NYC author details the damaging effects of evangelical purity culture
In the 1990s, a “purity industry” emerged out of the white evangelical Christian culture.
Purity rings, purity pledges and purity balls came with a dangerous message: girls are potential sexual “stumbling blocks” for boys and men, and any expression of a girl’s sexuality could reflect the corruption of her character. This message traumatized many girls — resulting in anxiety, fear and experiences that mimicked the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder — and trapped them in a cycle of shame.
This is the sex education Linda Kay Klein grew up with.
“Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” by Linda Kay Klein is an eye-opening first look at the problematic effects the Evangelical Christian Church’s purity culture has had on young women.
“Pure” follows Linda Kay Klein’s journey to heal from sexual and gender-based shame after having grown up in the American Evangelical Christian Church. Throughout her youth, she was taught to be submissive, repress her sexuality, and avoid becoming a “stumbling block” for men — that is, tempting them in any sexual way. The church emphasized a girl’s sexuality as the most important mark of her spiritual standing with God.
The importance of staying pure was ingrained in Linda — so deeply, that she took pregnancy tests even though she was a virgin, broke up with her boyfriend because she believed it would please God and suffered from intense abdominal pain rather than ask for help to prove she was a woman of the spirit, not of the flesh, which nearly caused her death to Crohn’s Disease. Anxiety, stemming from the church’s teachings, took a heavy toll on her.
Exhausted by the shame and scrutiny she’d felt her whole life, Klein eventually began to rethink her approach to her faith. She asked young women she knew from home if they were coping with the same shame-induced issues she was. What started as a handful of intimate conversations developed into a 12-year quest that took her across the country and into the lives of scores of women and others raised in similar religious communities — a journey that brought survivors and others together, facilitated her own healing and led her to progressive churches that are seeking new ways to reconcile sexuality and spirituality.
Written in a potent combination of journalism, cultural commentary and memoir, “Pure” underscores
The prominence of shame in our country’s religious and societal sexual ethics and how it disconnects us from one another and prevent us from making healthy and safe sexual decisions
How federal support for abstinence-only-before-marriage resources took the Evangelical purity message into public schools and mainstream culture
The connection between purity culture and rape culture
The importance of facing your fears and standing up to faith-based and other forms of sexual shaming
The agency that comes with realizing you are not alone when you hear others’ stories of sexual shame and share your own
The healing that is possible when women and others who have been sexually shamed claim their whole selves
Examples of churches that are seeking healthier models of sexuality education and an exploration of what a healthy sexual ethic might actually look like
Work being done by churches, pastors and activists who recognize the damage done by purity culture and developing tools to help people heal from shame
Through frank, sometimes funny and often disturbing personal stories and conversations Klein has with women and others raised in the evangelical Christian church, unsettling trends begin to surface and an epidemic is revealed: religious purity culture’s sexual shaming can yield lifelong negative effects. “Pure” is a resilient call to action and a beacon of hope for all who have experienced religiously rooted shame.
Klein is the founder of Break Free Together. She earned a Master’s degree from New York University focused on American evangelical Christian gender and sexuality messaging for girls and has spent more than a decade working at the cross section of faith, gender and social change. A Midwesterner at heart, she now lives in New York City with her family.
“Pure” was released last month and is available for purchase on simonandschuster.com.