From a woman who has been there and back, the first inside look at the devastating effects evangelical Christianity’s purity culture has had on a generation of young women—in a potent combination of journalism, cultural commentary, and memoir.
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 though she was 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 the purity-based sexual ethic. 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.
Sexual shame is by no means confined to evangelical culture; Pure is a powerful wake-up call about our society’s subjugation of women.
About the Author
Linda Kay Klein has spent her career working at the cross section of faith, gender, sexuality, and social change. She is the founder of Break Free Together. A Midwesterner at heart, she now lives in New York City with her family.
"Linda Kay Klein’s book about the devastating effects of Christianity’s obsession with purity culture is a revelation... Part memoir and part journalism, Pure is a horrendous, granular, relentless, emotionally true account."
"Linda Kay Klein takes us inside religious purity culture as only one who grew up in it can. She shows us how the system of mind-and-body shaming works within a religious movement so culturally and politically influential that it must be understood by us all." — Gloria Steinem
"Linda Kay Klein’s PURE is an important book for this moment in history, as women come to the collective understanding that the institutions we spend our lives serving are not created to serve us. Women are canaries in religious coal mines—and 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
"Klein’s book will get God up doing a standing ovation in creation for revealing that God’s message is to love all of ourselves—mind, body, and spirit. This is to embrace the gift of life and to live in freedom with integrity and joy. Any form of purity that does not celebrate this, does not celebrate God working in our lives." — Emilie M. Townes, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Divinity School
"More and more young adults are speaking openly about the harm done to them by churches that treated sex as if it were an illicit drug. When 'Just say no' was their only message, and when the language of purity was their main ethical category, deep and lasting personal damage were inevitable. That's why Linda Kay Klein's new book is so important. It pulls back the covers on 'purity culture' and the harm it has done to a whole generation. An important book from an important new voice." — Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration
“A potent account of purity culture that deserves our attention.”
“A young woman raised as a conservative Evangelical Christian reflects on her community's sexual shaming and the psychological scars that it left… Klein's personal story is fascinating, but it is the larger context that makes the book important… Timely and relevant, particularly in the age of Trump and #MeToo.”
“Klein explores how purity culture within evangelical Christianity causes girls and young women to feel shame about sex and sexuality… will surely cause debate within evangelical circles.”
"Eye-opening....compelling....For those who seek spiritual community without gender bias, Klein offers empathy and new choices."
"Pure is above all for those who came out of the purity movement ---a guidebook for survivors...its final message is healing through the movements that have arisen to combat purity culture."
"She combines memoir with survivor interviews and research on shame, sexuality, and religion to effectively argue that the evangelical sexual purity movement has done lasting harm to many of the women who embraced its message as teens in the ‘90s and early 2000s."
"Riveting and important... The relevance for this both inside and outside of the Christian community is immense, and this is a book that should stir intense thought about the way we all live."
"Klein’s jarring reporting is impossible to forget."
"Pure is a thorough and focused study on the effects of the purity movement’s rhetoric on women and girls, but Klein stresses that her findings aren’t relevant only to religious conservatives. Rather, they represent an extreme microcosm of a broader culture of gendered sexual shaming to which we should all be paying attention."
"Linda Kay Klein is the perfect woman for the job, with her personal experience with the subject matter, willingness to critically examine long-held beliefs, and deep empathy for her interview subjects. Every woman–in fact, every person, religious or not–would do well to read this heartbreaking but hopeful book."
“To those outside the church, Klein offers a well-researched insider’s point of view. To those affected by the purity movement, Klein offers a healing balm through personal testimony. To both she offers an invitation to further discourse as we seek to make our culture a safer place for all people.”