When I was in 8th grade, I was sent to a purity retreat at my church. I grew up in the Christian church and was heavily involved. I remember not wanting to go to this retreat because it felt odd to be talking about sex with other girls at such a young age, but it is what was known during that time.
I actually ended up loving the retreat and learning a lot. I pledged to stay pure, to wait till marriage, and to keep myself holy. The biggest part I took away from the retreat was what they called the "Mr. Right List." We spent time dreaming of our future husband-what we wanted him to look like, what values we wanted him to have, and what characteristics we wanted him to have.
I revised that list all the time. I even kept a journal for my future husband. I wrote letters to him, prayed for him, and waited for him.
A few years later, I even spoke at a purity retreat in High School for middle school girls. I was incredibly proud to be pure, to be a virgin, and to be waiting for my Mr. Right.
Here's the catch-I had no idea at that time what it took to make a relationship work. I just knew I was supposed to be pure, to wait, and to be as Godly as could be.
While there is so much I learned from purity culture, there's a lot more that I wish I could go back and teach myself.
What would I go back and teach myself?
1. Be realistic with your expectations.
Oh man if I could show you all my Mr. Right Lists from the past. I wanted a man who was taller than me, had dark hair, was handsome, had blue eyes, played guitar, and provided financially...it was two pages long.
Now, I'm not saying it's wrong to want that, but these are not the things that ensure a relationship works. Now that I'm married, I would go back and set more realistic expectations. I would think about what I need in a marriage and the qualities I desire. I would also spend a lot more time focusing on how I can prepare myself to be a good wife because I am only in control of myself, not another person.
2. Desire is not shameful.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that my desire is not wrong. It was not wrong for me to desire to kiss someone, cuddle with someone, and even want to see them naked. We are born with desire. I held so much shame that I even had desire and wrestled for many years for the times I gave into my desire as a young teen and adult.
I see others still struggling with this. I know if you grow up religious there are verses and sermons that speak on this and you get to choose for yourself how you handle your desire. But I hope you can hear me when I say it is not shameful to have desire. It is a natural human response.
3. Don't let the teacup or styrofoam cup impact you so much.
In case you did not grow up in a purity culture, let me give you some behind-the-scenes at this analogy. On the retreat, I was presented with a styrofoam cup and a teacup. The analogy was that the teacup is precious, pure, prized, kept safe, and irreplaceable. If you stayed pure, you were like a teacup. The styrofoam cup represented someone who had sex with multiple partners, gets used once, and then was thrown away.
Can you see the issue with this? Of course, I wanted to be the teacup. I didn't want to be used and thrown away! Young minds are easily influenced so in 8th grade, young Rachel desperately wanted to be treated like royalty, and being like a styrofoam cup was not royalty.
The message I would go back and give myself is this:
Rachel, you are wonderful just the way you are. You will make choices in life-some that you will be proud of, that will reflect your values and uplift you. You will also make choices that you are not proud of, that you retreat, and you wish you could change. Though you will make both choices you are still wonderful. You are still loved. You are still royalty. This applies to all areas of your life. If you choose to stay pure until you're married, great. If you choose to have sex before you're married, great. But make sure it's your choice, that you use your voice in whatever way you need it to be used.
While I could go on and on about this subject, I am going to stop here for now.
I'm curious about your thoughts about Purity Culture. What did you learn? Was it positive, negative, or in-between?
*I realize this post is not specifically directed at couples, but I do enjoy sharing my personal thoughts occasionally in this space and this is one that has been on my mind for a while.*