Purity pizzas taste of self-loathing

I know this kind of argument won’t have any effect on the proponents of purity culture, who are resistant to the whole idea of evidence, but the evidence says the abstinence movement didn’t work. If anything, it had the opposite effect, and people are dealing with the fallout now.

For example, in the early 2000s, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers began noticing an alarming trend. A clinical sex therapist, family therapist, and associate professor at Seattle Pacific University, she would ask the grad students in her human sexuality class—most of them aspiring therapists—to write the stories of their own sexuality. After years of asking the same questions, she suddenly saw a sharp uptick in students describing feelings of humiliation and disgust toward their bodies and sexual identities. These students all seemed to share a sense of general ignorance and naiveté about sex and relationships, as well as a deep discomfort with natural sexual urges. “This dramatic increase in self-loathing was really heartbreaking for me to see,” says Schermer Sellers. When the trend continued into a third year, she decided to investigate what was behind it.

Digging deeper, she found that many of her students had been involved in youth groups that taught them not only to abstain from sex before marriage, but also that they should not feel any sexual desire at all. “They learned that if you feel [desire], you’re compromising your relationship with God or with your future partner,” she explains. She heard story after story of teenagers circled up in youth group meetings. “They would pass around a slice of pizza, and tell everyone to take one bite out of it, explaining that if you give your heart away while you’re growing up, it’s like giving pieces of yourself away,” she says. “The piece of pizza would go around the circle, and all that would be left was the crust—and this is what you’d give your future partner.” She heard similar tales about shiny pieces of foil being crumpled, or flowers with petals ripped off, or a cup everyone was asked to spit into.

I remember the purity balls and chastity rings and all that other crap that was being pushed off on young kids — it was extreme and bizarre. I wasn’t hoping that my kids were virginal until marriage, which seemed like demanding that they never exhibit any symptoms of illness while not worrying whether they were actually healthy or not. Rather, I was hoping that they developed strong relationships of mutual respect, and what they did with their bodies was their decision, not mine.

I hoped they understood that pizza was something you made fresh, and that it was a bad idea to save the pizza you made at puberty and give it to your partner ten years later. Yuck.


  1. llyris says

    As many of us with kids know, giving to more people makes us bigger, not smaller. The love doesn’t get divided up, all of it is given to every child.
    I often wonder how the purity pizza advocates divide their finite affection between their children. Presumably there is no love left for the younger ones.

  2. rietpluim says

    This pizza story must be one of the worst analogies I’ve ever heard. I feel sorry for the young people who were raised this way.

    Here is a better imagery: when friends of ours married, all attendees were handed out a candle. The first was lit by the bridal couple, then the second by the first, the third by the second etc. Their motto was: share the light and it becomes brighter.

  3. raven says

    Seattle Pacific University is a small, Christian school of about 4,000 students. It was founded in 1891 by Free Methodists as Seattle Seminary, a school to train missionaries for working overseas. The campus sits at the southern base of Queen Anne hill, near Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.Jun 5, 2014
    Seattle Pacific University, a conservative Christian school – USA Today


    This isn’t surprising at all.
    I had to look up Seattle Pacific University.
    It is described as a conservative xian school.
    Xians, producing emotionally and intellectually stunted children since 33 CE.

    What is surprising is that they have one Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers who is a clinical sex therapist, family therapist, and associate professor and who seems to care that many of her students are sex and body negative.
    I’m surprised that they haven’t burned her at the stake fired her. Yet.

    PS: And also oddly enough, the Fremont district in Seattle IIRC, is the counter culture district of that city.

  4. caeruleus says

    How does one get over this self-loathing and shame, when one has been raised with the message that “good women don’t want sex” and that wanting or having sex devalues all participants, especially women? I mean, it is one thing to rationally know that these messages are bullshit and that it’s completely okay if two or more adults have consensual sex, but knowing that on a rational level doesn’t simply change the emotions.

  5. Michael says

    Someone has been reading The Fountainhead. The technique you described in the youth groups is precisely what Ayn Rand has her villain describe as the way to get power over people – kill their self worth and instinctual desires, and they will come to you begging for help.

  6. Jazzlet says

    You work at it, you tell yourself the truth (rather than the lie) repeatedly, for howevery long it takes until you believe it. It will have taken work to believe the lie, it takes work to believe the truth with your emotions rather than just intellectually.

  7. leerudolph says

    rietpluim @2: “Their motto was: share the light and it becomes brighter.”

    When I was about 8, it became possible for me to watch TV more or less whenever I wanted; the last of our boarders moved out and left his television behind (maybe in partial payment?), my mother never cared for TV, and my father only watched cowboy shows, detective shows (Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, etc.), and the occasional baseball game (at a time when there weren’t many on TV). Weekday mornings before going to school I watched Continental Classroom, Sunrise Semester and the like while eating breakfast off a tray in the living room (my parents were done eating, and my father off to work, well before I was up and dressed; my mother left to go to her elementary school about when I left to go to mine). On Saturday mornings I watched cartoons. On Sunday mornings I watched Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life is Worth Living and Father James Keller’s The Christophers. I can remember only two things about those shows: some sort of football diagrams that Sheen used (I have no idea how or why; I knew and know nothing about football strategy, much less in which ways it could be relevant to Catholicism) and the sign-off of The Christophers: a voice reciting “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” (a pseudoproverb of obscure provenance), followed by a choir singing the single sentence “And if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be!” over a swelling organ. (My father’s mother had been raised Catholic and hated Catholicism as only a convert to the Disciples of Christ could do; neither of my parents, nor any of my other grandparents, were religious in any visible way, and my father was decidedly anti-religious. I never acquired religion either, though I still maintain a dispassionate and distant interest in many of its quirkier/kinkier details.) Whatever I may have thought about those programs at the time, at the moment I feel pretty agnostic on the whole darkness-cursing v. candle-lighting issue; no doubt there are good people on both sides [<–joke].

