why purity culture applies to antis
I would be vastly more sympathetic to the “the term purity culture should refer only to a specific religious system of misogyny and using it to talk about antis elides its origins, thereby devaluing a serious issue” argument if anti culture wasn’t functionally defined by using the word “pedophilia” to mean “what happens when anyone of any age writes stories where a character younger than eighteen kisses someone or is otherwise sexual.”
Like. I’m just. I’m sorry, but you cannot grossly misuse such serious terms as pedophilia or incest by arguing repeatedly that depiction is always endorsement, that there’s no difference between fictional people and real people, and that any sexual fantasy a person enjoys precisely because it isn’t real is indistinguishable from a fantasy they want to see enacted IRL, then get mad when someone points out that you’re morally policing the sexuality of strangers using strikingly similar arguments to the purity culture people.
When someone writes gory, gruesome murder stories, even if they’re written from the POV of a psychopathic killer, our first thought is not, “oh shit, that person is either an aspiring serial killer or they have bodies in their basement,” because we understand the distinction between fiction and reality. But if someone writes about dark sexual themes and suddenly you’re freaking out about their sexuality IRL? That is because you’ve absorbed puritan views about sex, ie, the idea that your sexual imagination and your sexual desires are one and the same, such that, if you indulge in “sinful” fantasies, it’s as bad as doing those things.
The reason religious purity culture is so obsessed with female chastity to the point of demonising masturbation or premarital anything is due to the belief that female sexuality exists solely for male pleasure, and therefore male approval. A father ‘owns’ his daughter’s chastity until he ‘gives’ her to a husband; therefore, she must stay ‘pure’ for their sake, because any indulgence on her part will ‘taint’ that purity. Crucially, the belief is also that one woman is potentially representative of all women: one ‘loose’ woman can make all women loose in the eyes of men, and therefore you aren’t just protecting yourself and your chastity by acting modestly, but the reputation of other women you’ve never even met. You’re simultaneously responsible for the virtue of women as a category while also being the keeper of such specific chaste value as, through you, belongs to your father and future husband. This is also why ‘pure’ women are encouraged to shun ‘impure’ women - impurity is transitive by association, such that if you, a ‘pure’ woman, are seen to associate with an ‘impure’ woman, well; that must only be because you, too, are secretly impure. This being so, it’s likewise expected that men, being more sexual creatures, will be lustful and sexually desirous, such that women are expected to curtail the presentation of their own sexuality in all forms to avoid ‘tempting’ them to sin, both against themselves and, potentially, other women; this is both deeply misogynistic and a way to blame victims for ‘leading on’ their assailants.
It’s also the exact same logic that antis use - not because antis are misogynistic patriarchs, but because they, too, argue that an individual’s sexuality must be curtailed in order to prevent hypothetical strangers from being ‘tempted’ towards their worst inclinations or, if they didn’t have those inclinations beforehand, made to ‘stray from the path’.
“You can’t ship those two underage characters - someone might use that fic to prey on a minor!” Such a thing, if it happened, would inarguably be the fault of the predator, who did not magically spring into existence the second the fic was written, even if the fic in question was actual darkfic and not just two 16yos consensually getting to second base; nonetheless, anti logic - like purity culture - will blame the ficwriter for ‘inciting’ the predation.
Bottom line: when you tell someone, “your sexual fantasies are bad and wrong, if you’ve EVER found X concept arousing in the privacy of your mind or in a fictional context, that means you want it exactly the same way IRL and are therefore either a predator or the willing inspiration of predators,” YOU ARE ENGAGING IN A LITERAL FORM OF PURITY CULTURE. The underlying dogma you use to shore up your claims is less important than the logic you use to enforce them: and that logic is, “you must strive to meet my specific moral definition of sexual purity, because if you don’t, you’ll provoke sexual malfeasance towards yourself and others, and when that happens, it’ll be your fault.”
The rest of society absolute will and should reject yall for reading graphic depictions of sex between minors. You are grown ass adults and frankly its nasty as fuck. And no, having the very easily not crossed boundary of “children are off limits to adult sexual fantasies” does not make you some fundie patriarch. To clarify this is specifically about children. Like yall are really trying to justify why its ok to have the same fantasies as Woody Allen and R Kelly bc I guarantee they wouldve liked this shit too.
