10 Signs You’re A Woman Who Grew Up In Toxic Purity Culture

Let’s talk about the aftereffects of growing up in this mess, shall we?

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So, I’m not sure whether I mentioned this in my "slice of life" articles, but I grew up in a very rich white neighborhood and my childhood best friend was a Moonie. For those not in the know, Moonies are a cult that has a serious bent on purity culture and controlling sexuality.

My best friend, Kayla*, was basically my sister. Her mom was an artist, blacksmith and sculptor, which meant we’d got to play with art supplies and swords every time we hung out. Saying that we had a strange upbringing together was an understatement.


Our parents loved hanging out with each other and even looked the same. When we’d go out, people assumed we were twins. But beneath that awesome, idyllic, artsy lifestyle with real weaponry hid an ugly thing that eventually wrecked us both in our own ways: purity culture.

I was adjacent to purity culture most of my life because of the area I grew up in. Kayla, on the other hand, was hit with it, hard. Purity culture, in my opinion, is one of the evilest things I’ve ever witnessed in society. It’s the belief that a woman’s sexual purity is tantamount to her value.

And, it’s common in most cults, Christian fundie circles, as well as circles of people who lead a very secluded life in micro-societies. It’s quite possibly the most dangerous aspect of American culture I see going mainstream.


Over time, I saw the aftereffects in a bunch of women I met. Here are some of the most common signs you’ve been affected by it…

Note: I know fundies and purity culture can be found in almost every religion, but this is going to be geared more towards Christian "fundie" extremists and cult life because that’s what I grew up around.

Here are 10 signs you're a woman who grew up in purity culture:

1. You self-injure or suffer from an eating disorder.

Maybe it’s just what I saw, but there seems to be a very strong correlation between people who grew up in purity and fundie cultures and eating disorders. More specifically, it seems to be a girl "who needs to be married off" thing.


Part of the whole culture is this idea that your body doesn’t belong to you, but rather, your future husband. If you don’t look skinny enough, you won’t get a husband in these circles.

A lot of moms seem to enjoy picking apart what their kids eat in these crowds, which is why the kids end up seeing food as "impure." Unsurprisingly, a lot of those figures are rail-thin for life.

RELATED: As A Good Christian Child, I Internalized These 6 Misogynist Beliefs

2. You rebelled, HARD, when you got away from the culture.

Eventually, a lot of women get tired of trying to live up to all these insane standards of being a perfect, pretty feminine thing that has no feelings aside from awe at a man who doesn’t do crap after he puts a ring on it.


When they get tired of being torn down by other women and "holy, good people," they tend to swing in the opposite direction. They might do adult videos, they might start sleeping with a bunch of people, or they might dress provocatively just to upset the people annoying them.

Exhibit A: The author of this story. Need I say any more?

3. You were sexually assaulted, molested, or raped and never got justice.

When you have a society that bases a woman’s entire value on her staying a virgin or chaste, sexual predators basically get a free-for-all. They know the girl won’t tell, because it would hurt them more than it’d bring justice to their door.

If a girl in a religious extremist society speaks out, people invariably blame her for "tempting the man." That’s part of the patriarchal issue: it’s always the woman’s fault, never the rapist’s. God is punishing the victim. It’s God’s will.


Predators actively bank on the fact that slut-shaming and victim-blaming silences women. That’s why almost every Christian and cult group I’ve seen has a sex abuse problem.

4. You had (or have) a tendency towards "Pick Me" behavior with men.

Purity culture both low-key and high-key makes sure women know that they are nothing without a man. If you are a woman in a culture like this, you start doing the "Pick Me" dance for a spouse. It’s a major life accomplishment in these circles — often the one that validates you as a person.

Unfortunately, this tends to mean a lot of things.

It means that purity culture tends to make you accept way less than you deserve. You start loathing yourself for not getting guys. You start performing and catching "relationship frisbees."


What are relationship frisbees? It’s where guys start pushing you to do stuff, just to see if you’ll do it as long as they dangle the "carrot" of commitment there. It’s part of the song and dance.

