How Evangelical Purity Culture Can Lead to a Lifetime of Sexual Shame

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Former born-again Christian Linda Kay Klein combines personal reflections with years of research to trace the psychological effects of purity culture on women in her new memoir, “Pure.”

by Stephanie Dubick

For millions of girls growing up in evangelical Christianity, sexuality is a sin. Girls are sexual “stumbling blocks,” they’re told—a danger to the relationship between men and God.

Such is the way of the purity movement. Emerging out of white evangelicalism in the early 1990s, the conservative Christian movement—today promoted by both local churches and national organizations such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits—emphasizes sexual purity and abstinence-only education. The cornerstone: If women remain virgins until the day they marry a man, they’re holy; if not, they’re damaged goods. To avoid the latter outcome, young adults are required to make promises—signified in the form of purity balls, rings, and pledges—to remain abstinent from puberty ’til “I do.”

After marriage, the metaphorical chastity belt unbuckles. But as writer Linda Kay Klein engrossingly details in her recently released book, Pure: Inside the Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, the psychological effects don’t stop there; they can follow women into their adult lives, leading to mental and physical side effects similar to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In purity culture, both young men and women are taught that sex before marriage is wrong. But it’s teenage girls who end up most affected, Klein finds, because while boys are taught that their minds are a gateway to sin, women are taught that their bodies are. After years of being told that they’re responsible for not only their own purity, but the purity of the men and boys around them; and of associating sexual desire with depravity and shame, Klein writes, those feelings often haunt women’s relationships with their bodies for a lifetime.

Klein knows from personal experience. After realizing she couldn’t be the woman the church wanted her to be, she left the evangelical community in the early 2000s. It was at that point, when she began considering having sex, that the symptoms started. “It began when I took the possibility of having sex and put it on the table,” Klein tells Broadly. “From that point on, sometimes it was my boyfriend and I being sexual that would make me have these breakdowns where I was in tears, scratching myself until I bled and ending up on the corner of the bed crying.”

Klein knew immediately that the reactions were linked to her religious upbringing, but assumed it was specific to her. “I never wondered where it came from, I just wondered why it was manifesting that way,” she says. “It couldn’t be that everyone who was taught these things were having these experiences, because surely I would have heard about it.”

Eventually, though, Klein realized that she wasn’t nearly alone. In 2006, she began compiling dozens of testimonies from childhood friends involved in the purity movement and found that they were all experiencing similar feelings of fear, shame, and anxiety in relationship to sex. “Based on our nightmares, panic attacks, and paranoia, one might think that my childhood friends and I had been to war,” writes Klein. “And in fact, we had. We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies, and our own sexual natures, all under the strict commandment of the church.”

Today, Klein considers the phenomenon an epidemic. When she first realized the scope and severity of what she was researching, she decided to quit her job—at the age of 26—and dedicate herself to learning more about the effects of purity culture. She went on to earn an interdisciplinary Master’s degree from New York University, for which she wrote a thesis on white American evangelicalism’s messaging toward girls that involved interviewing hundreds of current and past evangelicals about the impact of the purity movement on their lives. Eventually, those seeds of research grew into Pure.

A 12-year labor of love, the resulting book is an eye-opening blend of memoir, journalism, and cultural commentary that masterfully illustrates how religion, shame, and trauma can inform one another. Citing medical studies, she lays out that evangelical adolescents are the least likely “to expect sex to be pleasurable, and among the most likely to expect that having sex will make them feel guilty.” And in comparison to boys, Klein observes, girls are 92 percent more likely to feel shame—especially girls who are highly religious. For many women, like Klein, that shame can manifest in physical symptoms.

Klein observes and cites an expert who found that many women who grow up in purity culture and eventually begin having sex report experiencing an involuntary physical tightening of the vagina—also known as vaginismus—that is linked to a fear of penetrative sex and makes intercourse extremely painful. This could also be considered a symptom of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), a diagnosis developed by Dr. Marlene Winell, a psychologist in San Francisco and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. According to Winell, as quoted by Klein, RTS is a condition “experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The symptoms resemble those of PTSD, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorders, and can result in depression, sexual difficulty, and negative views about the self.

