Taylor Swift knows a lot about love. She has been writing songs about it and her experiences for some years now! That said, I wouldn’t call her a moral authority on it simply because some of her content does include things contrary to my beliefs. However, there are a lot of innocent lessons on healthy sexuality and relationships that can be gleaned from her work for those who have grown up in purity culture.
Here are five things Taylor Swift has taught me about healthy relationships that purity culture did not:
It’s okay to have feelings (Enchanted)
Purity culture taught that feelings were evil. Yes, actually evil. Depression was evil. Anger was evil. And romantic love was evil. Because “the heart is deceitful.”
While I unlearned this teaching through being taught the appropriate application of this verse, I still didn’t fully recover.
Through Taylor Swift’s music, like Enchanted, accepting feelings and seeing them as healthy became more normal to me. I essentially surrounded myself with her music as a positive message on it and changed the narrative in my mind!
It’s okay to be creative with expressing your feelings (Hey Stephen)
One of the things that purity culture also taught was that it was not okay to express your feelings or interest in someone. At all. Even psychological things like blushing were seen as sinful. So, I learned to hack my own body. I suppressed everything that was a response to being near a crush. I never even considered writing my name and the last name of the boy I liked, because it was too dangerous if I got caught.
This made it really hard to express my feelings when the time did come for me to unlearn this.
I have found that writing music and poetry is helpful, which I found the encouragement to do because of Swift’s line in Hey Stephen: “Those other girls, well they’re beautiful, but would they write a song for you?”
It’s okay to be attracted to someone (Sparks Fly)
Attraction was also considered bad as it was essentially considered lust. There was no distinction made. Which is unfortunate considering that attraction helps you chose a biologically healthy mate for childbearing.
Because of this teaching, I felt ashamed to notice anything about a man. I knew that it was an unhealthy way of thinking, but I couldn’t shake the conditioning and truly believe that.
Taylor Swift’s songs where she specifically talks about physical, but not overtly sexual attributes (eyes, hair), really helped create a safe environment for me to appreciate male beauty without feeling bad or verging into lust.
Heartache is a part of life and love (Mine)
One of the purposes of purity culture and courtship, sometimes implicitly stated, is pain avoidance. If you marry your first crush and wait to have sex with them until the wedding, you get an awesome honeymoon and perfect sex life. You avoid heartache and pain.
Except life doesn’t work that way. There is no guarantee or formula of “do this and you don’t ever get hurt.” Every relationship has its issues regardless of whether the couple is Christian and/or waited. Which is why I love the narrative of “Mine” where Swift showcases a relationship in which they struggle to pay bills and fight and worry they are turning into their parents. Mary’s Song is also a good realistic one as it includes the couple fighting and later aging into their golden years.
Toxic and abusive behavior isn’t normal and shouldn’t be tolerated (You’re Not Sorry and White Horse)
In purity culture, abuse was always earned. Sexual abuse? Her ankle showed beneath her long denim skirt. Physical abuse? She back-talked her husband. Emotional abuse? She must not be tending to his needs appropriately. Abuse was taken because it was always the woman’s fault and to speak up or flee would incriminate her.
I always had an instinct against this way of thinking, but it took a traumatic event (which I talk about in my book) to really recognize the extent of how awful this thinking is. In Taylor’s White Horse and You’re Not sorry, it is clear she was in manipulative, possibly abusive, unhealthy relationships. But she recognized them as such and sees that what happened was wrong. That was a breath of fresh air for me getting out of purity culture.
Purity culture works by classically conditioning people through the concepts, phrases, and buzzwords it uses. Listening to Taylor Swift music was one of the ways I subconsciously worked to replace the damaged narrative from that conditioning. And unlike many of my peers, this self-imposed music therapy didn’t lead to a further messed up idea of relationships.
Like I said before, I wouldn’t want to emulate Taylor Swift in all her relationship particulars. But she sure is good at conveying truths about relationships with poetic flair, and that happened to be exactly what I needed.