The Podcast That’s Talking Back to Purity Culture!

by | Jan 14, 2021 | Uncategorized | 26 comments

Talking Back to Purity Culture Podcast
Merchandise is Here!

Did you grow up with purity culture? And if so, how did it affect you?

We’re launching in to two months of podcasts looking at how specific beliefs may impact sex in marriage, all leading up to the release of our new book The Great Sex Rescue, based on our survey of 20,000 women. It’s coming March 2, and I’m so excited!

One of the things we covered in our book, but didn’t delve too deeply into, was “purity culture”–that cultural movement in the 1990s and early 2000s that equated purity with virginity, asked teens not to kiss until marriage, and promised great rewards if they did everything right.

We didn’t go into it too much (though we certainly discussed many aspects of it!) because other books had already done that so well.

One of those books is Rachel Joy Welcher’s Talking Back to Purity Culture, which is awesome. And we were thrilled to have her on the podcast today, to talk about unrealistic expectations, and then answer some reader questions with us!

Rachel Joy Welcher
Talking Back to Purity Culture Rachel Whelcher

Listen in to this second edition of the Bare Marriage podcast (we just rebranded from the Bare Marriage podcast!). 

And, as always, you can watch on YouTube if you’d prefer:

 

Timeline of the Podcast

0:30 What is purity culture?
3:21 Are we promised great sex lives if we wait until marriage?
6:45 Does purity culture give us a selfish view of sex?
8:01 Does sex before marriage doom your sex life?
10:20 Virginity = Purity?
13:30 Conservative Christianity could be linked to risky sex?
18:03 RQ: Advice for my daughter who is struggling to ‘stay pure’?
23:58 RQ: A single woman struggling with porn and masturbation
37:45 A discussion on how sexual assault is portrayed in Christian books
42:08 Research on honeymoon sex and arousal levels
47:25 Is more information better when teaching kids/teenagers about sex?

Main Segment: Were you promised great sex if you did everything right?

I decided to delve deeply into one particular chapter of Rachel’s book–the promise that if you do everything right and wait until marriage for sex, you’ll experience amazing sexual rewards. Sex will be great and easy and you’ll have it all the time.

Rachel actually critiqued many of the same books we do in the Great Sex Rescue, with some difference. She focused more on books for singles; we focused more on books for married couples. But we came to similar conclusions–including that Every Man’s Battle calling women “methadone” for their husband’s sex addictions is sick in multiple ways.

Reader Question: How can I help my 19-year-old daughter stay pure?

A concerned mom writes in:

My fantastic 19-year-old daughter just tearfully confessed to me that she and her boyfriend of two years are struggling in their physical relationship. Sex has not happened yet and they are both Christians and want to remain pure until marriage. Due to school and military commitments marriage is out of the question for at least 2 more years. Besides setting up rules for their relationship (never being alone together where someone can’t walk in) what other advise is there? Is there a book that’s recommended?

We had plenty to say about this one (especially the equation of virginity with purity), but you can all chime in in the comments as well!

Reader Question: How do I stop masturbating to porn?

This one’s from a young woman: 

I’m single and very interested in sex and have a high sex drive. I want to experience a great sex life in marriage and have everything that God wants for me, but I’m afraid I’ve wrecked it. I started watching porn and masturbating to porn when I was 14. It’s been hard to stop. I talked to a mentor about it and she said that masturbation is okay without pornography, so I’ve been trying to do that instead, but I find I can’t finish and often turn to porn just to get release. Will this continue when I’m married? How do I stop?

I have other posts on how to break the porn habit, but we talked here about how sometimes our rhetoric around lust and porn makes it sound like you’ve doomed your life, when you really haven’t. Yes, porn rewires the brain. But you know what else rewires the brain? Counseling. Letting go of the porn. The brain is elastic and healing is more than possible!

Again, leave your answers to this one in the comments!

New Research: Most women have lousy sex on their honeymoons

Okay, this one isn’t entirely new research, because some of it is from my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, but what I found when surveying women for that book is that about 20% of women have great sex on their honeymoon, 20% have terrible sex, if they do anything at all, and for the rest it’s pretty blah. Follow that up with an informal poll I did on social media last year, and only 52% of women report being aroused the first time they had sex when they were married.

So how can we better understand the sexual response cycle, and make it so that sex is more of a natural progression, even if you wait for marriage, rather than something you have to do right away?

We talked about this a lot last spring when we looked at arousal as the missing piece in many women’s sex lives.

We loved having Rachel on the podcast!