"Look at me! I can cook! Look at me! I am skinny! Look at me! I’m more chaste or more sexy than the other girls! I’m not like other girls! Oh, you hit me? That’s okay. I just want you to marry me already!" — Pick Mes

Yeah, I had this issue. I still have this issue with friendships. It’s part of the whole art of "keeping sweet" that a lot of purity cultures and extremist organizations tend to instill in you.

I ended up getting a taste of "keeping sweet" in college shortly before I was trafficked. That’s how I know about it. With me, it worsened after I was trafficked for obvious reasons. I’m in pretty bad need of therapy for this.


RELATED: How Purity Culture & Idolizing Virginity Harms Rape Survivors Like Demi Lovato

5. You hate organized religion with a passion or otherwise dropped the faith.

I mean, this shouldn’t surprise most people, but a very large percentage of women who grow up in cults or fundie religions walk away from it. Why? Because they’re tired of hearing that God doesn’t like them the way they are but that God still "loves them," so they should change.

Most ex-fundies I know are atheists or otherwise refuse to interact with churches at all. Some convert to paganism. Eh, such is life.

(FYI: The way that a lot of Christians talk about God "loving you" as you ask for forgiveness for things like premarital sex or tempting others by existing is what an abuser would say.)


6. Your blood boils when you see Christian grifters on TV.

You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The ones who fundraise for obvious tax shelters that support their lavish lifestyles? The ones who preach prosperity gospel?

Yeah … I’ve seen purity culture survivors break TVs seeing them on the screen. I can’t fully put my finger on how much rage seeing these "leaders" can put in people.

7. You feel isolated from mainstream society.

Maybe this is just in my circles, but I’ve seen this happen quite a bit. Ex-cult members tend to feel very isolated from the mainstream world — especially if mainstream media was verboten in their previous circles.

I actually went through something of a major modern music binge when I was around 12. Before that, I was not allowed to listen to music made after 1980 or so. Even modern TV shows (aside from Nickelodeon) were not allowed. Kayla had it worse.


A lot of the things most people take for granted, like feeling good after a first kiss or seeing that one funny movie with swear words, are not allowed in purity culture. You end up feeling like an outsider because of it. You just can’t relate.

RELATED: 8 Signs Your Church Might Be Brainwashing You

8. You deal with addictions.

This is not a blanket statement, but I noticed a lot of the people I know who escaped cults often have a penchant for hard drugs and drinking. Most of the time, it’s to deal with trauma.

9. You get leery around people who advertise how good and religious they are.

This is definitely something I picked up over the years. The moment I see someone acting like they are the moral authority in any capacity, I back away. Oh, and I start seeing red. Most people who escape from these types of cultures have this reaction.


The people in question here don’t have to be religious leaders in their community to get this reaction. In many cases, they aren’t even religious at all. It’s about morality. It could be the sanctimommy at the nursery, or the woman who someone, "You don’t have the chops to own a pet" for feeding their dog kibble.

Either way, the result is the same. The reason for this is actually pretty obvious. Purity cultures tend to focus on godliness and holiness. This means that these societies tend to reward people who signal that they are the most pious, even if they’re horrible people.

It’s not a fluke. It’s the way that people in these cultures get ahead, and yes, it’s also the reason why grifters are in so many well-meaning communities in the religious world. For them, it’s the easiest way to bully and steal to the top.


10. You struggle with self-esteem issues.

Shocker! Apparently, reducing women to a uterus that has to be protected and turning women into soulless objects for men to use will mess up a woman’s self-esteem. The internalized misogyny you get in purity culture will ruin anyone’s day.

It takes such an inner rebellion to tell yourself that you are worth love regardless of how many people you’ve slept with. It takes so much work to say that you don’t want to live your life as an accessory to others.

Women who live in purity culture are beaten down both verbally and physically by people. It gives a lifetime of damage that takes decades to heal. So, with that, I say, “SCREW PURITY CULTURE!”

Sexual abuse is very common.


RAINN reports that every 68 seconds, an American is a victim of sexual violence. Females are far more likely to be abused and assaulted, and 90% of victims who are adults are women. This is especially prevalent among women who also happen to be college students, which makes their risk three times greater.

Anyone affected by sexual assault can find support on the National Sexual Assault Hotline, a safe, confidential service.

Contact The Hotline or call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member.

RELATED: How I Radically Reclaimed My Body From The Religion That "Owned" It

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.