So why the emphasis on “purity” anyway?

We all know that the churches of the Bible belt have been placing a massive emphasis on “purity” and virginity lately. Especially for women.

Actually, purity isn't a commandment at all. The nearest the Commandments get to talking about purity is Commandment No. 7, which says no adultery.
Actually, purity isn’t a commandment at all. The nearest the Commandments get to talking about purity is Commandment No. 7, which says no adultery.

Teens are taking “purity pledges” and being “re-virginized” (whatever THAT means!) and promising to “wait” until they get married.

But have you ever stopped to ask – why?

Why the emphasis on this one aspect of human behaviour?

Good works

Think about it for a moment. How is a “good person” or a “valued member of society” usually defined?

Think of the people in history you’d consider to be heroes. They might be Jesus, if you’re a Christian – but I bet his sex life was never a big issue for you (do you even know how many sex partners he had? is it even mentioned in the Bible?)

Or you might think of Nelson Mandela. Or you might be thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. Or Marie Curie, if you’re a scientist. Or Fred Hollows, who restored eyesight for countless people in the world.

What about Mozart and Beethoven, and the beautiful music they gifted the world? Or Van Gogh, for his stunning artwork?

The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh.
The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh.

Or modern composers like Eric Whitacre, and the gorgeous pieces he’s currently writing for us to enjoy?

Other heroes you might consider could include people like your family doctor. Or a favourite teacher. Or the physiotherapist who helped you to walk again after you had a terrible brain injury.

They’re all heroes. Every one of them. All doing good works. All worthy of admiration.

If you believe in Heaven, every one of them deserves a place, wouldn’t you think?

I sure would.

Were they virgins when they married? If they married? And does God even care?

Of all these people, do you know for certain if any of them were virgins when they married? Did it matter? Did it make a difference to them being good people?

Did it affect their being valuable people, of worth to the world and those they loved and that loved them?

I’ll answer the question for you: not one bit.

Their sexual status when they married didn’t affect their contributions as unique individuals. And neither does your sexual status affect your contribution as a unique individual.

Don’t think so little of God!

If you think the Divine is so petty as to care about your virginity, well then, you’ve got one really petty little God you’re worshipping.

If you think God will judge you based on whether you’ve had sex or not, you’re really underestimating God. Plus, you’re really overestimating your own self-importance. The Divine has better things to worry about.

So why do the Churches care?

Firstly, don’t get Church and God muddled up. They’re NOT one and the same. Churches are made up of people. People with all their human frailties and mistakes and bigotries and confusions.

Churches have been telling people what to do and what to think for a long, long time. And a lot of the time, they simply represented what society thought.

When society got it wrong, so too did the Churches.

For example, when society didn’t know better and thought the sun revolved around the earth, the Churches defended this belief to the death. Literally. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for his challenge to this theory, his books were banned, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Other scientists that challenged the same belief (such as Giordano Bruno) were burned at the stake by the Church.

Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake by the Church in 1600.
Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake by the Church in 1600.

This all happened a long time ago, but what I’m pointing out is that the churches are fallible. They make mistakes, because they’re controlled and made up of people. They reflect common beliefs of society at the time. And sometimes not so common!

Better believe it - this is what some creationists are teaching their kids: that dinosaurs existed with humans, and we *rode* them!
Better believe it – this is what some creationists are teaching their kids: that dinosaurs existed with humans, and we *rode* them!

What’s more, the Churches, due to their generally conservative nature, tend to lag behind society, and are slow to change and update as society changes.

Society has changed, but the Church is still playing catchup

This is what we have now. Reliable contraception is relatively new (the pill was first approved in 1960, very recently in historical terms) and was a massive change to how women could control their fertility.

ThePill

With that huge change, the status of women changed quickly. Women were suddenly no longer tied to house and children. We could choose to work and pursue careers, knowing that pregnancy wasn’t lying in wait for us unexpectedly.

Reliable laws supporting safe termination followed swiftly in 1973 with Roe v Wade, enabling women who did find themselves unexpectedly pregnant to end it with a safe termination. Terminations are very common – I’ve had one, as have about half of my friends. These days they’re safe and supported by public health insurance in most western countries – the days of backyard coathangers are thankfully over.

But all these changes, including other further advances such as the morning after pill (1997), are very new. Too new for the Churches to cope with. They’re still more than a century behind, back in the Victorian era, advocating abstinence until marriage.

But what’s wrong with abstinence?

Quite a lot, actually. But let’s start with numbers.

The average age of menarche (first period) for girls in the US is 12.5 years of age. Boys hit puberty on average at age 13.

The average age for first marriage in the United States is 28.9 years for men and 26.9 years for women.

So if they’re going to be abstinent, women are going to, on average, have to be abstinent for 14.4 years. Men are going to have to remain abstinent for 15.9 years.

Are you beginning to see a problem? I sure am! Can you imagine, as an adult, going without sex for about 15 years? It’s just not practical or reasonable to expect young people, at the height of their fertility, to not have sex for that long.

Furthermore, the same communities that are preaching the abstinence mantras are typically

a) not providing young people with full sex education, so they are more at risk of pregnancy, STIs and dangerous / abusive relationships should sex occur
b) not providing young people with access to contraception or teaching them how to use contraception properly
c) dumping guilt on young people when the inevitable does occur and they do have sex.