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Things Mentioned in This Podcast: 

Talking Back to Purity Culture Podcast

What do you think? How did purity culture affect you? Or do you have any thoughts on any of our reader questions? Chime in in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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26 Comments

  1. Phil

    Sheila – That was an awesome podcast! I am so thrilled for the Bare Marriage Project team! You are doing it Sheila! You are changing the message! You have mentioned to us the lack of support for your book due to calling out other authors and fears of what this will do to your message but now you have found others who are doing the same thing…and you are publicizing it. You are building a network outside the Bare Marriage Project to broadcast your message. How awesome! I have shared here before that I don’t know much about Purity Culture as I grew up in the 80’s and was damaged goods from my past and was 3 sheets to the wind at the time the message was being taught. The thing is this: the topics today apply not just to purity culture but if one really listens to it it is just about US in general regardless of Purity Culture message. Yes that specifically needs to be addressed but one can go down so many rabbit holes with the HEALTHY message that you all talk about. I have so much to say and wanted to interject and ask questions and cheer on Becca with her rant about building sexual tension once you are married and not just take off your pants and go at it. There was just so much content in this podcast that applies to us all! Thanks so much. I wanted to leave you with this: Grace and I are in the process of rebuilding our marriage. We are finally going back to the beginning. We have recognized that we did it wrong and we need to go back and get it right. This is due to the wrong messages we received and the choices we made- nothing to do with the purity culture movement per se because well our messages happened before that movement. Regardless we got the wrong messages and made the wrong choices. Now we can go back look at that and take the right path forward. Thats what I see you are after with the Purity Culture message and well quite frankly your entire message about sex. Amen Sheila. Amen Bare Marriage Project team. Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yay, Phil! I’m so glad you’re rebuilding. That’s wonderful. That’s victory! And you’re right–there were many negative messages that started before purity culture. I imbibed some of them, too. It’s just that purity culture was such an obvious one, and such a recent phenomenon.
      I’m glad you picked up on how relieved I was to see someone else naming names! It really was refreshing to read Rachel’s book and feel like we’re on the same team and I’m not alone. The number of books that are coming out by people calling for a healthy view of sexuality in the last year, and more that I know are scheduled to come out next year, is so heartening. It’s like publishers are getting that people want to read the healthy stuff!

      Reply
      • Phil

        Yes Sheila – VICTORY! It is so good. Finally – I am so happy. And right now is tough but good and it is going to be so awesome looking forward. I am careful not to wish this challenge away and enjoy the journey. Incredible things are happening.

        Reply
  2. Jane Eyre

    Maybe there are some people who really benefit from hearing the message about how not having sex before marriage makes married sex better. People are not monoliths and some people might need that particular carrot.
    However, it really grated on my ears when I was single and trying to find a husband. Being single is not easy, especially for years on end through adulthood, and no one needs it rubbed in their faces that they are missing out on mind blowing pleasure, too.
    I much prefer the Catholic message that we are ALL called to chastity, regardless of our state in life. Married couples don’t get a free for all, either: they are still bound to respect the other person, deny themselves during certain times (illness, postpartum, ovulation if doing NFP and trying to avoid), and some activities are off limits because they are degrading.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Jane, I agree.

      Reply
    • Katydid

      I left evangelicalism in part because of the horrid and increasingly horrid teachings on sex and sexuality. The Catholic Church has a MUCH healthier teaching. But, the Catholic Church doesn’t use lay people who create movements out of opinions within the American bubble. They use history, theology, ancient language interpretation, science and medicine, philosophy, psychology. They employ doctors and lawyers, researchers and theologians within the faith. Women have been at the forefront of Catholic gynecology and obstetrics. St. Gianna centers help women with reproduction. Men are told to have self control and sacrifice, not that “they can’t help it.”
      As evangelicals convert to Catholicism, I see some of the purity culture teachings creeping in. I know a nun who used to be evangelical who teaches purity culture modesty rules for toddler girls and berates women to dress modestly in church so the men don’t lust. No, you dress modestly for church for the glory of God and because it is proper attire for entering a holy place. You don’t meet the queen of England in a tracksuit. You don’t meet Christ in the Church with half your skin showing like it’s a walk on the beach.
      I love that the Catholic Church maintains that certain sexual acts are illicit, degrading, and disrespectful. Unfortunately, evangelicals are pushing the envelope and calling it “God given desires men have.” It degrades women and married sexuality. The “boredom” doesn’t come from “vanilla sex” as they call it. It is because they don’t have a marital union as God intended.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        Katydid,
        I’ve actually been thinking about the degrading sex in Evangelical circles since some women close to me confided about how their husbands treat them in the bedroom. I don’t have any close Catholic friends (at least not any who are truly devout, you know, follow the rules) so I can’t compare, but I’ve been wondering if the deep reverence for Mary keeps Catholics from treating their wives like porn victims (I refuse to use the term “porn stars”) more than it does Evangelicals. For example, I cannot imagine a Catholic version of someone like Mark Driscoll or the creepy author of Every Man’s Battle. I cannot imagine a Catholic publication comparing women to methadone. Do you think I’m on to something here? I wish someone would do a study comparing the two denominations in this aspect (and please do tell if you know of any!).
        In response to the critics, OK, I do think it’s restrictive to only be allowed to ejaculate inside a vagina (and if that means he must immediately penetrate if he’s about to lose control, that can even enter rape territory), but I’ve heard too many stories of Evangelical men insisting they come into their wife’s mouth and I think it’s perfectly OK to consider that gross, even though I really enjoy oral sex. I think oral sex can be done in a non-degrading way too, the problem is that most of our notions of it come from porn and that is, indeed, gross.

