I was nine years old when I was first asked about “chastity”. Did I practice the law — meaning was I doing anything with other people, to myself, or otherwise, sexually — fully and without reservation? Of course, I only knew vaguely what it meant from the minuscule discussions that I had with my parents, and what I could piece together from what I had learned in sexual education. I was just a child. Yet, there I was, in a room with an adult man that I didn’t really know, save that he was the Bishop of the ward I attended with my parents. There were no other adults present. Just a child and a stranger, alone in a room, with a closed door.
When I was eleven, in a different room, alone with a different Bishop, masturbation was explicitly described to me. Again, I was asked by untrained professional, for no other reason that religion, if I was masturbating. Had I kissed anyone? Had I engaged in heavy petting with anyone? Had I engaged in oral sex? Intercourse? Was I obeying the Law of Chastity?
Within the realm of Mormonism, this is normal practice. It’s not odd for parents to send their children into an isolated room, to meet with a man who has had no background checks done. It’s not strange for these men to be asking children, of both genders, questions about their sexuality. It’s completely normal, expected. In Mormonism, sexuality is a sin, a chore, a temptation, something to be repressed, and ashamed of. Desires that are biological are considered obstacles to overcome, a hardship.
Image Credit: geir tønnessen
When I moved into Young Women’s I was treated to many activity nights that focused solely on our virginity and the importance of keeping it. At one activity, as we sat around the table at our youth leader’s house, she chewed a piece of gum and asked us if we now wanted to chew it. Of course, none of us wanted to. This analogy was likened to us having multiple partners before marriage. We would, if we explored our sexuality outside of marriage, be no better than a piece of already chewed gum. On another occasion, we sat in a romantically lit room, and a single cupcake was passed around. We were told to put our fingers in it then pass it around. When it reached the final girl, she was asked to eat it. She refused the mutilated cupcake, and the lesson this time: Having sexual relations before marriage would make you mutilated, and unappealing.
So it was learned: if I was sexually active, if I wanted to act on the biological urges I had, I would never be worthy of any good man. My entire identity was supposed to be wrapped up in my virginity or lack of.
When I began engaging in activities that I now know are fairly normal for teenagers, I was wracked with guilt. The idea that it could be healthy to explore my sexuality consentually was foreign. So while I “ignored” the propaganda, I couldn’t ever ignore the guilt. I spent hours in my room, crying, pleading and praying that I could be forgiven for my actions, brokenhearted that I was so weak, and incredibly foolish. I was letting Satan win. I worried that I wouldn’t ever be able to find my “perfect” husband. That I wouldn’t be resurrected in the Second Coming. I began to envision terrible things happening to me because I had made out with a boy at a party, because I had dated before I was sixteen years old, because I had masturbated, and later on in my teen years, because I had sex consentually.
Purity culture absolutely gave me anxiety, self-image issues, and a warped view of what sexuality was.
In an effort to cleanse myself of these supposed sins, I would repent to my Bishop because my parents told me that it wasn’t really repenting if I wasn’t able to come clean verbally. Many times through my youth, I would find myself in a closed off room, explaining in detail what sin I had committed. Clearly with all these urges, I needed to be supervised. To be asked about my sexuality, over and over again, by a male.
The message, despite the insidiousness of this normalized practice is that sexuality is a burden to bear. That women are only as good so long as their hymens are intact, and even deeper than that, their sexuality, good or bad, is owned by the men around them.
And when you mess up so bad, like in my case, get pregnant out of wedlock? They own you still. They want you to repent, but they want you to do it quietly. It was a given that I would not keep my child; he would be the ultimate show of true repentance. There were discussions about having me disappear to another city for the duration of my pregnancy, relinquish my child, and return, unscathed. I refused, and I suspect that was the reason my mother slut-shamed me for the duration of the pregnancy. For nine months, I was bullied by adults, whispered about, and gossiped about. In the youth group, I was used as an example for why you shouldn’t have sex. My pregnancy was used to promote their purity agenda.
While, getting pregnant out of wedlock doesn’t even begin to compare to molestation, the parallels on how the family handled the situation are there. Think about the outrage that would have happened if one of the Duggar girls had sex before marriage. These were women who couldn’t even go on dates without being chaperoned, who didn’t even kiss their husbands until the wedding day.However, their father knew that his son, their brother, was molesting these girls, and he did nothing. Instead, both Jim Bob and Michelle went out of their way to protect their son. What sort of message does that send to the actual victims?
It’s not shocking that he was offered extensive forgiveness with no professional help. It’s not surprising that they sent him away to a friend for a few months, and expected that he would be “better”. It’s not odd to me that they didn’t offer any sort of counselling to his victims, or that now, as the news explodes that they are saying that this was a spiritual experience that drew the family closer together. That’s life in a fundamentally religious home. That’s what happens if you are a male in this culture. You are given free reign, and everything you do comes with a Get Out Of Jail Free card.
One of the main reasons I walked away from Mormonism was the simple fact that women are absolutely viewed as lesser than. Women are accessories, only good for their wombs. I would raise my future children in that sort of toxic environment. Unfortunately, Mormonism isn’t the only religious sect that treats women like second class citizens.
This situation with Josh Duggar demonstrates aptly how skewed purity culture is; a woman is better suited for death than to lose her virginity, but if a man, even a teenager, molests young girls, it’s just a “mistake” and we all better fall in line to forgive him.
Sorry, but in the real world, where the rest of us don’t view molestation as a “teenage mistake”? There will be no forgiveness.