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134. Healing From the Grooming of Purity Culture with Dr. Rachel Smith

Nicole: The first question I like to ask each guest how would you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. Um, so I am Rachel Smith. I am a licensed clinical psychologist. Um, I predominantly do therapy. I specialize in trauma, all different kinds of trauma. I also do, you know, a bunch of other things on the side, like most psychologists. So I teach. I'm the clinical training director at my site. I. Do some volunteer stuff, one with a, um, community legal center and one with a nonprofit that I started, um, around like access to mental health care.

So, yeah, I think those are most of the big parts of who I am as a professional.

Nicole: Yeah. And I'm excited to have you in this space. And I know today we're also going to be talking about purity culture recovery.

Yeah, I'd love to hear more about your personal connection to that topic.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So I definitely was deeply steeped in purity culture. I am a pastor's daughter from the South. So my dad was a Southern Baptist priest. Our preacher my whole life until I was in like high school or so, and then he switched to a different career.

So I did the whole thing. I did true love weights. I had the purity ring. I like, you know, signed the pledges. I carried around Josh Harris's book. Like it was a Bible. Wow. I was in. I was all the way in. Um, yeah. So I obviously like had my own personal, very long journey coming out of all of that and starting to recognize even what it was.

I don't even remember the first time that I heard that term purity culture, but like, at some point it. Came to my realization that like, oh, other people have experienced this same thing and it's impacted all of us in very similar ways. And so I began my own healing journey with all of that. And then at some point I started hearing the same kind of stories from multiple clients at the same.

Same time and I don't know, anytime you hear all of your individual clients sort of saying the same thing and thinking they're alone, it's always a good recipe for a group. Totally. Yes. You're the other people that have your experience and like, it's not appropriate or maybe even helpful for me to be the one to say like, Hey, you know, other people have this experience or even that I have it right.

It's just not the sometimes helpful, but not always. And so. I reached out to my colleague, Kelly Pastore, who is a clinician at my practice as well. And I knew that she, in my perspective, she was farther ahead in her recovery than I was, and it felt like something that was. I don't know if she said hell, yeah, but the energy was hell.

Yeah. Yeah. We spent some time thinking and creating this purity culture recovery group. And now we have run it. I've lost track. I think we're about to start our. Bye. Maybe ninth iteration of the group. And it's both of our, just, it's like one of our favorite, favorite things that we get to do. We love it so much.

Nicole: Yeah. Such powerful work. And thank you for sharing your background and the personal connection. I've definitely talked a lot on the podcast about my own experience with purity culture. I didn't have parents who were pastors, which adds another level to this, right. But, uh, definitely had my own experience with that and the purity ring and it.

It's been an ongoing discussion on the podcast with a handful of people in the intersecting identities of queerness on that for certain people and how that impacted all of that. I mean, for me, it's interesting that there's no books on this and the topic of, you know, religious trauma or any of this.

It's hard to find. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, and there are some people, there are some people that are starting to write about it, even within the Christian tradition. Um, I know a few books from people that I think still identify as Christian that are either already written or that are being written. There are some people that definitely have content, maybe not books, um, the recovery process.

But yeah, most of the books that we recommend, even in the group aren't necessarily specifically. Talking about purity culture, it's just like, we, one of our top ones is like, come as you are, but I'm leaning to go skate, right? Like you just need, we didn't get sex ed. We got abstinence only. I'm like, let's start with some really good sex.

So that's a lot of our recommendations are really these more general things and not, yeah, not a lot of specific resources on it outside of the church yet.

Nicole: Right, right, right, right. Yeah. One of the ones I have is. I think it's called Leaving the Fold by Dr. Marlene Winnell, have you heard of that one? I

Dr. Rachel Smith: haven't read it, but it's familiar, yeah.

Nicole: Yeah, I think that wasn't one of the only texts I could find anything really, like, hitting on that from a psychology perspective. But yeah, there's just so much here, and I did want to ask, uh, what was your, you know, sex education like? Uh, if you got anything, did you even get the condom on the banana? I didn't get that.

Dr. Rachel Smith: No, I think I was handed some sort of... Book that was probably written by focus on the family. Um, that was like explaining it wasn't even sex ed though. Like I actually found the book a few years ago when we were starting the group. I want to see what I actually read. And it was even Less than I remember, like it was less helpful than I even remember.

And it's not that I remembered it being helpful. I just thought it actually talked about sex, but it didn't. It was just like, it talked, I think, a little bit about puberty and then about marriage and babies, but like, even once it got to the marriage part, it was not actually talking about what happens in sex.

So, right. And then in high school, I went to a Christian school and we got that only with all of the traumatizing pictures and yeah.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. I was reflecting on mine. Um, they gave us the, the paper test. Did they do that with you?

Dr. Rachel Smith: There were very similar, like the chewed up gum, the rose, the like all these things that are like, Oh, your body's trash and worthless.

If you don't protect your. Virginity air quotes right?

Nicole: And now as a therapist on the other side, like thinking from a trauma informed lens, how many You know, people were sitting in those seminars having to process that sort of message about their own traumas, potentially.