        Reply
      • Martha

        Katydid, I have always been a Catholic and I know the teachings pretty well.
        Whether you decide to have intercourse before ovulation depends on the length of the cycle but it is surely more risky than after it.
        Of course you can have sex during your period but not all women and men are into it.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is a great point. And there definitely are aspects of waiting until marriage that TEND TO make married sex better (it’s just not guaranteed; and we don’t want to make it sound like if you messed up you’re doomed).
      But I like what you said about chastity. What I’ve said before is that we tend to say, “Stay pure UNTIL you’re married,” insinuating that once you’re married you’re no longer pure. But you can be married, with a great sex life, and still be pure! And you can be a virgin and be impure. It’s about a biblical sexual ethic, and that doesn’t end once you’re married.

      Reply
      • Martha

        Please remember that in Catholic teaching a man can ejaculate only into his wife’s vagina, which means no manual or oral sex with finish. Moreover, no other birth control is allowed than NFP, which practically limits the full intercourse to the time after ovulation, because you cannot be 100% safe before it. So in a menstrual cycle you have really not so much time and freedom to enjoy sexual closeness if you are avoiding pregnancy.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, Martha, and I do think that there are issues that need to be discussed in terms of women’s sexual satisfaction being a priority that is often missing in the specifics of Catholic rules around sex. However, I do think that the call to lifelong chastity and not seeing it as “wait until you don’t have to” is a healthy one, which is what Jane was talking about!

          Reply
      • Martha

        And masturbation is totally forbidden, whether you are single or married.

        Reply
      • Katydid

        Martha, that is innacurate. Women can enjoy sex pre-ovulation without getting pregnant. I did with just basic NFP, and if one gets more in depth into NFP practices, it is even more effective.
        Also, Sheila, a gentle reminder that these aren’t “Catholic Rules” but rather believed to be the God-given boundaries since Christ established his church. Also, they can have sex during her period.
        Catholics have good reasoning, theology, and psychology behind these “rules” which is a far cry from the anything goes, make the rules up as we go along evangelical way.
        I actually think it is worth studying rather than trying to work with the mess evangelicals made of it and finding the truth buried under the filth. You may not agree with everything, but I think it’ll help from your healthy perspective away from the mess of evangelical teachings and the aftermath.

        Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, I have said it here before, you are Catholic, you just don’t know it yet. 😂

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          In all honesty, my biggest problem with both evangelicalism and Catholicism is the emphasis on hierarchy. That will always be a big stumbling block for me!

          Reply
  3. Anon long term reader

    Hi! I’ve pre-ordered your new book and I’m very much looking forward to it (long time reader since 2008-09).
    Having grown up in purity culture, and also IFB churches, I came into marriage thinking sex is a thing women do to keep their husbands happy. I was completely ignorant of my own anatomy, ashamed of my sex drive (suppressing it from puberty), and absolutely had no idea that sex was more than some kissing and then the husband getting inside his wife. You can imagine how much this has made it difficult to get in touch with my own body, because the light switch doesn’t flip once the marriage vows have been said.
    All that to say, purity culture sucks, and I’m glad this is being discussed. I’ve been married for years now and just want to be able to stop being ashamed, and discover my sexual side. While I don’t logically believe in the message of those marriage books I read as a teenager, somewhere down deep I still believe them because I still do what they say. Down deep, I still think that my husband needs sex every few days, and the more time goes on, the less I even desire sex. None of this is his fault whatsoever. He wants to fulfill any and all desires of mine (I just can’t find any!), and he assures me that he is fine without sex. He just has a healthy drive and always desires me, so my brain translates that into “he needs it so it’s my job to help him out” (insert and the messages from church culture/marriage books).
    So again, thank you for all you do! Through your blog and the comments here, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this struggle. That is somehow encouraging to know that there are many of us trying to heal together.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad the blog can help! It sounds like you have a great guy there. I’d just say: be patient with yourself. It sounds like you’re going in the right direction! It’s natural that something you’ve been steeped in since your really formative years would take a while to totally discard. That’s okay. Don’t be mad at yourself. Just keep celebrating how far you’ve come, and celebrate the fact that you know it’s going to keep getting better!

