Impure: A Reading List on Purity Culture

For my final masters project, I wrote on the implications of evangelical purity culture. And let me tell you, what a wild ride. Normalized sexual violence, gender roles, politics, #ChurchToo, liturgy — there is a little bit of everything packed into this paper.

This paper has gained quite a bit of interest since mentioning it on my Instagram last month. My hope is to break down my research into digestible, accessible pieces for others to benefit from. (What use is all this if I hoard it all in my brain?)

Purity culture, or the evangelical sexual purity movement of the 1980s-2010s, establishes sexual “purity” as the ultimate standard for those waiting to be married. (Marriage is assumed.) In this subculture, to be sexually “impure” would be disastrous in all other areas of life and would doom any relationship with a future spouse. In both political and pastoral spaces, methods of control and fear seek to maintain patriarchal power over the hearts and bodies of young people, though primarily girls and women.

Stories and testimonies reveal the abusive nature of “purity” teachings and practices. Girls and women are often dehumanized and denied vibrant sexualities of their own. If feelings of discomfort or reports of sexual violence are made known, they can be frequently silenced and ignored. Sadly, there are real convictions buried in these teachings – blinded by ignorance and the fight for power. There seems to be no intention to inflict harm on to others. Rather many of those who participate are held to a conviction which values hierarchy between men and women, emphasizing a woman’s submission to men’s needs. “Purity” is interpreted as protection. More on this later.

Before I jump into the research itself, I wanted to share some materials on the impact of the evangelical sexual purity movement or abstinence-only education.

This reading list is fairly brief and does not include academic articles. Even so, these examples are moving and incredibly revealing. Please note, many portions of these texts discuss sexual trauma, which can be triggering or overwhelming for some.

Books or Essays

Blogs

I would also encourage you to read through the #ChurchToo on Twitter or sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Statement.

If there are other articles, books, podcasts, etc. that have been helpful to you, I would love to read them and include them here. If your experience in purity culture has been positive, I would also love to understand more about your story.

A Reading List for Relationships

I asked and you answered. I’ve only read a handful of these books, so I’m not endorsing them or the authors, simply reporting the answers from friends, family, and followers.

I found that most of the authors suggested are white males, who as you may guess, do not hold a monopoly on healthy relationships or great sex. If you have suggestions, please let me know so I can add them to the list. In the meantime, I would strongly encourage you read outside the box!

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Which Christian dating/marriage books have either helped or misled you?

Here’s what helped.

Other helpful authors or speakers.

And these seemed to be misleading.

If you disagree with any of the characterizations above, I’d love to hear! Obviously, there’s a lot more to say on these subjects that these few authors can cover, but it’s a start. Knowing some of the authors listed, some books most likely disagree in certain ways.

I asked this question with “purity culture” in mind. I’m curious to hear if you experienced this growing up and if there were teachings or books that promoted this in your church or religious context.