En-Gender! Volume 3 Issue 5 (2021)

“You’re either a ho or an innocent little baby”

Self-surveillance, regulation of the sexual body, and moral anxiety among American Evangelical teenage girls

by Rebecca L. AnneDavis

Rebecca L. Anne is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Münster and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen and works as a graduate student at the Center for Religious Studies in partnership with the University of Bochum. Her interdisciplinary project, “Mediated girlhoods in an age of religious pluralism: A blended ethnography among inter-faith girl groups in Germany and the Netherlands” focuses on how teenage females of different religious backgrounds experiencesecular and spiritual interactions both online and offline.

Keywords: Self-surveillance, Evangelical Christian, purity culture, agency, girlhood, morality, sexuality, anxiety, Girlhood Studies, short-term ethnography


This article draws from a short-term ethnography which followed six white, lower-middle class teenage girls who participated in Evangelical bible study groups in the American West. The larger project examined discourses of morality, submission, and the contrast between secular in Evangelical ideology in daily high school life. Focusing specifically on two of those girls, this piece examines how they ethically interact with contradictory value systems and the ways in which they locate morality within the sexual body. Both the Evangelical and high school sphere narrowly define acceptable forms of sexual desire and expression for teenage girls.

As the girls construct good, Christian, moral selves through self-surveillance, they are influenced by what they understand as right according to an American Evangelical culture of sexual abstinence and redemption through monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Through constant, conscious striving and intense worrying about their choices, the girls experience moral anxiety which for them is an integral part of creating the moral self. This article serves to argue that sexual agency as a modality of action can be found within the girls’ beliefs, justifications, and actions informed by their Evangelical upbringing.

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