reason why…)

Or, they tell me their story. It is an absolute privilege to be trusted with stories that have often never been told aloud; it’s a gift which I treasure.  

Being immersed in a topic consisting of painful stories, abuses of power, damaging rhetoric, and continual threats to human flourishing, is often all-consuming and it can be hard to switch off from that. But recent events have had me questioning whether it is right to want to switch off, or whether vigilance is a habit to cultivate.

I recently began to do some research into purity culture in the UK. My initial thoughts were that purity culture wasn’t such a big deal over here, compared with the US with its sub-culture of daddy-daughter balls and abstinence-only education in schools. But as people shared their stories, my illusions were shattered. I discovered friends who had signed purity pledges and wore purity rings and people who had done the True Love Waits and Pure courses. So many people had devoured I Kissed Dating Goodbye; a Coptic friend said her church had really pushed that book on its young people. Purity culture in the UK is not just for evangelicals. The more I learned, the more people shared their stories, the more I realised that purity culture makes its mark on impressionable young Christians here in the UK.[1]

Wedding Rings

And then my memories returned. The sermons where ‘promiscuous’ girls were compared with chewing gum and un-sticky Sellotape. The unhelpful notions I had about dating that I’d acquired through osmosis. The church leader who shamed me over my body and called me a stumbling block. The email I had drafted to my rector, saying I couldn’t continue to help with the youth work, because the youth leader owned and taught from The Collected Works of Soul-Destroying Purity Culture and I didn’t have the power to challenge him but I wasn’t going to collude with him either in teaching harmful ideas. And finally, the memory of a throwaway line someone said to me at theological college, which I’d disregarded at the time, but then realised it was solid gold purity culture.

Purity culture in the US signals its presence. Bells, whistles, gaudy merchandise, political fanfare – you can’t miss it! In the UK, however, purity culture has a far more insidious character. It doesn’t necessarily announce its arrival; it seeps into church teaching through more obscure ways. What I recognise as particularly damaging from my own teenage Christian experiences is when legitimate Christian teaching and purity culture ideals were taught together, making harmful ideas harder to notice and reject. This is why I was so alarmed when I realised how casually and innocuously lines from the purity culture script were spoken by those who would otherwise absolutely reject its premise.

I’m training to be a Church of England priest. I will shortly be in possession of an awkward combination of power and authority: the power of ordination as an office, the power that other people confer upon a person in a dog collar and in a pulpit, the not-really-real power that is being a curate at the bottom of the Church of England hierarchy, and the power that the Holy Spirit gifts in her wisdom. And one of the many terrifying things about that power is the potential to cause pain. The last thing I want to do with my power as a soon-to-be ordained person is to say or teach something, which is not only wrong but is abjectly harmful.

I spoke to a variety of Church of England ordinands and curates who had been raised on purity culture. Some continue to identify as evangelicals, albeit often with a long list of caveats; others have eschewed it. I asked them about the interplay between their experiences of purity culture and the power they now have as ordained, or soon-to-be ordained, ministers. There was a uniform reluctance to preach on sexual ethics generally, and often this was to do with wanting to avoid saying the wrong thing and causing someone pain and shame. Another common reflection was how narrow purity culture’s focus is, obsessing over abstinence until marriage, and how this meant the vastness of issues of dating and inter-personal relationships was overlooked. Certainly, I find myself in the corner of every church debate about sexual ethics, shouting into the void that it would be nice if sexual consent got a look in, you know, for the sake of human flourishing and all that.

One person I spoke to said what they lamented about purity culture was it presented everything as black and white; as an ethical system, it’s an attractive one, because it sets up a dichotomy between right and wrong and then unstintingly upholds it. As an ethicist, I am naturally wary of ethical systems, which present themselves as catch-all solutions. I think such systems force us to abdicate our responsibility in the ethical life and leave those with the most power unaccountable for how they wield it. Purity culture is concerned with rendering its adherents powerless and its enforcers absorbing all of the power. 

People shared their stories with me, and it was, as ever, a gift to be trusted with them.

And what no-one wanted was to cause anybody any harm.

For people like myself who grew up with purity culture spooned into our Christian diet in ways we were not always cognisant of, untangling our sexual ethics is an on-going process. I have spoken elsewhere about the need for power literacy,  particularly for those of us inhabiting roles replete with multifaceted power; this is a skill that we must never be complacent about.

Power isn’t static, but this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unstable; in fact, the opposite is true, the more static power is, the more unstable it is. We must remain vigilant to the potency of our power and when it is accumulating, and allow ourselves to be challenged on it and to dismantle it. It also requires awareness of the things we don’t condone but which may still have shaped us, and critically interrogate our stances on certain issues to ensure that we are not perpetuating a cycle of harm and shame.

I didn’t relish being proved wrong about the prevalence of purity culture in the UK. It has been uncomfortable to reckon with my own experiences of it and to realise that I and many of my friends are not as unscathed by it as we might have originally thought. But the awareness that it has raised within me at a point where I am on the cusp of receiving a significant amount of power, is invaluable.

So, here’s to kissing purity culture goodbye and power literacy hello.


[1] I highly recommend Vicky Walker’s book Relatable: Exploring God, Love, and Connection in the Age of Choice (Malcolm Down Publishing, 2019) for empirical studies with Christians in the UK and their experiences of purity culture.

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