I was sixteen when I very consensually lost my virginity to someone a year older than me, in a place where sixteen was the age of consent; I was not a child, and even though I’m older now, those experiences and my feelings about them remain valid. If I, as an adult, read fic about make-believe teenage characters doing what I did at that same age, what does it matter? The only real person in that equation is me. You might as well argue that it’s creepy for adults to read YA novels with romantic plotlines, or to watch shows like Teen Wolf where the teenage characters have sex.
Like. Never mind the fact that, by comparing fanfic readers to Woody Allen and R. Kelly, you’re proving my point about antis not being able to distinguish between actual pedophilia that happens to real underage children in the real world and stories about fake teenagers fucking; never mind how a large number of people who *do* write sexually about fictional children are victims of child abuse themselves looking to process their trauma - why is the baseline assumption that, when *anyone* reads or writes darkfic, they must be sexually identifying with the abuser and not the victim? Not to break your brain, here, but people fantasise about dark things happening to them a hell of a lot, and that’s both normal and healthy - as is fantasising about things specifically in the context of them not being real.
Because that’s what this boils down to, really. Why do you care what someone does in their brain or in fiction if it doesn’t affect their actions or hurt anyone? Nobody’s asking you to join in, and it’s easy to avoid something if it’s not what you like. If you can’t understand why someone would or could fantasise about a particular thing in the abstract without ever wanting it in person, then go read up on human sexuality.
*pinches bridge of nose* this is just… AUGH.
Here’s the thing. You cannot talk about minors as a monolith in sexual terms, because the different between a 6yo being molested and a 16yo having consensual sex is *massive*. Rendering that distinction as flat and meaningless is not only wildly inaccurate, but dangerously irresponsible. Because of rhetoric like this, there are now actual human teenagers who think they’re pedophiles for finding someone slightly younger than them attractive. This is now a real problem that exists because of anti discourse: teens who think “oh fuck, I’m a monster” because of how indiscriminately and inaccurately the term “pedophile” is used.
If someone is sufficiently sexually mature to be having sex with a person around their own age, then BY DEFINITION, the term “pedophilia” CANNOT AND DOES NOT apply in that case. It’s infantilising to teenagers to act as if they cannot consent to sex; yes, there are adults who, IRL, make a habit of pursuing teens, which is gross, but the word we have for those people is PREDATOR. Why does this distinction matter? Because predators don’t exclusively prey on the young; they prey on the *vulnerable,* which is not always the same thing. And the distinction especially matters when we’re talking about fiction, because IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO PREY ON A PERSON WHO DOESN’T EXIST.
A fictional teenager is no more a pre-pubescent child than they are a real person. By your logic, a 20yo who reads or writes about a 17yo having sex is a pedophile, which makes absolutely zero sense. At 17, I started dating a guy who was 24; I turned 18 about a week later, and did not magically develop a whole new Adult Body or Adult Sensibilities the second the clock struck midnight, because *that’s not how it works.*
When adults write or read graphic smut about teenage characters, it’s not morally wrong, and it’s sure as hell not pedophilia. It harms literally no one, because the characters aren’t real, and stems from a completely different set of impulses to what we’re after IRL. You might as well claim it’s adultery for married people to read or write smut of any kind unless it’s about their spouse.
I said this before and will say it again: adults have memories of being teenagers, and those memories inform our interests. If I read about two teenagers having angsty sex in a high school AU, I’m thinking about how it felt when *I* was having angsty sex at that age, or what it would be like to be those characters. You’ve got this overly simplistic, wildly inaccurate idea in your head that there’s only one way to fantasise about something and only one thing it can mean, and there’s entire fields of study that prove how wrong you are, and responding with “but I think it’s gross!” isn’t an argument.
Back in the Sixties and Seventies, the Romance genre exploded, starting down the path toward becoming the billion-dollar engine that it is now: a woman-dominated industry, cranking out self-made millionaires by the dozen. But feminists hated it in those days, because so many of those early bestsellers were romances in which the heroine got raped, usually by the man she eventually ended up in love with. (No, those kinds of romances haven’t vanished, and yes, A/B/O is a variation on the same theme. But this comment is long enough already, and I’m speaking in generalities.)
Did the authors who wrote those things want to be raped? Hell no. Were they advocates of rape-as-meet-cute in real life? Absolutely not. Had some of them been raped themselves? Almost certainly, given the stats on rape. Did they write about it because they enjoyed it or wanted to promote some kind of pro-rape ideology? Fuck no. Were they creating one anyway? Not really; we already live in a rape society. But then… why did they do it?
