There is a conclusion I sometimes saw in purity culture material that I can’t quite grasp. The conclusion is that consent can’t be taught in purity culture.
The argument goes like this:
Premise 1 – Purity culture calls women givers in sex. They save themselves for marriage, they lose virginity, and some even teach that virginity is a gift they give to their husband.
Premise 2 – Purity culture calls men takers in sex. They score, they get what they want.
Conclusion: You can’t teach consent without eradicating purity culture.
I see this argument as incorrect and too fatalistic. Both premises are probably true, but they do not automatically lead to this conclusion. If you see something as yours to give or keep, does this mean that you can’t consent, or learn consent around this thing? No! For example, you see the contents of your wallet as yours. You can consent or not consent to spending it or giving it away.
If a man sees it as something he does not have but gets from others, does this mean that he has to take it without asking consent? Of course not. Children learn from a young age to ask for what they want. Does it mean men can’t say “no” or “yes” to it? Of course not – they still have the right to refuse or accept a gift.
“So what?”, you may ask. “Why does it matter if purity culture is compatible with consent or not?” My answer will be that it matters to those who grow up in a church that practices purity culture.
For their churches’ leadership, purity is important – it is part of the foundations for a good life, a good marriage, and living close to God. Those who are schooled in feminism mostly know that purity itself is not synonymous with what we call purity culture, but the term “purity culture” makes them sound pretty close together to the uninitiated.
This means these churches won’t stop teaching purity. If feminists then testify that purity culture (which they see as synonymous with teaching purity) and consent is incompatible, it means that consent is the enemy and something they can’t even start to teach. Since some church youth are very much influenced by their church, this makes it impossible for them to learn about consent.
And consent is very much compatible with actual Christianity! Jesus said the greatest law is loving others as yourself – this is very much compatible with men asking what their partners want (asking consent) as much as what they themselves want, and women seeing their own needs as equal to those of their partners, and thus consenting or not from that place.
What about intercourse that purity culture already sees as wrong, starting with sex outside of marriage? Can consent still be taught then? Well, purity culture will tell both partners to not do it. (Purity culture assumes this is harder for the man, but that is not the point of this post.) Teaching a boy that a lack of consent turns what he does into rape is entirely compatible with telling him that he should not do it at all. Teens – and the adults teaching them – are completely able to understand there are various classes of wrong behavior, ranging from undesirable to serious crime.
I used to be a very religious, very legalist late -80s-early-90s teen in a Calvinist church. I am less legalist now, but still religious (although I don’t prefer the word religious) and still in a Calvinist church. I know from firsthand experience what it is to believe purity ideas. I nevertheless knew from a young age that rape is a lot wronger than illicit consensual sex. If even I, with my autistic limitations in understanding non-autistic minds, was able to instinctively know that without any direct lesson comparing these issues, then other young people can too.
It is very important for young people to learn consent. As such, I hope my readers would encourage even conservative churches to teach it – it is the caring thing to do!
PS: If you see this topic as important, you may also like: https://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/why-i-do-not-believe-consent-is-everything/