Purity Culture Won’t Save Your Daughter
And it certainly won’t prepare her for a relationship with herself or anyone else.
I consider myself fortunate to live in a time when information is readily available on the internet. I love being able to learn pretty much anything I care to know about with a quick search query, and love being part of online communities that share information. However, I sometimes encounter stories — and ideas — that make me want to pull my hair out.
Last week, one such story came across my screen. Perhaps you’ve heard about it: rapper/actor T.I.’s recent podcast interview, in which he stated that he accompanies his now-eighteen-year-old daughter to the gynecologist to “check her hymen” to ensure she hasn’t had sex.
To some, this might seem like normal or even conscientious parenting. Not to me. All it reminded me of were the ridiculous purity culture standards that I and other girls like me grew up with, standards that forced me into a box and kept me from claiming my identity and independence. I and others like me absorbed toxic opinions about our own bodies and had our privacy taken from us, to the point that we no longer felt like independent human beings. We were someone else’s property.
Purity culture is a thief. It robs women and girls of their sense of self in the most intimate, humiliating ways imaginable. And sadly, it seems that it’s still alive and kicking us down.
One of the earliest lessons that purity culture teaches a young girl is that she does not belong to herself. This lesson is often relayed to her by the people who should be protecting her from this harmful idea: her parents.
It starts when parents discourage a young girl from being curious. Questions about sex and physiology are hushed. The parents I knew growing up actively discouraged their daughters from doing any research for themselves. We weren’t allowed to consider or act on our own autonomy or curiosity. We didn’t have access to books or research — only our parents’ word.
Maybe, to some, shielding young girls from “mature” topics like sex and sexuality is appropriate. Personally, I think we shouldn’t lie to kids or dance around the subject when they ask us about sex. It keeps the stigma alive and shames children for their natural curiosity.
I definitely think that teenagers should be made aware of these topics so they can act in an informed manner when they encounter relevant situations in the real world. But purity culture doesn’t allow that.
My own parents forced me to go to several different Christian youth groups and events that encouraged teenage girls to “save themselves for marriage” — because obviously we were the property of our future husbands. And who would want to even be with some who’d had — gasp! — premarital sex?
I also had plenty of talks with my parents about dating and the various boys I had crushes on. I had so much anxiety over being able to find someone who would care for me, and wanted to date, although I wasn’t allowed to. I wanted to be like other teenage girls and meet boys my own age and have the experiences I saw other girls having. But instead, my parents persisted in telling me that I should wait until I was “ready for marriage.”
God literally forbid that I form an emotional attachment to anyone who did not turn out to be my future spouse.
The only time my parents discussed sex frankly with me was during the inevitable “birds and the bees” talk. After that, they doubled down on “save yourself for marriage.”
Although this particular strain of purity culture was rooted in the religious teachings my parents raised me by, I have seen it rear its ugly head in other places. I’ve heard stories from other girls and women who were raised by the same misguided standards, even if they weren’t raised in a conservative Christian household.
When it comes down to it, purity culture has nothing to do with religious beliefs or what the Bible says. It has nothing to do with wanting to save impressionable girls from a big, bad world.
It’s all about systematically stripping women of their agency.
When proponents of purity culture talk to young women about their bodies, the conversation always focuses on women’s bodies as sexual objects. Not on the sexual needs or desires of women — only on who women are allowed to serve sexually.
Because that’s what we are, according to purity culture: we’re somebody’s living, breathing, baby-making machine. And we’re supposed to just wait for some man to step in to claim his divine preorder.
I’ve heard purity culture groupies compare women’s bodies to everything from manhandled roses and chewed gum to dirty white dresses and used bandaids. I had men and women alike tell me when I was a young girl that my virginity was a gift that I would give to my husband on our wedding night. They told me these things as if it were some grand romantic idea, when in reality it’s some of the creepiest, most dishonest stuff you can tell a young girl who doesn’t even care about marriage yet.
Purity culture didn’t teach me anything about valuing myself or any romantic relationships that I would go on to have. It didn’t teach me to be independent or to see myself as anything besides a future wife and mother. It only taught me to hate myself because I wanted something different.
T.I. has been subjected to a lot of criticism since his interview came out. In my opinion, I think it’s deserved. I understand that everyone parents differently, but if you’re accompanying your almost-adult daughter to the gynecologist to check that her “virginity seal” is still intact, that’s wrong. I’m sure T.I. thinks he’s protecting his daughter and I can’t speak for her personally, but somehow, I doubt she’ll thank him for such invasive checkups when she’s an adult living on her own.
Here’s the thing: policing your daughter’s body is not protecting her. Treating her as your property or someone else’s future property only dehumanizes her. You aren’t teaching her to protect herself. You aren’t preparing her for her first real relationship or the first time she has sex with someone she cares for. And you certainly aren’t demonstrating that her personal health issues are a matter that should stay between her and her doctor when she’s of age. You’re only teaching her that her own body and sexuality don’t belong to her.
There is no such thing as a “pure” girl or woman. We’re just girls and women. We want lives like everyone else. And we want people to stop basing our value as human beings on a toxic imaginary standard.