Opinion

Sexual purity = rape?

man and woman

Dianna E. Anderson at RH Reality Check, has written an article claiming that the “Purity Movement” enables rape, and even goes so far as to imply that it encourages rape within marriage.

Having grown up in the super Evangelical Southern Baptist Church, and I can say without a doubt that the author has her facts wrong. She sets up multiple straw men about what “we” are taught about purity, and then twists them into something they simply are not.

1. “her body does not belong to her, but rather to her future husband”

The author of the article fails to make a distinction between the idea of spiritual belonging, and the legalistic definition of belonging, where the woman would be  mere “property”. Based on the terms and tone used in the rest of the article, I believe she is arguing that evangelicals believe that a husband literally owns the wife’s body. This is not what we are taught at all, if someone told me my body was the literal “property” of my husband I would laugh in their face. Both sexes are taught that our bodies are a temple and that we should honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are taught that in a spiritual sense our bodies first belong to God, and that the use of that body within marriage is a form of worship. Married couples, through their covenant with God, belong to each other. That’s right, boys took the same pledge, and are told their body belongs to their future wife (1 Corinthians 7:4). Therefore this would counteract the author’s implication that we are being taught medieval gender roles.

2. “they take this so far as to believe that a wife’s body is not her own, that a woman cannot say no to her husband, and that it is sin to withhold sexual gratification from one’s partner”

I got married 4 years ago when I was 19, and my husband and I went through fairly intense Christian pre-martial counseling beforehand. At NO point was I ever told that my body belonged to my husband, or that I wasn’t allowed to say no, or that it was a sin to say no. And twisting the words of ONE book doesn’t mean that the purity movement as a whole teaches that.

3. “women are instructed that they must say no to sex at every turn, and if they do not they are responsible for the consequences.”

I’m not even sure what this argument is supposed to mean… I guess if we are talking about pregnancy, sure. But what is truly emphasized is BOTH sexes respecting each other, and respecting their future husband or wife, by not engaging in sexual behavior. In this day and age (rampant STDs, skyrocketing rates of unwed motherhood) abstinence is a REALLY healthy and fiscally responsible choice.

4. “women are not equipped to fully understand what consent looks like or what a healthy sexual encounter is. When the only tool you’re given is a “no,” shame over rape or assault becomes compounded—because you don’t necessarily understand or grasp that “giving in” to coercion or “not saying no” isn’t a “yes.”

We are taught very clearly what a healthy sexual encounter looks like- one that takes place within the bounds of marriage, between two people who are committed to one another, and love each other. And how does the author reach the conclusion that women who pledge to not have sex before marriage don’t understand what rape is, exactly? She makes a huge leap and really seems to be implying that evangelical women are too stupid to know that being forced is wrong.

5. “a girl has the power to say no up until the moment she sends the wrong signals, because men are animals who can’t control themselves.”

While there is an emphasis on modesty within the purity movement, its not to “slut shame”, its a sign of respect for your own body (which is again, a temple). The idea is that everywhere you go, and everything you do is a reflection of God. When people look at you, do they see Christ? Or do they see cleavage and a miniskirt? Its not that wearing a miniskirt makes you a bad person, but it can affect you as a living testimony of God’s grace. For women. we are warned that our clothing choices can harm the men around us. Boys are taught that women are not to be treated as mere bodies- but as a sister in Christ. They are urged to not lust after women, and to be pure even in their thoughts (Job 31:1). This is hard (for women too), and as women we shouldn’t make it harder for them to be pure by dressing in a way that invites impure thoughts (1 Cor. 8:12). Likewise, men are asked to not make it harder for us to remain pure.

6. “This is the motivation behind several Protestant Christian colleges and Catholic hospitals suing the government in order not to provide birth control to their employees.”

No, the motivation is about not allowing the government to make you pay for a service that is in violation of your genuine religious beliefs. Some people believe that contraception is sinful, and that they are required by their faith to neither use it, nor provide it for others. You don’t have to agree with this belief, but our nation was founded so that we could chose to practice our own religions without interference by the government (1st amendment anyone? Congress can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion).

7. “evangelical, right-wing politicians do not believe women have a right to their own bodies, whether that control be related to purity or rape or birth control or abortion.”

I think I already addressed why the claim about a woman’s body is false in my first point. But now I’ll go further on in the argument about contraception & abortion:

  • Many evangelicals don’t have issues with contraception, that is generally more of a Catholic issue. As a non-catholic I’m not really in a position to defend their views on it never being allowed. But as far as evangelicals are concerned, some of us have an issue with forms of contraception that can change the lining of the uterus, causing an already fertilized egg (a unique human being that I’ll talk more about in a second) to not be able to implant. This ends the pregnancy. It essentially is the same as an abortion at an early stage.
  • Abortion for us is not about saying women don’t have control over their own bodies, but rather that they don’t have control over another human being’s body, namely the body of the pre-born child. From the moment of conception, a child’s body is its own, not a “part” of the mother. The child has its own unique DNA, and blood type. The child is also biologically autonomous, and directs its own development and growth- relying on the mother only for nutrients and protection. If you truly believe in bodily autonomy, you should be pro-life.
  • What “we” DO believe: That a woman has no right to violently destroy her child’s body through abortion. That she doesn’t have the right to allow a doctor to rip her vulnerable child limb from limb. That she doesn’t have the authority to allow her child to be vacuumed out of womb and killed. Not because she doesn’t have a right to her own body, but because those actions are on the body of another human being.

I understand that abstinence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to compare it to rape- to imply that it enables or encourages rape- is beyond reprehensible. Thousands of men and women chose to remain pure for their future spouse as a result of deeply held religious beliefs, and their decision should be respected. I took that vow once myself, and I can assure you my husband was worth the wait.

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