Purity Culture and My Sexuality

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on April 17, 2015. 

“I know that it’s a secret,
And that I gotta keep it,
But I want the lights on
Yeah, I want the lights on
And I don’t want to run away anymore
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on
What would they say, what would they do?
Would it be trouble if they knew?” –Meiko

I had my heart broken twice before I realized I’d been in love. That might sound like an exaggeration or melodrama, but it’s actually possible thanks to the wonders of purity culture.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read books like Sarah Mally’s Before You Meet Prince Charming, Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, and Debi Pearl’s Preparing to be a Help Meet.

They kept me strong in my dedication to never think about sex, or to think about members of the opposite sex. I had my obsessions and celebrity crushes, but if the image of seeing someone naked ever entered my mind, I’d fight it out with quoting the Bible.

I knew I would only ever give my heart to one person – the man I would marry. He must show interest in me; women don’t initiate. The concept of mutual consent, mutual interest, was never introduced. If he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, it was a meaningless feeling, and feelings were worthless. I needed to control my very thoughts, so I could give my whole heart to my husband, along with my first kiss. Just toeing the line of saving sex for marriage was too low a standard for me.

Blame doesn’t fall on any one person for how I controlled my thoughts. It was a personal choice, something that was very important to me. The people around me reinforced the notion that I was doing the right thing. Some people were better at the game of self-thought-policing than I was, and they made me feel like I could never be good enough. Some people saw me as unapproachable because I was so sincere. Every failure looked like rebellion and felt like despair.

Surely I didn’t love my best friend when I started college. He didn’t love me, so I told myself to “guard my heart” and push away all emotions of attachment. At the same time, our late-night conversations kept me going through my darkest depression and most intense stress. I finally told him that I needed space to figure out why the sight of his name gave me such indecipherable pain.

It would take me months to unlearn what purity culture had taught me to do: conceal all desire, even from yourself.

So it was that I fell in love with a man, and didn’t realize what had happened until afterward. I just assumed I was straight because I was attracted to men. It never occurred to me that I might make the same mistake twice, equally blinded to my desires toward a girl.

It was similar – I had a crush on her, but didn’t know it. She once kissed another girl in front of me, and I desperately wanted to kiss her. Even that feeling was not enough to make me think I wasn’t totally straight. I figured I was just curious, having never been kissed. Giving gifts is something I rarely do and often feels like an obligatory chore, but I gave her thoughtful things that I knew she’d like.

When we had a fight that ended our friendship, I was devastated. Another friend asked if I’d been in love with her. I said no, of course I wasn’t.

A few months later I got an email, and was instantly interested – this person, who hadn’t revealed their gender or identity, matched me intellectually. I assumed the sender was male, and entertained thoughts of meeting, and we exchanged lengthy emails.

The person who wrote these intelligent, complex, and beautiful emails revealed that she was a girl, and I realized it made no difference to me.

I started asking my friends questions – you don’t see both the male and female body as equally attractive? I’d assumed that everyone appreciated the aesthetic differences between the genders.

In the world I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: straight, and broken. Nobody was born gay, the church and chapel services insisted. The idea of other identities on a spectrum was far outside our reality. The idea of romantic and sexual relationships other than marriage was blanketly labeled as “sin.”

Of course I’d think I was straight. If I could close off my feelings for men, I could certainly close off my feelings for women. It was only after I started to learn what attraction felt like, that I knew I liked girls. I always had liked girls. I just didn’t know that my experience was any different from anyone else’s, because we never talked about our feelings. We never defined our terms.

Humans are beautiful to me – whether they’re male, female, or non-binary.

You could call me sapiosexual, in that I love people for their intelligence, and my level of attraction depends on how smart and interesting the other person is. Many sapiosexuals, though, don’t find the human body sexually attractive, and I do. It’s also accurate to call me pansexual, because I’m open to dating non-binary or trans people, in addition to the binary genders. For me, the title I’ve chosen is bisexual.

I’m bisexual. There, I’ve come out, now you know.

Painting One-Dimensional Abusers

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Simon & His Camera.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on May 25, 2015. 


I’m sorry, momma!
I never meant to hurt you!
I never meant to make you cry;
But tonight, I’m cleaning out my closet.” –Eminem


Last summer, I had a dream about my mother.

In the dream, I was in my first consensual, trusting sexual relationship. My mom walked in on us and started screaming.

“How dare you not wait for marriage?” She demanded. “I told you, I tried so hard to not let you make the same mistakes I did!”

Sometimes in dreams, my emotional reactions are truer to my subconscious self than they would be in real life. If this had actually happened, I think I would have felt angry and defensive, and embarrassed for my love interest, who was standing there awkwardly. But in the dream, I saw her hurt with profound clarity. I felt nothing but compassion for my mother.

She got pregnant for the first time when she was just fourteen. She blames herself. She told us that she “made mistakes.” She told us to never have sex, to save ourselves for the one-and-only. She carries shame for her past.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that a 14-year-old girl in the year 1982, living in a trailer park of the Midwest, knew anything about consent or how to assert herself. It’s the story of many of our mothers in fundamentalist movements. They feel shame for something they probably couldn’t control. They tell their daughters to do differently.

I feel my mother’s pain. I know she was more than likely a victim. I know it wasn’t her fault, and she blames herself, and projects that guilt onto her own children. She’s just doing what she knows; she’s trying to protect us.

It was with this compassion and empathy that I started blogging about my parents’ abuse.


For the past several months, I’ve been challenging myself to examine my motivations in writing about my parents. I explained already why this has to be public, but I want to avoid the traps of venting in anger, or publicly shaming, or making my parents into purely evil human beings.

