I Grew Up Committed to Purity Culture, and Now I’m a Sex Writer


Most of the free time I had as an adolescent was spent in a church. Whether I was volunteering for the children’s programs, leading the worship band, or participating in a Bible study, my younger years probably looked quite different than those of most people. Growing up in a deeply Christian family meant that my summers were devoted to church camps, and my weekends were taken up by worship services and youth group meetings. It also meant that, as a teenage girl, my body and femininity were often used against me.

It was no secret that I was a Christian, especially at school and in my extracurricular groups. From marching band to musical theatre class, everyone knew that I was a “believer” and that I tended to place an unspoken boundary between myself and others who weren’t of the faith. This is something I’m not proud of today because I know I treated a lot of great people with judgment and disdain.

Even friends of mine from various communities knew to tread lightly when it came to things like sharing their LGBTQ+ identity or the fun nights they had out at parties because of the potential that I may lecture them or even cut them off altogether. When one of my best friends at the time—who went to church with me, mind you—told me she had lost her virginity to her long-term boyfriend, I barely spoke to her for weeks afterward. These beliefs about sin and piety were deeply ingrained in me by the church and reinforced by the strict rules and expectations set by my parents. There was no room for error. This especially included anything related to sex and dating, which were two activities I was strictly forbidden to engage in. I couldn’t even accept a proposal for a date to prom because anything remotely resembling attraction to a boy was off the table until I was an adult.

You can likely imagine how much this repression impacted me and began to turn me off from the faith altogether over time.

The moment I realized the church might not be for me

I remember the moment I began to realize how the Christian church sexualizes young women vividly. I was sitting in a youth group event on a Sunday night, but one that was highly anticipated; the boys and girls of the youth group were split into separate gathering rooms in the church and sat in front of a stage filled with our college counselors—our role models. These were college students who had grown up with us in the church and now served as leaders. They provided a “positive” example for us as devout, Christian young adults. They were also the poster children for purity culture.

On this particular night, anonymous questions could be submitted to and answered by the college counselors. We were so thrilled to hear their advice and input—especially those who were in relationships. Personally, I nearly idolized some of the female counselors. They were everything I wanted to become, and I had formed close relationships with several of them. I’m the oldest sister in my family, so I’ve often found myself yearning for someone to fill that role for me. Sitting before them and several of their male partners felt so encouraging to me and gave me hope that I could one day be in that very position. This event seemed like a great idea… until it didn’t.

“When it came time for one of the most well-loved couples to answer an anonymous question from the teen girls in the room, my jaw nearly dropped at their response—and not in the way I had hoped.”

When it came time for one of the most well-loved couples to answer an anonymous question from the teen girls in the room, my jaw nearly dropped at their response—and not in the way I had hoped. When asked about ways we, as young women, could prevent our male counterparts from “stumbling” (AKA thinking or acting upon impure sexual thoughts about us and our bodies), the bubbly girlfriend of the couple explained that to honor her boyfriend and keep him from thinking those thoughts about her, she wore a one-piece bathing suit, a large T-shirt, and board shorts anytime they went to the beach or pool. Mind you, we lived in Florida.

Although I was quite possibly the most pious, devout “daughter of the King” in that room, that response immediately began to turn my mental wheels. Why was it our responsibility to keep the boys thinking pure thoughts just because we have boobs? Couldn’t they just have some self-control? What about the female body is so inherently sinful? That moment became a core memory and fueled the fire that led me to become who I am today: A queer, sex-positive, progressive journalist who writes all about sex and relationships.

Why was it our responsibility to keep the boys thinking pure thoughts just because we have boobs? Couldn’t they just have some self-control?

How I balanced my Christian beliefs with the desire to explore my sexuality

Beyond the disastrous mess that specific youth group session became, as I grew older, I started to realize how many problematic beliefs had been ingrained in me as a Christian. The idea of tasking teenage girls with the burden of protecting the boys around them from their own “sinful” nature—namely, sexual thoughts that are a biological aspect of going through puberty—is completely insane to me now. But back then, for the most part, I took that job seriously. Everything I wore on my body was mindfully chosen to ensure that I appeared as “modest” as possible, so much so that I received direct comments from the boys in my youth group about how much they appreciated my commitment to modesty in the way that I dressed. Essentially, they could have just said, “Hey, thanks for covering up your boobs and butt because otherwise I was going to stare at them all night… or worse…”

Then there was the idea that Christian couples, no matter how old, had to set strict boundaries over how physically involved they became while they were unmarried. Things like holding hands and brief kisses were generally acceptable, but any manner of making out, fondling or heavy petting, and especially sharing a bed whatsoever were filthy, shameful acts. God was watching, after all, and He would be so disappointed if you gave into your flesh like that. Even though the topic was somewhat skirted around, it was still made clear that masturbation was off-limits for Christians, as well. After all, what’s more sinful and wicked than a really good orgasm?

Admittedly, I knew full well how good an orgasm felt even as a “pure” Christian teen—and I had them often. Like I imagine most of my peers did, I gave into curiosity as I got older and explored my own body sexually. I had plenty of guilt and embarrassment about it, sure, but knowing that Sky Daddy himself was looking down on me with horror didn’t stop me from learning what turned me on and how I could do so discreetly. After all, I stood on the stage and led the worship band every Sunday. How could I possibly let anyone know that I had these urges and desires when I served as such a “good example” for the other girls?