Dr. Rachel Smith: And you know, that message specifically, I've seen a theme across our groups and across the work that we've done that's really, really sad related to that.

And that is because the only reason for saying no. Was virginity and purity like there were no real boundaries, right? Like there was no sort of like healthy. What do I want? What do I not want? There was no consideration of the self and one's own needs. And so, unfortunately, I've heard this story now over and over and over again that when either that.

Is taken by force. So someone is sexually assaulted, or when somebody does make the choice to have sex for that first time, then they feel that they have no option to say no anymore and then allow people to treat their body like the trash can that they were told that it was for so long. And this retraumatizing, like, completely dissociated.

Period of time that can happen after that until thankfully for all the people that I've spoken with, like there is a moment where they say like, Hey, wait, like, I don't think this is what I want or what's right for me. Right. Like, but. So much damage is done in that time.

Nicole: Yeah, it's very validating to hear you say that because in my own lived experience, I had just actually released an episode on my birthday talking about my purity ring and the implications and how that impacted me and it was something that I had pointed out.

in my own journey, right? Of how after having sex with someone being taken by force, like, there's this space of, Oh, it's already happened. The numbers already happened. It's already there, right? So what's the worst thing that could happen afterwards? I've already lost that piece. So I think, you know, that's not something I can go to a book to see.

So it was something I was feeling. And so to hear that that's a message that multiple survivors of this phenomena are feeling.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Well, and then getting trapped in like abusive relationships or like other really unhealthy relationships because like, Oh, well, this was the person that I like, again, air quotes, lost my virginity to.

So like, I'm trying to keep that from. You know, being worse or like becoming less pure by trying to make this relationship work and then even more damage done in that. So it's just like, uh, I've thought a lot about, like, I think I will one day, I do want to write some sort of book on this. Please do,

Nicole: please do, we need you.

Dr. Rachel Smith: I need to create the time because it does feel important, but I've always thought about like, maybe my opening line would be something like. I was sexually assaulted, but purity culture is what groomed me.

Nicole: Ooh, that might be the title of the episode. That was really good.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. I mean, it's just this narrative that I've heard over and over and over so many times and lived in my own life, right?

Is that like, not that necessarily the assaults wouldn't have happened, but sometimes, yeah, like maybe they wouldn't have happened if we had any sort of empowerment or agency over our own bodies. Yeah.

Nicole: Mm hmm. The education was just so lacking, the conversations, the ability to even dialogue about it since it was such a forbidden topic.

We don't even get the language of our desires or our boundaries or anything. So it's hard to say if it would have happened, but just when you hear these stories again and again, you have to follow the phenomenon and what's unfolding, right? Absolutely. Yeah. And I will say, I mean, this podcast has covered a range of topics, but to further endorse the need for your book, I will say that the most like topic that, you know, listeners reach out about is the spiritual trauma piece of, you know, not necessarily purity culture specifically, but just in general, the vast ways that those beliefs really impacted certain areas of our lives and created lasting impacts that are really harmful.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, like what you said before, there are tons of people talking about it now, which is really good. Like there's some great like networking groups for clinicians and like talking about like specializing in religious trauma recovery and all these kinds of things. But like, Yeah, there's, I've started to see some research too.

Like there's some articles now and there's some things, um, there's one article that I've had open on my desktop forever. I really want to read it. And it's talking about like the similarities between like rape culture and purity culture, which is again, something that I hear and have heard over and over and over.

So I'm really excited to read this article. That's totally, yeah, it's, there's not a lot in the academic space and in the late. Literary space yet. Mm hmm.

Nicole: So I'm really thankful to have you here as someone with expertise in this unique type of work. And I want to ask so many different questions. One of the ones I sit with too, as like a therapist, right, is how do you hold this perspective about the pain of that and then also potentially work with clients that are in it?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Like people who are still actively religious, you mean?

Nicole: Yeah. Which is also my family too, so I hold that nuance and for me, I never knew if it was something that would be too triggering within myself to have to refer out and, and, and, but I'm just curious how you navigate that space.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah.

Well, I think the group is open to people that are still religious. Um, and we have different amounts of that in each group. Usually there's a blend of people who are, um, like do feel very traumatized by religion and then people who are still trying to find a way forward with their spirituality. And that's one of the things like.

We just have a very few screening questions for the group, but that's the big one is like, can you hold that space? Can you tolerate listening to the other side, especially thinking about the people who have experienced it as traumatic? Like, is it going to be too triggering to hear someone like saying what they believe about God, right?

And so that's another just really beautiful thing about the group is that everybody always says, yes, I'm so happy to like, hold that space for people because we're all trying to heal. And we're all trying to make meaning out of this in whatever way we can. And I think like, I don't identify as religious anymore.

I'm probably somewhere in the agnostic realm. I believe that religion is more like a cultural representation than it is any sort of like, Objective truth. I talked about it. It's like different parts of the elephant, right? So like, just because you're talking about the trunk and I'm talking about the tail, like, it doesn't mean that either of us is wrong.