I’ve been following what Monica Lewinsky and Ron Jonson say about being publicly humiliated for mistakes. I just finished reading an article called “Abusers are people too.

On another level, I know that the capacity to do harm is within myself. This isn’t just about parents who shame their daughters for having sex drives, or about children being paddled. It’s also about the darker things humans are capable of doing, like genocide and rape and war.

Ordinary people do bad things. These situations are complicated. I refuse to excuse what’s been done, but I also refuse to paint a one-dimensional, inhuman face onto my abusers.

To see them as human is scary. It means abusers can be anyone, anywhere. That’s why so many people don’t believe me, it’s why so many people don’t believe so many other victims who’ve spoken up.


I don’t tell my story just to be vengeful. I tell it because I know I’m not alone. I tell it because I’m trying to make sense of the complexity, to bring healing to those who haven’t dared to forsake loyalty and broadcast their truth. I do it to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

And I hope that there are some mothers out there who can realize that they’re breaking their children with shame they don’t have to carry.

You didn’t do anything wrong, mom. Sin isn’t real. Your young motherhood wasn’t your choice, mom. That matters, mom. You don’t have to blame yourself, mom. What I’m doing is by choice, mom. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, mom. I wish you knew that I understand, mom.

I know you won’t understand, mom. You were too busy making us sick to keep us close. We kids came cheaper by the proxy for your Munchausen Syndrome. My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn’t, that I was broken and dirty when I wasn’t. I get it. I got so used to being sheltered from the rain that always followed you, but I won’t come back to the wet, cold, sniffling comfort of your cloud.


“It seems like you’ve healed,” one of my most trusted friends, Lael, said to me a few weeks ago. “But the situation with your family hasn’t.”

“Maybe that’s just proof that I didn’t instigate it,” I replied. “Besides, if an ex-husband had done what my parents did, nobody would ask, ‘when are you going to seek reconciliation?’”

Understanding is not excusing. Explanation is not forgiveness. It’s possible to see people as complex and human, and still to acknowledge that it’s not healthy for me to be around them.

It’s also the only way to stop the cycle of abuse: acknowledge that we’re capable of doing the same, and choosing to be more self-aware with our decisions.

On Our Biology: Starshine’s Thoughts

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Macroscopic Solutions. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Macroscopic Solutions. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Starshine” is a pseudonym.

The war that our parents waged was not just on our selfhood or security or sexuality—it was on our biology. Things we couldn’t change; physical survival and reproduction patterns that couldn’t be completely or permanently killed unless we died too.

We fought—some internally, some externally. Some broke. We’re still trying to find pieces of ourselves, pieces that our parents beat or rejected or threw away. Some we will find. Others seem gone forever.

But ultimately our parents failed. We are not what they planned for us to be. Our biology reacted and protected ourselves once we could and once we knew we could. They didn’t win, even if we carry evidence of their war for the rest of our lives.

We won. And we are free forever.

Hurts Me More Than You: Jace and Jocelyn’s Stories

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Extra trigger warning for Jace’s story: reference to family sexual abuse.


Jace’s Story

I believed my parents when they said this hurts me more then it hurts you. At least when I was young I did. I knew I was bad and needed the rod to drive the evil from me. The things my cousin did to me made me bad. I knew that. I was bad because I let him do those things to me. He always gave me the option, do as he said or he would just go get my little sister. So I done as he said. I was so bad.

When my father asked if I understand that I deserved the beating. I always said yes even if the reason he gave was false I still knew I was bad and deserved the spanking. My father loved me. God was using him to drive the bad from me. Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.

Then the day came when someone in the family had committed a crime in my mother’s eyes. She was going to get to the bottom of it but no one would confess. So she put me in one room, my sister in another. Then she went back and forth spanking us and asking for a confession. I remember wishing she would just ask if I knew I deserved the spankings. I could say yes but to confess would be a lie.

I did not know what to do. I sat and listened to my sister’s screams when it was her turn to be spanked. I heard mom say this hurts me more then it hurts you. I knew that was a lie! I had suffered for years at the hands of my cousin so my sister could be safe. I loved my sister and I knew I could never beat her and hear her scream in pain even if God commanded it.

How could my mother do that? The spanking did not hurt mom more then my sister. I got up went in to the other room and confessed to a crime I had not done.

Mom beat me and for the first time I did not believe her when she said this hurts me more then it hurts you.


Jocelyn’s Story

“Spanking isn’t abusive in and of itself.”

I used to say this when I heard someone say they would never spank a child. In my mind, you would have a bratty child if you didn’t spank them. Because that’s what I was told. Every time the wooden paddle came out, it was accompanied with a reminder that this was for my good, that it was because I was loved, and that God said it was the best way to discipline.

“My parents spanked in the right way”, I argued. 

I was never spanked to the point of bruising. It was always with clothing on. It was not a daily occurrence.  But recently, I have been becoming more in touch with my childhood, seeing it for what it was. I see fear. And anger. And confusion. I see a disturbing fascination with violence, even sexual violence, before I was ever exposed to much of the outside world or knew what sex was. Where did those feelings and thoughts come from? I am beginning to think that they came from being spanked. Spanked “in the right way”.

Which urges me to reconsider that there is a “right way” to hurt your child.

The violent and disturbing fantasies I had as a child have not gone away yet. I’m thinking of having my own kids soon. I won’t be spanking.

Not even in “the right way”.

Hurts Me More Than You: Polly’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional content warning for Polly’s story: descriptions of sexual arousal from corporal punishment.


