The following is an anonymous testimony submitted by a woman whose marriage has been broken and dreams have been crushed by the lie that is religious purity culture in America. Through her struggle, she has grown stronger. Her scars have emboldened her to escape. Now she wants to speak out, warning others of what lies in store for those who tie value to virginity, worth to waiting, and spiritual status to sex lives (or the absence thereof). For anyone experiencing a similar story, I want to reiterate a few things here:
My heart is broken by what you are experiencing. Please know that you are NOT alone. What is happening to you is NOT happening because something is wrong with you; it is NOT your fault. Even without PTSD from years of twisted views of sex and marriage, great marital sex takes work, commitment, and two loving, caring individuals. Purity culture teaches men that they have some mystical “right” to amazing sexual experiences. It teaches them that women are commodities who exist for their pleasure. I believe to my core that it is evil and anti-Jesus. Please know that you ARE and ALWAYS will be worth a loving, fully committed relationship. How your spouse is treating you right now does not define your worth and value. I could go on and on, telling story after story of people who have been hurt emotionally, physically, and sexually by purity culture. In fact, I honestly can’t think of one single story where it turned out the way it promises. There are so many people praying for and hurting along with you. For more resources, please use the contact page to get in touch with me. I would be glad to direct additional resources your way.
(Update: I’ve received some questions regarding a more in-depth definition of purity/modesty culture, please scroll down to read my comment below the post. It has a brief description. Feel free to add your own as well.)
I’m a woman who grew up in the purity culture. I read all of the right books: Lady in Waiting, I Kissed Dating Goodbye…all of them. I wanted to be the ultimate wife. I was given a purity ring at age sixteen. I didn’t date. At age twenty, I courted a young man who also grew up in this same culture. Our first kiss was our wedding day. We did everything “right.”
Our wedding night was the exact opposite of what we were promised.
Our expectations were that if we saved ourselves, our wedding night would be magical and fulfill our deepest desires. However, because of physical difficulties, it would be almost six weeks before we were actually able to physically consummate our marriage. And it remained very painful for me for a long time after that. During this agonizing time, I told myself that we were the rare exception to the rule. I told myself I could live with this. To compensate for the fact that the belief system I had lived my entire life could be wrong, I instead vehemently defended the purity culture that I had spent so much of my life believing.
Purity culture did not prepare us for these struggles. It did not prepare us for reality. It didn’t prepare us for when things just don’t work the first time.
My husband and I continued working on our ability to be intimate and eventually got to the place where I thought sex was only getting better as we aged. Unfortunately, my husband could not overcome his disappointment. We had been married more than a decade when he began routinely saying things that hurt me to the core. On one hand, because of the purity culture in which he was raised, he told me if we had tried to be intimate before marriage, he would have immediately left me. On the other hand, he is so angry that the “wait and it’ll be great” doctrine preached at him his whole young life was a lie. He deeply regrets waiting for sex until marriage and wishes he had slept around with more women before getting married. Then he promised that he would not allow his son to be “deprived” of that opportunity.
Purity culture did not prepare us for these struggles. It did not prepare us for reality. It didn’t prepare us for when things just don’t work the first time. All it did was set us up for disappointment and distrust in everything we were taught. It told me that I was only good as an object for his sexual release “needs”, and if I ever declined, it would be my fault for his then “unavoidable” affair(s).
While there are certainly other issues in our relationship, the biggest ones being emotional and spiritual abuse, there was one thing that weighed heaviest on me: for my husband, waiting for me wasn’t worth it. I did everything “right”, yet I wasn’t worth the wait.
He has since gone the exact opposite direction by involving himself with emotional affairs with other women, claiming he’s doing nothing wrong. He also loves to entertain the idea that taking on a second wife would be totally fine in God’s eyes. Because of this and many other reasons, we are now heading for divorce.
For my husband, waiting for me wasn’t worth it. I did everything “right”, yet I wasn’t worth the wait.
Purity culture isn’t healthy. It is part of what destroyed my marriage. It gave us too many lies and false promises. It creates false expectations that simply aren’t reality. Still, our church continues to teach these things, along with the patriarchal standard that women are to be mousey or “submissive” and do everything that their husbands command/ask of them. It’s been a long and difficult psychological battle to wade through, and I’m grateful to have a fantastic Christian counselor helping me through the process. But, my eyes are open now to this toxic culture, and I cannot wait for the day when I can say I am completely free of it.