Therapy can be a safe space to explore the root and consequences of fear. An approach called Internal Family Systems (IFS) understands an individual’s different emotions and reactions as parts of one’s self that try to protect them from perceived or real harm (a good example of this is found in the movie Inside Out). A part of a person may be able to reject some of the ideas of Purity Culture as incongruent with their current beliefs (ex. my friends have premarital sex and they seem ok), while other parts of them may be concerned about what would happen if they truly let go of these ideas (ex. if I have premarital sex I will be punished). The complicated piece is when we’re able to recognize that continuing to act out or believe in some of those behaviors actually perpetuates harm on a spiritual, physical, emotional, or mental level.
Another way to explain it is that once Fear has lodged itself inside an individual, other emotions show up to try to protect them from the “bad things” Fear has identified. Shame tells Fear it will keep an individual from doing these bad things. Perfection and Control tell Fear it won’t let bad things happen. Anxiety tells Fear it will prepare one for the bad things to come while Anger tells Fear it will fight whatever bad things come its way. Depression tells Fear it’s too scary and it’s better to give up.
In order to truly reduce the amount of power Fear has in one’s life, the stories it encounters need to be told and explored. For individuals having grown up in Purity Culture, there needs to be space to validate their experiences while also challenging the underlying beliefs and ideas they instilled. Wearing a spaghetti strap is not an invitation for someone to harass you. Pleasure is not a curse word. Your body is not the enemy. Self-control is always an option. Your value does not come from your virginity. Purity is not synonymous with a lack of penetrative sex.
If you find yourself struggling to accept and embody some of the last statements, you may need some support in deconstructing the impacts of Purity Culture on your view of self, others, or the Divine. In addition to conversations with friends, partners, family, or other community members, therapy can be a wonderful space to dig into the reality of how these ideas have impacted your relationships with your body, pleasure, sex, others, and the Divine. In individual, couples, or group therapy, a professional can assist you in exploring the interaction between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and help you discern what choices you want to make versus your learned reactions or others expectations.
Unfortunately many professionals are still unaware of the significant impact Purity Culture has had on individuals' sense of self as well as their worldview. When seeking support in this area it is important to ask potential therapists about their familiarity with Purity Culture. Here at Pathway to Healing we have therapists who have spent time personally and professionally exploring these connections in order to best serve our clients. Up next in this series, Lauryn will share her own experience with sex and why she’s motivated to help clients challenge and change the ways Purity Culture has impacted them.
If you feel you’re ready to pursue professional support in exploring the impact of Purity Culture on your identity, relationships, sexuality, spiritually, or general worldview, we’d love to speak with you. Robyn specializes in helping couples unpack the impact of Purity Culture on their sex lives while Lauryn works with individuals, couples, and runs a 9-week group for women to process and explore these messages in a safe communal space.
Whichever way you decide to pursue your exploration of Purity Culture, it is our hope that you know that there is nothing wrong with you, you are not broken, you are not alone in your struggles, and you have intrinsic value based solely on your humanity. You are enough.