What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?
Sex was bad. Sure, it was supposed to be beautiful and all AFTER MARRIAGE, but it was bad until then. You couldn’t talk about it, think about it, read about it, look at pictures about it – or so Mama tried to tell us. I got all my sexual education from my public schooling, even though Mama made us sit out of sex education. I knew so much about it that I wanted it. I wanted it bad. For years, I would get on my knees and pray to God that he wouldn’t send Jesus back until I was married and had sex for the first time. I would cringe with Jack Van Impe would tell of the immediate proximity of the coming of Christ. I would hope beyond hope that earthquakes would lessen, hurricanes would disappear, and that the temple mount permit for rebuilding would be denied for another twenty years.
I was taught that even thinking of a woman, fully clothed, was evil. And then, in my home, we were required to walk around naked. As I mentioned before, I knew all about the maturation of the female body, in the academic sense, from witnessing my siblings of the female persuasion. My mother, in some sick way, envisioned this reality as a lesson in self control. All it did was make me more curious. And yet impure thoughts were evil.
Bill Gothard taught us that dating was wrong. So, I purposed that the first person I dated, I would marry. I stayed true to my word and have been married to her for almost eleven years. That was the best thing that came out of this skewed ideology.
Sex was a dirty word at our house, one that was never spoken. Luckily, I looked up the pertinent data in the encyclopedia when I was 11, since my mom didn’t get around to sex education until I was 17. At that point, she just handed me the biology textbook and said, “Read chapter 13,” and that was the end of it.
I suppose that my parents felt that sex education was unnecessary because they were teaching me about abstinence. As a teen I was exposed to a lot of anti-dating materials—books and tapes from Reb Bradley, Josh Harris, Elizabeth Elliot, and Eric and Leslie Ludy—about purity and guarding my heart. When I was 16, we started attending Hope Chapel, Reb Bradley’s church. Hope Chapel teens were supposed to court rather than date, but the most damaging aspect of the culture was that even friendship with the other gender was forbidden because of temptation.
Based on the church culture and teachings, I really believed that it was wrong to have a crush on a boy, but I seemed to develop an instant crush on any halfway decent boy I saw from across the room. I never let myself mention anything about it even in my private journal though; the most I would say was something like, “I saw a godly boy a church today. It gave me hope that God could bring me a husband suddenly, from anywhere.”
I was taught that I should save my first kiss for the altar, and that if I had a crush or dated some guy, I would be giving away part of my heart, and I would never give that back and could only offer my future husband an incomplete heart, something I was told I would forever regret. I was taught that dating was “practice for divorce,” and that I should find my life partner through a parent-guided courtship.
Sex education was not “handled,” it simply didn’t happen. My mother warned me when I reached the age to start my period, but I was never told what sex was in any way. I had to learn that stuff from a human anatomy class, from library books on how to teach your children about sex that I read furtively behind the stacks, and from romance novels I sneaked at my grandparents’ house. When I reached college I became appalled with myself for being so ignorant, so I did some careful research on the internet to learn about my reproductive anatomy and bring myself up to speed.
Physical purity standards included refraining from kissing, but some forms of touching where okay if you were engaged or close to it, like holding hands. The newer generations of courtships seem to be even more strict. Emotional purity was a huge deal, maybe because it’s so much harder to restrict it. Contact with boys was allowed only for short amounts of time (minutes) and overseen by an adult, typically a male relative. Falling in love, having crushes or even (gasp) fantasies was prohibited, but of course it’s not that easy. I was taught thinking of a boy and imagining him to be my husband was impure. Now of course, all girls dream of a great husband, and most of the time he has a face (one that you know), which complicates the issue. I suffered a lot trying to keep my thoughts elsewhere. It didn’t always work and just thinking of a boy was a sin to me.
Even when you were courting, you shouldn’t “dream” of a future just yet. That was all for being married.
