Like so many of us, I’ve spent weeks swept up in the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Podcast. It has been unexpectedly triggering, validating, freeing (sort of), and oddly explanatory of so many experiences and emotions that just didn’t make sense.
I was a little girl when I received my sexual education, though in retrospect it wasn’t very education based. It was pornographic, abusive, damaging… It was at the hand of an adult male, while on my mother’s neglectful watch. My innocence was exchanged for her house payment and spending money.
I was a teenager when I learned about sex. I was taught that I was damaged because of what had happened to me, and that my only hope at a life was to convince someone to marry me. It was implied that the likelihood of someone falling desperately in love with me was non-existent. Though the motivation for this belief may have been my lazy eye, the fact that I wasn’t pretty, my big-boned body, or my bad breeding–the message I received was that I was tainted–crumpled up garbage. My virginal body was intended for one man, the man whose rib I held, and that was ruined.
I was ruined.
I loved all the boys. While I was completely capable of having solid friendships with members of the opposite sex, the truth was that this small voice in the back of my mind would often sabotage my thoughts by reading into subtle conversations and gestures. I was being groomed within the suffocating culture of a patriarchal oppression to zero in on anything which could make someone find me loveable enough to marry, so when one of my close guy friends innocently triggered that voice, I would spiral. It was always my fault. Always. I was left feeling so stupid and unworthy, every single time.
By the time I was seventeen I had felt decimated by rejection a thousand times already. The deepest of these was with my high school best friend. There was so much confusion woven throughout the trust and bond between us. A part of me, deep down, knew that if he could never love me, I was doomed. He knew me better than anyone, including my most protected flaws, which I tried to hide from the world. It had been made abundantly clear, both by my mother and my teenage legalistic upbringing, that I was nothing without a ring on my finger and a man by my side.
As a newlywed, several years later, I sat in on churched conversations about how it was my responsibility to please my husband. If I didn’t, he would cheat and I would be to blame. If I didn’t keep myself attractive to him, those same rules applied. If I had a friendship with another man, I was being unfaithful to my husband and responsible for the sins of everyone whom I’d caused to stumble with their curiosity about us. If my husband had a friendship with another woman, it was none of my business, but if it became adulterous, while it was still none of my business, it would be due to my inability to please my husband.
To complicate matters more, I was less of a woman if I could not provide my husband a baby (which I couldn’t), and if my sexual abuse had affected my sexual health at all, it was my sin and I needed to repent and fulfill any of my husband’s fantasies.
As a child I existed to meet the lustful needs of a man and it seemed this was all I was good for as an adult too.
At Seventeen years old, I went off to college to find a husband. I CRINGE about this now. While this notion had not only been suggested as my “next step”– there was not a soul in sight encouraging me to do anything else.
Once I was married, I was invited in to the “funny” conversations that other Christian couples had about their sex lives. In fact, I can honestly say that during my church attending part of life, I have heard more dirty jokes within the settings of sermons or small groups/Bible studies than outside of it. As a survivor of sexual abuse whose very body was bartered, shamed, guilted, mutilated, and manipulated again and again–I never found them funny. Did the wives of such “humourous” men find them funny, or did they laugh and play along because they’d been conditioned to?
There is so much damage that has been done within the Purity Culture realm of patriarchal religion. It did not begin there, and it didn’t end there either. Women have been viewed, seen, and treated like meat consistently. I could really rant on and on about that for a long time, but that wasn’t the point of sharing this here.
So what was the point? Mark Gungor once, by his own confession, instructed a woman to perform oral sex on her husband as a means to get him to church. From the way he tells the story, she seemed very uncomfortable with the act of that. He bragged about this story while speaking in Scotland (i believe) in front of both men and women. You can hear the men, in the audio clip, roar with laughter. He went on to tell the women attending to go home and give their husband’s oral sex and keep them happy, to which the men’s laughter resounds again. Though he was far more vulgar about it than the affiliations of Christianity I came up in, the message was the same:
My needs, wants, or desires did not matter.
I existed for the will of a man.
Discarding me would be my fault.
I did not matter. Period.
My sexuality was a joke.
I experienced this at fifteen when the staff of the Children’s home I was in manipulated and shamed me (by using a photograph of my dead grandfather) into lying about seducing a boy to have sex with me. We did not have sex.
I experienced this at seventeen when I became pregnant and was kicked out of Bible college for sexually immoral behavior while my boyfriend (husband now) was permitted to stay.
I experienced this time and again within a religious space that had no desire to help me heal, process, or navigate through my own abuse issues while attempting to be the best wife I could possibly be, existing to please my husband. I was a series of internal triggers and explosions, hiding on the floor of my closed and scratching my skin until I bled.
When, five years into our marriage, my husband did leave me for another woman–I was the one left answering the questions. I was the one that people blamed. It was me. The unstable, immoral girl who got pregnant at seventeen and kicked out of school. The group home kid. It all fell on me. Considering my history, what could they expect? And the fact is, I loved a lot of those people and they were just as lost within the indoctrination as I was. I was missing. Maybe they were too.
While I am no longer missing, there are so many things that still rise to the surface, catching me off guard. There are days when the weight of growing up in this way feels like it will never stop retraumatizing and challenging my worth.
This is my the long-story-short of my purity culture story.