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Purity culture trauma. We’re hearing about it more and more these days, as sex positivity rises to replace the sexual shame brought on by purity culture.
You don’t have to have grown up in a particularly religious household to have experienced the effects of toxic purity culture.
Purity culture permeates our society, creating issues like slut-shaming, victim blaming, and rape culture.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what toxic purity culture and purity culture trauma really are, and how to embrace your sexuality after being influenced by a sex-negative society.
What Is Toxic Purity Culture?
Toxic purity culture is a subculture, tied closely to evangelical Christianity (though not exclusive to it), that condemns most forms of sexuality outside of a heterosexual marriage.
This narrative pushes a lot of cis- and heteronormative ideas on society.
Some harmful ideas that have been perpetuated by purity culture include:
- that men are unable to control their own lust
- that a woman is to blame for a man’s attraction to her
- the false notion that sex is only supposed to happen between a married cis man and cis woman
- that being attracted to someone of the same gender as you is in any way wrong
- that kink or any kind of sex outside of the missionary position is wrong
- the frankly sad concept that sex is only meant for procreation
- the equally sad idea that the entirely healthy act of masturbation is in any way wrong
- that it is a woman’s duty to please her husband sexually
- that sexually transmitted diseases are punishment for “sexual sin”
Though it is most strong in certain religious circles, purity culture has permeated even secular society.
“Slut-shaming” became a huge problem over the years, even in non-religious circles, and it was primarily purity culture that created the ostracization of non-cishet individuals.
Purity Culture Perpetuates Rape Culture & Homophobia
There are many ways in which purity culture isn’t just damaging to a person’s health and wellbeing – it can be downright dangerous for society as a whole.
For example, telling people that the way they dress can cause someone to want to rape them (an idea often suggested within toxic purity culture) is extremely harmful, and encourages victim blaming.
Let’s be absolutely clear:
No matter what someone is wearing, drinking, saying, or doing, they are never “asking for it”.
Purity culture also tends to lump anything it deems “sexual sin” together.
Rape and pedophilia are in no way comparable to sex outside of marriage or queer sexuality.
Dismissing any form of sexual expression that doesn’t align with a limited religious view as “sexual sin” is extremely harmful.
It’s a big reason why queer people are seen as “sexually deviant” by many conservative churches and thus not safe to be around children.
That’s not just insulting, it’s dangerous.
When people put pedophilia and rape into the same category as the perfectly normal and healthy expression of queer sexuality, or any sexuality between consenting adults, they put both queer people and children at risk.
Discrimination against would-be adoptive parents leaves thousands of children in foster care, simply because some people have decided that queer folks aren’t suited to raise kids.
Furthermore, children who are discovering that they may be queer are often left without support if they’re raised in an environment that promotes purity culture.
These are just a few ways that purity culture can lead to trauma.
What Is Purity Culture Trauma?
Anyone who has been subject to the toxicity of purity culture may have experienced trauma as a result.
Purity culture survivors often express a struggle to embrace their sexuality, sometimes even having panic attacks when they attempt to engage in sexual activity.
When you’ve been told, whether implicitly or explicitly, that your body doesn’t belong to you, it’s an upward battle to take your body back even after leaving purity culture behind.
Logically, you may not believe the same things you used to about sexuality.
But those toxic purity culture beliefs have been so deeply ingrained in so many of us, it can be hard to flip a switch and suddenly figure out how to embrace your sexuality.
Here are some tips for moving away from a sex-negative mindset and into purity culture recovery.
Embracing Your Sexuality as a Purity Culture Survivor
Note: The following steps don’t have to be completed in order, or at all.
Embracing sexuality looks different for everyone.
If you’re on the asexual spectrum, for example, you may not even have the desire to touch yourself and/or other people.
The point of this post is not to get everyone diving into orgies and BDSM parties (though if that’s something you want to explore, go for it!), the point is to help you heal your purity culture trauma, and move toward whatever healthy expression of sexuality feels right for you.
If certain parts of this list make you uncomfortable, examine whether you’re uncomfortable because you’re still carrying a sex-negative mindset, or if maybe you’re just uncomfortable because that type of sexual expression doesn’t resonate with you!
Never force yourself to participate in any activities that don’t feel good for you. ❤️
Alright, now let’s take a look at how you can help yourself normalize sex and sexuality.
Embracing Your Sexuality Step 1: Normalize Sex and Sexuality
The first step to embracing sexuality as a purity culture survivor is to reframe the way you think of sex and sexuality.
There are many ways you can normalize sex and learn to view it as a normal, healthy, wonderful thing!
Here are a few ideas:
There is so much misinformation about sex out there, especially in purity culture circles.