Sex education was nonexistent in my family. Not even the birds and the bees. If one of the kids asked where the babies came from, the answer was “They’re a gift from God, he makes them”. I was oblivious that any sort of physical act could be involved. I remember the day of my first period, you can imagine just how shocked I was, I had no idea. I told my mom I needed to see a doc and hinted at what happened, I was too afraid to be graphic with her. She told me that this meant I was now old enough to carry Eve’s sin in me and that it would remind me of my place in the world. She also told me she would tell my Dad, and I was humiliated at the thought of that.
The element of sex education really varies among children of these movements. My experience, I am finding, was fairly unusual. When I was 12 or so, I decided that I wanted to be an Ob/Gyn, but was turned away from this idea because I was “bad at math.” So I decided I’d be the next best thing: a nurse-midwife. While this vision never panned out, I really learned a lot and was helped out by this ambition. My mom is an RN, and was pregnant with twins at the time. So I got to attend all her Ob appointments with her and read books on childbirth and female health from among her nursing school textbooks. I asked frank questions and got (mostly) frank answers. So I generally knew enough about sex education to both satisfy my curiosity and help me be fairly comfortable with my own body (paralyzing modesty and fear of male lust aside!).
My parents always told me (even as a very little girl) that I would court rather than date, because dating was practice for divorce. We later joined SGM (Sovereign Grace Ministries), which heavily promoted Josh Harris’s Boy Meets Girl as the best biblical guide to pre-marital relationships. I was told that having crushes and dating was “tearing out pieces of my heart and giving them away” and so I was afraid of letting myself have a crush on someone I was friends with, for fear of… [who knows what]. I had a couple crushes in high school, and they were always on some young guy in leadership or favored by the pastors. If he was distant, bright, and pastor-material, I probably journaled about how much I liked him…and never talked to him.
I never really had any guy friends until college. Before I left for school, I confidently told my friends and parents that I wouldn’t get involved with anyone during school, but if something did come up that was obviously God’s will, I’d hold off on “entering a courtship” until the second semester of my senior year. I also told myself and others that I wouldn’t hold hands with anyone until I was engaged to him, and I wouldn’t tell any guy I loved him until I was wearing his ring. I would save my first kiss until “maybe a week before the wedding” and would absolutely be a virgin on my wedding night.
Sex education was sparse. My mom sat me down before the birth of my 5th sibling and explained to me that sex was something very special that happened when you were married and you loved each other very much” and that a seed from man and a egg from the woman meet up inside the woman’s body and that when the baby grew big enough it came out through the mothers vagina. She showed me a sketch of a baby being born, and about a month later I attended my siblings birth. I was almost 11 years old at the time, and that was the first and last time we ever really spoke of sex. I was there for several more of my mother’s births, but I remember I did not understand how the seed from the man got into the woman in the first place. I figured it happened magically in the night when you slept in the same bed after being married. There was so much talk about NOT having sex and staying pure before marriage, that I started to wonder if my “sex happens while you sleep” idea was correct. If sex was such a big deal, there had to be more too it.
But despite combing the bookshelves at our house and looking it up in the dictionary I could not figure out what sex was. I did not have access to the internet, but finally at the age of almost 17 I managed to find a book on sex and pregnancy at the library. I spent as long as a could in the corner reading frantically with the book stuck inside of a large history book in case anyone saw me, there was no way I could check the book out. It was here that I finally learned what sex was. After 18 I was allowed to use the internet, but I knew anything I looked up on the computer would be see by my dad, so I did not look anything up until right before I got married at age 20, when I did a search for “hymen” to try and determine where exactly mine was and how much losing my virginity was going to hurt. After I was married, I learned much more thanks to finally being able to check out books on my own and search the internet as needed.
From a young age, I was told that I was going to grow up and marry a good Christian man and have children. Women who didn’t get married were considered sad and unfulfilled. And women who married and did not have children so they could have a career were ungodly. I was told that we needed to be careful to find a man who would be willing and able to support me completely so that I could stay at home and have and homeschool our many children, any man who would not be willing or able to do this was considered selfish and lazy. But I didn’t have to worry about it at all, my Dad always reassured me, because he would protect me from the losers, and any guy who was interested in me had to get past him first.
