The Rhetoric of Sexual Purity in Contemporary Conservative U.S. Christianity
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CitationGish, Elizabeth. 2013. The Rhetoric of Sexual Purity in Contemporary Conservative U.S. Christianity. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractSexual purity rhetoric produced by conservative Christian individuals and institutions shapes U.S. religious and political life in profound ways. Yet, there has not yet been a study of the scope or the results of sexual purity rhetoric. This dissertation addresses this gap in research on religious life in the U.S. The central question asked in this study includes not only, "What does sexual purity rhetoric say?" but also, "What does it do?" I use a critical feminist lens to analyze the sexual purity rhetoric deployed in the most popular purity rituals and practices - rallies, retreats, parties, pledge signings, and father-daughter purity balls - and in a significant cross-section of the printed and online literature.
Sexuality rhetoric is challenging to analyze because it not only does something different than it says, but what it says often contradicts and obscures what it does. Sexual purity rhetoric says that its purpose is to help adolescents delay sexual activity prior to heterosexual marriage. The prevention of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and heartbreak are the most common arguments made as to why adolescents should refrain from sexual activity prior to heterosexual marriage. Yet, the evidence is overwhelming that sexual purity teachings do not reduce pregnancy or rates of sexually transmitted infection, nor are they effective in meaningfully delaying or in preventing sexual activity prior to heterosexual marriage.
If sexual purity rhetoric has virtually no impact on adolescent sexual activity, what does it do? My analysis shows that it functions as a structuring and regulating framework for personal and communal relationships, as well as a normative framework for theo-political beliefs and practices. It contributes to constructing a world where purity status determines the moral quality of relationships - with God, the church, potential partners, the nation, and, in the case of adolescents, with parents. It is used normatively to shape, and analytically to understand, a wide range of relationships, and physical, mental, and spiritual states. Sexual purity rhetoric is both sustained by and sustaining of kyriarchal structures that dramatically disadvantage and harm people of color, wo/men, girls, queer-identified people, poor people, and immigrants who do not and cannot conform to impossible-to-meet sexual purity ideals.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367490