It's just the way that we have to access the elephant. Um, and I think that perspective is really helpful in doing this work with people that are still trying to find some sort of meaning within religion. Um. Cause it just gives me, I also, I know what it feels like to lose all of that and to like deconstruct and like

Nicole: psychedelic experience

Dr. Rachel Smith: destabilizing.

And so I have a lot of compassion for people. And honestly, there's still part of me that wishes that I could have found a way to like hold everything and stay. And because like the church was such a huge part of my life for the same thing here. So it is a huge loss. And so I think I, all of that just helps me to have compassion for wherever people are on this spectrum and I want healing for everyone.

And I don't really care what people believe religiously. I just want. Like healing and empowerment for everybody,

Nicole: which is a really great space to come at it from with that openness. Right. I think I'm always just interested in to, you know, in, in this like definitions of the lines we draw between religion and cults.

And when we start to like fear for clients or friends or people in our communities and, and like where we draw that line culturally of what. That definition is and who gets to divine that. I think those are all really interesting pieces that come in, like, not just the work, but also just like in life.

When you see friends that go down these paths and start to change in certain ways and, and asking yourself, yeah, is this a safe space for them? It's hard to know. Absolutely.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. And I think it's, you know, it's like any other values driven part of the therapy spaces, right? Like helping clients to identify what are your values and how do you follow those more congruently?

Right? And so that's really the space that we come from. Like, we don't tell anybody what to do in this group. Yeah. Like we, yeah. And the group sort of saying, like, what's the next right step for you and that anything like, and also think about what are your values and how are you going to stay congruent with your own values and those can change and those can develop.

But again, like so much of this experience of purity culture is not getting to set our own, that like, really, whatever it is, as long as you're setting it. That's a huge step forward.

Nicole: Totally. Yeah. That's a really, I think, empathetic and strong way to come at it, which is like, what's the next best step for you?

You know? And I think sometimes I'm trying to hold space here for like therapy conversations, but also ways that listeners who are tuning in can also support other people in their lives. Right. And so when you're coming to other people, like trusting in their innate, you know, wisdom to know what that next step is rather than coming in with that, I know what's.

Best for you, I think, is a really loving, kind way to do that. So I hope more people can step into that space of trusting other people to follow and to know what that next step is for them.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Well, and to your question about like friends and like seeing like friends and loved ones, you know, people that aren't your clients that are in situations you feel like are dangerous.

I do think because there's not the power differential there, the point maybe you can say a little more like. Hey, I don't think this like knowing you, I don't think this is the right step for you. Obviously, as a therapist, you have to be very, very clear before you can say something that directive to a client.

Nicole: Totally, totally, totally. Hence the need for supervision and the guidance and the referring out whenever it goes there. Right. So I appreciate that. And I know you were talking earlier about some of the themes that you've noticed in the group, right? Like, I'd be curious if there are any other themes that you've noticed in your work that you think would be valuable to share with the listeners.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Um, a big one is sexual pain. A lot, a lot, a lot. This is one of the ways there's research to show that people who experienced purity culture mimic symptoms of people who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Oh, and like sexual pain is one of the big ways that that shows up. So definitely we've seen a lot of people with sexual pain problems.

A lot of sexual desire discrepancies, um, a lot of people coming into the group and saying like, either they don't have much desire or they want to have more desire or things like that too. I would say those are two really, really big reasons that people. are motivated to do something like this group, which is going to be so vulnerable and difficult for so many people.

Nicole: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. I'm thinking about the pain pieces and some of the particular messaging around purity culture, or at least what I received of, you know, this is a gift that you give to your husband. Cause it was only heterosexual opportunities in that world, but it was a gift I give hence that space where maybe if you're.

or other things, it becomes that martyrdom gift that you're giving. I'd be curious if that's kind of what you've seen in your work or where that, like, thread really comes from.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of, like, duty, obligation, um, a lot of those kind of themes coming up. A lot of, like, Well, if my partner wants this, then I need to do this for them.

And like, I mean, that's something that even though that dynamic does not exist in my own life at all, it's something that like I have brought to that because of my indoctrination. Right. And that is something that I think is a huge theme that we see, um, in the group and in our individual clients.

Nicole: Yeah, for sure.

And then when you think about that, you know, on top of the messages of womanhood, right? I mean, I'm thinking about not necessarily purity culture, but within the doctrines that I was taught, you know, women are meant to be quiet. They're meant to, you know, be submissive to the authority of the man who is closer to God.

Then you add something like sex on top of that. I can imagine, you know, um, A multitude of things, but just in general, in terms of a pleasure basis, the space of, you know, being soft and gentle and never getting to embody that, uh, erotic power and dare I say, aggression and furiousness that can come into play because you're in such a, you know, demure, soft, must submit space.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Yeah. And we've had people say like, they don't even know where to start. Desire and play and pleasure and like one of the resources that we send out at the end of the group is I have a friend that like she's also a psychologist, but on the side, she sells sex toys. So we're like, you can also like go to her website, if you need to and explore and she's available to answer questions and she gets where you're coming from.

