Purity culture

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Purity culture refers to the ways societies idolize virginity, or other so-called forms of "sexual purity". It is often based on the false notion that sexuality is "unclean" and "contaminates" the body and mind, and therefore, it should be heavily restricted.[1]

This is distinct from humanist sexual ethics, which emphasizes respect for bodily autonomy, respect for other people’s consensual choices, sexual ethics rooted in ethics, consent, understanding how sexism and other marginalization affects sexual consent and choice, evidence-based thinking, and respecting and valuing pleasure.[2]

Purity culture is expressed in many forms, both religious and secular. In religious contexts, it may be expressed as prohibitions against sexual activity and/or thoughts, known as celibacy. In secular contexts, it may be expressed in the form of slut-shaming or cuckold-shaming.

Purity culture has existed since antiquity[3] in many forms. In this article, we will be covering the many ways purity culture has severely harmed humanity throughout millennia, and continues to do so to this day, and how the reduction of it in modern times has been beneficial to societal progress.[4][5]

Historical idolization of virginity[edit]

In many societies, virgin women have been fetishized by men,[6] as they falsely thought that virgins were more "pure" than non-virgins. Upon marriage, men felt like they had an exclusive right to a particular woman, as they arrogantly viewed women as property, and the idea of a woman having had sex with another man even before they got together would make the man furious, even if the sexual encounter was rape. In fact, if a woman got raped before her wedding, the husband would want her dead, because he valued her virginity over her life.[7]

There is the common myth that an intact hymen is a sign of virginity. However, it is possible for one's hymen to rip before even having sex for the first time, e.g., by doing sports.[8] It is also entirely possible for one to have sex, and still have the hymen unbroken afterwards.[9] The hymen also has no true medical or physiological purpose, and it is merely a remnant tissue left over from embryonic development,[10] not the "magical flower" that proponents of purity culture make it out to be.

Unfortunately, this was not known to many ancient civilizations, and many women were murdered if their vagina did not bleed after having sex, as seen in the Old Testament.[11] Although the real atrocity is the fact that these chauvinist men valued a woman's hymen or her "purity" over her life,[citation NOT needed] regardless of whether or not she was "guilty" of committing these so-called "crimes".

Slut-shaming and victim-blaming[edit]

Because of this bizarre obsession with female virginity men have had throughout the ages, slut-shaming has become a thing across many societies. Unfortunately, this slut-shaming has led to a lot of victim-blaming, blaming rape victims if they get raped. This is why purity culture and rape culture are inherently connected.[12]


Although purity culture often involves sexism against women, men are also often shamed in purity culture, being called "cuckolds" if they do not try to "defend their honor" by making sure their partners "remain pure".[13] Cuckold shaming is a part of purity culture in a sense that it is often used as the "justification" for purity culture to exist. Because obviously EVERY man is conceited enough to get offended if he finds out partner was with someone else BEFORE him. It quite possibly may even be the foundation of purity culture, as if men are ashamed to inadvertently raise the child of another man, it will encourage men to pressure women to remain "sexually pure" so that they won't be paranoid about whether their child is theirs or not.[14] On the other side of the coin, children who are the offspring of another man have been historically referred to pejoratively as "bastards", so the term could also be considered a form of cuckold shaming.

Cuckold shaming is quite popular among the alt-right, and "cuck" is often used as an insult by members of the alt-right.[15]

Historical discrimination against menstruating women[edit]

As chauvinist men who promote purity culture falsely view the vagina as a "clean, delicate flower", they get a bit disillusioned when it is proven otherwise, and that the vagina is a bodily organ like any other. Despite it being none of their business, many men throughout history have acted squeamish around menstruation, going as far as to oppress women who were menstruating,[16] calling them "unclean" or "untouchable", or in some cases, even imprisoning them in "menstrual huts",[17] leaving them isolated, often without attending to their needs, sometimes even leaving them to die.[18] All because they thought women's periods were icky.

Historical opposition to premarital sex[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Premarital sex

In some societies, sex is not permitted outside of married couples, especially in societies with no concept of dating before marriage. In such societies, weddings are often arranged, and two families essentially force a woman and man to get married, and to never have sex with anyone else, to maintain a so-called "purity".

In reality, this may have not been for issues of a made-up "purity" in all cases, but rather to prevent love children (read: protecting men from the anxiety of not being sure whether or not they had actually fathered children).[19]

However, it is still disingenuous of such societies to hide the real reason for these norms, disguising it under the veil of "purity" or "sanctity". And of course, it is rather cruel and selfish to hurt other people for not being "perfect" in your eyes. But such disingenuousness and cruelty is par for the course in theocratic societies.

With the rise of birth control, the risk of having an unexpected pregnancy is not as much of a problem as it used to be. However, as religious fundamentalists are not a fan of changing up the rules, as they think they are unchangeable, they often try to outlaw birth control to prevent people from having safe sex out of marriage.

