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I believe that for individuals who are recovering from religious trauma and the impact of high control religions and systems, reclaiming your sexual pleasure and learning to embrace your innate sexuality is an essential tenet of healing.
I grew up in what we now call purity culture. Though far more nuanced and complex than what I can describe in a few sentences, purity culture emphasizes a person’s worth as tied to their virginity and ultimately makes women responsible to ensure that men stay pure.
Men, in this culture, are considered ferociously sexual to the point of being out-of-control while women are considered to be virtually asexual but must engage in obligatory sex with their husbands in order to keep them from sins of lust, adultery, and using pornography. Ultimately what underlays purity culture is racial purity (that is, wanting to create a prototype of the “right” kind of people who should marry and have children, while billing it as “God-ordained”), but it seeps into areas of modesty, gender roles, strict rules for physical intimacy prior to marriage, how to engage in relationships, and much more.
While purity culture with an evangelical christian foundation may be the most heard of in the United States, there are many other denominations, churches, and religions that promote similar, if not, identical practices and beliefs.
In most of these religions and high control groups, the area of sexuality is both reductionistic and inflated. Sexuality is reduced to simply sexual activity that people engage in together (and almost always has very strict parameters around what is acceptable with this engagement). Sexuality is also inflated in that engaging in sexual activities that are outside of the rigid standards and rules earns greater punishments, severe consequences, and can often be the impetus for disconnection, distrust, and the questioning of one’s salvation or place within the group.
One of the Bible verses used to promote the severity of sexual sins warned that sexual sins were in a special category because of how they impacted your own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). Not only that, sexual sins almost always included at least one other person, which meant that engaging in sexual sin meant that you were also causing someone else to participate in sinning as well.
When this (and other harmful teachings) is foundational to how you learn about your sexual self, healing requires much more than simply having sex. Sure, that can be fun, but ultimately, for most people, healing from the harmful teachings of purity culture includes much more.
Purity culture can be a form of sexual abuse; others have said it is a form of neglect, brainwashing, control, and more. It is possible to suffer sexual consequences resulting from trauma even if you have not been sexually violated, harmed, or assaulted. Research backs this up…and so do the people sitting in my office.
Reclaiming sexual pleasure after purity culture and being able to live in a healing body after high control religion often includes understanding how the rules, dogma, and practices around sex and sexuality impacted you on multiple levels. The cognitive level, that is understanding, and in many cases, rejecting beliefs is a great starting point, but doesn’t address how those messages live in your body and manifest in your relationships. Rejecting purity culture beliefs also doesn’t guarantee automatic access to pleasure–or the capacity to experience pleasure without having an adverse physiological response.
This is why we start slow and work at a pace that is tolerable for our body and nervous system instead of jumping into things that may feel overwhelming, scary, or too much. This may mean that we first need to identify non-sexual things that give us pleasure. Are there sights, sounds, or smells that bring a smile to your face or help you feel a bit lighter?
I love the smell of fresh cut grass; after my yard is mowed I like to sit on my back patio and inhale the smell. A smile creeps on to my face and I notice that my breath goes deeper into my body. There is a feeling of peace that washes over me–this is pleasure for me.
We are born as sexual beings–from the moment we were born. This informs the way we navigate through the world, how we see others, how we view various social, cultural, and relational issues, and yes, how we engage with others in romantic and sexual ways
Reclaiming pleasure, then, means we reclaim delight and pleasure in our sexual selves: how our outward expressions, what we stand for, and who we are in relationship with (for example) are a reflection of our sexuality.
Reclaiming our sexuality and sexual pleasure is an essential part of healing from religious trauma and helps us shed the layers of control that were once wielded over us that had us navigating the world as a fragmented person. Embracing our innate sexual selves allows for wholeness and connection, deeper relationships, connection to the world, and most of all, connection to our selves. For the whole of this blog post and more from this week's podcast guest, Dr. Laura E. Anderson, check out her WEBSITE HERE!!
This Week on the Podcast:
We are so excited to launch Season Four with Dr. Laura E. Anderson, the author of that wisdom. Dr. Laura is a psychotherapist, trauma resolution coach and consultant, writer and educator specializing in complex and developmental trauma, dynamics of power and control and religious trauma.
She views herself as still a work in progress. She believes healing is a life-long process rather than a point you get to where you say “there, I am done, healed.” However, who she is today is quite different and she is proud of who she's become as a result of healing her nervous system, resolving trauma and recovering from high demand/high control religion. On this episode, we unpack what it means to uncouple sex from pleasure and reclaim our right and ability to experience pleasure and, of course, sexual pleasure in a way that feels safe and empowering at the same time. We also work through how we can begin to reflect this in the way we parent our children and reparent ourselves. Dr. Laura is brilliant, kind, and practical. As you listen to this episode, we believe you will feel as if you've had an initial therapy session and we hope to give you help to take more and more steps toward healing from the trauma of purity culture. You can find Dr. Laura at the following: Instagram: @drlauraeanderson
Facebook: Dr. Laura E Anderson
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Our guest has a fantastic book coming out in October that you can pre-order now!
This trauma-informed book provides education on:
What is religious trauma?
Trauma physiology and the nervous system
Adverse Religious Experiences and Religious Abuse
Living in a healing body after experiencing high control religion and religious trauma
If you want to get a free excerpt of the book, go to this LINK.
In this episode, Dr. Laura recommends the American Girl books series, "The Care and Keeping of You." There are two books, one for younger girls (8 and up) and one for older girls (10 and up). BOOK 1 (for girls 8 and up) features tips, how-tos, and facts from the experts. (Medical consultant: Cara Natterson, MD.) You'll find answers to questions about your changing body, from hair care to healthy eating, bad breath to bras, periods to pimples, and everything in between. BOOK 2 (for girls 10 and up) is a thoughtful advice book will guide you through the next steps of growing up. With illustrations and expert contributors, this book covers new questions about periods, your growing body, peer pressure, personal care, and more! It follows up the original bestseller with even more in-depth details about the physical and emotional changes you're going through.
So many resources this week, with our last one being a fun YouTube podcast that Esther was featured on with our friend Amber at Fundie Freed. Amber is doing great work and you will love this conversation!! Just click on the pic below to listen!!
Can't wait until Tuesday and need just a little snippet from our podcast episode. Here's something to whet your appetite and hold you over until then!!
One last thing. We want to remind you that we are so glad you are here. We wouldn't be the same without you. You will always find GRACE for where you've been and who you are now, and SPACE for who you are becoming and will be.
Carry on, our new-found friends. Welcome to the twisty-windy, full -of-adventure faith path that's laid out before us all. Love,
Lizz & Esther
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