Yeah. So many people, you know, they all share resources like that with each other in the group that people are a little farther along in finding joy and sexuality. But we always have at least a few people, if not most of the group that just have no connection between joy or pleasure and sex. Like it is only a dutiful, yeah.

Like, uh, Performance a gift, like you said, um, an obligation and that's, I think it's really sad, but that's so much of the messaging. So it makes sense. And

Nicole: then like, just, yeah, holding space for the discomfort of stepping out of that, you know, I, I just, I, I can't imagine for myself and for all the other people, you know, there's so much shame.

Deep in there that that first step out feels like you know, no one might be looking when you buy that toy But God forbid inside you are feeling like the whole world knows that you just did this atrocious horrible thing and you're sitting with that internally and often alone because it can be so vulnerable and uncomfortable.

And even in therapy, right? A lot of people talk about it's uncomfortable to talk about this with the therapist, right? Like these feelings of shame around this.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yes. Absolutely. And I would say that's another, another very common theme in the group is people having these even like consensual experiences, maybe even positive experiences sexually, but then immediately feeling this wave of guilt and shame.

And that gets. Paired with the experience. And so then it, it loses some of the beauty and the pleasure that maybe they were initially able to experience from it. Yeah,

Nicole: absolutely. Do you talk about masturbation at all with your clients?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. We have some general themes that we make sure to cover, but so much of it is, you know, what the clients in each individual group bring up, um, which is part of why it's so interesting that such clear themes.

Yes, it is. Across all of the groups, right? Mm hmm. Yeah. But I think to your, what you were saying before, too, about like the. The difficulty moving toward any sort of pleasure, joy. I think the other lens that's really important here is seeing it as a type of trauma, right? Because the messaging is still your body is not your own, right?

Like, I think that's literally a verse in the Bible. Um, and then like all of these reasons that like, you can't make your own decisions about your body. Your body is sinful. Your body is bad. Those sensations that felt good in your body, like you shouldn't feel them. You should feel shame about those. And all of that is traumatizing.

And so thinking about just trauma in general, what's 1 of the 1st responses that we often have is the dissociation, right? And so. To step back, even to put a toe back into embodiment can bring up all of these trauma responses. And so many people. Another very unfortunate theme of the group is we always have people that not only experienced the trauma of purity culture in general, but have also experienced.

The trauma of sexual assault within the church, like being assaulted directly by someone in power in the church. That is unfortunately another theme that we've seen. And so then like you have this, you know, capital T trauma that like we say like, Oh, take a breath, right? Like, no, that's really upsetting.

Like, because you're connecting with your body and your body isn't what a safe place to be. So getting from that to a place where you can actually feel pleasure in your body, like that's not two steps down the road. That's a long road.

Nicole: Absolutely. I'm, I almost want to ask what the first step is of healing that, but I'm like, damn, that's, that's the book.

That's the book. Right. But, but I'll, I'll, I'll ask it anyways, you know, like for the person that is in that space. Like, how do you work with them? Where do you go?

Dr. Rachel Smith: I mean, I think individually is different than the group. Um, but for the group, I would say we're Often at the end of any session, we're prompting self care.

We're prompting. What does it look like for you to take care of yourself tonight? Um, we're normalizing and validating the responses that are coming up for folks in their bodies. We're checking in explicitly around, like, how people are feeling and what is coming up in their bodies. And then. People need ideas of, okay, how do I regulate this?

I don't know how to take care of myself. We of course give those, or sometimes the other participants will give those. But a lot of times we're very explicit about like, okay, even if you're feeling some relief right now from telling your story, that's wonderful. We're so glad you're feeling that in this supportive, nonjudgmental space.

You also are going back into your own space and. A lot of this might continue to come up and so be really mindful about what can you do to soothe yourself? Like, do you have a favorite tea that you can have? Can you take, can you watch your favorite show, right? Like a blend of sort of distraction and like self regulation because we all need that blend.

Um, so we're pretty explicit about that. We also start each session with some mindfulness. Um, just to help people transition into this space as well. So just in doing that, like, it seems like, Oh, this is just like a nice little therapist thing to do, but it's so intentional.

Nicole: Yeah, it is. And like you said, you, you can say it there in that space, but, you know, you know, the fact that you've opened the box there and then the days after thinking about the open box and how that can bring up stuff.

And maybe, like you said, you're not in that group environment anymore. And so preparing people for, you know, the, the work and like what it means to actually unpack this and how are you going to support yourself afterwards? Who is your community that you're going to go to? Those are also really crucial things to prepare people with before doing this.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. And we completely recommend individual therapy for people as well. Some people have come from doing years of individual and this is maybe sort of their like closer to their last step in healing. And then other people, this is maybe their first step. And we're saying, okay, if you have not done individual, like you really, really need to do that in order to compliment this group because it is a short term.

Nicole: Sure, of course. And I think prior to stepping into the field, I wouldn't have understood the full benefit of group therapy. Uh, I think particularly within our Western lens, we have a very, like, individual focus. I want this one on one time. But, uh, through my work of doing it, you know, in different locations, it's been so powerful and When you think about purity culture, part of what reinforces that is the fact that you were in a community with relationships of people who all look at you and say, yes, this is what we do.