Polly’s Story

My mother hitting me in the face with a vacuum cord and giving me a bloody lip, and then apologizing that “she was aiming for my leg.” Screaming at her that good parents don’t hit their kids with vacuum cords. Then guilt as she cried and my father said I made her feel like a bad mother. Having a massive bruise as an elementary student and my mother clinically asking my Father which spanking it was from. It wasn’t from being spanked, but because they often were no one would believe me and told me they were sure I deserved it even if they didn’t know what it was from.

Wooden Spoons, Paint Stirrers, Cooing utensils, Chopsticks, Dowel Rods, Hangers, Hands…

Pretty much everything that COULD be used to hit a child was. Nothing was sacred. Listening to my baby brother scream and scream as they laid into him. Listening to them tell him if he screamed the police would come and put them in jail and then everyone would blame him, so stop screaming. Trying to hide the evidence of something my little siblings had done wrong because I didn’t want them to get “spanked”.

Even when my little brother threw a tonka truck at my face, trying to hide the blood that was streaming down because I knew they would beat him. Screaming into pillows, biting my arms, scratching my face, anything to stop my heart from ripping apart as I listen to them. Holding them as they shake afterwards. Spending over a decade planning out how I would go into my father’s room at night and stab him to death. Anything to stop my siblings from getting hurt. Guilt that I didn’t kill him. Guilt that I didn’t tell anyone. But who would I tell? Everyone had bruises. Everyone had welts. It was part of growing up. Guilt as I grew up and spent more and more hours outside of the house, so I didn’t have to live in the oppression and pain. Guilt that I got married and left them behind. Guilt. Pain. Anger. Desperation. Hopelessness. You asked how it makes me feel to remember and there it is. Hopeless. Desperate. Afraid. Ashamed. Guilty.

I was 6 years old the first time I told my mother “I like being spanked”, to which she replied “Then, I’ll make sure to go harder.” 

I quickly recanted and said I was “just being silly”, but even at 6 I knew that even though I hated them hurting me, and I despised my siblings being hurt, there was something exciting about it. Not while it was happening, but on the “long walk to the bathroom”, watching them pick an implement, comparing marks with my sister later in the day”…didn’t everyone get butterflies in their tummy and “have to pee” when they were scared. That’s what it was, right? I was scared. And yet it wasn’t scary at all when I read it or saw it when it wasn’t coupled by anger. It was exciting.

By 8 I was sneaking my mother’s parenting books, looking up the word spanking in the encyclopedia and dictionary. Anytime someone was spanked in a book I would read it over and over and over. I wanted to discuss spankings for hours with my friends, but they didn’t have the same response as me. They were more like “Everyone gets spanked, it’s not a big deal.” By 9 or 10 I started to hold back on talking about it, I might mention it casually “Oh yeah, did you know they actually mentioned spanking in that book… it’s so… Biblical.”, but mostly I kept it to myself. And I was ashamed. I did not connect it as something sexual until my late teens/early 20’s. I just thought of it as another aspect of my weirdness, I never fit in with the pure sweet little homeschool girls, so another level of “Polly is a weird one” was expected. I tried to hold back my excitement over spanking, it wasn’t any different than holding back my bubbly outgoing loud personality, it was just another thing that made me different and “bad”.

I was in my late teens the first time I read a spanking story on the internet. I felt so happy and free I cried tears of joy. I wasn’t alone!

There were other people like me who just loved reading and writing and thinking about spankings. I stayed up until 6amjust reading and reading. But I couldn’t figure out why it had a disclaimer on it “We do not condone the spanking of real children, this is only fantasy”. I woke up the next day to reread when all of the sudden the disclaimer made sense. “Fantasy” meant sexual. “Fantasy” meant fetish.

I was a freak.

I was a sinful, disgusting, gross freak, and maybe even a pedophile because it only turned me on when the person had no choice and all of the “adult spankings” I could Google were fun and flirty. They didn’t even hurt. So they didn’t make me excited. I threw up. I confessed to my friends. Later in life I confessed to my Bible study leaders. But I couldn’t stop. I would go awhile and then was right back to it.

Eventually, I found “Christian Domestic Discipline” sites where the husbands would spank and punish their wives in other ways. Again I felt relief and happiness that I was not alone, and there were not children involved, so maybe I wasn’t actually a pedophile — just a freak. There were other people like me in the world. But again, I felt shame. By this point I had started rejecting much of the “patriarchial bs” that I had believed for most of my life, I was a proud “feminist”, God made men and women equal, and a woman who allowed a man to hit or demean her wasn’t free. So for me to not only allow a man to hit me, but actively seek it out. That didn’t flow. Plus, it was still a sin. It still defiled the marriage bed… or did it? Well, it didn’t matter because *I* was a single virgin. I had never been kissed. I had no business having any sexual thoughts or desires and this was obviously sexual.

I was also a self-injurer (bulimia for a few years and then cutting), and that was shameful, but at least it wasn’t sexual.

When I was in my mid-20’s I was asked to be courted, and I said yes. And on our second date I said these fateful words “I have always wanted a man who would spank me” and he said “and I have always wanted a woman who would let me.” We have had many MANY ups and downs, but we have been married for several years now. And my love for spanking hasn’t diminished a bit. At times there are still twinges of “how can something that destroyed so many childhoods turn me on”, but overall I have accepted that consent is the key here.

As a little kid I couldn’t consent.

I couldn’t say “stop, don’t, RED”, and now I can. I enjoy giving up the control at times, but if I am ever feeling like I can’t handle this or don’t want this I hold the power to stop it. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Hurts Me More Than You: Deborah and Janet’s Stories

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional content warning for Deborah and Janet’s stories: descriptions of sexual arousal and sexual abuse from corporal punishment.


