Religious Trauma Part 3: Purity Culture

By Valerie Rice and Andrea Watson | December 25,2020

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Oh yes, I am going there. Welcome back to the “not for everyone” series about religious trauma. Do you have your journal and blanket? I do. Now grab your drink and let’s get started on one of the hardest aspects to unpack: purity. This is one of those intricate details that threads it’s way through your very being and is partially reinforced by society depending on where you live. Let’s make a fall back mantra for when you need a break, alright? Here goes: Societies’ expectations are just current popular opinion. Got it? Good.


The definition of what is modest varies from group to group. If you are in a super controlling religion or cult, they will dictate what you can and cannot wear. Not only that, but there seems to be very little logic to the choices outside of religious belief. At first glance the modesty standard appears to apply across the board equally, but upon closer inspection,  toxic religions actually us these as a way to further control women and perpetuate rape culture. Forbidding women to show knees, ankles, shoulders, etc. without consequence teaches little girls from a young age that their bodies are forbidden. You can try and spin it to say “sacred” all you want, but the message is a clear and resounding “your body is bad” to any child.  Imagine it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a girl wants to wear a tank top but is forbidden because it might distract the men and boys. That sends the message that your body is designed for sex and men have no self control. It also lets girls know that they must suffer for both the convenience of the men and the chance at a good afterlife. Schools do this too, but oftentimes the dress codes are written by religious parents and board members who carry their toxic traits into daily life. 

Photo by cottonbro on

The standards of modesty affect every girl in some way. Even those who are not part of a controlling religion feel and take in the pressure and cultural messages from the girls around them, especially if they live in a “Red” state. The pressure to be modest permeates the attitudes and actions and really the whole feel of the environments that children find themselves in, such as schools. Girls walk on eggshells to try to keep their modesty in line and keep safe from rape. These young boys are not all feral rapists just waiting to see a shoulder or a thigh peeking out. But the girls think they are and either live in fear or jump right into it, becoming promiscuous in a hidden kind of way. Some think that the modest clothes they wear protect them when they really don’t. At the same time when they get into the higher grades, it’s suddenly acceptable for these same girls to wear extremely short cheerleading skirts, walking around with their butts and thighs and boobs hanging out. Why? Because they now have a mission to stimulate and support and serve the boys as they compete in their sometimes violent sports. After the game is over then it’s back to modesty mode. What a way to send mixed messages! These weird religious students and parents support this paradigm and add it to their life structure as something to be praised. 


This one also affects girls more than boys. For girls, their virginity is their value. They are told to preserve themselves for their future husbands, and if they do not, they become dirty. I hope we all see the glaring problem with these beliefs. Not only does it increase a fear of sex in general, it also intensifies guilt over normal feelings one develops when growing up. These teachings do not reduce the number of sexually active teenagers, and they also do not teach anything about birth control, so girls are more likely to be caught than boys. What does this do? Creates pariahs and mothers out of teenaged girls. Ta-DA! Now we have a bunch of women who are afraid of their bodies, ashamed of sexual desire, unable to understand consent and differentiate between abuse and sex, and are completely submissive, neurotic messes. Well done. Luckily, we have child marriage, so a rapist can marry the child they impregnated or those  teenagers can do the “right thing” by getting married at 15, dropping out of school, and setting up house to raise the oopsie-baby that could have been avoided. Of course, they will raise it to be faithful,  and the parents will never, EVER, feel comfortable looking at each other again.

The standard of virginity also affects a girl’s relationship with her parents. Some develop this strange partnership with their father’s, taking “virginity photos” with the girl in her daddy’s arms in an intimate, passionate embrace. What the Hell is that about? What is the message here? It seems like they are trying to say, ” my daughter’s vagina belongs to me until she finds a suitable husband. ” Kinda sick, right? Yeah. So the girl is submitted and continues to live in fear and guilt over her sexual desires. She desires sex, like almost all teenagers do, but what can she do about it? In many cases, this promise is secretly broken after holding her desires in for too long. You just can’t stomp out a teenager’s urges. Their hormones are running hard and their needs are growing as they approach adulthood. All you can do is inform them about what they want and let them make their own choices. You can help by giving them condoms and birth control, but you can’t keep them from having sex by pinning them down. They will always find a way. It’s best to be there observing and assisting and informing instead of turning away and assuming they are staying safely pinned down under your pressure. 

These expectations originate from twisted belief systems that are contradictory toward reality. They are impossible to dictate and control effectively. You may turn up the heat and heighten the pressure, but the very young do not always do as they’re told. In fact, they do think for themselves and are capable of thinking outside the box and solving problems on their own. It may be in an immature fashion, but that’s the best you can expect from a child. And teenagers are still technically children until they turn 18. So don’t try to sit on them and expect them not to squirm. They are far too clever for that. And if you are trying to reinforce the modesty and virginity expectations then you are just spinning your wheels and your children will resent you for it and possibly go so far in the other direction that they become unrecognizable. Usually when a young person turns from their dictated religion, they take it to the extreme because they are so angry and resentful of their parents and community. They may separate themselves completely after coming of legal age, and how sad that is! An angry and befuddled young adult will stay that way until something comes along to guide them out of it. But until then, they may cause a mess in their confused, feral state. Religious pressure is wrong and bad for your children. It creates disorders and hatred and the separation of the family unit. So maybe we should consider taking out the garbage and giving our kids a chance at a normal, productive adulthood. 


Photo by Pixabay on

So I think this got a bit long, and we aren’t done yet. You probably picked up that next time we are sing to dive in to sex. This is not to be confused with sexuality, and we will get there too. If you have made it this far, I am proud of you.. Picking apart the normal from the indoctrination is difficult and triggering. This is why I suggest you get a counselor to explore further than we can here. Remember that list of beliefs we wrote down? Review them now, breathe, and remember that old teachings are not right just because somebody said so. If you need a break, and a bit of an awesome blog, check out my collaborator here. Be well!

Published by vrice2010

A mother, an author, a nerd. After many years working in the fields of mental health and developmental disabilities, graduating from the University of Phoenix, and pouring my talents into my local community, I decided to spread my wings and reach a wider audience.

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