This is how it's going down. And so then to step into a space where your pain points and your growth can be, you know, in a circle of other people with that same pain point can be really transformative. So I'd be curious if you could speak to that, because I think a lot of people don't understand the power of group.


Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, I think, I mean, not to maybe sell myself and Kelly short, but like, I really think the whole feeling of the group is. The other participants that are sitting there with non judgment and like, listening and caring for people in whatever they're saying. I mean, like, people have said some intense shit in these groups and everybody does such a beautiful job every time of really being.

Nonjudgmental of being warm and comforting and like, really just taking care of each other, normalizing validating. And I think it just hits different when it's somebody that's not your therapist, you know, like, when it's just some random person that. Is not going to see you again after this and they could be a jerk to you if they wanted to, it means something really different than when your therapist that you're paying to sit with you.

It's like, it's okay. That's not in there. Like, are you really judge me? Right?

Nicole: Exactly. And then the ways that we internalize those relationships, right? And then hold them within our psyche and the ways that we move through the world of knowing those people held that space for me and had that nonjudgmental stance of love and acceptance.

And then that shifts how you step out into other spaces when you hold those relationships in your mind, in your heart.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Yeah. And one of the reasons that we do have the group being a short term group, well, first of all, it's because there's so many people that Need it and we can't have a group of like 90 people.

Um, but also like each cohort opts into identifying themselves and sharing identifying information with one another. And so then if they need to carry this space forward with them. They can, because they're not going to be a therapy group anymore. And so that's been something that's been really, really cool to see these little cohorts.

Some that have stayed more connected than others, but it's just really amazing. And every once in a while we get like a email response of like, Hey, we all were talking about this and we found this resource that we wanted to share.

Nicole: Yes. Community is medicine. So powerful. And I know when you were talking, you said a little bit about, you know, preparing for the difficulty of opening the box and then stepping into, you know, more sex education.

I'm curious what other sort of resources and things are you, I know it's mostly group driven, right? So that's a unique part. It's not simply psychoeducation, but I'd be curious what other pieces are you sharing or Themes that might be helpful to a listener who, you know, saw the title of this episode and is drawn in because they're coming from similar backgrounds.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, absolutely. We have a whole list that we have books, podcasts. We have like, um, Instagram accounts to follow. We have a whole huge list of resources that we send out at the end of every group, but I would say. The two resources that explicitly come up in the group every time are come as you are by Emily Nki.

just some good sex ed. And the Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor talking about like the systems of oppression and how those, like how radical self-love really can push back against these oppressive systems. Um, and so I think that intersectional approach that she uses is so vital. To consider things through that lens.

And, um, so that's a book that always comes up as well. I would say those two are probably my top two recommended books. Period. And

Nicole: if you'd be willing, I'd love to include the resources and the show notes for the listeners so they could find that in case they're not in Illinois and can't connect with you.

I think that could be really powerful to have that out there for people who are resonating with what you're talking about.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Also, um, because I have PsyPac, they don't have to be in Illinois to be in the group. We can accept, um, referrals from, as of today, I think there are 39 states in SIPAC. So most of the country, if they want to come to our group, they can.

Nicole: That's really exciting. That's a novel area of the field. I love to hear that. I assumed we were going to move towards that in time, but I hadn't checked on it. So it's really exciting to hear that.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. Absolutely. PsyPac is awesome. Everybody out there that's a clinical psychologist should get side bags.


Nicole: Great. Good to hear that. And I'm sure it's so powerful to see, you know, just the emotional healing that comes through this work for clients and, and what is possible on the other side. I think that's, you know, like you were talking about that person who, you know, is uncomfortable about sex and can't, you know, going by that sex toy that they're kind of interested in without feeling all of that pressing on them to hopefully getting to that other side where they can play and have pleasure.

I can't even imagine how, you know, powerful it is to be a part of that work.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, it's incredible. And we've had people make huge shifts in the group. And then other people, I mean, it's every move is a huge move, right? Like not to say that there's like some that are bigger than others, right? But like, some people have been ready to make a big life choice on the other side of the support that they get in the group.

And then some people, yeah. Are a little more comfortable talking about sex, which means because if you're not comfortable talking about sex, it means that you also can't talk to your friends about things. That may be wrong that are happening to you sexually right like even disclosing abuse or assault when you're not used to talking about sex at all.

That can be a huge barrier. And so we have people that this is the first time they've talked about those things. Like without, or with somebody that's not their therapist. Right. And so even just being able to have a place, again, this is why like they can opt into staying connected, have a place to be able to say like, Hey, like, so when I said, could you wear a condom?

And he said, do we have to Like, is that normal or like, what do you do with, you know, like, if you don't have somebody to talk to about sex or if you feel so ashamed that you're having sex that you can't talk to anybody, then like, how are you going to know that like, oh no, that's not okay. And like, that is a way of not respecting your boundaries, right?

That it's manipulative, whatever. Like. You need to be able to have a community of people that you can talk to about these things in order to even help you move through and process whatever you're experiencing.