Perhaps more convincing than the medical research and professionals that Klein cites, though, is the wealth of testimonies she gathers from women. One woman she spoke to described having years of awkward, uncomfortable sex with her husband until she began to feel overcome by such extreme exhaustion, she had difficulty getting out of bed. Another shared that after her first sexual experience, her body began to shake uncontrollably. In one extreme account, a woman said that feelings of panic and guilt flooded her mind “like a cloud of locusts” after an early sexual encounter. Soon after, orange-sized welts broke out on her stomach, arms, back, and breasts and it became difficult to breathe. After jumping into the shower to find relief, welts the size of both of her palms formed on her vagina. “I would say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she told Klein. “I had no idea what was happening to me. My legs, my face, everything was bright red. It felt like I had absolutely no control over these horrific, nightmarish things that were happening to my body.” The woman was rushed to the emergency room, and though the doctors told her she went into anaphylactic shock, they couldn’t explain what caused it. While she knows something medical happened, she told Klein that’s she is certain something spiritual happened to her as well—the result of what happens “when you tempt Satan.”

Pure is a thorough and focused study on the effects of the purity movement’s rhetoric on women and girls, but Klein stresses that her findings aren’t relevant only to religious conservatives. Rather, they represent an extreme microcosm of a broader culture of gendered sexual shaming to which we should all be paying attention.

“The conclusion that I reached was that the evangelical culture is useful because it provides a mirror of what’s happening in other places in the culture,” Klein says. “You see what happens when you have high doses of this toxic messaging. But the reality is that this toxic messaging is everywhere and we’re all taking in unhealthy amounts of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Men Sexually Harass Women

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Men vastly outnumber women among sexual harassers. The reason has more to do with culture than with intrinsic maleness.

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I can’t imagine my teenage self—or any girl I knew—doing anything like what Christine Blasey Ford described teenage boys doing to her. Watching the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing last week, I was struck by the feeling that the Brett Kavanaugh she described and I both went to something called “high school,” but they were about as similar as a convent is to Space Camp.

Ford has alleged that when she and Kavanaugh were in high school, the Supreme Court nominee drunkenly pinned her down on a bed, tried to rip off her clothes, and covered her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. A confidential FBI investigation, according to Senate Republicans, did not corroborate her account. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, say the investigation was not thorough enough, and several people who say they have knowledge of the allegations against Kavanaugh have told The New Yorker that they felt the FBI was not interested in their accounts.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Ford was mistaken and that it was some other boy who assaulted her. Either way, it boggles my mind that any teenage boy would feel empowered to do such a thing.

In high school, I made a list of all the boys I liked. My bitchy friend (everyone has one) told some of the listed boys. I was mortified—not only because they did not return the sentiment (this went without saying) but also because I felt like I had inflicted my liking on the boys. They were just minding their business, trying to live, and here I was, burdening them with my liking. It felt like such a grievous imposition, making someone deal with affection he wasn’t prepared to receive.

I wasn’t a particularly shy kid or an introvert. I was just taught—or maybe had absorbed—that boys will let you know if they want to date you, and your job was to sit patiently and wait to be let known. Bucking this norm occurred only on one day of the year, for our version of the Sadie Hawkins dance, which was special and exciting for the simple fact that it was the day when girls were allowed to tell boys what they wanted.

Admittedly, some of this was almost certainly regional: I grew up in the deep suburban South, where many of the cool kids at my school were saving themselves for marriage. None of my close friends drank, and I had my first sip of alcohol at dinner with my parents the night I graduated.

I hated our gendered dating rules and found them endlessly inefficient. But still, leaking a list of my boy preferences felt like asking for a raise on your first day at a new job—too forward, too eager, too much like something guaranteed to bring about the opposite result of the one you were hoping for.

The past year has opened my eyes to the fact that, apparently, many men do not have similar compunctions. I experience this same befuddlement every time I read about yet another #MeToo allegation. It would never occur to me to install a button under my desk to entrap my victims. It would never occur to me to try to masturbate in front of people I barely know. I would find it unthinkable to ask a stranger to watch me shower.

I can’t help but feel like the difference between teen me and how teen Kavanaugh allegedly behaved, and indeed between me and the other accused #MeToo perpetrators, comes down to how our different genders are conditioned to approach anything of a sexual nature.

Though there have been several cases in the #MeToo movement in which a woman was the perpetrator of harassment, the overwhelming majority of the offenders have been men. What is it about men, I’ve found myself wondering, that explains this extreme gender disparity? And is it even about the men themselves?

Some have ascribed it to knee-jerk assumptions about men’s essential nature: nasty, brutish, and short on impulse control. Boys will be boys, and the best we can do is contain their boyish urges. But where do we get the idea that it’s just what men are like?