A great way to help normalize sex for yourself is to take the time to read up on sexuality and unlearn some myths you may have been led to believe.
Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sexual education:
Fic Sex – Created by a sex educator to help fanfic writers write more accurate porn, this blog answers (and helpfully organizes) all sorts of sex questions! You don’t have to be a fanfic writer (or reader) to benefit from the blog; this is my go-to resource for my own sexual education, personally. You can even submit a question, if there’s something specific you want to know that hasn’t been covered already.
There’s nothing wrong with having sexual fantasies.
Maybe you want to imagine that hot character in that movie you watched touching you gently.
Perhaps you like the idea of a complete stranger taking you from behind in a dark alley.
Maybe you’ve always been tempted to fantasize about having an orgy in your office.
Or maybe you don’t want to be part of your sexual fantasies. Maybe you like to imagine other people getting it on with each other.
Whatever the case, thoughts aren’t right or wrong.
There’s no shame in fantasizing about sex.
What about dark or “weird” fantasies?
It’s worth mentioning here that a lot of folks have darker fantasies, like rape, and that often creates a whole cycle of guilt or even fear of being punished somehow.
I repeat: thoughts aren’t right or wrong.
If you find yourself having rape fantasies (and you wouldn’t be alone in that), don’t beat yourself up for it.
There’s a lot of discussion on the psychology behind such fantasies.
It makes sense that someone who’s been suppressing their sexuality for so long would gravitate toward a fantasy in which they had no choice but to be sexual; it’s the brain’s way of coping with the shame or guilt that purity culture taught us to have around sex.
“If someone made me do it, then it wouldn’t be my fault.”
That doesn’t mean you actually want to be raped in real life, and it definitely doesn’t mean you deserve to be raped or punished in any way for thinking those thoughts!
There are also a ton of “weird” kinks out there that can leave purity culture survivors feeling guilty for liking them.
But fantasies are just that: fantasies! They don’t reflect your actions in real life.
Hell, I couldn’t get freaky with a sex demon in real life even if I wanted to – those things don’t exist.
If you’re disturbed by some of your sexual fantasies, try talking about it with a trusted friend (who’s consented to hearing about such things), or bringing it up with a therapist.
Be mindful, and don’t follow any thought trails that leave you feeling truly distraught afterwards.
But also, don’t berate yourself for having dark or “weird” sexual fantasies.
There’s nothing wrong with you. The human mind is a complex thing!
Read erotic literature.
Pick up a sexy book and read about other people gettin’ it on!
Explicit fanfiction played a huge role in my overcoming purity culture, myself.
Reading (or writing!) sexy stories is a great and safe way to explore your sexuality, without having to engage in sex yourself if you don’t feel ready for that.
(Or if you just straight up don’t want to have sex, ever! Many people on the asexual spectrum find satisfaction in reading or writing porn, but don’t want to take it any further than that. Some identify with the term aegosexual, and that’s a totally normal and beautiful thing!)
Porn gets a really bad rap, especially from purity culture.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with porn, but you might consider being aware of the kind of ideas that some types of porn perpetuate, too.
A lot of porn is produced with heterosexual cis men in mind, objectifying women of both cis and trans experience, and leaving out realistic and queer expressions of sexuality. There’s a lot of racism that shows up in mainstream porn, too.
Make Love Not Porn emphasizes real world sex, and is a great place to find some beautiful expressions of human sexuality!
Or, you can start slow, with soft porn, or pornographic imagery.
Personally, looking at erotic fanart helped me unlearn the toxic beliefs that purity culture drilled into me, and instead learn to see the beauty in healthy sexual expression.
Find sex positive role models.
Follow sex positive people who are embracing their sexuality on social media.
There are plenty of purity culture survivors reclaiming their bodies on Instagram, Twitter, and elsewhere.
Seeing someone else proudly embrace their sexuality is a great way to unlearn what purity culture taught you and see that human sexuality is a beautiful, natural, healthy thing!
Be mindful of how you talk about sex.
Try to refrain from referring to the healthy expression of sexuality as “filthy”, “dirty”, “nasty”, and etc.
(Unless you’ve got a kink for dirty talk and words like that turn you on – there’s no shame in that!)
Instead, try using positive affirmations for sexuality.
If you catch yourself thinking negatively about your natural sexual urges, turn it around by saying things like:
- “It’s okay for me to feel aroused right now.”
- “Touching myself is a good thing.”
- “I am a sexual being, so being sexual is okay.”
- “I’m so grateful to have a body that can experience pleasure.”
Once you’ve begun the (admittedly difficult) work of reframing your view on sex and sexuality, you can start taking a more physical approach to embracing your sexuality, if you so desire.