Nicole: I'm getting blue balls. I have to have sex right now. It's hurting. You need to have sex with me.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Um, I was just listening to a podcast. It was somebody that's still in the Christian world, but they were talking about some of their research and they were talking about some of the books that they had read. And there are like real books out there, like published books, saying things like you have to give your husband right again, uh, release like every three days.

Otherwise, like Satan can come in. No way. What is that? Like, no, that's not true. That's not true.

Nicole: So, so many implications there for pain. Yep.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Implications, right? Like, and what does it mean to have sex? Like, can you consent if you're under obligation, right? Like, it's, mm hmm.

Nicole: It's deep. Yep. And, you know, even continuing on that, You know, I've, I've talked about this so many times, right?

Like the whole healing continuum goes all the way to like pleasure and play, right? And so in the same way that if you don't have space to have conversations about maybe the traumas and the atrocities that have happened, you know, people also need space to be able to talk about the play that is possible, right?

You know, People will share different ways that they're interacting and thriving and having good times or fantasies that they're thinking about. And that can be such a transformative space too, to have people to be able to name that and, you know, know that it's not wrong or bad to have certain fantasies.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and that's part of what is so beautiful about having people at so many different places in their seat in the same group is inevitably there is somebody that's far enough along that they've had positive sexual experiences, and they can tell people that it's possible. Right? Like, It's just incredible to see that like people can you can see their eyes getting wide like in the moment.

They're like, that's possible. Like, you can have that experience and feel good about it and not feel shame. And it's just, it's really, really beautiful.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. And I'm just thinking about, you know, the power of that community for what. You dream as possible, right? Frequently, we're working under these paradigms of, you know, various narratives, you know, whether it's on TV or in our community of what is possible and how powerful than it is to have someone else from that different perspective to, you know, quite literally like a light bulb moment of just, Whoa, there's a whole different world, you know, and then what expands for them in terms of possibilities.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Um, absolutely. Yeah, it's really incredible to see it happen in real time.

Nicole: Yeah, I'm sure. And I'm also thinking about the ways, you know, I guess this is maybe a part of purity culture, but just in general with Christianity or the, again, I, I try to be careful not to say Christianity in and of itself. Right.

Cause there's a lot of people that practice it in ways that are not as, um, not as strict to the Bible or the fundamental teachings that maybe I heard, right? Where I was taught that if you think about hating your neighbor, you've already committed murder in the eyes of the Lord, right? Or if you think about being with your neighbor's wife, you've already committed adultery, right?

Yeah. So that paradigm of like your thoughts and the ways that that requires you to monitor your thoughts. Constantly and need to ask for approval for your thoughts. I mean, as a therapist, I just think about how that is the perfect storm for anxiety,

Dr. Rachel Smith: like the perfect storm, you know what I mean?

Nicole: Yeah. Let alone fantasies, right?

Let alone trying to activate that muscle of, you know, getting beyond the, you know, pain points and the shame to like dream, right? That is just a muscle. If we want to get more cognitive, you know, like a thought pattern, you know, that has not been. Activated and hence why it can feel so uncomfortable like you're learning almost this new language, right?

Yeah. Play again.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. And like, I mean, so much of the research in general right now in the world of psychology is sort of. At least in what I'm reading, it seems like it's sort of centering around this idea of nonjudgmental awareness, right? Like, all of the mindfulness stuff, all of the, like, all of the research seems to be pointing to, like, what's the next step forward?

Nonjudgmental awareness, right? And so being able to recognize whether it's that Our bodies are feeling really traumatized, whether or not we consider ourselves to have experienced capital T trauma, right? Like if you can be nonjudgmentally aware that your body is feeling shut down and fearful and traumatized in a situation, then it gives you a pretty open path forward.

If you're not judging that you can be curious about like, Oh, well, what would my body need to feel a little safer or to feel a little better? Right? Like it, it's such a clear, Like, you don't have to explore the next steps because they just appear. It seems like if you can be non judgmentally aware, right?

And so I think that's so much of what I've been trying to bring into all of my therapeutic work is like, how, how does it look to be non judgmentally aware of what's happening in the space?

Nicole: Mm hmm. Very, very powerful. And yeah, there's so much work here in the ways that. I would say, I don't, I don't know if there's an end to the ways that this is incorporated and impacts our lives.

You know, like, I would say, you know, there's definitely different points of, of understanding and connection to it. And maybe it's not as triggering or activating. Right. But the reality is when you've gone through this for, you know, whatever amount of years that. Exists there and we create a relationship to it.

And I think, you know, as I'm doing my research into various kinks I'm always thinking about how such an experience like that can create, you know A unique desire for like playing with shame as a spicy element And I think you know on the other side of that there's a lot of empowerment if you choose to play with that You know, we've had these experiences where that choice was not given.

And then to know that that is a part of your history or something that creates a reaction and to say, Hey, like partners, like I want to play with this intentionally and now take ownership over the ways that that impacted me. I think there can be so much healing through that type of play.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely.

