Anybody else raised in purity culture? You know, no sex before marriage, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, purity rings, really awful metaphors about how premarital sex degrades girls’ value, belief that girls’ bodies cause boys and men to stumble, etc… (*raises hand*). If you were raised in 90s and early 2000s evangelical culture like I was, you know it’s a whole lifestyle. And often, a cause of much shame and trauma*.
One of the chapters in my upcoming book explores what I call the “brick” of purity culture in the “wall” of evangelicalism. (There are lots of these bricks I write about in my book, and I’ll create posts giving you little snippets of them this upcoming year. Be sure to “follow” for updates!). I was rereading this chapter yesterday and I AM SO EXCITED FOR IT TO MEET THE WORLD. It is so important for those of us raised in evangelicalism to understand how purity culture impacted our ability to trust our minds and bodies and created a deep sense of shame. We are often unaware of just how much it impacted us until we really process through it and recognize its far-reaching consequences.
I’ll get more into that in a later post, but right now I want to share about a super helpful mini-conference I virtually attended this week: Parenting After Purity Culture, hosted by Cindy Wang Brandt. Cindy also facilitates my favorite Facebook group, Raising Children UnFundamentalist (TBH I joined the group before I was even a parent because it’s just that good!) and hosts the podcast Parenting Forward. Deconstructing purity culture is hard enough, but for parents, trying to parent your kids in ways that are totally unfamiliar to you is extra difficult! If you were raised with shame around sex, it is really hard to break your automatic reactions unless you’ve done a lot of inner work (and even then, you’ll slip up…). Luckily, there are growing numbers of resources available for us today to help work through these issues.
I want to share just a few snippets because I’m so excited about it, and encourage you to check it out and invest in some of the resources available if you think it would be helpful for you.
For me, the highlight was hearing from Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, as well as creator of what is basically a manual for parents to help us understand kids’ normal stages of sexual development, coming out this June. I think all of us attendees cannot WAIT to get our hands on that! She talked about the incredibly early onset of sexual shame (often before we can even talk or have memories, just due to parental discomfort and shame around kids’ normal behaviors!), the high percentage (90-95%) of us raised in “sexually silent” or “sexually shaming” households, and the lack of comprehensive sex education (abstinence-only does NOT count) in schools since 1980. I want to go buy and read her books and soak in the wisdom she brings for helping adults deal with our own shame, and for those of us who are parents, helping us raise our kids better. If you buy any of the sessions ($10 for a single session), I recommend this one the most.
Other speakers included Al Vernaccio, who talked about pornography and how to talk with our kids about it. Eeeek! But it’s something we should not avoid talking about! Linda Kay Klein, author of Pure, helped us unpack the impact of purity culture on women in particular. Nadine Thornhill, a sexuality educator, provided a really helpful framework for having conversations with our kids (or as a therapist, my teen clients): Express Values, State Facts, Avoid Myths. Matthias Roberts, author of Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life On Your Own Terms, helped me conceptualize that our values around sex and sexuality inform our sexual ethics. Takeaways from the conference? It’s so important to get really clear on your values and be aware of facts and research as you make decisions for your own life and choose how to provide guidance for the next generation.
I’m not being paid or bribed to promote all this – I just get really excited when I find something that I love or that’s really useful, and this conference certainly fit the bill. Now you’ve got a host of resources if you’re looking for help deconstructing and healing from purity culture, and if you’re trying to figure out how to raise kids in non-shaming ways around sexuality!
The conference also has me dreaming about things I would really like to do in the future, like teach young people using the Our Whole Lives curriculum (comprehensive sexuality education from the Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ denominations) or do a teen girls group focused on healthy sexual development. I’ve unearthed a big passion for helping people, young people especially, grow into a healthy sexuality free of shame. I love the work I am able to do in that arena now, and find that as I work through my own stuff (baggage / avoidance / shame), I am more easily able to work with such issues in my own clients. It’s amazing.
I would love to hear from you – drop me a comment here or on my social media, or send me a direct message. Did you grow up in purity culture? How was the experience for you? Are there issues you’re still trying to work through if you’re an adult, even if you’ve deconstructed your faith? Feel free to reach out!
*disclaimer that my writing is primarily intended for those who suffered in purity culture (in this post) or evangelicalism (in general). It is NOT trying to persuade those who are happy evangelicals or purity culture adherents that their way is wrong! If you find what I write about resonates with you, stick around, and if not, feel free to skip on by!