There’s been a lot of back-and-forth in our media about the so-called toxicity of purity culture and how it’s harmed generations of people with regards to their own views of religion or healthy conceptions of their own sexuality. Whether you love purity culture or hate it, it’s kind of hard to ignore that this belief system has let guys off scot-free.
Why does purity culture give men a free pass? There are a number of reasons, but the point is, there’s a distinct difference in the way men and women have been taught to view their sexuality. Not only do the myriad disadvantages of this belief system have real ramifications for our culture and the way we view the female body, but the consequences are much more serious for the men instilled with this double standard.
A Glaring Double Standard
If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, allow me to elaborate. I was raised in a religious household, as I’m sure many others were, and taught to abstain from sex before marriage. As I matured and compared the mindset of my household to the hookup culture lifestyle that dominated my college campus and young adult sphere, I came to two realizations: first, that the guys who were raised in purity culture had very different views towards their own virginity, and secondly, that the attitudes most pervasive in purity culture had inevitably resulted in people having sex at young ages with no real grasp of the severity of its consequences, which then lead to their wholesale subscription to hookup culture.
Think about it. Virginity, specifically female virginity, is sacrosanct in purity culture. Losing it or “giving it away” is probably the worst thing you can do, and this pressure, especially on women, is crushing. In fundamentalist environments specifically, it’s commonly accepted that your virginity directly correlates to your standing in the eyes of God, His regard and love for you, and your chance at salvation.
Female virginity is sacrosanct in purity culture and losing it is probably the worst thing a woman can do.
Women are held to a high standard to guard themselves, but if they fall from grace, the fall is unforgivable. Furthermore, in faiths where sexuality is discussed in hushed tones or as if it’s some mysterious untouchable subject, you build novelty around it, thereby motivating young people to view sex as either something that needs to be investigated in secret or with unhealthy fear or even complete rejection.
But men aren’t taught to view their own virginity as puritanically as young women are, and any woman raised in purity culture can observe this firsthand, especially when they begin dating and looking for a partner. While these women might have run the course and saved sex for their husband, men who sowed their wild oats are brushed off as far as responsibility is concerned, as long as they make sure to marry a woman who has saved herself. What a young man does in college regarding his sexuality is a slip-up, a mistake, an exploration of his own healthy sexuality, and it’s all forgiven — as long as he marries a virgin. This is prevalent in many cultures worldwide — not just in faith-based purity culture communities.
Purity Culture in a “Sex Positive” Age
The unfortunate, if unavoidable, result of the disadvantages of purity culture is pretty much what we’re seeing now: the pervasiveness of hookup culture, meaningless flings, rejection of monogamy on the basis of “intellectual reasons,” and the full scale, antithetical response to the attitude of secrecy, mystery, or delicacy around sex.
As much as women are responsible, it’s not out of line to say that men have led the march in hookup culture, and that starts with the way they’re raised. As much as we enable it by just accepting it, men who have been taught that it’s nice — but not required — to abstain from sex think that they can have fun during their youth, as long as they settle down, marry, and have kids later on. The same rules (and ramifications) that apply to women don’t apply to them.
Purity culture emphasizes the uncontrollable urges of men, giving men a scapegoat for not abstaining.
It’s even been argued that purity culture completely mistreats female sexuality. Purity culture curriculum centers on and emphasizes male pleasure and the uncontrollable urges of men, giving men a scapegoat for not abstaining, while shaming the women who don’t abstain. Female sexuality, healthy desire, and female pleasure are rarely if ever discussed, and their virginity is placed on a pedestal, while male virginity is considered to be less crucial to the success of a marriage.
When men aren’t held to the same standards — heck, even in the same hemisphere as the emphasis we put on female virginity — you have the resulting attitude that meaningless sex with as many partners as possible is the only way to reclaim the unhealthy attitude we have with our own sexuality.
Navigating Abstinence Culture Seriously
Purity culture, in theory, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s been stigmatized so much that, at this point, we view hookup culture as the only remedy to this mindset.
The thing is, the choice to save ourselves for marriage, whether we’re women or men, is something to be celebrated, even though our society idolizes those who have sex more than those who choose not to.
We need to recognize our female sexuality as powerful, special, and worthy of respect and care.
Perhaps the answer is not the trappings of purity culture, but abstinence culture, wherein we recognize our female sexuality as powerful, special, and worthy of respect and care. Our female sexuality and pleasure, as well as the choice to save that responsibility for the right person, is something to be commended, not denigrated or mocked by “sex positivity” advocates.
Purity culture, whether we want to believe it or not, has had serious, lasting side effects for many of us with regards to our views on healthy sexuality, genuine desire, and even marriage. It holds women to high standards and high callings, but does it do the same to the men it raises? That remains to be seen.
What’s the saying, TikTok? Can’t make a wife out of a hoe? Cue the eye roll.
There are tons of women out in the world now who are struggling with viewing their own bodies as the enemy. We place all of the responsibility on women and that, coupled with instilling the belief that they can’t have happy marriages or relationships should they choose to contradict the tenets of this culture, results in widespread confusion, anguish, and hardship, when it comes to both healthy sexuality and religion.
While I don’t believe the principles of purity or abstinence culture are inherently bad — on the contrary, abstinence has many proven advantages — the scales have been tipped unfavorably.
The culprit for the way our culture is right now is the double standard that tells men to explore and women to bear the brunt of those choices. If abstinence culture is ever going to really function to benefit us, then we need to be holding both male and female responsibility and choice equally.
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