In Pure, Linda Kay Klein uses a potent combination of journalism, cultural commentary, and memoir to take us “inside religious purity culture as only one who grew up in it can” (Gloria Steinem) and reveals the devastating effects evangelical Christianity’s views on female sexuality has had on a generation of young women.
In the 1990s, a “purity industry” emerged out of the 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 message traumatized many girls—resulting in anxiety, fear, and experiences that mimicked the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—and trapped them in a cycle of shame.
This is the sex education Linda Kay Klein grew up with.
Fearing being marked a Jezebel, Klein broke up with her high school boyfriend because she thought God told her to and took pregnancy tests despite being a virgin, terrified that any sexual activity would be punished with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When the youth pastor of her church was convicted of sexual enticement of a twelve-year-old girl, Klein began to question purity-based sexual ethics. She contacted young women she knew, asking if they were coping with the same shame-induced issues she was. These intimate conversations developed into a twelve-year quest that took her across the country and into the lives of women raised in similar religious communities—a journey that facilitated her own healing and led her to churches that are seeking a new way to reconcile sexuality and spirituality.
Pure is “a revelation... Part memoir and part journalism, Pure is a horrendous, granular, relentless, emotionally true account" (The Cut) of society’s larger subjugation of women and the role the purity industry played in maintaining it. Offering a prevailing message of resounding hope and encouragement, “Pure emboldens us to escape toxic misogyny and experience a fresh breath of freedom” (Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Love Warrior and founder of Together Rising).
In her contentious debut book, Klein explores how purity culture within evangelical Christianity causes girls and young women to feel shame about sex and sexuality. In accessible prose, she shares intimate stories from her childhood in the Midwest her failed attempts to have sex with a boyfriend, her difficult relationship with her body to illustrate how evangelical purity culture had a traumatic effect on her. In addition to her personal experiences, Klein includes a history of the evangelical purity movement and shares extensive anecdotal evidence about sex and shame within purity culture from interviews she conducted, including a particularly heart-wrenching account of a girl overburdened by the blame of her family after she is raped while intoxicated. Though Klein's research provides a snapshot of a narrow group of women (many of whom are from her youth group), she draws in additional relevant literature, such as I Thought It Was Just Me by Bren Brown, to help bolster her argument about the negative long-term effects of sexual shame on women within evangelical Christianity. This scathing condemnation of purity culture and all that goes with it will surely cause debate within evangelical circles.