purity culture and the wedding night

I’ve written a lot about purity culture. I plan to write even more on it in the future, considering that I want to write a book on the subject (I have three books planned at the moment, which is the biggest reason why I’m going to seminary. Research is hard and expensive outside of academia, y’all). But, for now, I’m limited to giving snap-shots of what it’s like to grow up in purity culture (and, of course, reviewing I Kissed Dating Goodbye).

I’ve spent most of my time railing against it because I believe that purity culture was the #1 reason why I remained in an abusive relationship and was raped repeatedly. If I hadn’t believed to the very core of myself that my “impurity” made me ineligible to be married to anyone else, then I probably wouldn’t have been so viscerally terrified at the idea of losing him, as awful as the relationship was and as miserable and broken as I was.

But, there were other effects of purity culture. It built up a lot of funny notions over the years, and I’d like to talk about one in particular, mostly because I’m curious to see how wide-spread of a concept it was. I encountered it in lots of Christian romance novels, primarily, and it was a concept fairly widely embraced by my peer groups in high school and college. I’m especially curious to know if there were any men in purity culture who had similar conversations.

For a long time I planned not  to have sex on my wedding night.

In retrospect it seems funny (as in both humorous and odd), but I was dead serious back then. I knew that if I had a “godly courtship” we wouldn’t have the time or space for any canoodling, so we would enter our marriage with no sexual experience whatsoever. None. No kissing, no hand holding, no cuddling, no hugs. If the first time we ever kissed was at the altar, leaping from that to full-on coitus was terrifying.

Now that I’m outside of my own particular fundamentalist sub-culture (and there are many flavors. The differences between IFB and Plymouth Brethren are deep), I’ve seen conversations happening about the correctly-criticized ridiculous expectation for women to go from innocent virgin to sex pot in one day with the flick of a switch. I received that message loud and clear from a variety of sources– once I was married, that was it. My husband would have spent all those years fighting off his beastly urges and that, on the wedding night, I was primarily there so that he could unleash himself for the first time. All that pent-up frustration from all those years of never being able to even masturbate was to going to create a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am situation.

Hence why I was horrified, and had every intention of talking to whoever my intended was and convincing him to wait just a little big longer so I could get used to the idea of having a man touch me. Complicated with all of that was a deep-seated fear that I was actually a lesbian and that was why the thought of sex was repulsive. Turns out, no, I’m bisexual and it was just that all the men I’d ever known were repulsive.

Heterosexual vaginal intercourse and everything that went with it just sounded messy and gross and a little scary. Men were scary. So, I fervently hoped that I’d end up courting a sweet and equally innocent boy that thought waiting until we’d gotten used to each other was a good idea. As did every woman I talked with. With no clear idea of what goes into sex besides “Tab A and Slot B”-level knowledge, and the fact that it supposedly hurts, all I knew was that it wasn’t something I was willing to leap into.

But … ultimately I believed it wasn’t my choice. Which was why I hoped that I’d be lucky enough to marry a man “willing to wait.” Who, after he heard me say “I don’t really want to have sex tonight, I just want to cuddle and kiss and maybe see where it goes over our honeymoon,” wouldn’t ignore me, but respect me. In retrospect, that’s the most stomach-churning thing I’ve ever heard.

I thought I’d be lucky  not to marry a rapist.

I wasn’t alone. My best friend was just as scared of the wedding night as I was. As was the first roommate that I talked with about it in college. As was a girl I bunked with at camp. It was a fairly consistent pattern with my girlfriends: we were, essentially, convinced that “wedding night” equaled “possible rape.” In the end, purity culture amounts to really nothing more than rape culture taken to an extreme.

The Christian romance novels I read portrayed it as helpfully and optimistically as possible– scared, innocent virgins would marry sweet men who cherished just how precious and adorable their fear was (patronizing much?) and over the course of many nights would gently and lovingly and compassionately draw her out of her shell. It was, in fact, my favorite plot. If the couple got married at the start of the book instead of at the end, I ate it up.

In retrospect, it’s obvious why. Those books helped me believe that not all men were rapists, basically. If all these women authors thought up this situation, they must have experienced something like a compassionate man who respects your boundaries, right? They exist, right?

So … how about you? Was this something you thought about? Again, I’d especially like to get the raised-as-male take on this, because obviously you’d be going into this with different expectations placed on you. If I was afraid of possibly being raped, were you afraid of not being able to be “manly” enough or something similar?

Photo by pillow of winds
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