When Mindy was 19 years old, she lost her virginity to her husband on their wedding night. She says the first thing she felt was guilt.
“I had spent my whole life learning that if I kept myself pure and worthy for my husband, then my sex life would be great,” Mindy told In The Know. “I felt incredibly flawed and broken.”
Mindy — which is not her real name but the alias she uses online and how she asked to be referred to for this story — grew up in a Mormon household. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or, informally, the Mormon Church, is a non-Trinitarian faith under Christianity that encourages followers to remain chaste until they enter a heterosexual marriage.
“When I was taught about sex it was always in relation to men,” Mindy said. “It makes women feel selfish by desiring things for themselves.”
Mindy said she was told that the ultimate goal in life was to be a mother and wife. She was taught that she, as a woman, was to only think about sex as a way of serving her husband and fulfilling this goal.
“I was going to be the best Mormon and live the perfect Mormon life,” she added. But she didn’t expect to deal with “shame and guilt and panic attacks around sex” after she got married.
Purity culture disproportionately affects women and girls, author Katie Cross argues in her book Feminist Trauma Theologies: Body, Scripture & Church in Critical Perspective. Although purity culture has been around for decades, abstinence-based sex education started to become more popular in the U.S. in the ’90s and 2000s as part of a recurring trend where, as author Jessica Valenti puts it, society seems to connect “sexual immorality” with “national insecurity and impending apocalypse.”
Being taught that sex was immoral caused “trauma” for Mindy that she’s still grappling with. A lot of her processing has been documented on her TikTok account, where she has almost 200,000 followers.
“I was three years old when I was first told to keep my legs together when I wear a dress so that boys wouldn’t see my underwear,” she said in one video. “I was 13 years old when I was told that boys would want sex all the time and girls are inherently less sexual — so it was my job to be the gatekeeper.”
Studies have found it’s ultimately hard to compare men’s and women’s sexual desires because women’s sexual behaviors tend to change over time and women also face a lot more stigma for being sexually active.
“I was 16 the first time I kissed a boy with tongue, and felt so guilty about it, I wanted to die,” Mindy continued in her video. “I felt disgusted with my body.”
After a year of being married to her husband, Mindy said she believed God wasn’t answering her prayers as punishment for her pre-marriage sexual feelings. At 30 years old, Mindy decided to really investigate how purity culture had affected her relationship with sex and kept coming across the phrase “good girl syndrome” — which she repeatedly tried to dismiss.
“I had read about it before but had always brushed it off because I didn’t believe that was what I was struggling with,” Mindy told In The Know. “That was the beginning of me unraveling all the trauma purity culture had caused me.”
Good girl syndrome is when a woman defines her worth and likability by how she can serve others. It’s a similar ideology to being a “perfect Mormon.”
“The Mormon ideal of perfection is more demanding than the military,” psychotherapist Donna Bevan-Lee argues. “It applies, not only to appearance, conduct and job performance, but also to thoughts and feelings, to a person’s fundamental being.”
Mindy has since left the church, which was not easy.
“My friends were Mormon, my family was Mormon, most everyone I knew was Mormon,” she told In The Know. “When I realized I couldn’t participate in the religion anymore, I was suddenly not one of the group.”
Something that made the decision a little easier for Mindy was that her children did not want to be raised under Mormonism.
“I felt a need to protect my children from the church and its teachings,” she explained. “Once I began to realize how much purity culture had harmed my relationship with sex I knew I would be raising my [daughters] differently.”
Mindy’s daughters are not the only people affected by Mindy’s decision to leave. Since starting her TikTok account, Mindy says that she receives countless messages from ex-Mormons.
“The overwhelming message is of gratitude,” she said. “There is comfort in knowing you aren’t crazy and you aren’t alone. That there is happiness and a fulfilling life outside of the Mormon Church.”
Mindy doesn’t consider herself “healed” — in fact, she referred to the process as “never-ending.” She still gets triggered by resurfacing memories but fortunately has built a support system on TikTok that allows her to feel validated and normal.
“The most healing thing of all has been social media, honestly,” she said. “Being able to find humor in hard situations has helped me move past so much hurt.”
Mindy recommends: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
“This book does such a great job of explaining women’s sexuality and normalizing everything that makes you feel different and broken,” Mindy said. “It helped shift my brain into a more sex-positive place.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or mental health concerns, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the NAMI website to learn more about signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions.