Did purity culture make you sexualize all relationships with the opposite sex?

We’ve been talking a lot about youth group lately–what youth group was like before purity culture infiltrated it; how porn may be the new purity culture. We talked last week about how to help kids have healthy relationships with the opposite sex.

Lately I’ve talked a lot about how the message that “all men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle” can really mess up guys especially by making them feel they can never win this battle. Plus we often conflate sexual attraction and lust, and we make guys feel shame when they were never meant to.

Recently, a listener of the Bare Marriage podcast was listening to the episode where we talked about how men DON’T necessarily all struggle with lust, and she had a bit of an epiphany on how that message had also affected her. I thought it was interesting, and I shared it on this week’s podcast that goes live tomorrow, but I thought it might be worth talking about on its own today.

She wrote:


We talk about how women end up used and abused as a result of purity culture etc. But as I hear you discuss how toxic the thought process is for men to be afraid of women, I’m realizing I was raised to think ALL men wanted me. And that greatly inhibited the ability to just be friends with men. It also made me think of myself sexually all the time. I’m not even a sexual person. I have a lower drive. I always have. But this topic is unearthing some things for me.

I can see how I viewed every man as someone who was interested in me and then when they weren’t, it made me wonder why and I’d pursue them or flirt with them even if I wasn’t interested in them because THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO WANT ME. I hope this doesn’t make me sound nuts. But my mom also put a lot emphasis on finding a husband (and one looks) so my eye and my brain were trained to always assess each man as potentially someone of interest.

This mindset didn’t just stop when I got married so it made staying faithful difficult because I always wanted to flirt and have attention. I thought all my husbands friends wanted me too. I know this is sounding like I was a lunatic but I assure you I am not. As I mentioned, I did end up in a pretty crappy marriage with all the covert sexual pressure for obligation sex, marital rape and all of that. But until today, it hadn’t clicked that purity culture also attributed to my inability to choose a good man and affected so many relationships with male friends. I hope that makes sense. I’m going to sit with this and try to unpack it more but I feel like you’ll get it!

It’s interesting, isn’t it?

Men worry that they’re lusting all the time, but at the same time women can feel like he should be lusting after me. And if he’s not, what does that say about my desirability?

So we can end up flirting even when we don’t want to because we have to reassure ourselves.

The one thing we can’t seem to do is have healthy male-female friendships.

I think male-female friendships are a good thing.

I’m not talking about hanging out with someone of the opposite gender one-on-one and going places with them, but I know a lot of men that I consider my friends and that I can have deep conversations with, and it is entirely platonic. It is possible to have platonic relationships.

Paul entrusted Phoebe, a deacon, with the letter to the Romans. Seven out of the ten women he mentions in Romans 16 he talks about in terms of their ministry–a higher percentage than the men. Women and men worked alongside each other for the gospel, and this was expected and normal in the early church.

It wasn’t normal in the world; this was one of the way that the gospel upended human relationships. It broke down the walls that had separated the sexes, and it allowed us to see each other as whole people.

I think this should be the aim again. Obviously we need to be wise, and I know that this is nuanced. But the sexualization of all relationships–either the assumption that the sexes are dangerous to each other, or the inability to see beyond one’s gender–hurts us.

I’m doing huge edits on The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex right now (it’s due in at the publishers on Friday), so I won’t make this a long post. But I’d love to know what you think.

Can we go back to platonic relationships? Do you relate to what this woman says about sexualizing every relationship? How do we move forward? Let’s talk in the comments!



Sexualize All Relationships with Men
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find BIBLICAL, HEALTHY, EVIDENCE-BASED help for their marriage. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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