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How Christian Purity Culture Enabled My Step Dad to Sexually Abuse Me

We were a very religious people. And it helped my step dad justify his abuse.

My step-father began having problems getting erections when I was a senior in high school. How did I find out about this? He told me that he was using me to get an erection so that he could have sex with my mother.

We were very religious people. We attended a Fundamentalist Baptist Church so sexually conservative I was not even allowed to wear jeans. But still, he would sit me down and discuss what he had been thinking on those nights when he pressed my body against his and stroked my hair, the curve of my hip and the area between my collar bone and breasts until his penis was hard against my thigh.  

In those incredibly awkward and galling conversations he reassured me repeatedly that he would never do anything to compromise my virginity. Using the tone of a person explaining something perfectly logical that should be obvious to anyone with the IQ of a mollusk, he explained that my mother had gained weight and it was killing his boners. I was young, slender and attractive and he saw nothing terribly wrong with using my body to kick-start the old engine and thoughts of me to keep it humming along.

What baffled me then but makes perfect sense to me now is why he thought that I would be reassured by his repeated promises that he would not cross the arbitrary line of virginity. He had no real plans to stop using me as his fluffer. But my virginity, which he had pledged to protect and to keep safe for my future husband, was off-limits. As time went by and his fluff-sessions became more lurid, I feared the line of technical virginity would be like the Maginot Line, more an illusion of safety than an actual defense.

But he kept his promise. And now I understand why. The emphasis placed on virginity by the Purity Culture allowed my step-father to minimize his non-vaginal sexual abuse of my body.

I still cannot imagine what he thought that I would feel knowing that he was using me so that he could have sex with my mother. I wonder if it occurred to him how degrading and even disloyal it felt. I felt like I had been forced into a sick and incestuous ménage a trois. And of all the abuse that I have endured, including a nearly deadly sexual assault, this made me feel the dirtiest. 

To better understand the role that Purity Culture played in my step-father’s abuse, I would ask that you bear with me while I explain a little about the beliefs and practices of that culture. I should distinguish first the difference between the emphasis placed on purity in mainline Christian circles, and the hardcore Purity Community. The latter is best known for their the icky tradition of Purity Balls.  At these annual events, daughters as young as five dress in elaborate white gowns and “gift” their virginities to their fathers for safekeeping.

I will grant you that purity balls are indeed cringe-worthy. But it is important that we not stop our examination of the culture at that point because the Purity Culture is far more troubling, and the relationship between father and daughter becomes far more enmeshed and emotionally incestuous than most articles about purity culture expose. 

For starters, the balls are celebrations of the vow that these girls have made and the contract that they sign. They are agreeing to being spiritually married to their father and to God until such time as their father sees fit to give her to a husband. For their part, fathers pledge to protect their daughters’ virginity, which is the “ most precious gift that she can offer her future husband.”

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