I stood on the stage and led the worship band every Sunday. How could I possibly let anyone know that I had these urges and desires when I served as such a “good example” for the other girls?

Exploring masturbation and my sexual desires started pretty early on, believe it or not. I remember the first time I stumbled upon porn for the first time when I was about 11 years old. What started as an innocent search for some song lyrics became a slightly horrified yet piqued curiosity at the images of naked women splashed across my computer screen. I had never seen anything remotely like it before because the media I consumed on and offline was always censored by my parents, but it was something I would never forget and would eventually come back to. While I obviously knew I wasn’t supposed to be seeing what I did, I felt like it was a chance for me to explore the pubescent urges that were already starting to bubble up in my body.

In high school, I learned I could use the iPod touch my older brother handed down to me to watch porn with headphones in and the lights off at night. Learning that touching and stimulating certain areas of my body could bring so much bliss changed the game for me and started a chain reaction that would continue for years.

Leaving the church behind, for good

I think I didn’t truly understand the firm grasp purity culture had on my beliefs and identity until I had sex for the first time. I was 20, and, luckily, I shared my first sexual experience with someone I had loved. “Losing” my virginity—a term and concept I hold a lot of disdain for—marked a major turning point in my relationship with religion and my body. I may have been wearing my quintessential purity ring while I did it (something I look back on with quite a bit of amusement), but becoming a sexually active adult didn’t come with the feelings of guilt and shame I was expecting. Instead, I almost felt empowered. It was as if I was just starting to loosen the chains of sexual repression shackled to me while I was raised in the church. Now, 10 years later, I spend my workdays writing about orgasms, sex positions, and even non-monogamous relationship styles. I love my job more than most things, but I also can’t say that my experiences in purity culture haven’t continued to impact me throughout my early adulthood.

…becoming a sexually active adult didn’t come with the feelings of guilt and shame I was expecting. Instead, I almost felt empowered.

Once I entered college and began dating and having sex, things really started to shift. I discovered that not only did I feel good about being sexually desired, but that it didn’t make me a bad person—it made me a normal person. Allowing myself the grace and freedom to explore, unraveling the religious dogma I had followed so closely for so long, and starting therapy all pushed me along the path to releasing my religious trauma and sexual shame. As I continued to work on my mental health, learn more about my body and sexuality, and expand my worldview within my education, I was able to feel confident and secure in who I was as a sexual being—and a person who didn’t need to live by the rules so ingrained in me as a teenager.

I did attend a few church services and faith-based gatherings for college students in my first year or two of school, but I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me anymore. I would sit during the sermon and my mind would drift away from the scripture being taught and, occasionally, I would even feel baffled by some of the statements the pastor or worship leaders would make. Some of this mindset stemmed from high school. I can recall one Sunday with my family when I was 18 and the Southern Baptist church we attended played a video to go along with the sermon series all about “absolute truth.”

The idea of the sermon was that the pastor insisted the Bible was the only source of absolute truth, so the video featured short interviews with people from other religions or schools of belief about how they view the concept of truth. One woman said she views truth like a stained glass window pane: Everyone sees the same window, but with slightly different colors and shapes, depending on where they’re standing. I thought it was such a beautiful perspective, and in that moment I realized that was exactly how I viewed truth, too, but I knew the church’s mission was to make that woman sound like an insane person. They wanted us to think she was crazy and sacrilegious for not preaching the same message they did. While I continued to play the part of a good Christian girl for the few years following this, it definitely stuck with me.

the everygirl quote iate stained glass

“One woman said she views truth like a stained glass window pane: Everyone sees the same window, but with slightly different colors and shapes, depending on where they’re standing.”

Having a therapist I felt comfortable talking to about my religious upbringing and how I could feel it impacting my sex and dating life was instrumental in starting this process for me. She provided the right balance of nurturing feedback and professional perspective and never once made me feel wrong for wanting the things I did. Now that it’s been nearly a decade since I first started therapy, I’ve gained plenty of emotional tools and the confidence I needed to heal from my purity culture trauma. Setting boundaries with people I know who are still in the Church and in my own relationships, speaking up when I have needs or feel myself regressing back to that shame or stigma, and encouraging myself to embrace my body and sexual needs have helped me come so far in my journey.

Where I am now

As you can imagine, my day-to-day life now looks pretty different. My bedside drawer holds some fun pleasure products rather than a Bible and devotional books, and when I journal it isn’t focused on asking God to bring me my future husband—it’s for me, and me only. As a person who learns, interviews, and writes all about how to have healthy and happy sexual and romantic relationships, no matter your identity, I’ve basically become the person I needed when I was that conflicted young girl sitting in church.

That isn’t to say that purity culture doesn’t still rear its ugly head in my mind from time to time because it certainly does, but I’m so lucky to have plenty of understanding friends and patient partners who are always willing to work through it with me. I may spend the rest of my life deconstructing what growing up in purity culture taught me, but if it means that I’ll come out of it more equipped to empower myself and others in their own sex and dating lives, I’m willing to see it through.



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