Deborah’s Story

I always felt traumatized by spanking whether it was me or someone else. When I was really young I would try to get my teenage brother in trouble but to be fair he tried to get me in trouble a lot too and teased me a lot. Once I got to be a couple years older I didn’t ever want to get people in trouble. Somehow, it just seemed so much worse for them to get spanked than most things they might do to annoy me.

Anyway, even though my parents generally only hit me once, it was done/threatened for all kinds of things from the look on my face, to not closing a door carefully enough that would often slam itself shut when the window was open, to a vague statement from my mom to my dad about not getting a lot done for him that day because she had to take care of me and teach me school at eight years old.

Sometimes I even got smacked without verbal warning while sitting on my dad’s lap if I was sitting in a way that hurt him and I didn’t realize it.

I got spanked pretty much every day from before I was old enough to remember until I hit puberty at ten. Then I got lectured pretty much every day and spanked sometimes. The last time I got spanked, I was fourteen. I cried all day because I felt completely degraded. I had worked so hard to become a competent homemaker and learn to be a proper submissive woman only to find I would still be hit if I had an opinion. It didn’t really hurt that much, but inside it was devastating.

The worst part of getting spanked was never the humiliation or the pain or the endless guilt and self-loathing or even the forced hugs and prayers. The worst part was that every single time I got spanked, I would get turned on. A lot of people hear this and say something along the lines of, “Well that is why you should never spank someone past puberty.” I have news for you. It didn’t start at puberty. If it had, I might have been able to understand that it was something sexual or weird. It started by my earliest memories of being spanked. I remember it every time I remember getting spanked. I just thought it was part of the deal. It wasn’t until I learned about sexual arousal as an adult that I understood it.

Imagine how disgusting it would be to grow up thinking something was normal only to find out that your parents were causing you to be sexually aroused while hurting you on a daily basis for your entire childhood and occasionally in your teens.

The trauma this caused me really can’t be properly described. I don’t have the words to explain how it feels to this day.

So to anyone considering spanking their children, just please, please don’t. It is not worth the risk to their bodies or their emotional and sexual health. Sure it may not affect every child this way, but if it does affect your child that way you will probably never know and never be able to even say you are sorry much less make it right. It is a form of sexual abuse to some children at least and now you know it.

Why would you take the risk of sexually abusing your own child?


Janet’s Story

I was being spanked for squirming while being spanked for getting mad while being spanked for throwing my math book on the floor because I desperately wanted to understand but no one could explain in words I could grasp.

Sure, throwing a textbook on the floor and sobbing in frustrated rage isn’t going to further my education. But neither is spanking my eight year old self for expressing my utter rage that I didn’t have someone who could help me understand. I desperately wanted to learn and most things came easy for me, but math wasn’t that way.

It had been easy for my mom in grade school and high school, so she didn’t have the words to explain to my stumped mind. When I would slam my book shut and cry because the frustration was so great I physically hurt, I was ushered into the bedroom, my skirt hiked up, my underwear dragged down, and I was spanked – first for one thing, then another, then another. Compound spankings lasting sometimes as long as an hour were a common element of my growing up years. I can remember getting five, six, even seven separate spankings all in a row because each time I wouldn’t fully “surrender.” I remember my mom sobbing while she spanked me, saying how she just wanted me to submit — all I needed to do was let her break my will and it would be over. Too bad breaking wasn’t my cup of tea.

First it was a fiberglass stick, until it got too short to sting because it had been broken over my bare backside too many times. Then it was a wooden spoon. Several, actually, because they kept breaking too.

Different families have different methods for how they spank. Some say pants on, some say pants off. Some determine it based on how severe the infraction was. For me it was always sans-underwear, no matter what.

For a young child raised in the extreme end of purity culture (short sleeves were immodest until my parents “loosened up” and allowed them when I was around 10), demanding that your child strip naked from the waist down for punishment (often doing it herself) was incredibly confusing and embarrassing. In retrospect, being naked in front of my mother or father was worse for me than the spanking itself, because it was so ingrained in me that good Christian girls must cover themselves from neck to wrist to ankle.

Spankings became a time when I was not only physically hurt, but also forced against my will to show my body — something that only the wicked hell-bound world did.

My early childhood memories are a strange jumble and sometimes I wonder if I’ve really remembered everything correctly. Were the spankings really that bad? Really that scarring? Sometimes I’m tempted to pass memories off as creative embellishment, since I have a vibrant imagination.

But then I remember the two things that began so young I can’t remember a time without them: spankings and masturbation. Maybe there wasn’t a link at the very beginning – somewhere around the age of two or three, I think – but there was soon enough. I masturbated to self-soothe after spankings. Then, whenever I was trying to survive those moments in which I waited in dread of the impending spanking. Eventually I did it when I was frustrated too, or just plain bored.

I began to imagine being spanked to arouse myself (though it’s weird to type the word “arouse” since I had no grasp of what was even happening). I pictured myself being forced to strip, doing things that I hated, that made me feel sick, vulnerable, and ashamed, feeling the burning hits on my bottom. I imagined it in vivid detail as I would touch my little five year old body. Yes, you read that right: five. Maybe I imagined it even earlier than that – I don’t remember. But it went on for years.

Before I knew the slightest thing about sexuality I’d already spent nearly ten years masturbating to the equivalent of BDSM fantasies — all inspired by the spankings I endured.

I still can’t find the words to express what that childhood was like. Whatever your personal opinion is on BDSM, I think we can all agree that it’s not healthy in the context of a five year old’s everyday imagination! It’s taken me years to break that mental link between physical pain/humiliation and sexuality.

