How the Purity Movement Warped My Idea of a Healthy Sex Life
I grew up to be an adult who remained anything but pure, and I had abstinence to thank for it!
It was the late 2000s, and I had an extended work assignment in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
I was given one of those extended-stay hotel rooms with a kitchenette and living room. As a single guy who was in the best shape of his life, it was really a dream assignment for me. I worked 8-hour days, off by 4pm.
Craigslist’s Casual Encounters was still going strong. I didn’t know Craig, but I sure loved his lists. Casual Encounters (CE) gave you the ability to anonymously search for, and find, sex partners for any kink or desire you had. The more no-strings-attached (NSA) you were, the better your chances of finding someone.
Considering I was a decent looking, clean, well-spoken guy who was down for nearly anything, and I was living in a paid-for hotel for two months straight, I was a poster boy for NSA, anonymous sex.
I have a theory that everyone has their drug of choice. For some, it’s heroin or meth. Some it’s alcohol. For me, it’s sex.
The first timeI orgasmed, I was in 8th grade.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how I was supposed to do it. All I knew was I had so much pent-up sexual energy and tension that my head was about to shoot into space.
I waited until the house was quiet. Sleep was an impossibility! I was hurting for some kind of release, even if I didn’t know what that release meant.
Not wanting to make a mess on my bed, I pulled from my closet one of those monkey puppets I had as a kid, and I put it on my bed.
I took off my pajama bottoms and laid face down on top of the monkey. I spat a big mouthful of saliva in my hand and, well, did my best to simulate what I thought was sex.
To this day, I wonder if my parents were awake in the adjoining room, eyes wide with horror at hearing what their baby boy was doing to himself. The bedsprings on my bed were squeaking like a rusty Studebaker on a dirt road.
Like I said, I didn’t know what was supposed to happen, but instinct guided the way. Spit in hand, hump, and repeat until the climax hit.
When it did, it scared the crap out of me – white ooze coming from my body. I had no clue if it was supposed to happen or not. I didn’t even know if that was the end! I tried to keep going, but you probably know how that feels.
The next thing I remember, daylight was pouring in through the window opposite of my bed. I was still without pants, and that monkey puppet had stuck itself to my body.
The orgasm was so relieving that I had instantly fallen asleep.
Me and that monkey remained sex partners for longer than I care to admit.
I had been chatting with one of my Casual Encounter “dates” for a couple of days. She was married — she got married young because, as she told me through an email, she just wanted to have sex.
She said she would meet me at my hotel as soon as I got home done with work. That would allow her to get back home without her husband suspecting anything.
She wouldn’t even make up a name for me to call her. She was too nervous for that.
While I have never done any of the hard hard drugs, something about this particular girl gave me a high that I would argue would rival. She was insanely mysterious. Sex with a married woman was taboo. It was immoral. The pictures she sent of herself were hot. The heat of sexual adrenaline pumping through my veins was intense.
I met her in the lobby bar. I bought her a beer, and we exchanged some pleasantries. We weren’t even halfway through the beer when she said she was ready to go play.
The details of our time don’t matter. The combination of the adrenaline and excitement and the fact that she was a mid-20s woman who kept herself quite fit made it an unbelievable experience. In about an hour’s time, we fucked to completion twice. Oral, sex, cuddle, foreplay, sex.
She quickly collected her clothes strewn around the roomette. I caught one last glimpse of her body as she put her bra on and slid her shirt over. With a towel wrapped around me, I gave her a hug and a “Thanks, this was fun.”
I never saw her, or heard from her, ever again.
Craigslist dropped their singles ads in 2010. It was a huge blow to someone like me, who had not only enjoyed NSA sex, but absolutely preferred it over any other relationship (at the time).
By the time my Craigslist years were over, I had accumulated a body count in well into the 70s – surprisingly with no STDs or unintended children.
The me from 1993 definitely would not have approved. But fuck him.
The Purity Movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with its emphasis on abstaining from sexual activity before marriage, had a significant impact on my views of sex. The pervasive rhetoric surrounding the movement had an immediate and dramatic effect on my personal views about the act itself that have never fully left me.
Like other teens during these years, especially a teen growing up in South Mississippi, I was exposed solely to mass media ads, pamphlets, books, films and various other “educational” tools that all focused on sex and sexual relationships.
I learned about the “high cost of sexual sin” and about the likelihood of contracting AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease. Through reading several Christian pamphlets, attending religious-based abstinence-only events, watching films, listening to sermons and more, I absorbed this sense that sexuality is shameful, dirty and dangerous.
It was presented to me that everyone thought these things, and that any immoral sexual desire outside of a man wanting to have sex with his wife was unusual and, thus, sinful.
I began to see females as objects, as temptresses and as creatures that posed a threat to my religious life. Rather than viewing females as equally valuable and loved by God, I saw them as the root of all evil and temptation. I also was taught that women don’t truthfully enjoy sex and that the vast majority of them are more or less “out to steal your virtue.”
This is a lie I was taught from so many angles that I still struggle with it today. She doesn’t really enjoy sex, I almost always think. She only does it to appease me.
Sex – with my wife, mind you – still makes me feel guilty, ashamed, and undesired.
Purity culture did a horrible job at preparing me for my own sexuality or for healthy, pleasurable sexual relationships with other people. In fact, it set up unrealistic expectations for my romantic life by assuming I would fall madly in love to my high school sweetheart, get married young, and never desire anyone else. It assumed that I would only want to share my body with my soon-to-be spouse.
I do not believe that anyone can go through life without having sexual desires for other people, nor do I believe that the “spiritual value” of marriage can protect anyone from temptation.
In fact, I don’t believe in the “spiritual value” of anything. I became a steadfast atheist by my mid-20s.
I love my wife, but I don’t believe that anything spiritual is at stake in our relationship. The only thing that has value in our relationship is that we both love each other and that we are willing to put forth the effort to make things work.
I still struggle with sexual yearning. I know it wouldn’t take much work to find someone willing to fuck me any day of the week. I could do it tomorrow if I wanted to.
When I feel desire for this, I go through my usual self-talk. “I love my wife. She’s all I need.” Which is true. Plus, who needs the headache of a side chick? Not this guy.
I still hear those old echoes of the religious rhetoric that shaped my views of sexuality in the first place. Rhetoric about how women foundationally dislike sex and only do it to keep their husbands interested.
It is also my hope that speaking out about these harmful ideas will help to keep people from falling into similar traps in the future. I have two kids of my own, as well as two step-children – one on the cusp of puberty.
I want to teach them what I wish someone had taught me at such a young age.
I want to teach them that sex is one of the many things that makes life such a beautiful experience. I want to teach them that sex with someone you love is something beautiful and not shameful. I want to teach them that sex with someone you don’t love – or don’t even know their real name – can be just as fun and exciting.
I want to teach them that their sexual identity is just as important as their race, gender, or economic status. They need to know that sometimes, you just need to get your rocks off, and that sometimes you reach a point where anyone will do. And that’s ok, too.
Mostly, though, they need to know sex is not bad or shameful. My biggest hope is that they can trust me with their questions, hopes, and fears – trust that I will talk to them as I would want to be talked to.