Purity Culture is Rape Culture
There is absolutely nothing wrong with abstinence, it is good and effective when chosen by a person who has been exposed to quality sex education devoid of coercion, and shaming tactics
What is Purity Culture?
Purity Culture might sound foreign to you but it’s deeply embedded in the Nigerian culture and is majorly targeted at the girl child. It's being told 'only bad girls sleep around,' or not to ‘defile’ yourself before marriage. It is telling girls to act, sit, walk, and dress a certain way, if they want to be perceived as respectable and worthy by ‘good men'. It’s looking down on sexually active girls and comparing them to used or expired goods. Purity culture is anything that attaches a person’s worth or honor to their sexual experiences, simply put, it places a person’s worth on their genitals.
Purity culture is built on Patriarchy
Fact is, it is near impossible for purity culture to exist without an adherence to rigid gender norms. Having been taught that ‘all men have naturally high sex drives which inhibits their ability to exercise
self – control, leading them to objectify, sexualize, and sometimes attack women,' most Nigerian women are forced to serve as gatekeepers for the male population. They must not only keep themselves ‘pure’ but must avoid becoming stumbling blocks to men - by dressing ‘modestly’, avoiding dark places, and going home before the sun sets. This mentality not only enables rape culture but robs a generation of men the opportunity to cultivate responsibility, respect, and self-control among other crucial skills.
Purity Culture thrives on Fear, Shame and Guilt
There is absolutely nothing wrong with abstinence, it is good and effective when chosen by a person who has been exposed to quality sex education devoid of coercion, and shaming tactics. However, this is not the case in Nigeria - with no proper or healthy sex education, abstinence is often forced on people. They are shamed and manipulated with statements like 'if you don't wait till marriage, you will regret it, your marriage won't be blessed, or you will be punished.'
Rather than being taught to love and cherish their bodies, girls are told that their bodies can be used by the 'devil' to destroy men.
Women are taught from very young ages that their bodies belong to their husbands, and that they naturally posses no sexual desires. This automatically teaches a woman that her voice does not matter, and that her feelings and opinions are subject to a man’s. It also distorts consent and encourages marital rape, which is still not illegal under Nigerian law. Since purity preaching makes no distinction between sexual abuse and sex before marriage, one can only imagine the level of shame and guilt felt by females who are sexually violated while adhering to these teachings. Rather than focusing on the violation of their bodies and on the obvious attack on their existence, they are forced to first consider 'the loss of their worth or the sudden reduction in their value'. Instead of speaking about the wrong done to them, they begin to ask, what did I do wrong? While battling with this, they must also answer to their society who must know what they were wearing, why they were there, and why they went alone.
Purity Culture promotes the myth that rape happens to only certain types of people
We have seen that purity culture is rooted in patriarchy, shame, and the desire to control women’s bodies. By disregarding consent, by placing a person’s value on their genitals, by adhering to rigid gender norms, this culture both implicitly and explicitly says ‘if you live like this, you would be fine.’
However, in reality sexual abuse and rape can happen to any and every kind of person regardless of location, time, age, dressing, gender, attitude, religion etc. Although many people with ‘traditional’ views are reluctant to agree with this, the truth is that rape is less about a rapist’s desire for sex and more about power. It’s about rage, It’s a ruthless attack, it’s saying how dare you exist without my input? How dare you live without fear? Don’t you know your place? How dare you take up space? How dare you be human?
Written by Pearl Azu-Okeke
Founder, Consent Haven