I have spoken before about the negative effects of the purity culture in my life. There are numerous books and programs out there that spout the belief that courtship was the appropriate Christian response in a sinful world full of sex. One of the most pervasive and damaging in my mind is I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a nearly two decade old book written by a then twenty-one-year-old, detailing a roadmap to a successful God-centric marriage. In the book, Joshua Harris lays out some "simple" rules for a Godly relationship. The first is easy: Don't date. Court. This means you don't hold hands (at least until engagement), you don't kiss until your wedding day, and all of your outings are accompanied by friends or family. The boy always initiates the relationship, never the woman, and he must receive permission in order to date you. And none of this happens until you are actually ready for marriage, which means that the first date is heavily weighted with the idea that this will probably be your future spouse. First dates are on the same level as an engagement. The idea is to marry the first person you date, to save yourself from heartache.
Obviously, the church was all over this. At least, the more charismatic and Evangelical ones who were already touting the whole virgin-until-married thing pretty hard. Before I was a teen, my mom was already teaching a series of classes called True Love Waits to the teen girls in our church. Notice the classes were only for girls. I don't recall any such class being offered to boys. Not surprising since there was definitely an underlying perception that "boys will be boys" and although it was recommended that they save themselves toward marriage, it shouldn't be unexpected if they can't quite manage it. Within this Evangelical subculture, my family was also deeply involved in the homeschooling subculture and those people were almost fanatical about this book. After all, that's why you are homeschooling right? So save your children from the corruptions of the world. And what is the biggest corruption of all? Sex.
The problem with all of this is that it created some serious issues in regards to sexuality. Recently Joshua Harris opened up his website for people to share their stories of how his book affected its readers twenty years on, willing to finally confront the harm his book might have done. Although there are a few people who managed to follow this courtship model and are happy, the majority of the stories are quite negative. Horribly so. There are tales of divorce, eating disorders, sexual immaturity, lifelong singleness, constant guilt. Some have come out the other side, but many state that this purity culture, fueled by Harris' book, have left them with lifelong scars. Oh and let's not forget the young people who had already had sex before they read this book. Either innocently or through rape or sexual abuse. The utter worthlessness that they felt after reading a book in which it says, in so many words, that they are damaged goods and destined for a bad marriage. My thoughts as I read these stories were, I'm not alone. There are others who were damaged by this kind of thinking. I'm not crazy for thinking this is not okay.
See, in Christian circles, stating that you think that the purity culture, emphasis on virginity, and no sex before marriage are not healthy is seen as a sin in itself. Of course, sex before marriage is bad. How dare you state otherwise? Except, my experience has taught me that not only is some sexual experience good, but necessary when you live in a culture where most people don't get married until their mid-twenties. By then, men have already passed their sexual peaks. I have only had one partner, my husband, and there are days when I wonder what it is that I missed. It's not that things aren't satisfactory, it's that there are certain things that we, as a couple, don't or won't do. Things that maybe someone else would have. I won't ever know some of those things (I am in a committed monogamous relationship folks) because they aren't my husband's cup of tea and so we don't really explore. He learned, after a number of partners, what he liked and didn't like. I'm only just beginning to explore that in a healthy context. A part of me is glad I was a virgin bride though, because I was so indoctrinated that to have had pre-marital sex would have wracked me with guilt.
I have tried to talk to my Christian friends and family about this. To tell them not to be afraid to talk about sex with their fiance. I never go so far as to suggest they have sex, but I really think they should just go for it. None of them has listened. My experiences, which are obviously not mine alone, are deemed as outlying. No possibility that the things we have been taught could have been wrong. I find it interesting that one of the primary teachers of this doctrine is now looking back on it and questioning his own words. Of course, as someone who has deconverted, I can definitely say that I understand. On the other hand, since he is still a Christian and now attending seminary no less, I wonder if he will ever go so far as to recant. Heaven forbid someone admit that perhaps the purity culture they helped create, turned into a monster. That although the intentions were good, it was written by a twenty-one-year old who didn't know the first thing about love or human psychology. Who thought that purity and virginity were more important than a healthy relationship or getting to know someone casually.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.