Of course my parents knew none of this. They caught me masturbating once or twice and were at a complete loss for what to do. I think they probably tried to deny that I was even masturbating. Nor did they know what to do when they discovered that at the age of nine I was making out with other girls my age. “That’s a sin,” they would say, “don’t do that.” They probably prayed and cried a lot, and talked in hushed tones about what to do, but they never made the connection in their mind. They still don’t know why I did it or what I

My parents really did love me and I know they were only spanking me because they thought that’s what God wanted them to do. Would they even believe me now if I told them? I don’t blame them as much as I blame the generally held belief among fundamentalist Christians that if you spank your children nothing will go wrong. Something went very wrong with me.

So tell me, readers:

Am I the only one who laid in bed at night masturbating to the thought of my parents forcing me to strip from the waist down and lay down defenseless in front of them so they could spank me? Am I as alone as I feel?

Here’s To Girls Who Have Been Made Ashamed Of Their Bodies: Pearl’s Story


HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Pearl” is a pseudonym.

I’ve been loosely following Clare’s viral blog post about getting kicked out of her homeschool prom. The story resonated with me because it was similar to things I’ve experienced growing up in conservative homeschool/purity culture. Unfortunately, some homeschool parents gave a really ugly response to her story. They felt that, since she had used bad language, and put purity culture in a bad light, that it would be OK to publicly share unsubstantiated claims about her behavior the night of prom. They didn’t like her individual narrative, so they replaced it with another individual narrative they did like, because, well, any girl who would use curse words must also be a liar and a slut.

I thought they were supposed to be adults, but all bets are off when you step out of line in their eyes.

Fine, if they won’t believe Clare’s story I’ll share my own.

Growing up, my mom put a lot of importance in how I appeared to others. We had a lot of conflicts about her wanting me to dress in a way that would look good to her friends. For example, wearing a dress to Thanksgiving dinner at a friends house even though I knew I’d be playing outside all day. When I started wearing bras she bought me a really uncomfortable bra that she would make me wear on Sunday. I hated it because, besides being uncomfortable, it had thick seams through the cups that showed through every top and made me very self-conscious.

I still don’t understand how breasts can have a Sunday-appropriate look.

There was such fuss about bras and how they made my breasts look that I started slouching badly to try and hide my breasts entirely. At 17, she bought me a hideous dress that didn’t fit for a special occasion at church. I didn’t have a choice, I had to wear it because it made me look “nice”.

The emphasis on modesty really began around 11 or 12 when I began puberty. Whenever we went shopping my mom would examine clothes on me in the dressing room to make sure they were modest enough before purchasing. (Or have me come out and model for pre-approval in the case of hand-me-downs.) I would see clothes other girls were wearing, and naturally wanted to dress in a way that made me feel cute and like I fit in with other girls my age. Around age 13 I would try choosing clothes at the store, but when mom gave them the once over in the dressing room they rarely passed the modesty test. Shorts had to go pretty much to my knees, shirts had to be loose enough to create a straight line down my sides. If clothes I chose didn’t pass the test I had to stand in front of the mirror and look at myself while my mom pointed out all of my undesirable body parts the clothes were supposedly drawing attention to.

It was so humiliating I eventually took the easy route and started dressing like a boy.

The grunge era was only about 5 years past, so you could still buy flannel shirts and baggy jeans for girls. I stopped wearing shorts entirely around age 14.

My mom would always tell me that I just couldn’t understand because I didn’t understand how boys think. Boys, she said, think about sex all the time, and I could cause them to stumble (lust after me) by dressing immodestly. I couldn’t possibly understand, she said, because girls don’t care that much about sex, they really only want love. I became very ashamed of my body and for the most part tried to hide it. If I ever felt a burst of confidence and wanted to wear something cute and feminine I would usually have it pointed out to me that someone would see the shape of my breasts, or the curve of my waist, or that my bra was showing, or that these shorts or skirt were too short and any thing more than an inch or so above the knee was too tempting.

By the time I was 19 years old I had a job and had saved up some money and started going shopping for my own clothes for the first time. The clothes I chose were kind of tacky, because I didn’t have any practice dressing myself. But by nearly anyone’s standards they were very modest. I didn’t even wear shorts, I was still too ashamed of my legs, but I did wear skirts to church. The skirts I chose always went below my knees. I didn’t wear tank tops, most of my shirts actually had collars. The shirts were fitted, and except for one not tight.

The first fitted, collared T-shirt that I brought home made my mom cry.

She said she could see the curves of my waste and the shape of my breasts. I felt cute and feminine for the first time in my life, so I didn’t allow myself to be guilted into giving it up. I started standing up straight. I also bought bras for myself, and chose some with some amount of padding because I felt more covered in case of cold weather. My mom saw one out drying after I did laundry, and brought it to me to show me how the padding made my breasts look bigger, and that was immodest. I had a pair of shoes I’d wear to church that had one and half inch heels. My parents expressed concerns that they were too sexy.

A few months after buying my own wardrobe, my parents came to me to tell me that an elder in our church had approached my dad to tell him the way I was dressing was causing his sons to stumble.

My parents made me show them each piece of the clothing I had bought so they could decide whether it was modest enough. Very few pieces passed their test. The rest they ordered me to put up in my closet until I was married and it was my husband’s job to decide how I dressed. (Fortunately my wedding was only a few months after that.) In the meantime, I bought a few baggy T-shirts to get by on; it would’ve been too humiliating to go back to the flour sacks I had to wear before.

Modesty/purity doctrines and body shaming are an unfortunate realty of conservative Christian culture. They may or may not be directly related to homeschooling, but I have yet to find anyone who believed these things that wasn’t a homeschooling parent. There is nothing girls in these situations can do. Once someone has told you you are causing them to stumble you have to change your clothes, no matter how humiliating or unreasonable it may be. To do otherwise would be tempting someone on purpose, because now you know that you’re causing them to sin.