Dating was not an option, it was just practicing for divorce and a chance for young guys to use young girls for sex. We were never allowed to be alone with men or boys, or even speak on the phone for any length of time. I was taught that my body had power to tempt men, and it was my job to prevent that by dressing modestly as possible. My Dad talked about the dangers of flirting and leading men on by making eye contact, laughing or walking immodestly by moving our hips too much. If any young man even looked at me or walked past me I considered it a proposition of sorts, a sign that he might be interested in me romantically. It made me nervous to be around men, and I often felt guilty for feeling interest for anyone, because that could risk giving away small pieces of my heart and getting too emotionally entangled.
Getting married young was considered a good thing, we were not allowed to even consider romantic relationships at all until we were old enough to be married, which my dad said was at least age 17. We were rarely around other Christian families in our churchless days, and I often worried during my teens that I would never meet any eligible young men, my Dad reassured me that men would be “lining up at the door” when I was old enough. I remember being encouraged by the book “Waiting for her Isaac” because the girl in it lived in a more remote location and had similar worries about meeting someone.
Sex. I don’t think I ever heard my mom say that word. She sat me down at around age 13 (right after I got my first period) and gave me a watered down version of “the birds and the bees.” She told me that women make eggs and men make sperm, and when those two things connect a baby is created. I knew nothing about the mechanics of sex or the anatomy of my own body until MUCH later when I was becoming sexually active and decided I needed to know what was going on.
I had a much longer conversation with my dad regarding sexuality around the same time. He sat me down and told me that men were perverse and sick-minded. “They will see a girl like you and immediately picture you without your clothes on. They only want ONE thing.” This, he explained, was the reason I must never do ANYTHING to tempt a man to lust after me. It was my responsibility to keep men pure since they could not control themselves. From that point on, I was terrified to make eye contact with any man. My dad watched me all the time, and would pull me aside to tell me when I was “laughing too loud,” or “standing inappropriately.” He policed everything I wore and often sent me back to my room to change if my shirt was “too tight” or showed too much collar bone.
It was my responsibility to keep men from lusting, and it was also my responsibility to keep my heart from wandering. My dad often lectured me on how wayward a woman’s emotions can be. He told me how dangerous it was to spend time with boys or have friends that were boys because I might accidently fall for them. Having crushes was not an option. I was to keep my heart pure and not give it away to anyone. We had every book ever written about courtship and emotional purity. I read all of them by the time I was 14.
I was taught that all physical contact with the opposite sex was off-limits. A couple in my church bragged that they had never held hands before their wedding. We even had to wear big baggy dresses or shirts into the pool with other girls for modesty. We were not allowed to have “special” friends. We were to treat the person we wanted to court like any other person until our fathers gave the okay to start courting. Courting was 100% supervised, and we were not supposed to say the words “I love you” until after our engagement. We were taught the usual nonsense about how non-virgin girls are like dirty lollipops and how boys who found us attractive were sex-addicted predators. An ideal mate was so lost in God that he or she never even noticed your existence.
My “sex ed” was the book “Almost Twelve” and a short chat with my mom.
Physical purity was deemed of ultimate importance. The possibility of losing it was dangerous enough to justify all manner of precautions, including choosing courtship over dating, sheltering adult daughters from the world and the young men in it, and avoiding college as a possible locale of temptation and vice. I was definitely given the impression that losing your virginity made you somehow damaged goods, was cheating your future husband out of something he deserved, and could have a devastating impact on your emotional well-being and the happiness of your future marriage.
Emotional purity was seen as also highly important. I was taught to “guard my heart,” a phrase from a verse in Proverbs that is ripped out of context and frequently used to make young people in the CP/QF culture afraid of falling in love outside of parental authorization. I was told to “go to sleep emotionally,” until God brought me a spouse, a dubious echo back to the story of the garden of Eden, where Adam was put to sleep while God performed the rib operation that resulted in Eve. Furthermore, I was instructed to give my heart to my father until he gave me permission to give it to the young man I would one day wed. Looking back now, this all seems very intrusive and very unnecessary, although I know they meant well and only wanted to protect me. There are better ways to teach a person appropriate caution and common sense in relationships.