*content warning: general descriptions of trauma and anxiety*
I read this book in two days. I couldn’t put it down. What’s so engaging about it is that the author is intimately linked to her subject. Born and raised into purity culture, she suffered the same shame and traumas that the women she interviews did. She even grew up with some of them and experienced the exact same messaging. I don’t know if I’ve read a book of this kind before where the author is so much a part of it.
I’m thinking about this book at a strange time in my life. After losing my dog Yoshi, one of the great loves of my life, it was like the ground beneath me shifted. Things I had buried for years and that have been knocking on the door for months refused to be ignored a second longer. I’ve finally had to acknowledge that I do not feel safe in my own body. I’ve had to acknowledge that my very first memory – a strange, shrouded memory of some kind of physical trauma – is still haunting me. It guides my sexuality, my anxiety, and how I feel in my own skin.
The extent to which this has affected my experience with purity culture isn’t clear. The big thing I’ve been thinking about is my first serious relationship back in high school. I was physically anxious constantly. I analyzed every little physical thing, feeling both intrigued and terrified. Because of purity culture, I believed that the warning signals going off were from God. If my boyfriend touched my leg or I stroked his hand, trigging a flight response in me, I thought it was God telling me what we were doing was wrong. Now, I know that isn’t the case. Because purity culture saw repressed sexuality as a virtue, it allowed me to ignore signs that something else was wrong for a very long time.
This book also made me feel very relieved. I’m not the only one who feels confusion and anger. Even with deconstruction and transformed beliefs, the women in “Pure” still struggle with the messages engrained at an impressionable age. In my head, I believe that “purity” is a false construct, but in my body and heart, there’s a battle going on. With me, there’s an added layer – that early physical trauma – that complicates things.
Basically, purity culture isn’t the end-all-be-all for my array of issues, but it played a strong supporting role. At certain times in my life, it played a starring role. I recommend “Pure” for anyone who needs to feel that they aren’t alone in dealing with the fallout from purity culture, and for anyone who wants to understand what purity culture does to people.
Purity culture isn’t a relic of the past. It’s alive and well in many communities, and I anticipate a strong backlash from the mainstream church in response to people telling their stories. That’s usually what ends up happening when the church gets called out. Thankfully, there are churches and spiritual communities that are different and willing to listen. They will also need to be vocal. It’s time for a change.