Purity Culture Feeds Sheep to the Wolves

The floor fell out from under me.

I had been in a long-distance relationship for a few months. I wasn’t attracted to him, but had to admit he looked good on paper. He had served a tour as a marine, and was in college on his GI bill. He was a few years older than me. He had a great job. My mom liked the idea of him a lot.

I was beginning to reluctantly come around to the idea of him as well. Until now.

I nearly dropped the phone at his words. “I made it up to impress you.” Made what up, exactly? Everything. He wasn’t in college, and had no intention of going. He didn’t have a job. He had never joined the marines. He was, in fact, younger than me. Everything was a lie.

I told him I needed to go now. “Don’t be like that!” I heard him say in the second it took me to hang up the phone. *click* my flip phone snapped shut. I sat in stunned silence, staring at a single spot on the wall. 

Later I told my family I had been lied to about everything and was going to break up with him. I expected agreement. What I got instead surprised me, but makes perfect sense in the context of patriarchal, purity culture. You see, I was 20 years old. My clock in the culture was ticking. Also, I had already broken up with my first boyfriend. Like all the purity and courtship books said, breaking up was like a mini-divorce that took a piece of your heart away. Too many breakups and you wouldn’t have any heart left to give your husband one day!

Forgive. That’s what I was told. It was a compliment, if you really think about it. He only lied to impress me afterall. It was just proof of his love! I should be proud that I drove a man’s heart to so love me that he would lie about his entire life. We were meant to be together. God had put us together. My family had prayed, and this guy had popped into my life. Poof. A living, breathing prayer answered! (I suppose sometimes prayers lie.) 

I was given a book. “The Love Dare.” Try this. Follow the daily exercises. This will save your relationship. Give it a chance. It’s God’s will you give it a chance.

The book had different “dares” or assignments to do every day. Things to show your love. But the biggest assignment, the thing that was on every single page? Don’t say anything negative. Which meant… Don’t bring up the lies. At all. Ignore them and carry on like normal. This is God’s will.

The relationship progressed and months later we were speaking on the phone for hours every day. I was uncomfortable with the extremely sexual things he was beginning to say. I asked hom not to. I even hung up when he would start phone sex. But he would just do it the next night. I wanted to break up with him.

No. You can’t do that. He is just a man. This is what men do. Men are designed to lust. This is every man’s battle to fight. God made me to be the stronger, chaste one. I’m responsible for keeping the relationship pure. Here are some more pamphlets and booklets on purity and courtship. These will help. He needs me to be the gatekeeper. This is normal. This is fine. This is God’s plan.

I caught him in more lies. I wanted to break it off. I couldn’t trust him. I was given a copy of Love and Respect and told to not trust him was being disrespectful. If I wanted him to love me, they said, I had to start off by respecting him. No more fact-checking.

He flew in to visit. He pushed boundaries. He tried to get me to do sexual acts. He exposed himself to me and refused to put it away when I asked. I was shocked and embarrassed. I had never seen a naked man before. After visiting for a few days, he flew back home.

I have no words to explain what he is doing. I don’t realize these things are sexual abuse. I tell my family he wants to be impure, and I want to break up. No, you can’t do that. This is the man God has for you. The fact he wants to be impure is just proof that he is your future husband. Now that there is sexual attraction, and sexual struggle, I definitely can’t break up. It would be like a divorce. We are almost married in God’s eyes. This is what the purity and courtship book all say. I am a chocolate bar with a bite taken out of it. 

Besides, all he needs is a good woman to lead him to God. My calling is to be like Saint Monica. This must be why God brought us together, I am told. To save his soul. I am the one destined to love him enough to convert his heart. This is God’s plan.

Here, we know what to do. Let’s mail him a copy of this booklet on purity and courtship. Have him read it. Then both of you can discuss it together on the phone. Both of you can talk about what it means to court with purity.

I flew down to visit him. The first night he forced me to have sex. I didn’t have any understanding of consent, sexual assault, or rape. All I knew is I had failed at my job. He was just being a normal man, afterall. Men push. Women resist. The fact it had happened meant I was the broken one. I had failed to do my part.

Immediately he started reciting phrases from the purity book we had mailed. He reminded me that this meant in God’s eyes we were married. Our souls were bonded forever in what the book called the superglue of sex. I was his. Nobody else would want me. To leave him now would be a divorce in the eyes of God, and God hate’s divorce. 

My visit extended. He wouldn’t let me leave. I kept on trying to be pure. I kept on failing. Almost every day I was on my knees crying to God for forgiveness, after failing, yet again, to avoid sexual sin. My body began to have bruises and bite marks. The things being done to my body were more and more bizarre, disturbing, painful, and degrading. Why was I so wicked? Oh God! Why was I so wicked!?