Growing up hearing these things made me very ashamed of my body. It took years after getting married before I was even comfortable wearing shorts. Making a girl ashamed of her body is a horribly cruel thing to do. It’s not like there isn’t enough pressure to look and dress certain ways from mainstream culture.

So that’s my story. It won’t be a viral success, but if enough girls tell their stories there is no way that homeschool parents can say they are exaggerating, or that they have some kind of malicious vendetta, or that they deserve to have their reputations damaged.

So here’s to girls who have been made ashamed of their bodies.

You are a person, body and soul, your body is you. And you don’t have to be ashamed of having a female body. It is beautiful, don’t hide it.

Something Is Wrong With Me: Jane’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jane” is a pseudonym.

I grew up with the Pearl books surrounding me.

My dad had cases of their “To Train up a Child.” The church moms and young married women were constantly talking about Debi’s book “Created to be his Help Meet.” This book was given to every young lady either getting married or recently married. However, in my teenage years my mom thought that the book was not age appropriate to me (I might start asking what sex was!), so I was not allowed to read it.

Despite not being allowed to read it, I picked up on many of the themes in the book from listening to the other ladies in the church talking about it. I remember many times hearing the women talking about what “type” of husband they had. I heard enough of that that I could even figure out what “type” my father and brothers were and especially what type I wanted my husband to be (or not to be – my dad was a “steady” and honestly I couldn’t stand his methodic ways most of the time).

Despite not being allowed to read many books when I was a teenager, I was great at reading books on the sly. When I was 16, I managed to pick up “Created to be his Help Meet” for a few minutes while visiting my recently married sister. Of all the pages to open up to, my highly hormonal, sexually awakening yet so innocent teenage self opened the book to the “Bad Bob” story. I found the story on another website (which also has a great commentary on this story), and reprinted it here (trigger warning for misogynistic language):


Bad Bob

In the following story, the characters, Bob and Lydia, are composites drawn from counseling sessions of two different couples. We have heard the same basic story many times over while ministering to countless married people. 

Bob had an upset stomach and was not hungry, so his family dropped him off at the motel where they would be staying, and then they went to get something to eat. His dad never let them watch the motel TV, but Bob knew they would be gone for at least an hour, and he was bored. The first scene that he saw held him riveted. The music was sensual. Bob stared, trapped in his own shocked silence. There before him in slow motion was a woman walking up steps. All he could see was the woman’s behind encased in a short leather skirt that was slit up the backside. The camera slowly shifted down her long slender thighs until he could see the backless high heels. Then it traveled slowly up her long legs focusing on the open slit as she climbed. He watched as she reached the top of the stairs and stepped into a room; still the camera stayed on her legs. Bob’s heart pounded in anticipation. The soft music began to swell as the camera climbed. A sound on the outside of the motel door jerked Bob back to the present. He hit the off button with such force as to crack the remote and then flung it across the room as if it were a poisonous spider. False alarm, no one was there, but after only two minutes of a mere introduction to soft porn, Bob would never be the same. That day was the first day that Bob masturbated. He was 13 years old.

Two years later, Bob was sitting in church when Lydia, the youth director’s wife, stood up directly in front of him to take her youngest child to the bathroom. His mouth got terribly dry as he stared at her round behind encased in a tight leather skirt with a slit up the back. It is true that Lydia’s skirt was several inches longer than the one that was no part of his daydreams, but when Lydia bent over to pick up the child, several of the young men sitting behind her slowly covered their laps with their songbooks. Bob almost hated Lydia after that day. She was responsible for his torment and temptation. The force of those few seconds of soft porn 2 years earlier, along with the stretched material pulled dangerously high as Lydia leaned over, caused him to empty his semen into his pants, right there in church, resulting in a large wet spot. He found a use for his Bible that day after church. It covered his shame as he rushed out to the van to take the back seat. A week later Bob dropped out of the youth group. His sudden departure puzzled and saddened the earnest youth director. He went to Bob to ask him if there was anything Bob wanted to talk about. Bitter bile filled Bob’s mouth at the memory of the youth director’s wife slowly walking up the church steps with her tight skirt and high-heeled shoes, just like the woman on the TV. Lydia, with her sanctimonious smile, did not deceive him; how could she be so dumb as to not know exactly what she was doing to him? No, he had nothing to talk about, he told Lydia’s stupid husband.

Lydia never knew she had shamed her husband, hurt his ministry, and caused a young man to smolder with bitter hatred and almost falter on the edge of quitting the faith. She would not have believed me (or perhaps she would have been secretly pleased at what she thought was her beauty) if I had pulled her aside and explained how the young men at church were reacting to her and why several treated her with such distain. She would have explained to me that her style was just “her style,” and they needed to get a grip. I know this because I have talked to many Lydias.

Bob had not looked at porn since that first night, but his mind was in a constant struggle, and his battle with masturbation was never-ending. Opened or low-cut shirts were a misery to him. Bare midriffs were bad too, but a girl who had long slender thighs coming to the meetings in mid-length shorts or skirts made him miserable beyond belief.

When Bob was 22 years old, he met a sweet, little peach of a girl with soft, warm eyes and a good, clean heart. They married, and Bob was relieved that his miseries were finally over. For the first three years she was sexually exciting, and he was able to fully enjoy what before had shamed and frustrated him in his youth. He known knew blessed relief from his old enemy, lust, which was finally brought under control in his pure marriage relationship.