Historical opposition to birth control[edit]

Pulling out has been discouraged by some people since antiquity, such as early Christians and Jews, who called it "Onanism". Many misinterpreted the "crime" Onan did as masturbation, when really he got in trouble for not providing an heir for his brother.[20]

Modern opposition of birth control includes the opposition of religious fundamentalists to proper sex education, condoms, and medically induced abortions,[21] even in cases of rape or incest.[22]

Historical opposition of masturbation[edit]

Although discouragement of extramarital sex may be somewhat reasonable in a few cases (at least when you are being honest and pragmatic about it and not making up religious excuses of "purity" to oppose it), as it may prevent unexpected pregnancies when birth control is absent, and may slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), masturbation does not have such risks warranting such a prohibition; you won't get any STIs or unwanted children from rubbing one out by yourself. However, purity culture is not a matter of utilitarianism; so many proponents of purity cultures take a step beyond prohibiting premarital sex and prohibit even masturbation. In the past, this may have been because of the myth that ejaculation was dangerous for men, possibly in part because of the humor theory of medicine. Some people believed that semen retention could improve "humoral balance".[23] This goes to show the historical context in which the semen retention myth came to be.

The myth of ejaculation as unhealthy[edit]

PythagorasWikipedia believed that ejaculation was harmful to male health, claiming that it was dangerous and spiritually exhausting. This idea may have been merged with Zoroastrian ideas of good and evil in a philosophy known as Gnosticism, which influenced Christian and Islamic attitudes to sexual activity.

Up until the 20th century, people continued to believe that ejaculation was unhealthy. Many people believed that semen retention would lead to increased health, vitality, and intellectual prowess. People thought that masturbation led to bedwetting and hair growing on one's palms. Needless to say, this is bogus, as there are no hair follicles on the palms.

In modern times, ejaculation has been shown to have no detrimental health effects.[24] In fact, frequent ejaculation is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.[25] However, many pseudoscientific organizations such as NoFap continue to spread the now-disproven claim that ejaculation is unhealthy and/or dangerous.

Opposition to pornography[edit]

Many religious fundamentalists have voiced their opposition to pornography, and have made dubious claims of "pornography addiction", which are often exaggerated, as they may consider ANY amount of pornography viewership to be an "addiction".[26]

In fact, they even got serial killer Ted Bundy to pin the blame for his atrocities on pornography instead of taking responsibility gor his actions. This is despite the fact that he had antisocial personality disorder to begin with.[27]

Although many people falsely believe that pornography consumption makes people more sexually aggressive, some research suggests that exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes.[28]

Historical opposition to even thinking about sex[edit]

As unbelievable as may be, some people throughout have taken things a step further and claimed that all thoughts pertaining to sexuality are evil.

In the New Testament, Jesus implies that even looking at somebody and finding them sexually attractive is "sinful",[29] despite the fact that the majority of the population is not asexual, and it's normal for allosexual people to notice people that they find sexually attractive.[30] Many Christian sects throughout history have demanded that followers not even think or fantasize about sex if they are not married, as they refer to this as "lust", despite the fact that most of the time, these fantasies may not imply the actual desire to have sex, especially considering the existence of aegosexuality and orchidsexuality, both of which involve enjoying fantasizing about sex without having a desire to have sex, rendering the Christian notion of "lust" incoherent. Not to mention that none of these thoughts actually cause any harm to anybody. However, this is likely lost on people extreme enough to even consider the notion of thoughtcrimes in the first place, especially since most religious fundamentalists oppose utilitarianism.

See also[edit]

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Culture de pureté.

Cultura de pureza es la versión en español de este artículo.

External links[edit]


  1. https://www.today.com/popculture/no-such-thing-virginity-author-says-wbna30353377
  2. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-94099-1_11
  3. https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/anatomy-and-physiology/anatomy-and-physiology/chastity
  4. https://sexualhealthalliance.com/nymphomedia-blog/s-x-positivity-and-mental-health
  5. https://chaarg.com/the-importance-of-sex-positivity/
  6. https://medium.com/awkwardly-honest/virginity-is-a-myth-d3e349d4ebb9
  7. https://skepticsannotatedbible.com/dt/22.html
  8. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity
  9. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity
  10. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22718-hymen
  11. https://skepticsannotatedbible.com/dt/22.html
  12. https://chideraochuagu.medium.com/the-dangers-of-purity-culture-on-girls-and-women-fd768f07ed1c
  13. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2018/07/well-known-evangelical-pastor-justifies-slut-shaming-and-more.html
  14. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MamasBabyPapasMaybe
  15. https://www.vice.com/en/article/8ge95a/actual-cuckolds-are-pissed-off-at-the-far-right-using-cuck-as-an-insult
  16. https://www.ippf.org/blogs/period-stigma-how-it-holds-back-girls-and-women
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation_hut
  18. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/17/787808530/menstrual-huts-are-illegal-in-nepal-so-why-are-women-still-dying-in-them
  19. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MamasBabyPapasMaybe
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onan
  21. https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/10/7/16259952/birth-control-evangelical-agenda
  22. https://missouriindependent.com/2024/02/08/missouri-abortion-legislation-defund-planned-parenthood-defund/
  23. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232954759_Dhis_and_Dhat_Evidence_of_Semen_Retention_Syndrome_Amongst_White_Britons
  24. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/semen-retention
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040619/
  26. "Religious, Moral Beliefs May Exacerbate Concerns About Porn Addiction" by Joshua B. Grubbs, American Psychological Association, 2020 February 6
  27. https://medium.com/belover/ted-bundy-didnt-kill-people-because-of-porn-8f69bc3bb4c3
  28. [1] by Melinda Wenner Moyer (July 1, 2011) Scientific American.
  29. https://new.exchristian.net/2018/12/thought-crimes-and-christianity.html
  30. https://www.atheistrev.com/2018/07/christian-thoughtcrime.html