Monday, July 3, 2017

Pamela's Prayer and Purity Culture

Do you ever find yourself at a loss to describe "purity culture"?

To explain how it supplants individual agency, conscience, and boundaries in favor of ignorant obedience?

How it sets young people up for abusive relationships?

How it equates innocence with virtue?

How it demeans women by claiming to "protect" them as precious jewels?

Well, you are in luck, my friend, because the 1998 independent evangelical film Pamela's Prayer is now available on Amazon Prime. And there is nothing subtle about it.

Even struggles to describe this highly unusual irregular story, which not only lays out the most rigorous principles of so-called sexual "purity" but includes an unforgettable example of emotional incest as a bonus. Yes, that's Pamela's dad on her bed in the picture.

I will admit to shedding a few tears when I watched this movie as a 20-something in the IBLP cult. As extreme as the story was, it still seemed sweet and romantic. Its very existence was an acknowledgement of my yearning for heterosexual companionship. And I was already older than the bride in the story.

I didn't yet have the vocabulary to discuss the characters' psychology. It would be another decade or more before I began to grasp concepts such as: grief, attachment, trauma, self-care, sexual repression, bounded choice, emotional incest, emotional abuse and control, intimacy, boundaries, autonomy, enmeshment, differentiation...

Pamela's Prayer has come to mind occasionally over the years, so when my sister told me it is now available online, I was curious. Surely it wasn't as unhealthy and gag-worthy as I remembered? I hit play, then dragged the marker to the last ten minutes to find out.

No, it was worse.

My kids won't be watching this movie, but if they did we would talk about...

  • How Pamela's widowed father could have cared for his own emotional needs by investing in healthy peer relationships. 
  • How a person's worth is not measured by sexual experience or lack of it. 
  • Developing healthy independence from parents.
  • What qualities to look for in a romantic or sexual partner. 
  • In what ways parent-child relationships are different from partner-spouse relationships. 
  • How each couple negotiates the boundaries of their relationship.
  • Dating as self-discovery.
  • How the goal is not a wedding, but mutual trust, pleasure, and growth.
  • And so on...

In many ways, my courtship experience paralleled Pamela's in the movie. Some would look at my marriage today and consider it proof that "purity" works. But I beg to differ. I'm not proud of avoiding intimacy so long, and I believe our relationship owes its success to other factors.

More about leaving "purity" behind in an upcoming post!