Life never seems to roll out easy, and after Bob’s wife had her second child, she stopped being so responsive to Bob in the bedroom. Her excuses were exhaustion, sickness, didn’t want to get pregnant, didn’t feel like it, it hurt because “something seems wrong inside me now,” etc. She knew she had to give him sex once a week, but she came to him half-heartedly, which caused him to never really get total satisfaction. The women at work always dressed sexy and had tried to provoke Bob, but he saw them as a bunch of diseased animals, so although they provoked him, he resented it.

Church was different. Church ladies seemed clean and wholesome. At 25 years old, Bob was in his prime, and he needed his woman. God had designed his body with a sensitive trigger that needed release at least 2 or 3 times a week. He had developed certain habits in order to avoid unexpected temptations. His wife had no idea why he had such strange habits, like picking the spot where they would sit in the church, but she just sat where he led her. Lydia was not a problem anymore. Thankfully, the few years that had passed had played havoc on her beautiful behind and thighs. Bob smiled and said “hi” when he saw her walk by. She still tried to pull on that stupid “what did I do” look, like she really didn’t know why he had always disliked her. It was true, he still did not like her and found a certain sense of gratification at the demise of her beauty. Seeing her made Bob remember when her husband, the youth director, was teaching a small group meeting of young married men, explaining to them that all women go through times of total disinterest in sex, including his own wife, and how important it was to be vigilant against lust during those times. He had felt sorry for him at the time, but now Bob’s own little honey had turned off her water spigot of sweet loving.

“Vigilant, I must be vigilant.” Bob was scanning the church building looking for a safe place to sit when he felt his wife pulling on his arm. “I want to sit over behind the Chandler family.” Bob’s alarm went off. Three tall, long-legged, beautiful teenage girls, who liked tighter, shorter skirts, were members of the Chandler family. He groaned with irritation. His wife caught the groan and took offense. He wished he could explain all this complicated mess to his wife, but she would only get jealous and spend the rest of his life watching where and who he was looking at…. He allowed her to lead him into the row of temptation. If anyone could see his mind while he sat behind the Chandler girls, they would have had him arrested. He knew he was Bad Bob, full of lust, anger, frustration, and defeat. Somehow he always thought bitterly of Lydia when he was feeling defeated: “What a fat cow, no, not a cow, she’s a pig.”


I know this story has so many things wrong with it on so many levels, but I will leave that to others to discuss.

Today I want to talk about what that story did to me and my idea of sexuality. You could probably say I grew up without sex education. My mom went to great extent to not discuss sex with me. In fact, at the age of 16, I was still terrified to sleep in the same bed that my brothers had slept in without changing the sheets because I thought I would get pregnant by my brothers – and that would be the ultimate sin and shame!

When I read Debi’s story, I thought I was given a great secret into the mind of a man.

Between this story and also sneak reading “For Women Only” by Shaunti Feldhahn, I formed the idea that men were sex robots that could be completely turned on and ready to hammer me from just glancing at my butt in tight jeans. Despite rejecting many of the teachings of my fundamental upbringing, I didn’t realize these views on men’s sexuality were so wrong. I hadn’t connected these ideas to the religion because I had never been exposed to how men really were (after all, I could never openly talk about this!). I found these teachings haunted my sexual life years after I had left everything resembling fundamentalism behind. Here I was, thinking that it was a fact of life that men could ejaculate in their pants by just seeing my butt through a tight skirt.

When I became sexually active and eventually married, I thought there was something wrong, ugly, and not womanly about me. Why? Because these men were not aroused the way Debi said they would be by my body. My husband can see me butt naked and may not necessarily be aroused just by the fact that he can see my naked body. This was extremely hurtful for me when all my life I had been taught that the slightest peek of my body could have a man ready to tear my clothes off.

I thought something was extremely wrong with me.

After time and time again of not seeing men aroused the way I was taught they should be by my body, I started to get obsessed with it. I think somewhere deep inside I knew that I wasn’t a defective woman and I wanted to prove that to myself. I turned to man after man to see if I could find one man that reacted to me the way Debi said they should. After all, I thought something was wrong with me, not Debi’s idea of men. I wreaked havoc on my young life with this obsession and felt an immense amount of shame for the extent I went to try to prove that I was actually womanly the way Debi said I should be.

Thankfully, I met my wonderful husband and slowly healed. It wasn’t easy, but over time I think I have gained a more healthy view of men’s sexuality. Or at least realized that I am a normal woman and my husband is a normal man. There’s nothing wrong with either of us, even though he does not react the way Debi says he should. On a side note, he doesn’t even need that release 2 to 3 times a week just to remain faithful to me. I am grateful to say there’s so much more to him than that.

I think one thing Debi (and many other fundamental Christian authors) has done is she writes thinking that the younger, homeschooled, sheltered generation will have many the same experiences as she has. After all, most parents first got a healthy view on men’s sexuality before they are exposed to radical ideas such as Debi’s. By having some exposure to the real world, the parents are able to balance it out more than the sheltered kids are.

I don’t think Debi realizes how much these young, innocent girls truly believe her.

After all, she’s married and she knows what a man is actually like. She knows that her story isn’t entirely the real world. But these sheltered girls don’t know. These sheltered girls spend their entire lives making sure to not have men ejaculating in their pants only to reach the marriage bed and be extremely disappointed when they meet a real man. No one ever told them that sometimes they might be met with a soft dong. If no one ever told them that, they will think something is wrong with them. I don’t know how many of these disappointed young girls took the same route as me.

I don’t know how many of these poor girls may have destructively turned from man to man just trying to prove they are as womanly as Debi says they are.

Owning My Sexuality: Sherah’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sherah” is a pseudonym.


When I was 26, I learned something that changed my life.

I am a sexual being.

