Foz has been hosting a really great discussion lately on fanpolice and why it’s appropriate to call their mindset “purity culture” and see it as consistent with sex-negative Christian patriarchal views, even if the fancops in question aren’t Christian, or are LGBTQ+. I thought I’d add some perspective, as a Christian who hears perspectives from a lot of different denominations, about just where these attitudes are coming from.
Because Foz is right and I can provide details: the trends of thought we see in fandom about how shipping the wrong thing is dangerous and destructive almost precisely echo what is taught about sexuality in many Christian churches.
Largely, conservative Christians have been clinging to an old interpretation of Scripture that says sexual desire is destructive and bad, and ignoring all the research that’s come out that says, no, it’s a lot more complicated than that. They frequently try to use scientific studies to prove their point and disguise their Christianity to appeal to a secular audience, but they’re still trying to quell a wealth of research that says:
It’s really normal and healthy for people to think about and desire sex on a regular basis, and a lot of sexual fantasies are about taboo subjects, and people who fantasize about these things frequently don’t want to experience the thing in real life.
Pornography can have positive or negative effects, depending on what it is and how it’s used. It’s not intrinsically good or bad–it can help people find pleasure, explore their desires, or enhance their sexual relationships, or it can lead people to feeling desensitized, dissatisfied, and disconnected.
Although researchers have tried really hard for decades to prove that pornography promotes violent assault, they’ve come up with very little evidence.
(An example of religious influence with a scientific mask: Fight the New Drug actively markets itself as science-led and not religiously affiliated, but its founders all belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the attitudes of which the site consistently supports, and its message and interpretations of data, while nuanced, are still tilted in ways experts in the field find counterfactual)
You see, a lot of Christians reject the research on sex because it goes against their religion as they understand it. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus says, “[A]nyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Traditionally, most Christians have interpreted this to mean that entertaining sexual fantasies and viewing pornography is fundamentally harmful and bad. The Christian view of lust and sexual desire is largely that they are, except in the very particular setting of a monogamous marriage, injurious to the self and to others. This is an attitude that many Christian groups have backed away from, but by no means all.
This means that many Christians view all pornography as fundamentally morally evil, not because of how it is produced, but because it causes its viewers to be lustful in a way that is morally wrong… but they still seek out and view porn anyway; they just feel guilt and self-loathing about it.
One of the Christian efforts I’ve seen gain traction is Protect Young Minds. Its explicitly stated purpose is to teach children to “reject pornography”, because it views sexually explicit media as fundamentally harmful and bad. Its emphasis is on teaching children to close their eyes and turn off the screen if they see any sexually explicit images, ever. There is no plan, anywhere, for when kids become old enough to want to seek out sexual content–because they think that adults should never view porn either–but they don’t emphasize that bit, instead focusing on protecting the children.
For the past 30 years, many Christian groups have been really focusing on teaching their children and teenagers the concept of “emotional purity,” which means not only abstaining from sex outside marriage, but also abstaining from attraction, sexual desire, or romantic feelings. (The only exception: If this is your One True Destined Soulmate You Will Spend The Rest of Your Life With.) Failure to do this, they teach, will damage and “tarnish” you, and ruin your chances of ever having a successful marriage.
Despite massive evidence that it is these attitudes, and the shame and guilt about sexuality they promote, which damage people and their happiness in relationships, they are still being taught in many, many churches.
So when everything a person is saying lines up with these attitudes, except with the tiny proviso that your One True Destined Soulmate You Will Spend The Rest of Your Life With is now allowed to be the same gender as you if you want?
Yeah. That’s conservative Christian purity culture in a gay hat.
(New rule: Anyone who expects me to seriously engage with their disagreements and provide research and analysis in my reply has to send me $20 first. And anyone accusing me or anyone else of being a sexual predator without proof can fuck off into the sun. I’ll just block you)
Seconding all of this and adding: you do not have to support the type of Christian dogma mentioned above to perpetuate a similar pattern of thought. The comparison lies in the subject matter and the way the arguments function, not in the big emotional/spiritual Why of how you come by those arguments in the first place. It’s disingenuous to say “one of these things is about controlling women for the church while the other is about saying darkfic is bad, how can they possibly be similar?” while pointedly ignoring the parallel chains of reasoning used to support both causes.