Again, trauma work in general, one of the most important piece pieces is agency building, right. And like helping people find their own agency and power because trauma inherently is something that like had power over you, right. Or, um, something that like came in and was uncontrollable. And so I think being able to give people agency choice power, right.

All of those things is a really important part of the healing.

Nicole: Absolutely. I'm curious if there's anything, you know, when you take a moment to breathe into it, that you would want to say to your younger self as you're just starting to unpack, you know, the ways that this has impacted you. Is there anything that you'd want to say to your younger self?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Ooh, so much, right?

Nicole: Where do we start?

Dr. Rachel Smith: I don't even know if I know where to start. Like... I mean, like, truly like a thousand things are running through my mind. But I think just like these ideas of like, you're gonna find your people and you're gonna find like meaning and purpose. And I think those are maybe like the bigger themes, but related to, uh, related to purity culture.

Goodness. I know it's all wrong, is what I want. Yeah, I know. It's all literally the opposite of the direction that you, yeah. Um, maybe just like your body's not bad. Yeah. Like just because your body's scary doesn't mean that it's bad. You know, like, I don't know, I could, whoo, I mean, take that back to my own therapy.

Nicole: Yeah, journal prompts, whoo! Yeah, as you were speaking, I was thinking of just, just like strong desire to like hug that younger self and say like, it's, it's okay, it's not you. There is hope. There is hope. Once you find your people, eventually it's just all that desire to just hug that there was, at least for my experience, so much pain and tears that I would wish I could give her a hug at that point in her life.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Absolutely. Yeah. And that was definitely like the energy that I was, I was like, the words are like

Nicole: too many words.

Dr. Rachel Smith: It's like holding that space. Like I wish that. Somebody had held, like, a non judgmental, like, curious, exploratory... Space around like bodies and desire and any of that. I didn't even, yeah, you know, I'm going to say this thing in front of who knows who's listening, but I'm going to say it anyway.

I didn't know that women could masturbate until I was in grad school. Yeah. I was literally like, wait, what?

Nicole: Yes. The pleasure that is our own bodies. Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that vulnerable piece. And that's why, um, for episode, I think it's episode 100. I had made a masturbation guide, like an, a meditation truly.

Cause my yoga background, it's literally a 45 minute how to. masturbate and not with any sort of expectation of orgasm, but quite literally just to like, feel into your body. I remember when I was writing the script, I was quite literally trying to channel my old self in the shame and try to name that of like, let's let go of the shame for the pleasure that is possible in your body.

Like, this is your body. Oh, you know, like I just, the amount of shame and judgment tapped into that is, is quite mind boggling at this point. And when we know the scientific research on how beneficial it is for our physical and mental health, I mean, there's just so much there, but that is a hundred percent what I was trying to channel and, and it has like 50, 000 plays on YouTube these days.

So I'm like, people are betting if benefiting

Dr. Rachel Smith: amazing,

Nicole: but it's incredible because people need it.

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, that's like one of my new favorite books that's also on our list is, I don't think it's a new book, but I'm new to it is, uh, Lori Brado's book, um, better sex through mindfulness. Um, and her research is incredible that she goes through in that book, but she also, she does these, like I was listening to the audio and she does these meditation, like sort of at the end of each chapter, maybe, or throughout the book and.

It was so interesting because it's all just like nonjudgmental awareness, right? She's not telling you to do anything. She's just like, just notice what's coming up. And it was so interesting because like, through listening to that, I was able to name something that again, I had heard a million times in the group or from clients and it's this like slamming of the iron door sort of feeling this.

Instant sort of like, nope, not going to notice completely shut it down. It's repression, right? Like it's a complete repression because that's what we were taught to do to be holy quotes again, is that we were supposed to completely suppress. All of these feelings, all of these sensations, all of these desires.

Right. And so then, of course, you get into a context where whatever your values are, your values are feeling great about having sex now. Like, of course, you can't stop that door from slamming. Like you have been practicing slamming the door for so long. And that was just such a huge light bulb to me to feel it in my own body and connect it to, Oh, I've heard this story so many times.

I know now what this is. And that's able to, instead of like just letting that process happen in my subconscious, just to be able to like, be curious about it, notice it. Isn't that interesting that that's what happens. And even through that tiny little intervention, like. It's been transformative to me as an embodied human, not just with sex, but like with so many different types of embodiment that I struggle with.

Mm hmm.

Nicole: Mm hmm. And dare I say, you know, kind of like that book speaks to, I'm always talking about on the podcast how important mindfulness is for pleasure in general and not just sex, right? You're eating your dinner and if you're, I'm so guilty of this, you know, watching Netflix and watching that, like I'm not even noticing.

What I'm tasting, because my mind is on something else, right? And so, the implications for mindfulness in terms of pleasure and play are so huge. And being able to bring in that curiosity about that internal process. Oh, there's so much there. Yeah, another book that I think was really helpful in that I have that book and also, uh, Sex for One by Betty Dotson was a really another helpful book, I think, in terms of, like, unpacking the shame around, um, sex with oneself.

So, yeah.

