The Psychology of the Christian Purity Culture

Great analysis by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology of the disparate metaphors used to describe sexual sin (particularly sexual sin by women) and other sin:

Most sins don’t get the purity metaphor. True, generally understood sin is understood to be a purity violation. But particular sins aren’t typically viewed as a purity issue. Most sins are framed, metaphorically, as mistakes or errors, as performance failures. Another common metaphor here is sin as a form of stumbling or falling. What is important to note about these metaphors–performance failures and stumbling–is that these metaphors aren’t catastrophic in nature. That is, they can be easily rehabilitated. If you make a mistake you try again. If you stumble and fall you get back up. Inherent in the logic of the metaphor is an obvious route to rehabilitation.

But not so with the purity metaphor. When the sin is framed as a purity violation the damage that is done is total and unable to be rehabilitated. A purity violation creates a state of irreversible ruin.

This post deftly articulates a concept that has been loitering around in the back of my brain.

Purity for the Sake of Purity

“Perfect Number” over at Tell Me Why the World is Weird adds her voice to the discussion about Purity, and she crystallizes a rarely-expressed concept—that proponents of purity tend to measure it in strictly physical terms:

That bit about skin cells and saliva—that’s not what a kiss is. Maybe it’s a physical description of a kiss, but that’s not what a kiss is. A kiss has so much meaning behind it, so much emotion, a connection between two people. That connection is what’s important, not the physical act itself.

To say “we’re not going to kiss before the wedding day because purity”, to say that hugging and holding hands should be avoided “because purity”, is to measure purity in terms of muscle movements and skin cells and nerve endings.

This is all wrong. Purity itself has no value. Virginity itself has no value. When justifying your decision to not do this or that with your boyfriend, “for purity” is NOT an acceptable answer.

Emphasis original.

Toward the end of the post the author addresses my second favorite argument against the emphasis on “purity”. I won’t spoil it.

A Defiant Dance of Power

Lots of people are up in arms about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show last night, criticizing the artist for objectifying herself and characterizing her performance as “stripping” or “pornography”. Here’s a fantastic response from David Henson:

Beyoncé’s performance Sunday night in New Orleans wasn’t about sex. It was about power, and Beyoncé had it in spades. In fact, her show was one of the most compelling, embodied and prophetic statements of female power I have seen on mainstream television.

That a Black woman claimed and owned her power during the misogynist, consumerist celebration known as the Super Bowl only highlights Beyoncé’s brilliance and boldness.

More than anything, while I was watching the recorded video of Beyoncé’s act, I kept thinking, “She looks like she’s having so much fun.” People want to be able to characterize all similar events as having similar morality; because some women dance on stage in minimal clothing to provoke lust or because they are letting their sexuality be hijacked by men, Beyoncé must be doing the same thing. But maybe Beyoncé has no interest in your sexual response to her, and she certainly doesn’t need to exploit her sexuality for her own survival. She’s a sexual being, as God created her, and last night she owned that sexuality on stage, flanked by a multitude of other talented women and absolutely zero men. I think the message is clear.

"Night after night, I cried myself to sleep"

Rachel Held Evans opens her series on sexuality by reviewing Chapters 1–5 of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, a memoir by Justin Lee, a gay Christian man.

“It was, I thought, the worst secret in the world,” writes Justin. “It was the deepest, darkest secret I could ever imagine having, one that I could never tell anyone, not even my parents or best friends. It was the secret I would take with me to my grave.”

I used to think, along with nearly every Christian I knew, that being gay was a choice. But the second you engage your imagination on that subject, you realize this idea is absolutely ridiculous, and most of all for people who claim to be Christians. Who would choose crippling guilt and anxiety? Who would choose to risk rejection by everyone they love? Who would choose what amounts, in conservative Christian circles, to a disability?

Even if you think gay sex is against God’s will, let’s have no more of this “it’s a choice” business. Being sexually active with someone of your own sex is a choice; being gay is not.

They're Mostly Not Strangers

Mary-Rose MacColl tries to emphasize consent and appropriate touch over “stranger danger” when she teaches her son about sexual abuse:

We embarked on what has been an ongoing conversation with our son about his body, privacy and sexual abuse. He’s now ten. We’ve moved on to sexuality, pornography and other issues he will need to negotiate in the world he inherits. At first, my rule was going to be, ‘old enough to ask, old enough to know’, but now I see the folly of that. Until I started the conversation, he didn’t ask, but once I started, and he saw me as a non-judgemental and reliable source, the questions came pouring out. They pour out still.

One of my greatest fears about becoming a parent is that my children may see me as too much of an authority figure to come to me with their scary problems and questions.

"Clitoroplasty" : Female Genital Mutilation :: "Po-tay-to" : "Po-tah-to"

This won’t be the last time today you resist the urge to swear loudly:

The head of the pediatric urology department at Cornell University’s New York Presbyterian Hospital… has been operating on young girls who suffer from what he (and likely the girls’ guardians) have decided is “clitorimegaly,” or oversized clitorises.

In order to relieve these girls from what seems like little more than a cosmestic issue, Dr. Dix P. Poppas cuts out parts of the clitoris’ shaft, saving the glans, or tip, for reattachment. Poppas triumphantly calls the procedure—rebranded a clitoroplasty—a “nerve sparing” one unlike the FGMs practiced in other countries.

Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder, professors of medical humanities/bioethics and philosophy, respectively, don’t seem quite so excited:

“We still know of no evidence that a large clitoris increases psychological risk (so is the surgery even necessary?), and we do know of substantial anecdotal evidence that it does not increase risk. Importantly, there also seems to be evidence that clitoroplasties performed in infancy do increase risk—of harm to physical and sexual functioning, as well as psychosocial harm.”

If you aren’t outraged yet, wait until you find out how Poppas tests the intactness of his young patients’ nerves.

Not the Best "Sexytime Talk"

I’ve written before about how Jezebel need to fire Karley Sciortino (“Slutever”), their new sex advice columnist. Look no further than her column from yesterday, in which she answers three reader questions and manages to say something anti-feminist in every single one. Content Warning: graphic and crude descriptions of sexual acts and offensive slurs.

Confessions of a Harlot

And that’s when he says it, just kind of casually, talking about a young lady with whom we were all well acquainted:

“Yeah, her brother-in-law doesn’t trust her with men. Says she has the ‘spirit of a harlot.’”

The words hit me like a sucker punch.

Fantasy Slut League

The Varsity Boys of Piedmont High School have, for the past five or six years, been “drafting” female students (without their knowledge) and competing to score points by engaging in sexual acts with them—a disgusting practice the administration has just discovered.

The school is not planning to discipline the students involved, said Randall Booker, an assistant superintendent of educational services, nor would he discuss how many students might have been involved.

“Our focus really isn’t pinpointing the who or the details,” he said. “Our focus is really about having this continued conversations with kids, getting them to feel comfortable, getting them to learn why this is disrespectful, inappropriate.”

I Didn't Touch My Husband Before I Married Him

Story of a Chassidic Jewish woman’s matchmaker-facilitated marrige:

We went on eight dates. Then we met each other’s parents. Then we got engaged. Five weeks later, we married. Time lapsed from first date to wedding day: a little under three months. During those three months, we never touched each other. We didn’t hold hands. We were never even in a room alone together.

Informative and balanced. For example, her caveat toward the end:

I recognize that this method of dating works because we are members of an Orthodox Jewish community, and it only works in those communities when all of the parties—the man, the woman and their respective support systems—are on the same page and playing by the rules.