Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

Relationships after the purity cult


There are so many thoughts on the damage of the purity culture out there that I decided to evaluate some of my behaviour.

I think one of the major problems with purity culture is not necessarily that it suppressed sexual feelings in general but rather how these sexual feelings are ignored, and how that leads to devastating results.

Feeling sexual attraction toward someone is actually pretty bad in the purity culture. Of course they’d never admit that – they don’t tire of stressing how important physical attraction is, but what they actually mean by that is not necessarily sexual desire but beauty. Men are encouraged to look for someone they find beautiful. Women are encouraged to make sure their match is handsome, physically and characterwise. And that is exactly the problem. Beautiful and sexually attractive are not synonyms.

I don’t know about you, but there’s plenty of people I find beautiful, but not all of them are sexually attractive to me. And it works the other way around too; people whom I find sexually attractive aren’t necessarily beautiful to me.

Hence, while it may work out for some, marrying someone whom you deem beautiful does not tell you whether you will find him/her sexually attractive in the long run. As a matter of fact, I feel that sexual attractiveness is something that is systematically labelled a ‘bad thing’ in courtships.

As both men and women are encouraged to flee from sexual immorality, they actually flee from those people whom they find sexually attractive. A woman will do her best to kill all her desires for a man they sexually desire and end up rejecting them on a regular basis. This goes as far as interpreting advances by those men as attempts of the devil to succumb to sexual immorality. Likewise, a man will try to keep his ‘lust’ out of the picture, systemically avoiding women who cause him to lust – which is nothing more than a clear sign of sexual attractiveness. Instead they will seek for a woman whom they might find beautiful, but who also draws them closer to Jesus – a popular euphemism to avoid those women who are actually sexually attractive to them.

Of course, a sexual desire may be present in all of these people initially, considering that those are their first chances to gain sexual experience, the feeling of new and unknown, of absolute intimacy and, not to forget, the promise that everything will work out heavenly because they waited and fled from all sorts of sexual immorality. But initial attraction needn’t always last for years to come. When, after a few months of marriage, this promise of perfect sex is not fulfilled and the spouse loses the initial sexual attractiveness of the opposite gender in general, they may end up hitting rock bottom with the realisation that while their partner is beautiful, he or she could not keep the promise of ultimate sexual attraction.

Back to myself – I do not think that I would have ended up with a man like my boyfriend if I still followed the purity culture. He causes me to do things which are generally only permissible if you are a man. Fantasies, undressing him in my thoughts, looking at him and not seeing the (obvious) beauty of his face, his eyes, his expression, but instead lusting for whatever lingers a few inches lower, which is a body which many people might not consider objectively “beautiful” but rather as an average man. A body which I would not have permitted myself to find beautiful because it is tightly packed with tattoos. No, he might not have that objective perfect beauty of a six-pack and a flawless body, but neither have I and that’s something I can totally live with. Because I know that this person is extremely sexually attractive to me, and so am I for him despite my obvious flaws of a small chest and a body so skinny you might just mistake it for a boy’s. And fyi, I don’t even feel bad about it because I know that when he looks at me, he doesn’t see those flaws, neither does he think “well she has a beautiful face” like a good courtship boy should. No, I know that he lusts, and to be quite honest with you, I like it. I like seeing in his eyes that he can look at me and lust despite what I consider imperfect. I learned to appreciate the difference between being told “You’re beautiful” and “You’re hot”.

That doesn’t mean that you always feel this way, and it is by no means a guarantee that it will always stay this way. Of course I can still see all the other great things about him, and likewise he can see whatever makes me special to him. But I feel a good deal safer knowing that I am not with someone who has to kill all sexual desires for me in order to even deal with my presence.

I guess that the moral of this story is that if you put a ‘sin’ label on sexual attractiveness, don’t be surprised if you end up with a spouse you do not desire. I feel a lot of anger towards those in the purity movement who withhold this information from young couples, setting them up for a lifetime of self blaming and guilt.


