Purity culture and the perception of singleness

Each week the Reckon Women newsletter includes a column from women in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. Click here to join the Reckon Women Facebook group.

By JP Austin 

Picture yourself at a large Southern family gathering, surrounded by more than a few of your closest relatives and friends. Usually at these types of occasions there will be tons of food, lots of laughter and conversation, children who have had their fair share of sweets and treats, and parents who know they’re going to have a hard time getting those kids down for a nap. Coincidentally, these large family gatherings often happen around the holidays or special occasions and are generally a happy time. This is one of those times.  But your happy bubble is soon to be burst by the infamous question posed at least once at every Southern occasion, “Are you seeing or dating anyone?”

Oh yes, the above question has reminded you that you are in fact, single. BUT you are happy, healthy, and whole in your current single state, and you wish everyone would come to see your single status as a positive thing, too.

Hi, friend. I am JP, a single Southern woman in her thirties. I am also the last of my siblings to get married.  And I, too, have felt the pressure over the years to succumb to a Southern perception of marriage being the best and most enjoyable season of life.

I am also here to boldly declare, “I AM SINGLE AND I AM ENJOYING IT.”

To provide more context about myself, I am also a single woman in her thirties that has been committed to purity for the past seven years. For me, it was a faith-based decision to allow God to reshape the narratives that have been shared on both sex and singleness. Inevitably, I would take my frustrations and questions concerning sex and singleness to God and ask for his direction and wisdom. It was the best decision I ever made for myself. By including God in the conversation, I would come to know that his plans for all things – purity, singleness, and marriage — are good.

There has been a certain stigma attached to singleness in Southern culture, that you are neither happy nor complete unless you are married. The status of marriage or attaining a husband has often appeared to be the standard or highest achievement of success.

Now, let us juxtapose the above thought about marriage against the teachings of purity culture. Purity culture teaches that waiting to have sex until marriage is the goal that one should strive for.  It also promotes that waiting and maintaining purity in singleness is to be admired and enjoyed.

So, I pose this question to the culture:  How then are we supposed to enjoy purity while single, if marriage is constantly being promoted, talked about, and positioned as the best thing for us?

I would like to offer that if purity is something to be admired and enjoyed, then so is singleness.

A survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2016 there were more single adults living and working in the United States than ever before in history –110.6 million unmarried people over the age of 18—that’s 45.2 percent of the American adult population—carrying out their lives to a new set of societal norms.

In the same way, Dr. Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist from Harvard University, asserts in her 2014 book Singled Out, that as the number of single people continues to grow—to well over 100 million adults just in the U.S.—it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the stereotypes and caricatures of single people. There are just too many single people who are happy and healthy and love their single lives, and too many people who know single people who are thriving, for the misperceptions to endure.

The single world and the perception of singleness are changing. And because I am an avid supporter of both purity and singleness, I encourage the Southern culture to do a few of the following things to change the conversations on sex (or the lack thereof) and singleness regarding this new generation:

  1. Commit to amplifying and sharing narratives that promote singleness and the joy found in the single season.
  2. Offer to introduce your single friend to someone only if she has inquired about a potential relationship.
  3. Compliment a single friend by acknowledging accomplishments not connected to her physical makeup or relational status.
  4. Remove assumptions that she is unhappy, inadequate, or incomplete if unmarried.
  5. Be good allies and champions of each season she finds herself in—whether a season of purity and/or singleness.

When I look back at my season of purity and singleness, I want to reflect on it with joy and hope. I want to know that I thoroughly enjoyed it and did the most with it. I do not want it to be defined by the constant search for sex or someone else to make it better, worth it, or enjoyable. And I want the same thing for any woman who has also felt the pressure from Southern culture to be anything other than single.

JP Austin is a faith-based writer in Birmingham whose passion is to encourage women to seek God concerning their questions for the everyday and every season.  She is a writing a book on sex and singleness for today’s generation of women and her most recent work can be found at thejpaustin.com.

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