If you grew up in purity culture, you’re familiar with the phrase “women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex.” This cliché is an example of the Gatekeepers Myth, which stereotypes men and women’s sexuality and gives women unequal responsibility–and blame–for the sexual relationship.
Podcaster Lauren Smallcomb shares her experience with this common phrase in her guest blog below. Ultimately, Lauren learned that instead of trading sex for affection, in her marriage sex became an overflow of the affection that was already there. This experience freed her from the toxic myths of purity culture and allowed she and her husband to enjoy greater intimacy.
See how you relate to Lauren’s experience in her article below.
I was on a ski-lift when I first received an inexperienced boy’s sloppy wet kiss. I was entirely naive and completely unprepared for the attention of boys. Yet I longed to be cared about, and he was willing to offer the appearance of that. I was twelve years old when I started exchanging pleasure for affection.
When I look back on that season of my young sexuality I’ve realized a few things. I felt very little physically, as I pursued emotions above all else. It didn’t help that I was barely pubescent. Physical touch with boys was simply a means to an end for me at that time. I wonder how many women can say the same?
I was clearly getting the short end of the stick. At that young age, my sexuality wasn’t matured to the place of longing for touch, yet I was thirsty for connection and affection. Ironically, as I gave of myself physically, I received only very temporary attention. What I received from relationships correlated to my willingness to give what boys wanted. When I stopped giving, I stopped receiving.
The Impact of Purity Culture
A few years into my teens a significant shift happened. I can attribute purity culture writings and teachings to my mindset change, which significantly altered the path I was on. However, I find purity culture brings with it lots of baggage, and holds a confusing mix of beneficial and harmful beliefs and practices.
I wanted to honor God, and I read that strict adherence to purity culture tenets was the only way to do it. In response to these teachings, I found myself breaking up with boys who didn’t seem good for me–a good choice. But I put sex and virginity on a massive pedestal and made it my goal to not lose any gems from those crowns.
Since I was only a part of communities where purity culture was reverently upheld, I unfortunately didn’t receive any resources about what healthy sexuality was, how important consent was and what it looked like, or an understanding of the female body and my own sexual desire.
Sexual Expectations for Marriage
I entered marriage a virgin, and I expected sex to hold much more power to create a healthy marriage than it actually did. We had a lot of fun clumsily exploring our sexuality, and I look back on those early days with fondness.
However, we had both subconsciously bought into the lousy idea that sex was for him, and the emotional closeness was for me. I liked sex, but my participation was certainly postured more towards his pleasure and happiness than in figuring out my own. I was willing to give freely, especially if it meant I could keep his affection toward me.
Don’t Women Deserve Orgasms Too?
I’ll never forget late one night talk with a fiery friend of mine about sex after we had both been married for about a year. Clearly and confidently, she told me that orgasms should be as genuinely available to me as they are to my husband, every single time I felt open to it and wanted one.
I was stunned. I had never heard this anywhere–including the multiple Christian marriage/sex books we had read–and here was this 20-year-old newlywed blowing my mind!
I brought this information back home to my new husband and instead of responding in defensiveness and hurt, he was all about learning what this looked like.
We began to put in the hard (and fun) work of learning how to make sex equally fulfilling for me–learning to create a truly shared experience, both physically and emotionally. Ironically, when sex became more about me, it became even better for him! Fifteen years later we see how that one conversation changed the entire trajectory of our sex lives!
The Joy of Equal Partnership + Equal Sexual Enjoyment
What I have the joy of experiencing in increasing measure in my egalitarian marriage is in direct opposition to what I got a taste of as a teen, and heard/read about as a young adult.
I feel emotionally AND physically alive. We have a wonderful sex life as an overflow of our affection for one another. Much to my younger self’s surprise, it really does just keep getting better and better. I don’t have to use my body, my sexuality, or sexual experiences to garner my husband’s affection. It’s already there. Our emotional intimacy often drives us to more sexual intimacy, and our sexual intimacy deepens our emotional connection. Sex gets to be this beautiful celebration and reveling in what is already established.
“I don’t have to use my body, my sexuality, or sexual experiences to garner my husband’s affection. It’s already there. Our emotional intimacy often drives us to more sexual intimacy, and our sexual intimacy deepens our emotional connection. Sex gets to be this beautiful celebration and reveling in what is already established.”
The concern and care my partner has for me are not contingent on our sexual exchanges. We have had seasons of much less sex due to pregnancy, postpartum, mental health struggles, and chronic illness. While very challenging, these seasons have had no bearing on our love or commitment to one another. One of the most beautiful things about a tried-and-true relationship is the hill-and-valley impact on an ever-expanding love.
Exploring a healthy understanding of relationships, attachment, and sex has freed me to walk away from the toxic tenets of purity culture. I am relieved to no longer see sex as a bartering stand to ensure my human needs of care and connection get met. The glories of married sex lie in the mutual exchange of souls and bodies as a natural overflow of a deeply authentic connection. It is one where safety is created (and continually recreated) for each person to become fully alive sexually in the strong arms of trust and reciprocity.
Purity culture promised the most gratifying sex life possible, when in actuality, deconstructing the harmful parts of this mindset have been so life-giving to our marriage and the hundreds of marriages my husband works with as a Clinical Counselor. It can be an acutely painful process at times, but the joy of an equal, authentic, deeply loving connection with your spouse are worth every step on this journey to sexual wholeness and fulfillment.
“Purity culture promised the most gratifying sex life possible, when in actuality, deconstructing the harmful parts of this mindset have been so life-giving to our marriage.”
About Lauren Smallcomb:
Lauren is a Certified Mind-Body Practitioner + Medical Consultant. She pulls from her 15 years of experience as a RN, Nutritional Therapist and brain-retrainer herself, to help people rewire out of dysregulation + chronic illness, into joy, connection + whole-body abundance. Lauren finds so much meaning as she supports people in the vulnerability of chronic illness, rediscovering hope + the journey of recovery.
Together, with her husband who is a counselor, they run Flourish Therapy, a trauma healing and brain retraining practice. Check 0ut their podcast all about emotional health called “Filled to Flourish”, and find them on social!
Podcast Filled to Flourish https://anchor.fm/filledtoflourish
Instagram @flourish_therapy https://www.instagram.com/flourish_therapy/
Facebook @flourish_therapy https://www.facebook.com/LukeandLaurenSmallcomb
Tiktok @flourishtherapy https://www.tiktok.com/@flourishtherapy