If you’ve been deconstructing your faith for very long, you’ve probably had to get really familiar with the pain caused by purity culture.
To be completely honest and vulnerable with you, reclaiming my body and my sexuality was the hardest part of my deconstruction. Even though I felt strong and empowered in so many spaces, I had a really negative relationship with my body and it spilled over to my marriage, my ability to show up for y’all, and had a hugely negative impact on my health.
If you’re been struggling to recover from purity culture, don’t worry. In this post, I’ll share a few of my biggest AH-HA moments that helped me recover from purity culture.
I’ve also included a couple of my favorite resources plus a few that really helped me get back into my body after years of trauma. But first, let me take a step back and define purity culture so that we are all on the same page around what that means.
Purity Culture is a set of beliefs that insist sexual purity (as defined by patriarchal, often fundamentalist leaders) is God’s highest calling.
It is a confusing set of rules that elevates a female’s responsibility to remain completely non-sexual until marriage, where she is then “assigned” with the responsibility of sexually satisfying her husband enough that he won’t experience any lust or be drawn to sexual sins (which is also defined by the same patriarchal fundamentalist leaders).
In churches and Christian organizations who teach purity culture, teens and tweens face a barrage of toxic, shame-based teachings about avoiding sex.
Some of the worst compare a girl who even comes close to being sexually active prior to marriage to chewed gum, used tape, dirty water, a split open ketchup packet, or even a cup of spit (the girl is the cup and the boys are allowed to pass the cup around to provide the spit). (Seriously-It’s bad- CBS News has a few video examples here.)
On the flip side, male teens and tweens are taught that they’re born with sexual urges and needs that women just don’t have.
In patriarchal purity culture relationships, men have the power over everything, except for meeting their sexual needs and controlling their sexual urges. Those are the responsibility of the wife who, up to this point, has been taught everything sexual is shameful.
See the double standard? Me too. But what can be harder to see is how deeply we internalize the negative view of our bodies and sexuality.
The damage done by purity culture is deep, long-lasting trauma that pits us against our gorgeous sexual bodies.
So now that we are clear on what purity culture teaches and the harm it does, you may be wondering how the heck you are supposed to deconstruct your faith from
purity culture trauma?
The very first step is acknowledging that every single one of us faces purity culture, even if you didn’t grow up in the church.
It also probably runs deeper than we realize because it taps into our greatest fears about not being enough and wanting to be loved and accepted. (Think about that spit cup exercise for a second and notice what’s happening to your body.) Give yourself permission to take the time and resources you need to dig deep.
The second step is to realize that when things are deeply embedded, sometimes we have trouble seeing them.
So you’re going to need some allies to help you recover from purity culture. If you don’t have an existing support system I HIGHLY recommend joining the Faith Deconstruction Café (my free Facebook community) so that you’ve got a safe place to ask questions, meet people just like you, and gather resources to support your healing.
The third step is to grab a copy of Red Thread: Weaving an Embodied Life of Joy by Aj Smit (AKA The Joy Weaver).
Why this book? Well, I’ll be honest: Aj’s book is jam-packed with honest conversations about our bodies, cycles, emotions, and everything feminine. It’s the book I needed as a tween and I wish I could time travel and give it to my younger self. I’m going to highlight a few of the best points below, but please, do yourself a favor and order a copy because there’s way more goodness than I can cover in this post. You can order it from Amazon or click here to grab a signed copy from her website!
Now that you’ve got permission for the journey, a crew to support you, and your guidebook in hand, let’s dive into 7 key ideas from Red Thread that will help you deconstruct your faith from purity culture.
“Embodiment for me is when you feel present and aligned in mind, body, and soul. It’s tangible in the simple way we do things, and sometimes we can get deeply rooted in how it feels by gong all in on an evening or an event.” (44)
Embodiment is complex, but a super basic definition is whether or not we are connected to our bodies at the deepest level. I know it sounds strange to think that we can exist without being embodied, but pulling away from our bodies and walling off sensations and intuition is a perfectly normal defense mechanism. Purity culture trauma and other #churchhurts lead us to lean more heavily on our logical brains and pull away from our other senses. To heal from purity culture, we’ve got to take our bodies back. They’re our God-given superpower and the baddies in the world don’t stand a chance when we are rooted in our body, mind, and soul.
“Each body is unique, yet each has phases it flows through, making your life more manageable when you acknowledge them.” (63)
There’s so much more to a woman’s cycle than those little pamphlets they gave us in 5th grade told us. There are seasonal rhythms, monthly rhythms, and even decade-long rhythms throughout our lifetime that influence how we feel, think, and act. The little bit purity culture teaches about those rhythms are usually limited to bleeding and becoming a mother. Learning about the way our body moves through life allows us to take back the conversations about hormonal rhythms, sexuality, mood, and childbearing in an empowering way. When we know the ups and downs of being female are part of our bodies being healthy, it’s easier to push back when we are shamed for perfectly normal experiences.
