Four Lessons I Learned From Recovering From Purity Culture

Contributed by Tee Chuanromanee

Like many other Notre Dame students, I grew up in church. While my non-denominational Evangelical church didn’t seem as formal or institutional as Catholic churches, it still had plenty to say about sexual purity.

In sixth grade, wide-eyed and in the middle of puberty, sitting in a small circle with other girls I listened rapt with attention as my Wednesday night Bible study teacher explained that your body is only to be saved for your Future Husband. She stated that “giving your body away” to someone who you were not married to is like sticking two pieces of tape together. It sticks at first because you have a bond with the person you slept with. But you will always break up, and the tape will never stick as well again. Remember, she said, don’t stick yourself to anyone unless you’re married to him or you’ll never be able to have a good relationship with anyone because you’ve ruined yourself.

I took her words to heart because I had no reason not to. Her message echoed the many others I’ve been told outright or implicitly. Like many who came before and after me, Evangelical or Catholic or in-between, I grew up with the narrative that sex was bad until it was supposed to be good. I received no sex education at church or at home except to say that sex was something to be avoided. I was taught to keep myself (and all male others) pure though my words and thoughts. “Take every thought captive” was my mantra throughout middle school.

It was fine, until it was not. I had no trouble with the teaching until I actually encountered real life, real thoughts, real desires. When my mind wasn’t as easy to control or shut down like the churches made it seem, when I realized I wasn’t cis or straight, it became a problem.

And it made sense. Although this teaching has been entrenched in many churches for the past decades, it harmed me and so many others. Abstinence pledges can result in higher rates of unintended pregnancy and STDs. Even for people who have didn’t have sex until marriage, feelings of shame surrounding sex don’t magically go away. Purity culture is also grounded in the notion of traditional gender roles, perpetuates rape culture, and relies on cissexist, homophobic, and racist assumptions.

I am a product of the purity culture of the late 90s and 2000s, and it gave me a tainted view of sex that I am still unlearning even many years after I left that church. Just two years ago, Linda Kay Klein’s book, Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free shocked me to the core. I thought that because I disavowed many other toxic beliefs from my childhood and teen years, I was fine now. But how could she see everything that I went through in the past and even in the present? Suddenly I had an explanation for my low-grade depression that got triggered by any sexual or romantic feelings. Even as someone who considers themselves proudly trans, queer, and sex-positive, I was still affected by this garbage.

Unpacking this baggage is a process I have been working at for many years, and it’s still ongoing. Here are some lessons I learned when healing from the wounds caused by purity culture.

1. Question and recognize your views on sexuality.

As humans who have lived our lives going through phases of belief, questioning, learning, and unlearning, our views on things have been shaped by many factors both internal and external. Even as feminists and fighters for reproductive justice, we may still hold unconscious beliefs left over from a different time in our lives. It’s important to learn to question your beliefs and find those that support your values. Purity culture relies on a set of core beliefs, but so does reproductive justice. It’s helpful to clarify to yourself what your beliefs are and to empower yourself by speaking them or writing them down. And contrary to what many of us have been taught, it’s okay to be in a state of questioning. Give yourself time to work things out.

2. Don’t be too hard on yourself

When I first realized the trappings of purity culture and started to distance myself from it a few years ago, I replaced the pressure to be Pure and Nonsexual with the pressure to be the Perfect Feminist. Instead of chastising myself for having less-than-holy thoughts, I would turn it around to chastise myself for less-than-feminist thoughts. For a while, I put all the blame on myself and labeled myself as a bad feminist, but I realized that these were automatic reflexes based on the way I was raised and did not reflect on who I was as a person.

3. Use your anger to fuel your work

It’s natural to feel angry and betrayed when you realize that much of what you have been taught for decades is not true and is hurting you and others. It’s normal to want to rage at the system that caused you and many others so much misery, and letting those emotions fire your passion for reproductive justice can allow you to do many good things. Yet, don’t let that anger consume you to the point that you forget that kindness and humanity that comes with advocating for justice.

4. Surround yourself with people who have your back

When I first started to unpack how purity culture affected me, I felt so alone and isolated. The other kids who grew up in church didn’t seem to have the same problems, but they were also cisgender, straight, and white, so they were less affected by the church’s teachings. It took me months before I felt comfortable enough to talk to a friend who is also trans and grew up in the same type of Christian community.  The key is to find people who understand, whether that’s also in the queer community, friends who have the same background, or even other members in your faith community. You’re not alone, you are not the first person who has gone through this, and it is okay to struggle.

