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  • Cory Reese

The Negative Impacts of Purity Culture on Sexuality

I regularly work with clients who have been negatively impacted by growing up in a purity culture. The term "purity culture" is used to describe the emphasis of strict gender roles, and the importance of modesty, and abstinence from sexual pleasure before marriage. This framework is present in many Christian religions, but since I practice in Utah, I typically work with people impacted by the purity culture of Mormonism.

Recently, I listened to a great podcast by Tara Brach, author of "Radical Acceptance." She quoted songwriter Butch Hancock who said he learned two things growing up: "One is that God loves you, and you're going to burn in hell; and the other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on Earth, and you should save it for someone you love."

In our youth, we are taught to take any sexual desires, lock them in a box, and throw away the least until we are married. But many people can't just flip a switch and undo all these messages you've learned throughout your formative years the moment you get married. By then, we have already become disconnected from our bodies. We already associate sex with guilt and shame.

In my practice, I hear sentiments like "Even though I don't believe in the church anymore, I still can't let go of the guilt and shame connected to things that used to be considered sins." And "I feel guilt even when I have sex with my own spouse. I can't undo the message that pleasure from sex is evil."

Differences in level of desire are common. It's hard to feel excitement and pleasure when you are feeling tense, embarrassed, and shameful.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's important to know that healing from purity culture is possible! Here are a few suggestions to work toward healing and growth:

1) Take some time to get to know your own body, how it works, and what feels good. Rebuild the relationship you have with your body.

2) Let down your walls, and have an open, vulnerable conversation with your spouse. Be patient, open, curious, and willing to invest the time. Let them know what feels good, and what you want. Talk about the messages you heard (or didn't hear) about sex when you were growing up.

3) Take deliberate steps that push outside your comfort zone and nudge you closer toward where you want to be.

4) Sex therapist Natasha Helfer has a lot of podcasts with great resources to work toward healing. You can find her website HERE.

5) I highly recommend checking out Emily Nagoski's book Come As You Are. It is exceptional.

6) A good therapist can help validate the feelings you are having, help you untangle harmful teachings about sexuality, and help work through trauma that may be preventing you from feeling safety and pleasure.

Finally, if anything you've read here resonates with you, know that you are not alone. Help is available. It is possible to heal from the negative impacts of purity culture.

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