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
- Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism by Amy DeRogatis
- Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein
- The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
- Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence by Sara Moslener
- Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns by Christine Gardner
- Naked Without Shame: A Counter-Hegemonic Body Politic by bell hooks
- The church’s response to sexual assault survivors by Gay Clark Jennings
- Evangelical Purity Culture Taught Me to Rationalize My Sexual Assault by Becca Andrews
- This is Why Evangelicals Don’t Believe in Sexual Assault by Dianna Anderson
- Sexual Purity, #ChurchToo, and the Crisis of Male Evangelical Leadership by Sara Moslener
- The #ChurchToo Movement Isn’t Just About Gender by Laura Bullard
- Purity Culture is Rape Culture by E.J. Graff
- #ChurchToo: Christian women are calling out sexual assault and coercion, too by Becky Garrison
- Naked and Ashamed: Women and Evangelical Purity Culture by Amanda Barbee
- Christians Caught Between the Sheets — How ‘Abstinence Only’ Ideology Hurts Us by Tina Schermer Sellers
- Is Evangelical Purity Culture Based on a Mistranslation? by Libby Anne
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.