Dealing with the effects of purity culture is a doozy. Once you think you’ve deconstructed your beliefs, some more might pop up which makes you want to give up. But there is hope, and this is an opportunity for growth. We will get there.

Dear man who has thoughts on the internet

Dear man who has thoughts on the internet today,

Regretfully, I became lost when trying to follow the logic from a satirical piece of art meant to comment on the importance of not judging others (women!) with a judgment about the leaders of Student Government and people who support medical procedures. You were correct in calling these a right, like perhaps that to join the military or own guns–two of which take more lives each year than abortion. In fact, abortion saves lives.

But that’s not the only reason it should be legal. It is health care, after all. And it’s safe, more so than giving birth, says this study.

I understand that you’re fresh off the “I’m saving babies. Deus vult!” Jesus high and I urge you to consider the real people–often girls and women–who are harmed when unable to access abortions, like this 14 year-old (content warning: sexual assault) who was denied a choice and died, though, as I’m sure you’re glad to hear, her baby lived. Or Savita Halappanavar, whose unjust death after being denied an abortion catalyzed the legalization of the medical practice in Ireland. These examples from countries where Catholicism is or was allowed to dominate laws demonstrate what happens when fetal “lives” are prioritized over all others: women die. Anti-abortion zeal kills. 

Abortion should be as plentiful as necessary as determined by people who seek them and their doctors. Consider it like colonoscopies and mind your business about other people’s. 

Additionally, your critiques of Student Government seem unfounded, perhaps like you’re just looking for something to be angry with. It was specified that the Women’s March is sponsored by College Democrats. An email was also sent from Student Government regarding the March for Life, which was specified to be sponsored by ND Right to Life. Your characterization of this as malicious is disingenuous.

 If you’re gonna be sassy about “members of student government,” say who you mean with your whole chest or don’t say it at all, keyboard warrior. Although, please consider what dog whistles and sensational language you may be using, as other editorials have resulted in death threats (among others) for certain members. We are lucky to have student leaders who are dedicated to the support and rights of sexual assault survivors, the South Bend community, accessible healthcare, queer and transgender people, and humanity in general. It is a shame that they are so often dragged into situations typically unrelated to their capacities or power as students. Student Government can’t end abortion for you, and tragically, requiring all candidates to affirm anti-abortion positions seems just slightly too fascist for ND’s democratic process. 

Are you threatened by people who advocate for the rights of women and women who speak up and fight? Is that why you’ve included us, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with your University, in your list of enemies of the church?

Perhaps a more appropriate example is SNL’s spoof of the Twilight Zone episode featuring Pam Anderson, where no one is disillusioned that our patient Pam is still smoking hot. Only nurse Molly Shannon pushes that judgment depends on perception. But as we see, it’s a universal truth that Pam Anderson is a babe. And it’s a universal truth that abortion access is a good thing.

With all due respect,

I4RH


PS: If you’re a supporter of our mission, please donate to help us in our fight to bring reproductive justice to the ND and South Bend communities here.

Lawsuit Update!

We are elated to announce that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana has ruled that our lawsuit against the Trump-Pence administration and the University of Notre Dame will go forward. This is a momentous step in restoring comprehensive and affordable access to reproductive healthcare for everyone with insurance through the University of Notre Dame.

In February 2018, Notre Dame entered into a secretive deal with the Trump-Pence administration to impose unnecessary and burdensome costs on us and restrict our reproductive healthcare options to methods deemed acceptable by Fr. Jenkins’s coterie of advisors. Certain forms of IUDs and emergency contraception are not covered at all by University insurance plans, putting survivors of sexual assault and people experiencing intimate partner violence especially at risk. In direct violation of the Affordable Care Act, we now incur costs for all office visits, medications, and devices associated with reproductive health. 

We are honored to further announce that I4RH will be recognized as the 2020 Students of the Year by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for our work to ensure that everyone has access to a full range of birth control options. Americans United has invited us to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in a panel discussion about our work in March. We are gratefully accepting contributions to support the cost of attending this event. 

No one at Notre Dame–and no one anywhere–should have to choose between what is right for their body and life and what they can afford. 

We are deeply grateful to the National Women’s Law Center, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Americans United for the Center of Church and State for their representation, advocacy, and tireless efforts. 