8 thoughts on “Relationships after the purity cult

  1. Thanks a lot for your post! I’m not sure if I can answer you in German, so I’ll try it in English. Don’t laugh about it! I agree with you about the difference of ‘being beautiful’ and ‘being sexually attractive’. It’s very interesting how you pointed out how you are educated in purity culture to exactly flee from those (wo)men who you find sexually attractive – into the arms of those who are beautiful/handsome and of course wholeheartedly following Jesus. I’ve got a very close friend who is such a passionate girl and I worry a lot if she will manage to find a relationship in which also sexual compatibility will be given. With her, it’s a lot about “I wait for the right one and flee all sexual lust, sex in marriage will be perfect.” Oh, how I wish it will work out for her and she and her future-husband will think about each other what you said: “You’re hot!”.
    I also like to question if ‘being hot’ and ‘being beautiful’ are mutually exclusive 😉 Yes, I know the difference but I like it most when I can see both messages in my boyfriend’s eyes 🙂

  2. Having one’s turn-on disconnected from visual input does happen in some people without significant external pressure.

    I can’t imagine that I would have succeeded in finding a partner who’s attractive to me, without test-driving a few, because it took me some actual experience to get to lust for the first time (after which I was able to more productively create fantasies).

    I think “normal” in this respect covers a wide range of variation.

  3. That’s interesting. Even though I have had experience with the purity movement and hold a lot of criticism for it, I never noticed the emphasis on beauty vs. sexual attraction. But looking back, I would agree that there is that emphasis. I suspect, though, that a lot of Christians I knew would use the words “beautiful” or “handsome” to imply sexual attractiveness, and weren’t quite as dedicated to fleeing from sexual attraction themselves.

  4. this post is really, really true of my family and a lot of my friends growing up. In fact, back when I first met my ex-boyfriend and was telling people about him, my older brother actually told me I should probably get therapy, that it was not a good idea to be obsessing so much! I had no idea what to say.

    That relationship sadly did not last, but it showed me just how important chemistry was. It really does feel amazing to look into your love’s eyes and see how much he wants you. I refuse to get involved in a relationship without mutual lust as well as compatible goals and personalities. Some of my friends who went through courtship truly do seem blissful, some seem about normal, and some I feel really sorry for because no matter how much they smile they look like strangers who just met.

    And yeah, my ex was not physically at all what I thought would attract me and people around me were puzzled that I thought he was so hot. Attraction is odd!

  5. I’ve noticed it’s very common in Christian culture to marry first good looking person who’s interested in you. At least that’s the way it was at my bible college. And every “cool” Christian band singer or youth leader married a very pretty girl and bragged about how “hot” or “beautiful” she was. As someone who saw myself as very average in appearance, this whole culture did not help my self esteem. I do wonder how most of those young marriages have fared, in terms of their relationship and chemistry. But of course we’ll never know, since they put on such a good show.

  6. This was difficult for me to read, only because it hits me so close to home. I don’t even know where to begin. How about the “self blaming and guilt”?

    But first, I appreciated reading a woman describing how we men learn to avoid attractive women like the plague… We’re taught to feel so guilty about sexual attraction that we really do avoid being around you… I was touched somehow by even reading that bit.

    The Courtship movement, fundamentalism, submission to pastoral authority, allowing other people with the “right answer” tell me what God’s will is, as if they knew… well… I allowed myself to go with other people’s ideas of God’s will for my life in the choice of a wife.

    Long story short, I married a woman 13 years ago to whom I’m not sexually attracted, and I’ve never lusted after.
    I knew it before I married her. I knew it the day I married her. I’ve known it for 13 long years in a passionless marriage.

    She’s a really nice girl, and I’m devesatingly ashamed that I’ve ruined the woman she could have turned out to be… I see her as the true victim in it all… lack of passion has done that to both of us.

    Warped by church teachings, I literally convinced myself that God was going to bless me with sexual attraction for her, by being obedient to marry her… like some magic wand of his would tap me on the head and “poof” …. Happily Ever After.

    And, no, I’m not gay… I can sense you all wondering.

    I had cold feet right up until the wedding, but had convinced myself that it was “just lack of faith.” … so I supressed it.