“Our bodies deserve kindness, whether that’s a walk, getting out in nature, or a hot bath.” (45)
Purity culture teaches us that our most basic body functions, like breast development, menstruation, and sexual desires, are dirty and shameful. When we internalize that idea, we try to push down all those things and end up feeling small and uncelebrated. Being kind to your body, no matter what she looks like or how she is functioning right now shifts the focus away from purity culture and back to love and acceptance.
“Acknowledging and listening to your Inner Voice is necessary if you don’t want to feel like you are being split in half. Our Inner Voice guides us to where we need to go while urging us to live our life with more kindness and grace towards ourselves and others.” (139)
You know all those cute, quippy quotes about not trusting your heart, your inner voice, or your own understanding? Purity culture took those waaaaay out of context to convince women that we shouldn’t trust anything we come up with ourselves. Sounds ridiculous, right? Try this: Think about the last time you wanted to speak up or challenge something the church is teaching because you think they’re getting it wrong. What’s the first doubt that pops into your mind? For most of the people I work with it’s been “Is that my idea, or God’s?” Which isn’t a bad question to ask sometimes, but we when completely ignore the idea that it could be BOTH, patriarchy wins. So if you really want to deconstruct your faith from purity culture you’re going to have to find your Inner Voice and learn to trust her more than you trust the people telling you you’re untrustworthy (clear as mud, right?).
“Shame eats away at you when you think you can’t trust yourself and need to put others first. It becomes a death by a thousand cuts.” (192)
Have you ever noticed that anyone who rocks the boat in purity culture gets hit over the head with a hefty dose of shame? Even if she didn’t actually do anything wrong? Yeah, me too. It happens all the time. So if you really want to embrace how to deconstruct your faith from purity culture trauma, you’re going to have to stop repeating all those ways people shamed you. Learn to stand in front of the mirror naked without thinking about diet pills. Explore your body just to find out what you’re capable of, without worrying about how anyone else will feel about it.
“I think we get so afraid of the wild because everyone else’s opinion of what is okay, perfect, and good. Wild is the natural order of things.” (213)
Do you know why wild women are so scary to purity culture? Because when we are wild, as in unpredictable, we are much harder to control. So to heal from purity culture you have to let your hair down and break away from always doing what’s expected. I’m not saying you need to break laws or be reckless and hurt people. What I mean by wildness is finding the core of who you are and letting her rise to the surface. When she rises, you may find that your inner wild woman doesn’t match who you’ve learned to be in daily life. So let her loose. Get the funky haircut, loud clothes, or new tattoo. Run through the mud when it rains. Sit under the full moon and ponder the mysteries of the universe. It’s all good and your wild woman deserves to be free!
“For me, Sanctuary is a place to dip back into the rhythms of the universe, the slow, steady heartbeat of the seasons, tides, and our breath. To listen and be held by God and truly let my guard down to rest.” (278)
Purity culture teaches women to be responsible for a whole lotta things that we can’t control. It’s stupid, exploitative, and exhausting because it’s 100% unobtainable. So you’ve got to start finding ways to say “No.” and let the other people in your life manage their own shit for a change. Start by setting boundaries around your time and making room to listen to yourself. Shut off your electronics, tell your people you’re going to be unavailable for more than a 60-second, rushed bathroom break, and create sanctuary for yourself. Go somewhere by yourself to reconnect with yourself so you can remember (or perhaps discover for the very first time) how lovely and capable you actually are.
Those are just 7 ways Red Tent can teach you how to deconstruct your faith from
purity culture trauma!
Will you do two quick things before you go?
- First, will you hop over to Aj’s Facebook page and let her know which of these things helps you most?
- Second, please drop me a comment below and let me know how you’re breaking free from purity culture!
Hey there friend! I’m Angela J Herrington, MA, LSCC and I’m a Faith Deconstruction coach who provides soul care for people who are untangling from toxic religion.
As a certified life coach and seminary-trained online pastor, I have a lot of experience helping people connect with God. But this is also a very personal journey for me.
For the last decade, I’ve been on my own journey to break free from learned smallness and step into wild sacred holy womanhood. Long story short, after finding faith in my early 30’s I began to realize that what I was hearing from the church about women didn’t always line up with what God was telling me. I loved God but realized the church was teaching some really toxic stuff.
So this Enneagram 8, first born, Gen Xer started deconstructing. I questioned and challenged everything I thought I knew about faith, gender, and myself.
It was messy and took a lot of work to sort it out. Therapy. Coaching. Bodywork. Spiritual healing. Conferences and retreats. And even a couple of college degrees.
You name it…I tried it.
But the thing that made the biggest difference was the presence and support of wise people who helped me up when I didn’t know where else to turn.
That’s why in September 2021, I created and hosted The Deconstructing Faith Summit. I gathered 20 phenomenal deconstruction experts to share their expertise and hosted over 1100 attendees in the week-long virtual event. Those who attended realized they weren’t alone, had a safe space to ask questions, learned dozens of strategies to help them deconstruct, and released tons of pent-up emotions they didn’t even know they were carrying around.
We laughed, we cried, and we danced, but the best part was…We did it together.
It was AMAZING and it was just the beginning.
So now, I’m doubling down on my commitment to create an inclusive support system for people, like you, who are longing to get away from toxic religion and cultivate a nourishing spiritual life.