Dr. Rachel Smith: I'm glad that people are downloading your mindfulness, your meditation. That's amazing. Yeah,

Nicole: isn't it cool? I was a little worried, you know, you know, in the field of psychology as a little. student, you know, I'm trying to like land internships and other things. And I'm like, damn, I have a masturbation meditation out there.

Dr. Rachel Smith: You know, you know, for internship, they say it's the goodness of fit, right? Like it's where you're a good fit for, you're going to match with. So the place that you're meant to be, they are going to love that you did that.

Nicole: I appreciate you saying that I'll hold on to that hope very much. Oh, I want to hold a little bit of space. I always check in with each guest to see, you know, maybe there was something that you wanted to share with the listeners that you didn't get to. So I'll invite you if there's anything else you want to say. Otherwise, I have a closing question I can guide us towards.

Dr. Rachel Smith: I think, man, what I would want to say, I don't know, I think maybe I've said this already, but just to say it clearly, like for people that are still out there that are just at the beginning of their journey, I would just want to say like, it can get better.

Like it really can. There's so much progress that can be made here. Like you don't have to feel like you're being assaulted every time you have sex, like you don't have to feel pain. Like it's. I mean, obviously some people will continue to feel those things like in different levels, but like there's so much space for things to get better, and it's incredibly possible, and you're not alone, like, there are.

Probably millions of us, just statistically, like there are millions of us that are going through similar things. And the fact that we've heard just the same stories over and over and over in every group is just, it's shocking to me still, and also so deeply validating because they're my stories too. Um, and so I think just know like, There's other people out there going through what you're going through, and there's help.

Nicole: Mm. I got chills as you said that. Yeah, and dear listener, wherever you're at, I'm sending you a big hug, you know, truly. Yeah. Well, if you feel good, I'll guide us towards our closing question. Um, so the one question I ask every guest on the show is what is one thing that you wish other people knew was more normal?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Oh God, everything.

Nicole: Yeah, I know, right?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Where do I begin? Yeah. I mean, what does Emily Nagoski, right? What does she say? Like everyone is normal, just organized differently. I'm probably butchering her quote, but like, yeah, like in the world of sexuality, like We're all normal, right? Like there's a lot of variation in what humans can experience and all of it makes sense.

Like, what is her thing? She makes a very important clarification that like, if you're in pain, that like, you can, you need to get treatment for that. Like, that's not. Normal, right? But other than that, like all of our desires, like all of our things that we're interested in, like, I don't know, it's all normal.

And there's other people out there that feel the same way as you do, no matter how abnormal you think you are. Mm

Nicole: hmm. Mm hmm. And pain that you're not asking for. That's the unique, right? Yeah.

Dr. Rachel Smith: That's clarification. Yes. Yeah.

Nicole: Uh, one of my professors actually corrected me. It was funny. So, you know, I had met you and then I was in group therapy and we had to make this group therapy project of what we would do.

And I was like, well, I want to run a purity culture recovery group. So I had written out my whole like plan of how I would do it. Um, and hopefully I do hope to eventually do that through this phase. Um, I think it'd be really powerful. So I'll have to be in conversation with you about it, but I'd put that in there of like, pain's not normal.

And then he was like, unless you want it. And I was like, that's a good point, Dr.


Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah,

Nicole: yeah, but it's, it's so true. I mean, man, if we could just let go of the amount of questions of, am I normal? There'd be so much more space to play and enjoy that. And. Just, you know, these days with my work in this area of focus, just the expansiveness of the ways that people can play and craft narratives.

And so there's just so much richness. I often think about it as this, you know, white canvas, which is partially why it can be anxiety provoking, right? Because if there's no outline to color in the lines, you know, where am I going? But at the same time, wow. Like to curl out. to collaboratively work on that with other partners or yourself and just the space that you can create, you know, it's profound.

And so I'm really thankful that you're here on the podcast talking to people about this and that we can collaboratively create conversations, you know, about the expansiveness of play and healing for

folks. Thank you so much for having me. It's such an important topic. Like I said, Kelly and I love, love, love doing the group.

It's one of our very favorite things. And so it's really fun to get to talk about it. And yeah, and just to like, get the word out to people. There are other people now, um, that are doing similar things. I don't know what everybody does in their own group, but I know that since we started this, I've seen a few other similarly named things popping up.

So I'm hopeful that like, they're going to be more resources and plenty of resources for everyone who needs them to get care around religious trauma and purity culture recovery.

Yeah. So for the listener who is resonating with you and wants to find more information about the group, where would they go to connect with you?

Dr. Rachel Smith: Yeah. AgaveChicago. com. Great. You can click around on there. It's in our like group therapy page, but AgaveChicago. com.

Nicole: Thank you. So much. Yeah. It was a pleasure.

Dr. Rachel Smith: That was so fun. Thank you for everything.

Nicole: Of course. If you enjoyed today's episode, then leave us a five star review wherever you listen to your podcasts.

And head on over to ModernAnarchyPodcast. com to get resources and learn more about all the things we talked about on today's episode. I want to thank you for tuning in and I will see you all next week.


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