In other words, they’re preaching a virtually unachievable mode of behaviour for all but the most asexual of young people, then blaming those same young people when they cannot meet unrealistic expectations.

So why purity?

Purity has, and always will be until it finally suffers a permanent demise as a concept, been about control. It’s a way of making people feel: dirty, cheap, worthless, not good enough, not able enough. It’s a way of judging people and labelling people and keeping people (women) in their place that is hurtful and can be very cruel.

Decidly unChristian!

Yes, the pretty white dresses and “purity rings” are all very nice, but they’re a veil over a brutal attempt to control women.

A purity ball. Actually, I find the whole father-daughter emphasis a little incestuous and creepy.
A purity ball. Actually, I find the whole father-daughter emphasis a little incestuous and creepy.

What to do?

Don’t buy the lie. Don’t buy into the purity lie.

Instead, focus on being a good person. Do good works. Let your actions speak for who you are and what you believe is important and right. If you choose to wait until you find someone you love for sex, that’s only your business: no-one else’s.

It’s not the church’s. Or your minister’s. Or your parents. Or your friends.

Ignore the purity rings. And the purity balls. And the purity pledges. Be a good person because that’s who you choose to be, not to fit into someone else’s rules and regulations and guidelines and boundaries.

Have sex when you choose to. With who you want to. With as many or as few people as you choose.

Do it safely. Feel no guilt, because sex can be a beautiful, fun, pleasurable gift when you do it right.

But the only purity that you should ever concern yourself with is the purity of your food and drink. Because that’s the only purity that matters.

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4 thoughts on “So why the emphasis on “purity” anyway?

  1. I am a ‘Feminist’, along with other labels that limit us. But I do believe in innocence and purity and I’m really discouraged that even the so called ‘Feminists’ are all about sex, physical and what is outside of us. Instead of talking about pleasures and clothes and what is our right as sexual beings – which sex is just over blown and exaggerated – why can’t women forget about all of that and focus on what good they can do for the world with their intelligence, their compassion and so on?

    I see all these double standard messages in regards to objectification when media does it, and then feminists telling the world; “I can dress however I want to and have sex as many times with as many men I want to, and you have to respect me”…so aren’t we objectifying ourselves this way? If the focus of my message is about physical and lust and enjoyment, then I am just telling the world that this is all me, I am nothing but a physical being in this world, and I can objectify myself, but don’t you dare use images of me to objectify me. Doesn’t make sense. Why can’t we tell all the women that beauty, sex, physical anything is not what makes us women, and we should focus on our own spiritual growth, and don’t give a shit about attention from men. If we focus on evolving ourselves, then others will respect us eventually. I don’t like these limited messages. I don’t like double standards, and I’m sorry but I had to express myself whether anyone likes it or not.

    1. Hi Mia – You make some very good points.

      For me, the whole point of feminism is to be able to be a complete person, in every way that I choose to be. That includes my sexuality.

      Like it or not, we’re all sexual beings – we’re created by a sexual act between a man and a woman, and sex is an everyday act for a lot of people. It’s normal, its healthy, it’s necessary for the continuation of the human species, and its something we shouldn’t (I feel) be ashamed of.

      Most people (all genders) masturbate regularly, teen men in particular typically masturbate several times a day, and purity as such really doesn’t exist except as an philosophical idea in some US-based Christian groups. I can guess you’re probably from the US and probably Christian, because that’s about the only place on earth that “purity” philosophy is even present. It’s unheard of here in New Zealand, also unheard of in Australia and throughout Europe, and it doesn’t exist in Asia either that I’m aware of. Did you know how unusual your ideas actually are? You’re very much a minority. That doesn’t mean your ideas are right or wrong, but it’s interesting to point out.

      I’m sex-positive. I want my children to feel like sex is normal and healthy, and that is it a normal, healthy part of any consenting relationship, if and when the partners choose it to be. Having and enjoying sex, and acknowledging our sexual selves doesn’t mean we think we’re ONLY physical beings, any more than having a strong spiritual life means we believe we shouldn’t have physical pleasure or acknowledge basic physical needs. Both are essential for a whole human. It’s not an either / or situation. And if you think it is, have you ever asked yourself why you think that?

      Adults eat, drink, and have sex – it’s what humans *do*. Both are physical acts that take care of basic physical needs that are essential to survival. Like it or not, we *are* physical beings with very real physical needs that are vital. Sex is just another physical need – not vital to the survival of the individual, but certainly vital to the survival of the species.

      We also partake in spiritual communities of various types if we choose. Then there are other practices that feed the spirit – music and art are two examples. Neither are essential, but they enrich life and make it meaningful.

      Feminism is about our right to choose, not to have our decisions made for us by others (particularly men or patriarchal institutions, such as churches, synagogues etc.). Feminists believe in autonomy. Choosing NOT to have sex is equally as valid as choosing to have sex with as many partners are you can manage. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

      As a feminist, I focus on my growth as a person – both spiritual and physical. I care for my spiritual needs, and I care for my physical needs. In the same way, as a parent, I care for my children’s physical needs (I clothe, shelter, feed them etc.) and their spiritual needs (I send them to good schools, I give them spiritual education, I give them music and art classes, I give them access to cultural experiences in our community etc.). Both are important to grow a whole, healthy individual. I think I would be a failure as a parent if I neglected one field – physical or spiritual – altogether.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I wish you well in your journey XX

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