Hell. That was all I could think about. A firey pit of torment waiting for me. When he was forcing sex on me, I would cry, imagining the ground under the bed opening up to swallow me into the pit. One of the sermons I had heard about hell talked about specific torments. The priest had said that whatever body parts we used to sin with, those parts would be especially tortured in hell. I imagined the pain I was experiencing going on for eternity. Every day, when I failed to fight my boyfriend off and be “chaste” I would cry, knowing with despair that eternity for me was fire and perpetual violent rape. 

I confessed to a priest how much I couldn’t stop having sex with my boyfriend. I told him how I kept trying, but my boyfriend wouldn’t let me stop. We couldn’t stay pure. I wept. “Set a wedding date.” Was the priest’s advice.

My boyfriend called my parents and got permission. We bought a diamond ring at Wal-Mart.

I thought I was pregnant. He wouldn’t let me go buy a test, but I was more and more sure I was carrying a baby. The thought made me cry. The beating with his belt had started. He boasted about how he would also belt our child to “bring him up straight.” I lay on the couch with one hand on my belly and one hand on the belt-shaped bruise across my breast. This child and I could never get away. The family courts would see to that. This child would have my bruises, no matter what I did. Unless… Unless the child was never born. That was the only way my child would be safe from this hell his wicked mother had created. I cried and whispered to my child that I was sorry, but I had to do it. I had to let him escape being born. 

I miscarried before I could make a decision I would have regretted for life. I was relieved. My child was safe with Jesus. Now, Jesus, help me get out!

I mentioned leaving. My own pocket knife was yanked from my belt and pressed to my throat. I mentioned leaving. I was threatened with the shotgun standing in the corner. I mentioned leaving. I had the most degrading sex ever. Why was I so wicked? Why couldn’t I be pure and love God?

I played nice. I said I wasn’t leaving, just going home to finish college. Then I would come back and we could marry. He agreed… On the condition he come with me. We moved back in with my parents. I felt such a relief that the sex stopped. The bruises stopped. I played nice, watched and waited. I waited for an excuse. I needed to break up, but could never tell anyone I wasn’t a virgin. I was scared they’d make us marry. I was scared I’d be rejected. I was scared they would all know I was the chewed up piece of gum that the purity books all said I was now. 

Waiting paid off. My boyfriend stayed out all night drinking and I found him wandering alone covered in vomit the next morning. I could break up now. With full support. I won. He left.

I can’t tell anyone what happened. I can’t tell anyone I am not a virgin. Guilt and shame flood over me. Every time I lay in bed and close my eyes, my body remembers all the humiliation. I shake. I can’t breathe. Sleeping on the bed is no longer an option. 

I started sleeping on the floor to avoid panic attacks.

Months went by. Every week I went to confession and said the exact same thing. I confessed again and again my guilt and shame for having been sexually active with my boyfriend. Confession is anonymous. It is safe. It brings momentary relief.

After a few months I finally realized that what I had experienced had a name. It was rape. I want to share my story with someone. But who? Most people I knew had said thing in the past about how women were only raped because they were asking for it. Or that it wasn’t real if it was a boyfriend. I didn’t know who to tell.

FInally, I told the campus minister. He was a lay minister, hired for the job of Catholic outreach at the university. He was in his late 30’s. I told him my story. He held space for me while I cried. He believed me. He reaffirmed that it was rape, and not my fault. We walked in circles around the block as we spoke. FInally, he invited me to come back into the Newman Center, a house that had been converted into the outreach ministry. He was also living there. I declined and said it wouldn’t be proper, since it was late at night by this point, and I wanted to protect my reputation. “But you’re not a virgin.” was his response. I drove away crying.

The campus minister ended up taking me out on a few dates. He was graciously willing to overlook my past, and the fact I wasn’t a virgin. He told one of my friends he was going to marry me. He called me one day “What kind of mattress do you like? I’m buying a new bed, and it’s where my children will be conceived, so I want to make sure you like it.” I was beginning to feel really creeped out. But how many choices does a crushed rose have? Used chewing gum, half-eaten chocolate, and crumpled up balls of tin foil can’t be choosey, right? 

I would stop by church every day on my way to class and beg God on my knees to please let this man choose me. Please let me be a wife. Please let me have dignity. Please, God, don’t leave me defiled. I promise. I’m not a dirty piece of tape, too soiled to stick to anything. My heart CAN still stick in a marriage! Let him choose me.

The campus minister never touched me inappropriately. We never kissed. He hinted at his thoughts towards me. He also liked to whisper a quick story of something he had done with a girl “in his wild days.” He would often do this in a ministry gathering, around a lot of other people, but in a way where nobody else noticed. I didn’t understand grooming at the time.

I probably would have ended up marrying him, if a knight in shining armor hadn’t appeared in my life and protected me… But my 9 year marriage is another story for another day.