One theory I had, especially when it comes to the lower-level sexual-harassment offenses, was that women are simply more risk-averse. They don’t dare put their hands on the knees of co-workers at bars because they know that they might be rejected, or that the co-worker might not like it, or that it’s just not a good thing to do with someone who’s going to be sitting next to you at the Thursday event-planning meeting. Women, I thought, must just like to err on the side of caution.

Meta-analyses have indeed shown that men are more likely to take various types of risks than women are. Some studies also show that men are more into thrill seeking, if exposing yourself to a woman without her permission could be considered a sick kind of thrill. (One older paper even characterized risk taking as an inherent part of “masculine psychology.”) Stress, like the kind people experience at work, might exacerbate these differences, since men take more risks under stress and women take fewer.

But other studies have complicated that narrative. For one, women seem just as keen to take certain kinds of risks, like disagreeing with their friends on an issue or attempting to sell a screenplay. It’s just that when surveys measure risk taking in terms of things like unprotected sex and motorcycles, women tend to demur, since those types of activities are either more dangerous for women (the unprotected sex) or less familiar to them (riding motorcycles).

In fact, when researchers measured risk using more stereotypically feminine risky behavior, such as “cooking an impressive but difficult meal for a dinner party,” women turned out to be just as, if not more, likely to take risks as men. “Maybe there isn’t anything so special about male risk taking, after all,” wrote the University of Melbourne professor Cordelia Fine in Nautilus.

Several prominent psychologists believe there are actually few psychological differences between men and women. Men, it would seem, are from Mars, and women are also from Mars but are nonetheless baffled by why our fellow Martians would opt to do things the way they do. The major differences between the genders are that men are more aggressive, can physically throw things farther, masturbate more, and are more comfortable with casual, uncommitted relationships. These very differences can help explain the disparity in sexual harassment.

“The bottom line is that men and women have quite similar psychology other than sexuality and aggression,” says Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin who has done several studies on this topic.

There’s also evidence that men and boys are less empathetic than women are. Men make up the vast majority of prison inmates, commit 99 percent of rapes and 89 percent of murders, and cause more severe car crashes. Just 16 percent of sexual-harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were filed by men.

Boys are raised to think that men should be the initiators of sexual relationships, and, as Hyde explains, boys are also socialized to be more aggressive. The two processes can be toxic when combined. “Gender differences in empathy are not huge, but they’re there,” Hyde says. “If you’re going to victimize someone, it takes a certain lack of empathy.” (Though some studies point to men’s higher level of testosterone as the explanation for their higher levels of aggression, she says, “Humans are much less controlled by their hormones than other species are.”)

The explanation, then, might lie in social norms, or in what society is telling boys as they grow into men. Men are told they’re supposed to behave more aggressively, so they do. According to research, powerful people follow different societal rules than those who are powerless, and there are more men in power than there are women. Among men in powerful positions, but not among women, a fear of being seen as weak is related to an inclination to sexually harass others. People in power are more likely to wrongly perceive that subordinates are sexually interested in them.

“Power is enabling, and it is known to reduce empathy,” Peter Glick, a psychology professor at Lawrence University, told me. “It allows people to act on their impulses.” Glick says this is why it’s so often confident women who are harassed, or those who try to assert themselves, or who behave in a masculine way, or who otherwise challenge men’s power. They are being put back in their place.

People in power enjoy “looser” rules, according to work by the University of Maryland psychologist Michele Gelfand, the author of the new book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers. “Loose” environments are those in which norms are less strict and norm violations go unpunished; “tight” environments are the opposite. “People in high-power positions tend to live in looser worlds where they sometimes not only violate social norms but also border on completely inappropriate behavior,” she told me. In her book, Gelfand points to Uber as an example of a company where extreme looseness went wrong. “Several former employees described the exceedingly loose work environment as a ‘frat house,’ rife with unprofessional and even abusive behavior,” she writes.

In a 2010 study, Gelfand and Hannah Riley Bowles hinted at why sexual harassers often get away with the behavior for so long. They found that people who thought of themselves as “high status” were more likely to want to punish their subordinates when they broke the rules, but not other high-status people. White men, but not white women, were more lenient toward other men when they broke the rules. The social hierarchy is reinforced, they write, because high-status people are granted more leniency.

