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The Growing Movement to Unwind Religious Sexual Shame and Toxic Purity Culture

The Growing Movement to Unwind Religious Sexual Shame and Toxic Purity Culture

I was raised to be polite- and that included not talking about religion. But recently, my friend Wolf told me that “POLite” can often be an acronym for “Pissed Off Later” – so, I’m choosing to bring up the big topic for stepping into the best relationship with our bodies: the role of religion in shaming sexuality for both genders.

Sexual shame has a very high cost. It impacts our fundamental understanding of who we are, and the lack of ability to directly communicate with others about our natural desires and needs impacts our relationships. A lot of perfectly normal desire stays suppressed or comes out sideways in unhelpful ways.

But a new story is being told by open-hearted clergy, by women who survived the evangelical purity culture of the 80s and 90s, and by women of faith who have stepped up to tell their own stories of victimization, exacerbated by not being able to share their stories with anyone. These women, who have recovered and reclaimed their natural sexuality and pleasure, are claiming a fully embodied faith.

Becca de Souza writes, “Purity culture’s negative effect on the relationship between women and men has been well documented. The most blatant effect has been the denigration of women and girls as sexual objects and the protection of men who are predators. While I’ve read many accounts of purity culture negatively affecting men’s and women’s experiences of marriage, I’m not one of those people. The mark purity culture left on my life was more insidious. The tentacles of purity culture quietly suffocated my ability to trust my body. Being a good Christian woman, my goal was to ignore my body’s voice in order to stay “pure.” But I had no idea how much I would need my body to show me the way to wholeness. Because of what purity culture taught me at a young age, I would not be able to recognize the trauma I would experience in adulthood.”

Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her book Shameless, writes: “So if you have been told that God is trying to trick you if you have been told that your sexuality is good only if it’s confined to a tiny circle, then you have been lied to, and I am so sorry. God gave you your gifts and never intended for them to be buried.”

Linda Kay Klein, in her memoir, “Pure” also documents how the psychological effects of purity culture on women.

Women’s advocate Elizabeth Smart, who survived gender-driven kidnapping and rape at a young age, is taking the church to task on some of its more sexist teachings. She says in a 2020 interview, “I think the power of faith is amazing, the hope and the healing that it can bring to people,” says Elizabeth, who credits her everlasting faith for the strength she had to survive Mitchell’s abuse. “But I also think there’s another side of it that can be potentially very harmful, especially when a lot of religions teach that sexual relations are meant for marriage… It’s so stressed that girls, in particular, tie their worth to their virginity, or, for lack of a better word, purity.”

Fundamentally, if there’s a story that lives in your body that your desire, your pleasure, your sexuality is somehow not part of the design, not part of “the plan”, please know that an entire movement is building to challenge that story.

In the coming weeks, I have guests on the podcast that are addressing this in multiple perspective-shifting ways! Two of these are the inventor of SexTech, Cindy Gallop, the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.TV, which showcases real-world curated sex videos as a way to bring awareness of how much goofy, silly, easygoing enjoyment is out there. Another is Nicolle Hodges, who started the Canadian Campaign to replace “losing your virginity” with #sexualdebut, as well as the account @menwhotakebaths.

It’s such a total joy and pleasure to be alive at a time when things are really shifting in the culture. As each one of us changes our consciousness, we evolve the world for everyone.

As always, please follow us @rosebudwoman,  and my account @the.rose.woman for pod-related things. Let’s get this conversation going.

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