      Reply
  4. Martha

    Sheila, I am not sure if you know it but in Catholic sexual ethics the pleasure of a wife is emphasized. The spouse (most often the wife) can never be objectified and treated as a means of release. During the sexual act if the wife hasn’t climaxed the husband is strongly encouraged to satisfy her orally or manually. The point is that he must be satisfied through vaginal sex only, although all kinds of caressing the body are allowed.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      To Martha and Katydid,
      I have actually been wondering recently if perhaps the Catholic reverence for Mary keeps the men from degrading their wives sexually better than in Evangelicalism. I cannot imagine a Catholic version of Mark Driscoll or the book Everyman’s Battle, I cannot imagine a Catholic writer comparing women to methadone. Am I on to something here? Are there any studies that compare the two?
      I’m glad oral sex is allowed 🙂 and I’m OK with a man not being allowed to ejaculate inside her mouth. Too many stories of Evangelical men insisting on it.

      Reply
  5. Becky

    I’m definitely going to have to look this book up, since I already connect to it just from this podcast. I wouldn’t say that my family or church was even that hardcore into purity culture (though I do remember going through the Josh Harris book in youth group, and instantly thinking that it was a ridiculously extreme stance.) But I’m very interested to see what books she called out, because as someone who married later for evangelical circles, I spent way too much of my 20s reading nearly every book on the Christian market that was geared towards singles. The lack of help was so frustrating for me, especially when it came to dealing with sexuality in a healthy way as a single woman. My big takeaway was that I either needed to shut that down completely, which I learned to do too well, or channel that towards going on the mission field or something equally big for God’s kingdom. And I remember feeling so much guilt over even wondering what I was missing by not having sex, because those thoughts were “impure”. Hopefully now that books like this and yours are coming out, the ladies who are where I was 10-15 years ago will have a better foundation for going into marriage.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’d like really like it, Becky! She talks so much about the advice given to singles, and to what it’s like being single older.

      Reply
  6. Anon

    “Besides setting up rules for their relationship (never being alone together where someone can’t walk in) what other advise is there?” When my husband and I were dating, the thing that most helped was the knowledge, not that someone could walk in on us, but that someone actually WAS with us – God! We both had such a strong awareness of His presence with us at all times, and we both feel that was the thing that kept our relationship right – the knowledge that He was watching all that we did. Since our motivation in keeping our relationship right was to please our Heavenly Father, it made it a no-brainer to avoid doing anything in His sight that would grieve Him. I wish there was more emphasis in church teaching that we save sex for marriage because it pleases God – when the emphasis is either ‘because it will be better for you that way’ or ‘because you will be shamed and ruined if you don’t’, the focus is on the person, what feels good to them and what they can ‘get away with’.
    Something else I’d love to see emphasized more in Christian sex & relationship teaching is that intercourse doesn’t have to happen on the wedding night or even on the honeymoon. Especially if you limit physical contact before marriage, you can’t go from 0-60 in one night or even in one week! I did feel under pressure from cultural expectation to ‘get there’ as soon as possible, but fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a husband who was determined that we weren’t going to rush things and that my first experience of intercourse would be a good one!
    It would also be great if there were more material available for couples who are virgins on their wedding night. Even our Christian marriage prep course seemed to assume we would have previous experience of sex. Apart from making it difficult to get educated about what actually happens, what to expect etc, the assumption that everyone who is out of their teens already knows this stuff just made me feel even more abnormal!!! I’m just so thankful that I found TGGGTGS before our wedding.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true! That’s a point we’re trying to make as we’re writing The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex–take it at the level of the one who is least comfortable, and just get comfortable being naked and doing intimate things together. That’s a big part of The Honeymoon Course, too!

      Reply
      • Anon

        Oh, and another thing is that I don’t think it should ever really hurt (unless you have a medical condition, and not necessarily even then) and if it does, something’s not quite right. I was told by my doctor pre marriage that sex would be extremely painful for the first few times (great, thanks!), but I’d say the worst I had was a little bit of soreness/stinging/burning – nothing bad enough to describe as ‘pain’, never mind ‘extreme pain’. And I reckon the reason why is because we did take it SO slowly and I was always aroused when we tried to do anything. I’m guessing he reckoned it would be extremely painful because he didn’t think any couple would take things as slowly as we did! So anyone who’s had a similar diagnosis – don’t panic, just go REAL slow & steady!

        Reply
  7. Naomi

    This podcast was SO good. I am going to share and shout it from the rooftops.
    I am definitely going to read this book because this is exactly what needs to be said in response to the purity culture. I believe it was all a movement done with good intentions in reaction to the sexual revolution of the previous generation, so their sexual shame and desire for their kids to be sexually pure led to these books and ideas, while missing the heart of the issue: pleasing God and growing in maturity in order to honor God with our sexuality for the rest of our lives on earth.

    Reply

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