Pure Anguish

Linda Kay Klein

In the 1990s, a “purity industry” emerged out of white evangelical Christian culture. Purity rings, purity pledges, and purity balls came with a dangerous message: girls are potential sexual “stumbling blocks” for boys and men, and any expression of a girl’s sexuality could reflect the corruption of her character. This is the “sex education” Linda Kay Klein grew up with. After she nearly died by ignoring her worsening Crohn’s disease in an attempt to prove she was a woman of the spirit and not of the flesh, she began to question the purity ethic. Ultimately, Klein spent twelve years interviewing women from backgrounds like hers, revealing widespread sexual dysfunction, bizarre coping mechanisms, and PTSD-like symptoms. Here is a sample:

“Jesus has never been more real, present, and personal,” Katie told me, her hand wrapped around a watered-down White Russian at a local dive bar in our hometown. Her voice was steady and sure. She leaned over the small table and added in a near whisper, “I’ve never had a lover so good.”

I cocked my head. I was pretty sure that Katie, who I had known since youth group, had never had a lover of any kind—good or not. But tonight, Katie looked and sounded sexier than I had ever seen her. We’d been friends a long time and I rarely saw Katie in anything but a boxy blue postal service uniform or baggy jeans and an oversized T-shirt. Now her voluptuous body was barely hidden behind a lacy black camisole and tight black jeans. She had curled her long dark hair into ringlets and done her makeup immaculately, tracing her eyes with black liner. It was like seeing Olivia Newton-John in the last scene of Grease, the one where she leaves her poodle skirt at home, walks into the carnival in black spandex and grinds her cigarette out with the toe of her shoe, making John Travolta drop to his knees and sing.

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