Purity Culture Part 3: My Personal Experience
Updated: May 14, 2022
I got married on June 8th of 2013, almost exactly one month after I graduated college. My husband was a whole string of “firsts” for me – first actual official date, first boyfriend, first kiss, first real love, etc. We met at the beginning of freshman year and got engaged in November of my senior year, meeting the Christian college trope of having a “ring by spring.” Despite our frustrations with it, we had decided to wait to have sex until marriage – which seemed very far away. Our make-out sessions felt super-heated and propelled my excitement to both give and receive the fullest expression of love that I thought would be soon found in sex.
Having both been raised in conservative Christian homes, our “boundary bending” was quite conservative and naïve. But none of that mattered because come the weeks and months leading up to our wedding I was so excited for sex. I knew it would be painful up front – I’d heard enough stories and gotten a pap smear to prepare myself – but I expected that the emotional weight would probably overwhelm my pain as I finally got to “make love” to the person I so deeply loved.
Fast forward to our wedding night – I loved feeling super sexy, but when it came to the “sex” part – by which I mean penetrative intercourse (my only definition at the time) – I was not feeling good. The night ended without any “real sex” – which I internalized as my first failure as a wife. The honeymoon allowed for the “real sex,” but it was painful, uncomfortable, and made me cry – which made me cry more. Weeks went on and the same unhelpful conclusions were always drawn and given – try harder, “serve” him, this is how you show each other love (even though you both are unhappy), and the classic “it’ll get better with time”. Some of the times were neutral, but most times ended with me crying because I felt a trillion terrible things - both physically and emotionally.
After some good advice I switched my birth control which helped significantly with my overwhelming feelings, but sex still wasn’t that passionate thing I’d been banking on. I’d been told that having sex was the main perk of getting married and instead it felt like the biggest let down. I felt deceived, as I’d waited like a good girl and kept very pure, and yet my unmarried friends described hook-ups that sounded significantly more appealing than my experience.
An entire year passed before my first sense of an orgasm. From there sex began to move from the bad/neutral to the neutral/good. I started coming to terms with the reality that I didn’t know my body, and the exciting joy of “we can discover it together” was a lot of pressure and too scientific to be romantic.
In continuing to talk about it, I found better resources to support us both. My most helpful and healing times came from conversations with my husband, my mom, my sister, and my friends, where I confided in them my anger, my bitterness, my sadness, my resentment, my fear, my pain, and my shame. Yoga was instrumental in dismantling my mind-body split and allowing me to learn and listen to my physical experiences with compassion and respect. I was able to identify Purity Culture as a major culprit in many of my maladaptive beliefs around being a woman, wife, partner, lover, and mother and began the deconstruction process of choosing who and how I wanted to be versus adhering to beliefs that were incongruent with my values. On a very practical level, I learned better ways to acknowledge and communicate my wants and needs - both sexual and nonsexual, which resulted in creating a safer context throughout.
Over time my husband and I became more comfortable with ourselves and with one another. While my body became used to “sex as penetrative intercourse,” we also discovered a wealth of other ways to explore and stimulate each other by switching “sex” to “an opportunity for intimate connection.”
My experience isn’t exclusive, nor does that mean it’s the norm. Unfortunately, while I was given lessons on the basic penis-vagina anatomy, no one told me the breadth of what sex can be. I was told about horror stories and first-time orgasms, leading me to believe it would be terrible or amazing. My teenage mind had ingested the idea that “it’s worth the wait” meant that it will be way better in all ways if I wait – which was not my reality, nor the common reality for people lacking sufficient sex-ed around pleasure.
And because no one told me - I assumed I knew the right info but was somehow deficient in my ability to execute it. No one told me about oral, manual, or anal sex. No one shared about the size of the clitoris and the differences in how females experience stimulation and orgasm versus how men do. No one told me it might actually take a while, take a different approach, or be impacted by medication. Or that it may take talking to a professional or working with a pelvic-floor therapist to feel pleasure. It may require serious identity or faith deconstruction, or an exploration of one’s turn-ons, turn-offs, and preference of context. It may take a clean house, or a soft blanket, or breakfast in bed to ignite my desire.
If parts of my story mirror your own, I hope that you know you are not alone, you are not broken, and there’s still hope for your sexual experiences to be fulfilling in whichever way you desire. Sexual desire shifts throughout life, experiences, and the time of day - and that’s normal. Many of us were given a script of who and how we should be along with vague yet specific ideas around sex. If those messages are no longer serving you, I hope you know there are alternative options available.
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 I (Lauryn) work with individuals, couples, and run a 9-week group for women to process and explore these messages in a safe communal space.
If you’re wanting more ways to support your individual exploration on this topic, be sure to stay tuned for the next installment of this series which will provide a list of resources from Lauryn and Robyn.
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, it’s never too late to make a change, and you have intrinsic value based solely on your humanity. You are enough.