The actual cause of the popularity of rape fantasies is societal. At the time – the start of the Sexual Revolution – women were raised amid twin, conflicting societal pressures: 1) women should enjoy sex [this was before ace discourse; at the time, women who didn’t want sex were derided as “frigid”] so men can get more and society can get more babies, and 2) women who openly desire sex are sluts and should be ashamed of themselves. These two pressures are diametrically opposed to each other. Women responded to this Catch-22 by fantasizing (and writing) about having wild, amazing sex… but only when men forced them into it. This freed them from the “slut” shame, because they weren’t the ones who initiated it! But it allowed them to imagine that sex could be amazing, because the kind of man who would rape a woman was presumed, at the time, to be somehow extra-virile, with a big cock and lots of prior experience and the skill to make a woman enjoy herself, even if she didn’t want to. These were effectively fantasies of being free from the utterly stupid layers of patriarchial bullshit that society puts on women, and just having a good time without having to worry about what others would think. Nancy Friday, author of My Secret Garden, explained it this way: “Rape does for a woman’s sexual fantasy what the first martini does for her in reality: both relieve her of responsibility and guilt.“
Saying “Women shouldn’t fantasize about rape” makes about as much sense as saying “Women shouldn’t live in rape culture.” We shouldn’t! But we do. We are a patriarchial, misogynistic society that holds women to impossible standards, so our fantasies reflect this. By indulging these fantasies, women start to understand themselves better, and process the internalized shame in a healthy way. Many of the same women who wrote these books then went on to change society so that spousal rape is no longer legal, rape is no longer considered a property crime, and so on. Still lots of work to be done. But it’s very clear from their actions that these women might have indulged in rape fantasy but they were as far from being “pro-rape” as you can get.
Our society is one that also fetishizes youth. This shit is not normal; few other societies obsess over youth the way that ours does, and there’s no good reason for it. Young people are bad at sex. They don’t know what they want and they don’t know what they’re doing; that’s just how inexperience works. (There’s no good evolutionary reason for the youth fixation, either, to head off the evopsych weirdos at the pass; teen pregnancy has a much higher mortality rate than with adults.) And until modern times, even the elites of our society didn’t particularly hyperfocus on youth the way that they do now; a very young woman was a “risky investment” because she might turn out to be “frigid,” barren, or die in childbirth. The only reason our society does obsesses over youth the way that it does now is because of purity culture’s grotesque focus on women’s sexuality as a commodity, to be traded between men as a status symbol. They like their merchandise unused or “like new.”
All of us are, or were, young at some point. None of us were ready to be the focus of so much societal pressure, sociopolitical/economic power, or psychosocial weirdness, at the time that we experienced the worst of it. It will take all of us a lifetime to process those experiences – and some of us will process them through sexual fantasy. Saying we shouldn’t is basically saying that we shouldn’t live in a youth-fetishizing society. Well, sure, we shouldn’t, but we do, and until that changes – which a lot of fanfic writers are doing their damnest to facilitate – we have to find a way to live with that pressure. We have to find a middle ground between the contradictory ideas of our society: 1) that youth is the peak of desirability and importance, and 2) that minors are non-sexual beings who are vulnerable to adult power and desires. Both are bullshit. But we need a way to process our own experiences of being young and being very much sexual beings, without guilt. Are we all trying to become pedophiles? Fuck no. But the reason these fantasies exist is because they are a normal, healthy way to cope with our abnormal, unhealthy society. And the way to address them is not to try and shame people for the way they cope, but to change society.
It’s easier, not to mention viscerally satisfying, to just wag a finger at a few fanfic writers for committing a “thoughtcrime.” The world feels better when it can be broken down into simple black-and-white, good-or-bad binaries. But the world is not binary or simple.
Want to cut down on sexual stories about under-18s? Acknowledge that young people are sexual beings. Acknowledge that older people used to be younger people, and there isn’t some neat sexual demarcation line between adults and minors. Notice how many of the people telling you that fanfic writers are evil are themselves abusers and pedophiles, projecting their own grotesquerie onto others and pulling a DARVO to deflect attention from their own misdeeds. Learn more about how the human mind works and how trauma, especially ongoing collective trauma, is processed.
And then fix it.
STANDING FUCKING OVATION FOR THIS ADDITION