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Purity Culture: What It Is and How to Heal From It
Mental Health

Purity Culture: What It Is and How to Heal From It

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on January 21, 2023
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6 min

Purity culture reinforces harmful gender stereotypes and can leave people feeling shame and a lack of self-worth. In this article, we take a look at what purity culture is and how you can heal from it.

Purity culture
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Purity culture has resounding psychological effects on the people who grew up within its parameters. It teaches and reinforces stereotypical gender roles and can cause serious harm to both men and women.

In this article, we are going to look at what purity culture actually is, how it can affect your mental health, and ways to unlearn and heal from purity culture. Take a look now to learn more.

What Is Purity Culture?

Purity culture was born out of the evangelical movement and teaches strict gender roles. It can be found mostly in church settings but is also prominent in public schools that teach an abstinence-only approach to sex education.

Teachings differ between men and women, but themes include sexual purity, sexual shame, and gatekeeping of sexual behavior. At its root, the purity movement essentially suggests that women are the gatekeepers of sex, while men cannot control their sexual feelings. It puts women in a position in which they must defend their sexual purity by dressing modestly, abstaining from sex, and guarding their virginity against men.

The purity movement has a few teachings. These include:

  • The way women dress

In purity culture, women are the cause of sexual thoughts and must dress modestly to ensure that they can protect themselves against premarital sex. This teaches women that the way they dress can inspire sexual thoughts in men and blames women for this. It gives men a free pass and suggests they simply can’t help themselves.

  • Virginity

In purity cultures, virginity is extremely important. Many analogies are used to show young adults how losing their virginity will make them less worthy. One such metaphor is that virginity is like a lovely rose, and once virginity is lost, the rose is dropped on the floor, and the petals are squashed and misshapen, depicting how the person becomes less pure and damaged after having sex.

  • Abstinence 

Another key teaching is abstinence. This teaching has bled into sex education across America and tells young people to abstain from sex before marriage. It depicts premarital sex as cheating on your future partners. Much research has been done to prove that teaching abstinence-only sex education actually increases risky behaviors and the likelihood of young people engaging in sexual activity.

Purity culture is a subculture within Christian culture, but it is not confined totally to this realm. Growing up in a purity culture can have serious and long-lasting effects on people that they have to unlearn later in life. Most of the teachings of purity culture come from a now-denounced book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

Psychological Effects of Purity Culture

Whether you had to take purity pledges, wear purity rings, or just grew up in a church that promoted purity culture, it can have long-lasting psychological effects. We have summarized some of these below.

#1 Constant feelings of shame

Sexual shame is a common feeling after growing up in a purity culture. These cultures teach the idea that sexual feelings, whether acted upon or not, are inherently bad and that any act of premarital sex makes you unworthy. Taking these feelings into adulthood could mean that people experience shame when exploring their own sexuality and avoid relationships to avoid this shame.

#2 Rules for men and women are not equal

Purity culture reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. It suggests that women need to dress modestly and develop purity to not inspire sexual feelings in men. It essentially blames women for sexual feelings and teaches them that their sexuality is inherently bad. The culture teaches women that they should not have any sexual thoughts or desires.

For men, on the other hand, it teaches them that they cannot control their sexual desires. Men, in purity culture, are taught that it is normal for them to have sexual desires and thoughts, unlike women. Both genders are taught not to act on these desires and often engage in purity pledges to promise not to.

#3 Possible sexual dysfunction

Being forced to choose sexual purity means that a young person may not properly engage in sexual education, meaning they don’t know what normal sexual processes look like. This can lead to risky behavior, which could lead to sexually transmitted diseases or teen pregnancy. It could also lead to sexual anxiety and performance issues.

What are the symptoms of religious trauma?

Religious trauma is another way in which people may be affected by purity culture and the teachings of certain religious movements. Religious trauma can come from many different movements and isn’t just from purity culture.

Symptoms of religious trauma include

  • Lack of self-worth
  • Difficulty making decisions for oneself
  • Relationship problems
  • Isolation from mainstream culture
  • Sleep issues
  • Eating issues
  • Nightmares
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Grief
  • Loneliness

Healing From Purity Culture: 4 Ways to Make Yourself Feel Better

Thankfully, you can improve your mental health after living within a purity culture, and there are many ways to do so. We have summarized some of our top tips for making yourself feel better after experiencing purity culture. Take a look below.

#1 Start journaling

Journaling has been found to have a positive effect on mental well-being, particularly when done online. It’s a great way to get all of your feelings down and can help you to analyze the way you have been thinking and why. It is also a good way to identify triggers and learn to cope with them.

If you are looking for a way to journal in a convenient way, why not take a look at the Sensa app? This mental health app offers users a space to journal daily, helping them get down their feelings and analyze any patterns. It also offers each user a personalized plan based on CBT that can help them change the way they think and improve their psychological health.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
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The app provides daily activities, educational content, and even a quick relief section that can support users who are panicking or feel overwhelmed.

#2 Learn about purity culture

Learning about purity cultures and the places where your trauma has come from can really help you understand the way you feel. A lot of the time, people cannot see the ways in which purity teachings have manifested in their lives, which makes it difficult to understand the trauma.

There are many places to learn about this form of trauma, including podcasts, community groups, and websites that teach about the ways this form of upbringing can have a long-lasting impact. One of the benefits of the internet and social media is that many people have shared their stories and helped others to overcome shame and trauma relating to purity teachings.

#3 Be confident in your body

One of the ways purity teachings can impact people is to make them ashamed of their bodies. There are many ways to go about becoming more confident in your body. You could take the time to unlearn the repression of sexual thoughts and allow yourself to understand how you feel.

You may also want to treat your body with more kindness. Purity teachings make the female body something to be ashamed of when it isn’t. Our bodies are incredible, and they should be celebrated. Celebrating your body could mean eating well and nourishing it or moving it daily through yoga or a daily walk.

Unlearning the shame surrounding your body is a great way to improve your confidence and rid yourself of the teachings of purity.

#4 Consider therapy

Sometimes, the trauma experienced from purity teachings runs very deep. In these instances, you may feel that you cannot deal with the trauma alone, and seeking therapy is an excellent way to unlearn the damage.

There is no shame in seeking therapy, and a therapist who specializes in religious trauma can help you get to the root of your feelings and find ways to cope and heal.

On top of therapy, you can boost your mental health in other ways, including practicing mindfulness and meditation, adding exercise to your life, perhaps by taking up running, and getting enough quality sleep each night.

A Word From a Psychologist

Purity is taught in many religious settings but is predominant mostly in the evangelical Christian movement. The teachings reinforce strict gender stereotypes and can lead to long-lasting mental health issues.

People who have grown up in purity settings may feel shame, experience sexual dysfunction, and feel unworthy or damaged. They may have trouble in relationships and experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The purity movement causes lots of damage, but you can heal from this trauma in a number of ways. You can seek therapy from a specialist in religious trauma to help you overcome your feelings of shame. You could also try boosting your mental health in other ways, like getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, and exercising regularly by running daily.

It is important to remember that this culture teaches very stereotypical gender roles that no longer define our society. Moving away from this culture may be difficult, but there are many ways to move on and heal from it.

Conclusion

Purity culture can have seriously damaging effects on a person’s long-term mental health. It can lead to feelings of shame and unworthiness. There are many ways you can heal after growing up in these environments and unlearn the traumatic teachings of this movement.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
Start Free Quiz Now
HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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