Embracing Your Sexuality Step 2: Get Back in Touch With Your Own Body
Purity culture teaches us that our bodies don’t belong to us.
Especially for those assigned female at birth, who may have been raised to believe that their bodies belong to Jesus first, and then to their future husband, too.
Fuck that! (Literally!)
Your body is your own.
You have every right to touch and feel yourself however you want.
Here’s how to get back in touch with your body after leaving purity culture.
You can start by just becoming more aware of the sensations in your body.
Take a hot bath or shower and feel how the water kisses your skin.
Massage your arms and legs, relaxing your muscles and getting used to the feeling of your own hands on your body.
Run your thumb over your lips, or your fingers through your hair.
Love on yourself the way you might imagine someone else touching you.
Something that’s really helped me connect with my body is to pull my knees to my chest when sitting in the bath, and press gentle kisses to my knees and legs – as much as I can reach.
It’s more sensual than sexual, and that’s an important step in getting used to seeing your body that way.
Look at yourself.
Along with an unnecessary shame around sex, purity culture taught many of us to be ashamed of our nudity, too – even nudity in a nonsexual context!
Try observing the beautiful body that houses you.
Look at yourself in a mirror, or just spend some time sitting with yourself and running your gaze over your body.
You might even try taking a few naked selfies!
Up for a challenge? Use positive affirmations about your body!
Affirm the inherent beauty of your body. I’m not talking about attractiveness, here.
I’m talking about looking yourself in the eye and saying, “I am lovely.”
“This body is perfect because it’s the only one I’ve got.”
“It’s okay for me to use my body to express my sexuality.”
It’s okay to touch yourself!
There is nothing dirty or wrong about masturbation.
In fact, masturbation is very healthy!
There are tons of ways to masturbate – find what works best for you!
You might want to invest in some personal lubricant, or even experiment with toys!
The world of dildos, vibrators, strokers, and more can be a little overwhelming to a beginner.
Embracing Your Sexuality Step 3: Get in Touch With Other Consenting People’s Bodies
If you experience sexual attraction and want to have sex with other people, do it!
It’s not a sin.
There is nothing wrong with having consensual sex.
From sexting, to handjobs, to frottage… to oral, to vaginal or anal sex…
Whether with men, women, or nonbinary folks… in pairs or triads or giant sex parties…
Kinky or vanilla, with toys or without…
It’s all good!
You’re not going to incur some sort of heavenly wrath for expressing your sexuality with other people.
On the contrary, people with a healthy view of sexuality understand sex as a beautiful expression of humanity.
With time, you’ll get there, too.
Find the right people.
When you feel ready to try engaging in sexual activity with others, it’s important to find people you trust.
People who understand the importance of enthusiastic consent in all circumstances.
Another purity culture survivor (or two or three – orgies are totes okay, too!) might be a good choice, since they’ll be able to understand the effects of purity culture trauma.
If you’re comfortable sharing, it might be a good idea to tell your potential sexual partners that you’re recovering from purity culture trauma.
The right people will be understanding.
Always remember to be safe.
STIs aren’t a punishment for sex, but they are a valid concern!
It’s so important to use protection when engaging in any kind of sex.
Condoms are essential for any sex involving a penis.
Dental dams are great for rimming or cunnilingus.
Get tested for STIs regularly. (There’s no shame in it, and there’s no shame in contracting an STI, either, while we’re on the subject!)
It’s a good idea to get tested before and after every sexual partner – and you should never feel bad for requesting a potential partner get tested, too!
Respect yourself (and others).
Purity culture often teaches that if you’re not practicing abstinence, you’re not respecting yourself.
That’s a load of bullshit.
True respect for yourself means honoring your natural desires in a healthy, safe way.
And, of course, it’s important to have respect for others when engaging in any kind of partnered sexual activity.
So, I’ll leave you with this reminder:
As long as everyone involved is enthusiastically consenting, it’s all good!
Emphasize clear, ongoing communication about boundaries and consent, and you’re good to go!
Feel free to have all the hot and sticky, fast and rough, or slow and sweet sex you want!
It’s all good.
Purity culture trauma is tough to beat, but the more you step out of its clutches and into the pure expression of human sexuality, the easier it gets.
I wish you all the wonderful orgasms you deserve, and all the healthy sexual gratification you want.
Whew. That post was a long, intense ride; purity culture trauma can be a pretty heavy subject! Here’s a comforting playlist to help you unwind.
And, while we’re on the subject of taking back your sexuality, here’s a post on how to live for yourself in general!
Do you deal with purity culture trauma?
What are some ways that help you embrace your sexuality?
Drop your thoughts in the comments below! ⬇️⬇️⬇️