  8. chrislawson says


    Obviously it’s very hard to undo years of social condition from early childhood (Hannah Gadsby talks powerfully about this in Nanette with regards to gay self-loathing). I do think counselling from a sex-positive therapist can help. The hard part is identifying the right therapist. It’s not like the bad ones put “sex-negative guilting” on their business cards.

  9. cartomancer says

    It seems to me that the world is made ten times harder by the fact that one gets two conflicting messages from it. Or, at least, some people do. On the one hand you get the message that sex is sleazy and sordid and shocking and unworthy, on the other you get the message that it is normal and natural and desirable and the ultimate expression of human love. Were there only one message it would be a lot easier to cope with, but with the two one is torn in two different directions all the time. Much anxiety and emotional turmoil follow.

    Particularly if one grows up with the former message, but eventually comes to hear the latter message in adult life. I grew up in the 90s and the message I got about sex was that it was taboo, forbidden and deadly dangerous – good boys just don’t do that sort of thing. Gay sex, that is – my straight peers got different messages, and ended up without the suite of crippling emotional neuroses that swathes me like a shroud. About the only time I was ever told about gay people having sex was in terrifying warnings about HIV. So I firmly suppressed any sexual feelings I had until my mid 20s, by which time I had missed out entirely on the usual psychological development one gets at that age in terms of how to negotiate dating, relationships, etc. It also made it easier to cope with my passionate unrequited love for my best friend – that got suppressed with everything else.

    By my mid 20s I had started to encounter positive depictions of sex and relationships. I finally admitted my feelings to myself, and to others, but the damage was done. I was a decade behind everyone else, nobody would teach me what I’d missed, and taking one’s first tentative steps in the world of sex and relationships at that age felt peculiar and a little scary. I still have the emotional maturity of a fourteen year old when it comes to this sphere of life, and people my own age (now mid 30s) have a very different attitude and set of wants from these things than I have. Failure after failure ensued. I only managed to have sex at all after about five years of constant trying, and when I did it wasn’t great. Trial and error taught me little. I got very depressed indeed at my failures, which make me feel repulsive and unlovely and ugly. Also, my love for my best friend could no longer be suppressed. I had to face it and suffer the pain it brought me full on. I still do. I’ve never had a relationship with another person, apart from my passionate, all-consuming and as-yet unrequited love for my best friend. A significant part of me feels that being with anyone else is a base treachery against my true desire for him, and all my efforts to secure a relationship with someone else are a betrayal of myself and my commitment to him. I forgive him for having a relationship with someone else these last seventeen years (much as I hate that he has), but I cant’ forgive myself for trying to find one to ease the pain or occupy myself in the meantime.

    If I had never had the change of message – if I had remained suppressing and ignoring my feelings – I strongly suspect I would have been a lot happier than I am now. Suppressing them made things much easier. Engaging with them caused no end of hurt and bafflement. Perhaps things would have been very different indeed if I had not felt the need to suppress the feelings in the first place, like my peers didn’t, but it is difficult to envision such a world.

  10. John Morales says

    cartomancer: Damn.

    What seems clear to me is that, if you could have, you would have.

    I do wish I could write something to console you; about all I can say is that I respect your intellect and your erudition — but alas, feelings are feelings, not amenable to intellectual manipulation.

    I wish you luck for the future.

    On-topic, my impression is that there’s always been a tacit societal understanding that purity is for girls/women, not for boys/men, and that that asymmetry is due to the historical fact that unsanctioned sexual congress historically had has much greater consequences for women than for men. That is, the “purity” movement is ostensibly for both sexes, but only one is actually functionally penalised for its breach.

  11. numerobis says

    So, the story is, if you have lots of sex then you get all the sloppy bits out of the way and you’re left with the best part?

    Doesn’t seem so bad.

  12. Akira MacKenzie says

    My own experiences with Christian (in my case, Catholic) anti-sex indoctrination were far less formal than the purity culture of the Fundies. My father made it abundantly clear that if I ever had pre-marital sex, not only was my eternal soul damned to hell, he’d throw me out of the house. If I got a girl pregnant he’d kill me. If I turned out gay, he’d REALLY kill me. Since my father can be a very, very scary individual (despite being 140 lbs and 5’10”) I believed him.

    As a result, I didn’t have my first date until I was 22 and, 22 years later, I’m still single.

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    …all that would be left was the crust…

    Also, these twits have a childish opinion of pizza crust. A well baked crust with some marinara, or garlic butter, or spiced olive oil tastes great.

  14. Anton Mates says

    explaining that if you give your heart away while you’re growing up, it’s like giving pieces of yourself away

    And there’s nothing more un-Christian than giving things away, right? “Don’t love thy neighbor because then you’ll have less love left over for your other neighbors,” that’s what Jesus always said.

  15. Ermine says

    Ah yes, the chewed gum, the licked cupcake. Mormons pound this particular pulpit harder than most, I think. It was exactly this message that helped to keep Elizabeth Smart in bondage for so long after her kidnapping–she’d been told she was degraded and worthless if she had sex before marraige, and after the sex was forced on her she still felt worthless.