I have sexual energy available to me to help me grow up. There is hope right inside me that I won’t always feel like a mere child, that I will be able to grow up and be an adult. I learned that every culture has ways of communicating about sexuality and that I can use the choices I make about dress, makeup, hairstyle, jewelry and accessories to communicate about where I am in my growing up process and who I see myself to be.

This may sound really basic and you might wonder how on earth I had missed these ideas. To give you some background, I am the second oldest of twelve children, homeschooled K-12, and I never had any sex education. This is not to say that my parents hid the facts about reproduction from me. With ten younger siblings, my experience of family life was constantly shaped by pregnancy and birth. Plus, I got the facts about things at the cellular level from my biology textbook.

But what I just didn’t get was the distinction between sexuality and sexual behavior.

Because I was taught that sex was for married people only, and because I was trying so hard to be a good little Christian and perfectly follow all the rules, I thought I had to be a non-sexual person. It never occurred to me that I was trying to be something that doesn’t exist. It never occurred to me that I had to split off a part of myself and numb it into oblivion to achieve my unrealistic goal. I’m not at all sorry that I failed in this endeavor. What scares me to this day is how much I succeeded in suppressing my normal impulses to explore and learn and grow and express myself and how much I succeeded in freezing up my own energy until I literally felt dead inside and wondered if I would ever feel alive again.

Knock, knock, is there anybody home in my own body?

Back when I thought I had to reject and separate myself from everything sexual, I carried a lot of tension in my body, flattening my chest, holding in my tummy and keeping my legs together because I didn’t think it was okay for me to grow up and be a woman and have all the parts and feelings that other women have. I used to feel that sex was some kind of monster that would attack me if I ever left the house with my hair down. I used to be paranoid about avoiding any expression of sexuality by anyone around me for fear of contamination.

Now that I own my own sexuality, I know that I have the right to set my own boundaries and make my own choices about what to do with my body and my energy. I can dress, and fix my hair and even carry my body in ways that express who I am and how I see myself as a woman.  I can breathe deeply without worrying that my tummy will stick out and I will look like a pregnant lady.

Owning my sexuality doesn’t mean that I have to engage in any sexual behavior. I actually feel much stronger now about my right to make my own choices and say no to anything I don’t want.

But I don’t have to control or avoid anyone else’s sexuality.

It is okay for other people to dress in ways that express who they are or want to be. I don’t have to judge others’ decisions to engage in sexual behavior if they want to do that. Because I have my own boundaries, it doesn’t have to affect me. Plus, I feel more reverence and respect for everyone’s sexuality, including my own, and I feel more hopeful about the possibilities of using my sexuality as a creative, life-giving and life-enhancing force, whether I choose to be in a relationship, to have children and/or to put my energy into some project to improve the world for future generations.

P.S. Now that I’ve undertaken the task of giving myself a real sex education and getting all of my questions answered, I’m realizing the multiple ways that a simplistic rule such as ‘just wait until you’re married to deal with the whole category of sex’, can be damaging. First, it can cause a person to disown their sexuality, leave their personality drastically underdeveloped and repress their instincts and desire to become an adult. But secondly, sexual behavior includes such a broad range of behaviors that for two people to commit to a lifelong sexual relationship with each other without taking the time to find out something about each other’s unique and individual sexual preferences seems very imprudent to me.

Would I commit to a career as a pilot if I had never flown in an aircraft? Certainly not!

So why should I be expected to commit to a lifelong sexual relationship with someone without first trying at least a few sexual behaviors such as kissing and making out.

I take marriage seriously, which is why I want to know what I’m getting into.

The Problem with Virgin to Vixen: A Personal Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on October 28, 2013.

(If anyone around here is uncomfortable reading about sex, drop out now!)

In “Pulling the Victoria’s Secret Dance”, Libby Anne tackles the conservative Christian culture’s strange demands on women, that they go from being perfectly virginal, pure, and innocent to becoming their husband’s personal porn stars after saying “I do”.

I imbibed enough of Debi Pearl and other Christian writers (not to mention my mother’s advice to ‘not say no too often’) to get this idea in my head that while I could enjoy sex, it was for me primarily about performing for my husband — in part to make him happy, and in part so he would never cheat.

And boy did I perform.

And I think I did a pretty decent job for someone who had never seen so much as a sex scene in a movie — since my husband hadn’t seen anything like that either, he didn’t know any better. ;)

And I enjoyed performing. Mostly. I would sometimes get flashbacks during sex of being touched by other people, but i would push past that — I would disassociate. My mind felt like it was leaving my body and it felt odd but i didn’t stop because I believed that to stop was basically to invite my husband to leave me.

And when I say performing, I mean it. I was acting. When i didn’t feel sexually attractive, I was pretending I was.

It was all an act.

That only gets you so far. It can be fun, acting, but doing it every time is draining and regularly having sex while disassociating left me feeling a little sad and confused.

I finally realized this year that I was performing — like I was taught — instead of really being there myself.

I’ve started saying ‘no’ when I start to disassociate. I’ve started being a little less sexy, and a little more myself. I’ve started learning about what I want.

I’m relaxing more and forcing it less.

This is the part where i would love to say that everything is better than ever now. Well, that isn’t quite so. It was easier when I was acting. I knew exactly what to do and my feelings didn’t matter. I could even manufacture a version of the feelings if necessary — growing up where your ‘attitude’ and emotions are under constant scrutiny makes you good at that.

So it isn’t all a bed of roses now. We have a lot of rebuilding to do, trying to get rid of my emotional baggage and start over from a new, healthier perspective in which sex comes out of love and desire instead of duty and insecurity.

But we’re working together, connecting instead of acting, and I think it will end up being a beautiful thing.