Purity Culture Can Die in a Fire: 5 New Definitions of Sexual Purity 


“So, what do you blog about?”, I asked a young woman in little black dress, a perfect pink blazer, and glasses.

I was making conversation at a blogging conference where I would later be speaking about monetizing your blog with physical products. 

“Celibacy,” she said. 

I had not been expecting that answer.

I asked why, and she mentioned her “walk with Christ,” and I made polite conversation about Ciara and Russell Wilson, who remained celibate until their 2016 wedding.

“I don’t think there’s really a product for celibacy,” she said, and I immediately replied:

“Have you heard of purity rings?!” 

What followed was a barrage of blog monetization advice, which I kind of can’t help giving (“If you can write a blog post, you can write a slogan and put it on something people would want!”), but I also felt conflicted – while people can choose to be celibate for any reason they want, “purity culture” is a terrible thing that needs to die in a fire.

Having sex doesn’t make people “impure,” and it certainly doesn’t make women more impure than men.

Telling your children that their perfectly typical sexual urges are “impure” is just abuse. If you think your religion requires this, either you or your religion is wrong.

There are plenty of reasons an adult might want to practice celibacy, and I have known many secular people who have posted publicly about doing so – sometimes as part of healing from trauma, or getting over a breakup, or just to take a break and focus on other things. Some athletes give up sex in preparation for a big competition. Some people are, of course, asexual, or not particularly sexual at various stages of their lives. And you don’t need a religion to tell you that sex might make you get emotionally attached to people who aren’t attached to you, so maybe you should hold off, especially if you’re in a vulnerable state for some other reason. 


Of course, it’s helpful not to have religious restrictions about sexuality so you can accurately observe that these conditions do not apply to everyone, and that some people don’t benefit from celibacy at all. 

But I reject categorically the idea that “saving yourself for marriage” makes you “pure.” That’s not a thing. I’ve never snowboarded, but I’m not “saving myself for snowboarding.” 

I’ve also read any number of stories about women across many cultures being married against their will, or in arranged marriages to men about whom they are ambivalent at best. Generally these women are expected to be virgins, and they have monogamous, marital sex, most of which is awful. What’s so pure about that?

Closer to home, plenty of married people have sex with only one partner – and treat them like shit, either sexually or in general (or both). It would be more pure to have sex with many willing partners and treat them all kindly and honestly. This is not necessarily an argument for polyamory (although it’s certainly not an argument against it), which I personally find a turnoff. Note that word: turnoff. It’s a great alternative to calling other people’s behavior “impure.” It’s about you, not about them. And that’s good, because you’re the only one you really have the authority to talk about like that.

That being said, I’ve now had enough time to think this over, and I’m sorry if I once encouraged someone to manufacture “Walk with Christ” panties or something.

Let me now take this opportunity to reclaim the idea of “sexual purity.” I think I have some better ideas.



5 Alternate Definitions of Sexual Purity

1. You have never lied to anyone you have had sex with, nor have you omitted important information your sex partners would want to know. Your intentions? In the open! STI status? Proactively offered! You are sexually pure.

2. Everyone you’ve had sex with has had a good time, with which breakfast has been included. You have made at least half of those breakfasts. The coffee was top-notch. You are sexually pure.

3. Everyone you’ve ever had sex with remembers you fondly. Though your sex partners from long ago have married, you know their spouses’ and children’s names, but not in a creepy way. You are sexually pure.

4. Any time you have broken up with someone or they have broken up with you, you’ve deleted their nudes from your phone immediately, lest those pictures fall into the wrong hands, or maybe just kept one favorite but triple-checked that you didn’t upload it to your cloud storage. You are sexually pure.

5. Everyone you’ve ever had sex with, you’ve seen and appreciated fully, just as they are. You have never compared your sex partners to others, or to images in the media. Who among us, with all our fleeting thoughts, can achieve this? Probably no one. But if so, you are a unicorn of sexual purity! In fact, I would argue that the more people you’ve spread this beautiful experience to, the more pure you are, and the more pure you’ve made our world.

You deserve a purity ring. 


Recommended Reading:

Purity Culture: Bad for Women, Worse for Survivors of Sexual Assault –  Jill Filipovic on The Guardian

Elizabeth Smart Is Standing Up for Rape Victims—And Tearing Down Purity Culture – Molly Oswaks on Broadly

The Creepy Way Fathers Across the Country Are Controlling Their Daughters’ Virginity – Julianne Ross on mic.com

How We Teach Purity Culture Isn’t the Problem—Purity Culture Itself Is the Problem – Samantha Field on Rewire


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