It’s not a competition as to which group has caused more damage globally or historically, nor about which has the bigger reach. It’s simply a matter of saying, “counter to what we provably know about human sexuality and psychology, both these groups insist that specific types of sexual fantasies, which they deem Morally Bad, are inherently linked to your real-world desires, such that failing to suppress those fantasies makes you a Bad Person whose indulgence in them will cause Bad Things to happen to you and/or others, because there is no moral difference between fantasy and reality.” That you also get antis unironically echoing right-wing religious talking points about how all fiction should be moral and educational lest it corrupt the youth, to the point where certain books or ideas should be banned from schools or libraries, only adds an extra dimension of irony to the comparison.
seems rather aphobic to me
No $20, no substantive response for you.
(Short response: No, purity culture isn’t good for ace/aro people either, and while it’s your absolute right to go “I personally am repulsed and disgusted by sex and want nothing to do with it” it’s NOT your right to say “Sex is objectively disgusting, gross, and dangerous, and anyone who feels otherwise is a dangerous sexual predator who should be stopped.”)
If anyone else wants to reply to this be my guest, but I have work to do.
Sex being regarded as just a thing people do if they want to, rather than it being normative to obsessively center your life around it, whether positively or negatively, would be better for ace and ace-spec folks as well, because that obsessive expectation is detrimental to everyone’s well being, whether or not they personally experience sexual attraction, or want to or have sex themselves. On the aro side, since iirc about 80% of aro and aro-spec folks are allosexual, there’s a similar argument to be made for decentering romance, which does get caught up in the above purity culture ideas of when someone’s “allowed” to want and have sex, invariably involving romantic love, so there’s a direct line to how the dictates of purity culture harm aro and aro-spec folks as well, by insisting that one must experience romantic attraction and undertake all the amatonormative trappings thereof.
And aroace folks get parts of both sides of this while those same champions of purity culture harass and ostracize those who neither experience those attractions nor desire them because it disrupts their entire framework of control. Purity culture’s ideal person experience sexual attraction and sexual desire but feels bad about it, and also experiences romantic attraction, because then its proponents can hook into that shame and those desires and press their dictates onto their targets. Anyone who not only doesn’t fit that mold but can’t be pushed into it either, they fundamentally want that person to not exist, not too dissimilarly from proponents of patriarchy and how trans people upend all of its dictates and truisms.
Anything that provides an alternative viewpoint or even a path to questioning their control, they wish to erase from the world. That’s a whole lot of us. They want complete control of the rest. All of it is wrong. Controlling people will never lead to a better world, and it will never actually bring a feeling of safety to those trying to do so, because there’s no level of control that’s enough for that. It’s a bottomless well and we all suffer for their effort to fill it.
The core of purity culture–whether Christian or fandom–is saying “we define what normal is, we know what thoughts and feelings Good People have and what thoughts and feelings Bad People have.” That is, at its core, what it’s all about. Good=normal=what we like, and people are good or bad depending on how well they fit inside that very narrow range.
In theory, ace and aro people would be welcome in purity culture, because if you’re not interested in sex you’re not interested in the bad kind of sex. However, the emphasis is so much on control and normality, that in practice aces and aros are likely to face almost as much problems as kinksters. Because we don’t fit that idea of “normal.”
Also, while some aces are sex-repulsed, not all of us are! Some aces have libido (a sex drive), it’s just not connected to any form of sexual attraction to other people. Some aces have little/no libido, but still like the feeling of orgasm. There’s a wide range. And guess what! Some aces like sexual fantasies! And some of those sexual fantasies are kinky or dark! There are aces who happily read and/or write really filthy porn. They’re still not sexually attracted to anyone, they’re still ace, but they enjoy explicit fantasies, both their own and other peoples’.
All of which is really threatening to purity culture people, for two reasons. First, the obvious, they don’t want anyone having kinky or dark fantasies. But second, because it is a really obvious threat to the foundation of their core argument.
Remember, their core argument is that having a fantasy about something means you want to do that in real life. If people whose whole sexual identity is that they don’t want to have sex still have sexual fantasies? Then obviously people can have fantasies that they don’t want to act out in reality, and therefore their whole foundation crumbles like dust in the wind.
An ace person having, reading, or writing, the mildest, sweetest, most vanilla sex scene in the history of sex scenes is a direct threat to purity culture.