Glick also underscored how a permissive, boys’-club environment can turn a would-be harasser into an actual harasser. “There are these bad apples, but there are also environments that really permit it,” he says. “If the allegations are to be believed about the guys that Kavanaugh hung out with, it’s a lot of bragging about their sexual conquests.” This is a major reason that fraternities, with their culture of heavy drinking, male-on-male competition, and hazing rituals, are so often associated with higher rates of sexual assault than the rest of the university.

When women are seen as mere tokens of status to be collected, natural male aggressiveness can descend to a dark place. Subtle messages within social circles can imply that women are, sometimes quite literally, up for grabs. Men who want to sexually harass someone, says John Pryor, a professor of psychology at Illinois State University, “are unlikely to do it if they’re in social settings where there’s normative pressure not to do it.”

Perhaps the problem, then, is not in “masculine psychology,” but in environments that allow the least scrupulous men to act on their most hideous impulses. The norms I grew up with were not great for women. Those of Georgetown Prep, where Kavanaugh went to high school, may have been even worse.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Compulsive sexual behaviour’ is a real mental disorder, says WHO, but might not be an addiction

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Global health body not yet ready to acknowledge ‘sex addiction’, saying more research is needed

The World Health Organisation logo at the headquarters in Geneva.

The World Health Organisation has recognised “compulsive sexual behaviour” as a mental disorder, but said on Saturday it was unclear whether it was an addiction on a par with gambling or drug abuse. 

Dr. Geoffrey M. Reed

The contentious term “sex addiction” has been around for decades but experts disagree about whether the condition exists.

In the latest update of its catalogue of diseases and injuries around the world, the WHO takes a step towards legitimising the concept, by acknowledging “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder”, or CSBD, as a mental illness.

But the UN health body insisted more research is needed before describing the disorder as an addiction.

“Conservatively speaking, we don’t feel that the evidence is there yet … that the process is equivalent to the process with alcohol or heroin,” said WHO expert Geoffrey Reed.

In the update of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), published last month, WHO said CSBD was “characterised by persistent failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges … that cause marked distress or impairment”

But it said the scientific debate was still going on as to “whether or not the compulsive sexual behaviour disorder constitutes the manifestation of a behavioural addiction”.

Maybe eventually we will say, yeah, it is an addiction, but that is just not where we are at this point

Geoffrey Reed, World Health Organisation

Reed said it was important that the ICD register, which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers, includes a concise definition of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder to ensure those affected can get help.

“There is a population of people who feel out of control with regards to their own sexual behaviour and who suffer because of that,” he said pointing out that their sexual behaviour sometimes had “very severe consequences”.

“This is a genuine clinical population of people who have a legitimate health condition and who can be provided services in a legitimate way,” he said.

It is unclear how many people suffer from the disorder, but Reed said the ICD listing would probably prompt more research into the condition and its prevalence, as well as into determining the most effective treatments.

“Maybe eventually we will say, yeah, it is an addiction, but that is just not where we are at this point,” Reed said.

But even without the addiction label, he said he believed the new categorisation would be “reassuring”, since it lets people know they have “a genuine condition” and can seek treatment.

Claims of “sex addiction” have increasingly been in the headlines in step with the so-called #MeToo movement, which has seen people around the world coming forward and claiming they have been sexually abused.

The uprising has led to the downfall of powerful men across industries, including disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has reportedly spent months in treatment for sex addiction.

[Film producer Harvey Weinstein arriving at Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday, July 9, 2018. Photo: TNS]

Reed said he did not believe there was reason to worry that the new CSBD listing could be used by people like Weinstein to excuse alleged criminal behaviours.

“It doesn’t excuse sexual abuse or raping someone … any more than being an alcoholic excuses you from driving a car when you are drunk. You have still made a decision to act,” he said.

While it did not recognise sex addiction in the first update of its ICD catalogue since the 1990s, the WHO did for the first time recognise video gaming as an addiction, listing it alongside addictions to gambling and drugs like cocaine – but only among a tiny fraction of gamers.

The document, which member states will be asked to approve during the World Health Assembly in Geneva next May, will take effect from January 1, 2022 if it is adopted.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Shaming of Sexuality: America’s Real Sex Scandal

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In early September, the Twitter account of Texas Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz “liked” a post containing explicit pornographic video content. Once noticed by other Twitter users, the news shot around social media; many were both shocked and amused by the public slip-up by the typically straight-laced Senator. For his part, Cruz blamed the error on a staffer, denying that he was the one who had liked the post.

