How Purity Culture Hurt Me More Than My Abuser
- April 24, 2018
- Rachel Dawson
I grew up in church, and consequently, in a purity culture. I thought the “modest is hottest” shirts were cooler than any brand at the mall. I believed wholeheartedly that “true love waits” and I had the silver cross ring on my left hand to tell the world I was saving myself for my future marriage.
I read the books that lined the shelves at my Christian bookstore, and I was so committed to the cause. I would never let a boy take this precious thing from me! I’d heard the stories of how every little touch, every little action was like plucking a new petal from the flower that was me, and no way did I want to be a bare little twig on my wedding day! I wanted to be fully in tact, fully pure.
And then I was raped.
The thing everybody said made me valuable was shattered.
How does the girl with the purity ring tell the world she’s not pure anymore?
How does the girl who had always been known as the one who would wait tell people that a boy decided she couldn’t wait any longer?
How does the perfect Christian girl tell the world she’s not a virgin anymore?
That girl, that broken and hurt and humiliated girl, she didn’t tell a soul.
For years, I’ve worn the secret like a mask. For years, I’ve hidden the hurt. For years, I’ve lied to the ones closest to me. For years, I’ve had a wall up that nobody understood, because how can I trust again after abuse like that?
Purity culture said that the only option was waiting, and believe me, I wanted to. But when a boy pins you down and muffles your screams and rips off your clothes and ignores all your fighting to take the one thing you thought you had control over, what does purity culture say then?
Purity culture said that purity and virginity mattered most, and what I heard was that if I wasn’t pure, if I wasn’t a virgin, I wasn’t wanted, wasn’t welcome.
If this act was meant for my husband, and there it was happening to me in the worst way, what was I supposed to think except now he must become my husband. I saw no other way. I convinced myself this abuser would have to be my spouse, because there was no other way to make having sex with him okay.
I gave myself a prison sentence, a life stuck in the cycle of abuse, because purity culture didn’t give me any other option.
What was I supposed to think except don’t tell, they can’t find out, they won’t love you if they know, they’ll never forgive you, just hold it together and keep quiet, they’ll never understand. You were supposed to stay pure and you aren’t anymore and you can’t let them find out.
I was terrified.
I was humiliated.
I was broken.
I was beaten, literally.
I was hurt and harmed and handled roughly, all for the pleasure of a man who didn’t treasure me, but who could I tell?
I couldn’t taint the way people saw me. I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in front of my mom or my dad and telling them what had been done to me. I couldn’t even fathom telling anyone at church, shuddering at the idea of anyone having to picture me like that.
I couldn’t take the ring off my finger in case anyone noticed, but felt sick at the sight of it, knowing it was a lie, that I was a liar.
Every petal was stripped away from that ridiculous metaphorical flower, and I wilted under the weight of my shame.
I had been modest.
I was always at church.
I was on the worship team.
I was dreaming of and praying for the man I would one day marry.
And he was raping me.
He was hurting me.
He was calling me every name in the book… slut, whore, bitch.
How could I admit that to anyone?
There wasn’t a place for honesty in the purity culture I knew.
There were girls who chose to keep their babies, even though they didn’t have a high school diploma yet, and those girls were shamed and shut out of the churches that should have supported them.
There were girls who got diseases that were left untreated, because who wants to tell their parents about that when they think you’re so innocent?
Nowhere did I see a place I could be real.
Nowhere was there a space I could feel safe.
Nowhere was there a chance for me to come clean.
What is purity culture saying to the girls who never chose this?
What is purity culture saying to the ones who are deflowered against their will?
What is purity culture saying to the ones whose only mistake was trusting that a church kid was actually the “good kid” everyone thought they were?
What is purity culture saying to the ones who are so desperate to be loved that they let it go too far?
I want a culture that advocates for true love waiting, yes, but that doesn’t shame when it doesn’t go as planned.
I want a culture that creates space for honest conversations, even about the hardest, darkest things.
I want a culture that doesn’t judge a girl who went too far, but offers her endless love and shows her mercy.
I want a culture that holds boys accountable when they rape girls, not a culture that says the girl asked for it while they let the boy off the hook.
I want a culture that steps into the darkness instead of sweeping what is dirty under the rug to be forgotten.
I want a culture that welcomes every broken body with open arms instead of running away in disgust from the ones who feel disgraced.
I want a culture that encourages purity, but holds love in higher regard.
I want a culture that forgives freely instead of holding grudges.
I want a culture that looks like Jesus, the friend of sinners.
I don’t want your purity culture.
Your purity culture gave me nothing but years of shame, years of hating myself, years of feeling like a stranger in this body he violated, years of feeling isolated in my brokenness, years of fear I would be found out, years of feeling sick to my stomach thinking about wearing white someday, years of panicking every time somebody tried to touch me, years of feeling worthless and useless and ugly, years of guilt because never in this culture was there any ounce of grace.
When I looked to purity culture, all I heard and all I saw was you are ruined, you are a whore, you are tainted, you are unworthy, you failed, you are ruined, you are beyond repair, you will never be a worthy or lovely wife.
But yet, when I shoved all that aside (oh, how hard that was) and looked at the face of Jesus, what I heard and what I saw was beloved, beloved beloved. You are made clean. You are made whole. Your shame is no more. Your guilt is gone. I have wiped every bit of that dirt away, and you are radiant now. I will put every broken piece back together, and like stained glass, you will shine like never before. You are beautiful, beloved. You are worthy. You are wanted. You are whole again. You are pure again. You are free.
Thank God for a Savior who breaks chains and sets captives free. Thank God He made a way out of my sin and shame into a life of freedom. Thank God He’s bigger and better than any bit of our broken culture.
Take your purity culture.
Give me Jesus.
If you have been raped, if you have been abused, if a man or a woman has done things to you that you never wanted and never asked for, if you were forced into horrible things, if you were harmed or hurt, if you were broken in any way at the hands of another, hear me say that you are loved. Hear me say that you are welcome in a new kind of culture, the culture of Jesus, where shame has no place and we pour out redeeming grace instead. Hear me say that you are beautiful, you are worthy, you are cherished and treasured, and He will heal every bit of your hurt. Hear me say that you are not alone, never for one second. Hear me say that this is a safe space, and we want to know you and love you here. Hear me say you are precious, to me, to this whole team, to this body of believers, to the good and gracious God we love. You are welcome here, you are worthy of love, and you are so deeply, fully, completely beloved. Purity culture might have hurt you, but we never will. We love you.
Editor’s note: If you have been raped or abused in any way, we strongly encourage you to reach out to someone safe and trusted. Giving voice to your story like this writer did is a powerful tool in pushing back the darkness and conquering the shame. Find your safe space so you can start to heal, too.