Thank you for supporting Irish 4 Reproductive Health in our work to make our community at Notre Dame safer, more inclusive, and more just. 
In solidarity, 

I4RH

Is public shaming pro-life?

contributed by Jackie O’Brien

Notre Dame’s Right to Life club puts on “Respect Life” week, every year in October. Normally, it entails a display of roses on campus, some sort of food/clothing drive and a prayer service at the Grotto. This year, however, they took it to a new level and engaged in a highly dangerous, divisive activity aimed at publicly shaming women who have made the difficult decision to have an abortion or are in search of reproductive health care.

South Bend has one of the only remaining active abortion clinics in the state: Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. The clinic has been under constant attack by the state, with Attorney General Curtis Hill attempting to bar the clinic from opening. This effort was blocked by a federal judge who ruled last May that the clinic could open without a state-required license, pending final approval. The right of a woman to make her own health care choices is something that has been under constant attack in Indiana.

It was in this context that at the culmination of Respect Life week, the Right to Life club conducted a “vigil” on a Saturday morning at the center. Participants, like Notre Dame senior Brennan Buhr, claimed they were used the rosary to pray for an end to abortion everywhere and the “conversion of souls.” Attempting to off-put justified criticism, participants claimed the clinic was closed at the time and thus no harm was inflicted. Apparently, the closure of the center at the time has no impact on their mission to alter and change the minds of those seeking reproductive health care.

If their intention was to use the rosary to pray for an end to abortion everywhere, why not do so in a place of worship or on campus where it would be more accessible to students? That wasn’t the object or intention of their efforts, however. Right to Life Club at Notre Dame, specifically those who participated in the vigil at Whole Woman’s Health, had a clear goal: public shaming.

When a woman sees dozens upon dozens of young men and women praying for her across the street because they love her, though they may not even know her name, and ponders these things in her heart, she will be inclined to consider the life inside of her in a new light.

“Inclined to consider.” Soft language, but with a much harsher meaning. It has been proven, time and time again, that protests outside of the centers where women receive vital health care does little to change their choices, but can greatly alter their mental well-being.

It is unfortunate that our University continues to support these divisive and hurtful actions. Actions which can have drastic consequences and have a place in our wider South Bend community. Whole Woman’s Health will no doubt be a place of continued division. St. Joseph’s County’s Right to Life Club plans on regularly protesting the clinic, with “sidewalk counselors.”

All of these efforts, both on the part of the local community and fellow Notre Dame students, are cloaked in a vision of empathy and understanding, but actually take the form of public shaming and judgement. On a campus that already has so much misinformation, judgement, shame and fear, it is frightening that this rhetoric, shaded in a perverted vision of love, has taken hold within our on-campus student groups and spiraled into the rest of the local community.

Got something to say? Write it up and submit to irish4reprohealth at gmail!

Introducing the I4RH Blog

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, the University of Notre Dame doesn’t equip students with the information or support they need. Students don’t know where they can access contraception. LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty experience alienation and harassment. Members of our community feel rejected and misunderstood after having an abortion. Sexual assault survivors and their loved ones often don’t know where to turn.

Irish 4 Reproductive Health wants you to know that you are not alone. We want to provide you with information, resources, and support. We’re also here to elevate your voices.

We are launching this blog as a resource and a spotlight. We want to answer your questions, direct you to resources, and affirm your experiences. We also hope to highlight the important advocacy work we’re doing as a community. Please stay tuned and contact us with any ideas, questions, or concerns. We’re here for you.

LGBTQ+ Next Generation Summit

The South Bend community has come together to produce The LGBTQ+ Next Generation Summit focusing on mental health, queer sexual education, and to support future leaders. As Irish 4 Reproductive Health promotes Sexual health this one day conference offers a unique opportunity to network and connect with fellow peers as well as some South Bend/Mishawaka organizations. Along with the discussions there will be an amazing guest speaker who will discuss their decision and struggle without coming out as lesbian. She not only discusses her struggle but how she decided it was time to be her true self.
On top of all that the conference is free and all who are between the ages of 14-25years old are welcome to attend. In addition to the discussions some guest speakers will be speaking about pertinent issues on health, both physical and mental, and advocacy. We highly recommend attending!
You can apply for the conference by filling out the form at: https://executivedirector888756.typeform.com/to/AKUQeS

There is also a facebook event page!

If you went to the conference and would like to share your stories or what you felt was the most valuable to you please leave us a comment below!