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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

to be made whole: a reflection on purity culture, the evangelical church, and cis-male bodies 

Will Chesher, Miami University

This visual essay considers the harm of white evangelical Christian sex education on young cis-gendered males. The notions of “boys will be boys” and “boys can’t handle themselves” reinforce gender roles in evangelical sex education on top of using shame and guilt to discuss sex and sexuality; doubly so for queer folx. The visual essay provides possible ways to reimagine sex education in these spaces, highlighting the glittery, messy, and consensual & con-sensual joy that sex and sexuality can be. 



Apparently I am a two-seater sports car covered in a garage—my curves highlighted by a taught pullover, promising thrills and possibility. With each touch, time spent in the driver’s seat, turning on the engine, feeling the roar of power between your legs, and taking me out for a spin, you become slightly bored. The excitement dies for you, and means I am not excitable. My value is less.  

I am also a flower, plucked from the dirt, petals sagging and becoming brittle under their dehydration, being passed through grubby hands, fingers folding me down and opening me up. As I am passed I am changed, made gruesome and less beautiful. A memento mori of sorts, to be cast aside, possibly trampled upon by some unaware flenuer.  

I’m a soul trapped in a body, a body that demands satisfaction; a body that must be controlled and disciplined. Eyes that should be plucked, but really only after cis-gendered sisters of mine learn to stop dressing like whores with their bra straps showing and their thighs exposed. So I can hang on to my eyes, it’s someone else’s job (let’s not think about the whole Jesus & the plank thing, that hits too close to home). But my body must still be disciplined. And so I must learn to abstain. 

My body is a temple, but is twice removed from my temporal being. The locus of who I am is in my soul, the temple is just a temporary vessel. 


My parents caught me so I am forced to attend this little sexuality summit. I sign a pledge and keep the little card in a wallet. A year later I have sex and then weep about it, knowing somewhere deep in my soul (but not in my body) that I am going to go to hell. I put the card into a small keepsake box that is now lost. I listen to pastors and folx I respect talk about purity, knowing I’ve missed the boat. The flood is coming, and I am a pillar of salt. 

Purity culture in the quasi-southern (Oklahoma is hard to place) white evangelical christian church is often talked about in reference to how the onus of responsibility is placed solely on cis-gendered women to be modest since “boys will be boys” and “boys simply can’t control themselves.” But it’s damaging to cis-men as well. 

I sat in youth group circles, separated on the strict and enforced binary of gender, listening to grown ass men talk about the wonders of sex within a heterosexual and heteronormative monogamous marriage, telling us that masturbation was/is a sin, and that any kind of sexual activity outside of this type of marriage is a gateway to hell and a surrender to the flesh. And homosexual(ity) activity was a double-sin, so deeper recesses of hell await those who deviate, or are deviant. 

And as a bi-boy at the age of 14 who had already lost my “virginity,” what was I supposed to do? I listened with my head down, my body growing heavy with shame and guilt. 

As a sports car I had been driven and discarded. As a flower I was crumpled and no longer important, a relic of what could have been and a reminder to others. As a sexual being, my deviance was twice-over shameful, castigated further. Yes, I could struggle with thoughts (which in some way wasn’t a sin even though lust after cis-women was?), but I could never act on it. I would be made pure and heterosexual through prayer and discipline. I could be forgiven, but I would never be forgotten. 

The church stands in loco parentis and in loco deus; standing in as the arbiter of truth and the folx behind their lecterns, pulpits, altars, or music stands (if it was a hip church or youth group) were the gateway and gatekeepers. Obedience. Submission. Control. Or as Foucault writes, pastoral power shifting and shaping the ways we are supposed to be in the world, drawing specific attention to how we move, how we interact, how we touch. 

But can the sub-lectern, the sub-altar speak? Can we be? Can we be known? 

Because are we not made in the image of the divine? If imago dei is true, and we are made of star dust and star stuff, then is not my being beautiful? 

Is not my existing beautiful? 


adrienne maree brown talks about pleasure activism as a politics of healing and happiness, one that is tied to our embodied selves experiencing pleasure. And in evangelical christianity, is not the divine made flesh? The word incarnate? Or is the corporeal body of Jesus just chillin’ in a corner of heaven as souls drift past, wondering what the husk of blood, piss, semen, skin, shit, nerves, and fingerprints is? Or maybe the souls shudder (can souls shudder?), thinking back to their prison houses. Or maybe they’re too hopped up on divine presence to notice. 

The empire of the church not only disciplines the bodies, it also affirms and corrects the way gender is embodied. Split into two binaries, conflating gender & sex, folx are camped and placed into tents. But the role of shame is intermingled with the role of responsibility; however, the yokes are not even or equal. 

As cis-men we are scolded and told to restrain, but the yoke is placed on cis-women. Skin is sin. To reveal is to revel in brokenness. We were naked in a garden once, but that memory is shameful. The moment we became aware, the earth became aware of the living’s nakedness. Of their being.  

So to confront our own nakedness, we also confront the other. I had a professor in college (at a small religious liberal arts institution) who said, I don’t want to tell my son not to have sex, instead, I want my son to stand naked with their partner for 5 minutes before engaging in intimacy. 

Maybe seeing is a way through. Maybe being seen is a way in. 

The empire of the white evangelic quasi-southern church stands erect, but there are those chipping at it. Matthias Roberts chips at it. Julien Baker chips at it. Semler chips at it. We chip at it, those of us who refuse to be disciplined into the image of the white Jesus, stripped of his body and history. 

I don’t know if the church is salvageable, but it needs changing. Maybe whisper networks can turn into more than whispers. And then the only thing we have to whisper and then say to each other is, you are beautiful. I am beautiful. We are beautiful.



brown, a. m. (2019). Pleasure activism: The politics of feeling good. AK Press.

Foucault, M. (1982). The subject and power. Critical Inquiry, 8(2), 777-795. 

Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In C. Nelson & L. Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture (pp. 271-313). University of Illinois 


Videos are used with Creative Commons licenses. Videos accessed on and were created by the following creators:

mart productions; adam fackelman; ron lach; koolshooters: one, two, three; cottonbro: one, two, three, four, five; deeana arts; james; jakob lundvall; ruth slotman; shvetz productions; tima miroshnichenko; polina kovaleva.

Words & music by Will Chesher. 

Voiceover & music recorded and created using Apple Logic Pro X. 

Video & text layover created using Apple Final Cut Pro.


Will Chesher (he/him) is a PhD candidate in the Composition & Rhetoric program at Miami University of Ohio with a graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. His research includes thinking about structural/institutional program design for graduate and undergraduate education, embodiment and mentoring in grad education, and looking at what we do with our expertise in writing studies outside of higher education. He also writes music & likes to make things.