Whether you believe this explanation or not, the idea of Cruz publicly revealing a pornography habit and preference is simultaneously absurd and infuriating. Both of these reactions are a result of Cruz’s staunchly conservative views on sex and sexuality. In 2007 as Texas solicitor general, he defended a law banning the sale of sex toys in the state, arguing that no right existed “to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.” Though he did not personally fight to preserve Texas’ anti-sodomy laws in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, his negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ causes are well-established: He called the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of marriage equality “fundamentally illegitimate” and supported North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” referring to transgender women as “men” in the process. When pressed in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on the Texas sex toy law, Cruz backtracked on his previous position, calling the sex toy law “idiotic” and “a stupid law” before adding, “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.” If Cruz truly feels that way, then his past attempts at legislation appear either opportunistic or self-contradicting.

Cruz is far from alone among politicians who have contributed to legislation and rhetoric against private consensual sexual practices. As stated above, it took until 2003 for the Supreme Court to strike down anti-sodomy laws, and, as of 2014, a dozen states still technically had those laws on their books. (In fact, several states have actually been stricter against sodomy than bestiality – including Texas, which has had an anti-sodomy law on the books since 1974 but only made bestiality a crime in 2017.) The sale of sex toys is currently punishable in Alabama by a fine of up to $10,000 and a full year in jail, and last year a US appeals court upheld a similar law in Georgia. Also last year, Utah Governor Gary Herbert declared pornography and pornography addiction a “public health crisis” via a signed resolution, continuing a long trend of political attempts to push back against pornography.

What is most interesting about these types of consensual sex-related laws and attitudes in the United States is that support for them seems to be in direct conflict with the amount of people who participate in said sex acts. Utah residents, for example, actually buy more internet porn per person than those of any other state according to a 2009 study (though it’s a solidly red and majority Mormon state). Only 29 percent of Americans consider watching porn “morally acceptable,” and only 39 percent would “oppose legal restrictions on pornography.” However, between 75 and 80 percent of Americans age 18 to 30 report watching porn at least once a month, and a 2015 Marie Clare study of people 18 and older found that 92 percent of respondents watch porn at least a few times a year, and 41 percent at least every week. Statistically, then, a good number of those who find porn “morally unacceptable” and wouldn’t necessarily fight against anti-porn laws watch porn themselves. In the same vein, there are a number of famous cases of politicians and activists with anti-LGBTQ+ standpoints later being revealed as LGBTQ+ themselves.

So why the hypocrisy? Why do a considerable number of Americans support legislation and rhetoric against sex acts they themselves enjoy? The answer lies squarely on the shoulders of the country’s odd relationship with sex and the public discussion of it. In the US, hyper-sexualization is not simply tolerated but rampant. Everything from M&M’s to sparkling water seems to ascribe to the idea that “sex sells,” their sexed-up ads running on television in plain sight. But once a certain fairly arbitrary line is crossed, the conversation is seen as “too explicit” and gets tucked away in the corner. This creates an environment where pornography, masturbation, sex toy use, and homosexuality are seen as shameful, leading to the statistical discrepancies laid out above. Indeed, in that same Marie Claire poll, 41 percent of respondents said they “don’t want anyone to know about” their porn watching and another 20 percent feel “embarrassed” and “ashamed afterward.”

The don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture around sex in the United States makes it is quite possible that support for sex-based legislation comes more from perceived societal pressure than from personal concern about the issues at hand. In other words, there are potentially more people who support restricting pornography or the sale of sex toys simply because they feel that others expect them to, even if they personally use pornography or sex toys, than there are people who don’t participate and find said actions immoral enough to be worthy of legislative restriction.

American public and social discourse about sex is an unruly, multi-faceted mess, and not one that can be untangled in a day. But if attitudes around sex were to thaw, and people were free to talk more openly about their habits, the stigma and taboos surrounding certain aspects of sexuality – many of which are overwhelmingly common and actually healthy – could be eliminated. This change could come from the top down, with politicians and medical professionals emphasizing the need for healthy sex discourse, or, more likely, from an effort by the populace (which may already be underway) to tear away the curtains. New sex education programs – which are far easier to talk about than actually implement – could put more emphasis on the healthy aspects of sex and sexuality. Celebrities could also speak out, using their platforms to acknowledge the realities of human sexuality. If all this were to happen, eventually laws could be pulled back, and politicians could potentially stop feeling pressure to espouse hypocritical views on sexuality. Maybe then Ted Cruz could truly act on his belief that “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.”

Complete Article HERE!

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