Turning on a dime: false equivalence in purity culture.

Turning on a dime: false equivalence in purity culture.

This par­tic­u­lar day, I don’t recall who the speak­er was. I don’t remem­ber what he looked like, and I don’t even recall entire­ly the mes­sage he preached.

I only remem­ber a sin­gle illus­tra­tion he used.

I went to a rea­son­ably con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian school from the age of 6 through the first mark­ing peri­od of my junior year, when I opt­ed to home school through their pro­gram because I believed my class­mates to be world­ly and a bad influ­ence on me. (I share that most­ly to illus­trate that I was not always as I am now, as most peo­ple do not remain who or how they were in years past as they con­tin­ue to learn and grow through­out their lives.)


At this school dur­ing my ear­ly high school days, we usu­al­ly had Bible class first peri­od (at least at the time). Fri­day morn­ings, how­ev­er, Bible class was replaced by chapel. We had many guest speak­ers for chapel, usu­al­ly local pas­tors or youth pas­tors, some­times trav­el­ing evan­gel­i­cal or music teams from Chris­t­ian col­leges try­ing to recruit new stu­dents. Chapel was usu­al­ly held in the gym, with the speak­er pac­ing the bas­ket­ball court while the stu­dents sat lis­ten­ing in the bleach­ers.

He called on our school’s star soc­cer play­er to stand at the bound­ary line of the court. He placed a dime on the free throw line and instruct­ed the soc­cer play­er to walk at a nor­mal pace towards the dime and stop right when he reached it. This was done, of course, with great ease. Then he sent the soc­cer play­er back to the bound­ary line and instruct­ed him to all-out sprint towards the dime, still attempt­ing to come to a com­plete stop. Obvi­ous­ly, the soc­cer play­er couldn’t do that — he rock­et­ed far beyond the dime.

The take-away was that in sex­u­al sit­u­a­tions, you may think you will be able to stop before sex (the dime). And if you take things slow­ly, maybe you can. But if you rush things, you will nev­er be able to stop on the dime.

I remem­ber being blown away, think­ing how won­der­ful an illus­tra­tion that was. Tuck­ing it away in my mem­o­ry (clear­ly), to help me make sure that I would nev­er, ever run full-tilt towards the sexy no-nos.

Now, a decade or so lat­er, I real­ize that this is real­ly prob­lem­at­ic in lots of ways.

What exact­ly does the dime rep­re­sent? Does it rep­re­sent the line that we’re sup­posed to set for our­selves way before sex ever becomes an option? (I think I’m remem­ber­ing I Kissed Dat­ing Good­bye here.) Or is it, as I seem to remem­ber, rep­re­sent­ing Sex With a Cap­i­tal S? If the for­mer, all you have to do is set your line back super far so if you run towards it you still don’t “sin” by hav­ing Sex. Even then, though, we’ve arrived at one of the prob­lems of the lat­ter: what is Sex exact­ly? I real­ize some will claim that I’m argu­ing seman­tics, but I’d like to argue that Words Mean Things, so in fact seman­tics are impor­tant. How­ev­er, Dian­na and Grace have addressed this par­tic­u­lar prob­lem already, so I will sim­ply defer to their pieces on the sub­ject and move on for the sake of this post.

Let’s assume that we all agree that Sex means pen­e­tra­tion of some kind, and that dime rep­re­sents Sex As Pen­e­tra­tion. What does it mean to walk ver­sus run towards the dime? Walk­ing seems to indi­cate that there is slow progress being made towards a spe­cif­ic des­ti­na­tion, progress that can be eas­i­ly halt­ed or reversed at any time. Run­ning, then, would mean quick deci­sive progress towards a spe­cif­ic des­ti­na­tion from which there can be no halt­ing or turn­ing back.

That means the illus­tra­tion is say­ing if some­one is run­ning full-tilt towards Sex As Pen­e­tra­tion, they will not be able to stop them­selves from Sex As Pen­e­tra­tion.

And that…that, my friends, is a big prob­lem. In fact, it is a very dan­ger­ous lie.

It is a god­damn lie that a per­son can­not stop them­selves from hav­ing sex if they have been engag­ing in hot and heavy sex­u­al con­tact.

It’s a lie that says, “I couldn’t help myself — you got me too excit­ed.” Or, “Look at what she was wear­ing! She was ask­ing for it — I’m wired to respond to sex­u­al stim­uli. It’s her fault for stim­u­lat­ing me visu­al­ly.”

It’s a lie that excus­es lack of self con­trol in the bed­room while com­plete­ly and utter­ly fail­ing to men­tion con­sent.

It is a lie that rapists use to put the blame on their vic­tims.

And it is a lie that traps peo­ple in the mind­set of, “I’ve said yes so far. I can’t say no any­more — we’re already on this course.”

Was the illus­tra­tion shared that day with good inten­tions? Arguably, yes. While I dis­agree with the premise that all non-mar­ried sex is wrong, I believed that it was wrong for so long that I under­stand his inten­tions in shar­ing the illus­tra­tion and teach­ing us to walk and not run towards sex­u­al encoun­ters. (My under­stand­ing was that by walk­ing, by the time you reached the dime you’d be mar­ried and it was okay to step on it.) I under­stand that he was try­ing to spare us what he believed to be cer­tain heart­break.

That’s one of the prob­lems of puri­ty cul­ture. It seeks to shel­ter, to save, to pro­tect. But in doing so, unwit­ting­ly or not, it becomes benev­o­lent­ly sex­ist, per­pet­u­at­ing the very evil it claims to pro­tect its adher­ents from, using gen­tler words and sub­tler manip­u­la­tion towards the same end.

I high­ly rec­om­mend read­ing Sarah Moon’s ongo­ing series, You Are Not Your Own for more in-depth analy­sis of puri­ty cul­ture and the harm it caus­es. Also see Dian­na Ander­son’s entire blog, along with Lib­by Anne’s Love Joy Fem­i­nism blog and Hännah’s Immod­esty Rail series. If you’re inter­est­ed in this sort of thing, like me on Face­book where I share lots of arti­cles about faith, fem­i­nism, and social aware­ness or fol­low me on Twit­ter where I fre­quent­ly share thoughts before they become blog posts.

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