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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Seventh place — Grad student essay contest: Meagan McLendon

Bought at a high price

FFRF awarded Meagan $750.

Meagan McLendon

By Meagan McLendon

“Flee from sexual immorality.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a high price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”

All across the internet,  one can find Photoshopped graphics of this verse pasted over images of piney woods, steaming cups of coffee or young women donned in flower crowns gazing upon a sunset. At first glance, these images are a fairly benign verse instructing young Christians to respect one’s body. However, behind a well-chosen cursive font and stock photo, one can find a host of problematic  issues facing American youth today, particularly when it comes to sexuality. Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20’s focus on purity has shamed and emotionally stunted generations of women.

According to that verse, sexual immorality is to sin against one’s own body. And to sin against one’s own body is to sin against God’s temple. This particular bible verse is widely spread to Christian adolescents at home and church as a warning to flee from having sex before marriage and to remain “pure.” Focus on the Family, one of America’s most popular Christian ministries, directs its millions of followers to Jim Burns’ The Purity Code for sex education. The Purity Code is about remaining pure until marriage, and “those who don’t follow the Code will possibly give their bodies sexually outside of marriage. They may fill their bodies with unwholesome ingredients, including alcohol and drugs. They might even cut themselves and do other types of self-injury,” according to Burns.

Following the verses in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 is a dotted line to sign the purity code contract. There is no standard for sex outside of marriage that doesn’t include unwanted pregnancy, STDs, or suffering the judgment of God and fellow Christians.

Teaching adolescents to wait until marriage — or suffer the consequences — has influenced educational policy. Much like The Purity Code, abstinence-based education uses shame as a means of teaching students to remain pure until marriage. And the strongest tool in the abstinence toolkit is the virginity/object-based metaphor. In public schools, middle-school-aged girls are compared to unchewed pieces of gum or unused pieces of tape as a means of guilt-tripping young women away from sex. In the case of Jackie Kendall’s widely popular Lady in Waiting: Becoming God’s Best While Waiting for Mr. Right, girls are unwrapped gifts. “Have you ever secretly opened a Christmas gift before Christmas Day and rewrapped it, putting it back under the tree? But what about the ‘big day’ when the gifts were supposed to be opened for the first time?” Kendall asks. “Where was the excitement when you opened your gift? The gift did not seem quite as special because it had already been opened for the first time.” No matter the object, each scenario draws on the same conclusion: What man would want an impure woman?

But what does this do to young women? The pressure to be “pure” severely impacts self-worth and relationships throughout a lifetime. Feelings like shame and guilt “can make us feel small, powerless, and meaningless in relationship to other people” as well as “lead to dreary speculation about our place in the universe rather than an enthusiastic engagement with life.” Such negative emotions can also “make us question our own value” and “shake our confidence in life and cause enormous self-doubt and demoralization,” according to Peter Breggin, author of Guilt, Shame and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions.

Generations of women have been taught to place purity above strength, compassion or self-respect. As opposed to comprehensive sex education, churches and schools still teach the biblical standard and treat sexuality as shameful. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has donated thousands to Focus on the Family, and as long as conservative politics and religion are entwined, girls will suffer.

Meagan, 28, is from Austin, Texas, and attends the University of North Texas, where she is working on a master’s degree in library science. She’s a library assistant and wants to dedicate her life to the distribution of information.