    The night before the wedding, I got no sleep. I had no peace of mind. I don’t remember too much about that day…. and we left the reception early during the festivities… I was too tired to continue. But the full force of what I’d done hit me during the week… like a cold chill of death running down my spine… I was married… marriage is forever, and I’m unhappy…. forever … the exact opposite of what i’m supposed to be… I can’t get a divorce… divorced people go to hell in the express lane or the handbasket, or something. There may even be a reserved section in hell for divorced people, I thought… like maybe even a VIP entrance.

    I felt so ashamed of myself. In a foreign country… surrounded by my new fundamentalist in-laws (still my neighbors today after all these years)… I vowed to just stuff it… all of it… just repress it and forget and go through the motions, and to never say a word to anyone. Too ashamed to admit what I’d done. Just put on a happy face… smile…. go to Church… and pray like hell.

    Within two weeks I was being confronted by the father in law… something was wrong, since i was obviously not happy, not sleeping with his daughter…. emails were being sent back home to the pastors in the states… who also flew over eventually to meet me and my wife… I was ashamed, alone, and scared … I still believed that I needed to believe in the “right answer” … so I lied to them, and told them that my marriage was God’s will (besides, who wants to go to hell for divorce.) so I tried really hard to “do the right thing…” … and just stuff the negativity and the lack I was feeling….

    My married life became one of fear, obligation and guilt.

    Well, I don’t have to tell you, that women aren’t stupid. It’s been hard on both of us… and I didn’t become honest until several years and several children later.

    I wish I’d never stepped foot in a Church.
    I wish I’d never been so easily guided by other people. As a man, there’s nothing more debilitating than that.
    I wish i’d never made my wife a victim. She doesn’t deserve this kind of a non-marriage.
    I wish I’d stood up for myself, and just spoke the truth to the people pressuring me … Fear, Obligation, and guilt are no way to live.
    I wish I’d known that I’m not “evil” or “damned.”
    I wish I’d learned to be myself, rather than another cookie-cutter religious dude, prideful of beliefs that aren’t even my own.
    I wish I’d learned to have a personal Relationship with MYSELF early in life, before it was too late… to really know myself such that other people’s opinions mattered less to me.
    It wasn’t a personal Relationship with jésus i needed. I needed to know myself… intimately.
    I wish I’d learned to trust my intuition rather than to doubt it or repress it… as if it were sinful somehow.

    My blood boils sometime with the desire blame others for their influence over me… but I know that I can only blame myself.
    Wanting to “please God” led me to not trust my own heart… I allowed myself to believe the Bible literally when it says :”The heart is desperately wicked. Who can trust it.”…

    I think that must make me the ultimate people pleaser, or passive agressive, or something horrible like that.

    So I threw my heart away a long time ago. Tragic that it should be the necessary ingredient to the rest of my life… to make me a “Real Boy.”

    Your post just reinforces the feeling that everything you said with regards to sex… all these points you brought up about sexual attraction… is entirely beautiful. And entirely right.

    I think deep down, I just wish that I had someone in my life that I was attracted to… someone I can’t stop thinking about, someone I would like to do things with, who I get along with, someone I can mutually fantasize with, … someone who is a safe haven for my ever-expanding imagination… not to mention sexual attraction at any age.

    I only hope there’s another man actually lurking on the site who reads this, and can learn something from it for his own life.

    • I did it. I waited to have sex before marriage. He willingly agreed. I thought to myself i was being pure and we will “honor God” by being this perfect little Christian couple and everything (great sex included) will surely come. And when it didn’t – i started obsessing about following every law in the old and New Testament as if that would somehow bring me what I wanted. To a point that I think I stopped believing in God. I feel like an extremist. I did everything for very wrong and selfish reasons. He is an incredible man. I love him dearly as a person but not as a husband. I’m scared of what divorce would do to him. I feel such guilt and shame for my self-convincing lies that I’ve been depressed for over a year have lost weight and am now on anti-depressants.

  7. Pingback: Guest-post: A man’s words on sexual attraction and failed courtship | Broken Daughters

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