Raised Quiverfull: Purity, Courtship, and Sex Education

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.”

Libby Anne:

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.

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Raised Quiverfull Introduction — Purity Summary

Bob Jones University Rejects Key Recommendations of the GRACE Report
What Courtship Was for Me
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • smrnda

    I just wonder, with so much gender segregation and such limited opportunity to socialize with anyone outside of the family or without a great deal of supervision, how are people supposed to be able to make a marriage – and starting an independent household work? Then again, I’m sure that proponents will argue that if you just follow all the right rules everything works like magic, but it seems to be based on the idea that emotions can be turned on and off like a light switch. Then again, it does seem like fundamentalist religion does believe that – or believes so strongly that a person’s actual feelings don’t matter at all. It’s like your supposed to be a robot with no independent will, thoughts, feelings or personality of your own.

    I feel like the concept of emotional purity probably arose out of someone who needed up find some way to go beyond just physical purity. I tried reading the books Josh Harris wrote out of curiosity; my only impression I got was that they were probably written for personal and psychological reasons; it seems like Harris was unhappy about being single and couldn’t stand that other people were dating and happy, so he had to declare dating to be evil. The idea that a book written by a guy that young would be accepted as a textbook for how to run relationships just seems a little odd to me, but then again, Bill Gothard is being accepted as an expert on things he’s never as well.

    All said, I can’t imagine what it’s like to get your period if nobody had ever talked about it before and anything sexual was associated with shame and guilt. I think in Simone de Beauvior’s The Second Sex she talked about a girl who had periods but was too ashamed to talk about them for quite a long time before she actually asked what was going on. It seems like the mental health of young people is getting sacrificed for some ideal of purity.

  • http://incongruouscircumspection.blogspot.com Incongruous Circumspection

    You have no idea. There is an epidemic of sexual problems due to Christianity’s treatment of the subject. And I am not talking about Quiverfull and fundamentalism, exclusively. Mainstream Christianity is at fault. Just think about how they treat the subject of masturbation. Pornography. Sex toys. Sex before getting a freaking marriage license.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I oh so agree although I think it’s society in general that should stop being so skittish about normal sexuality stuff (not that religiosity doesn’t worsen it but I think it’s unfortunately extremely intrincated in our society even in secular lives).

    • ScottInOH

      It sure feels like a lot of organized (and disorganized) religion is about fear of sex, doesn’t it? Sometimes I wonder if that really is the underlying core.

  • smrnda

    As for fear about sex, is has to be a great way to control people. After all, people are going to have all sorts of sexual feelings. If you can get them to feel that there’s something *wrong* with all sorts of things pertaining to sex, then you’ve found a great way to make the vast majority of people feel incredibly guilty and shameful about something that’s just totally natural. I mean, when I think about the rules religions make, most of them are adhered to by non-religious people except the ones tied explicitly to worship or the ones about sex.

    The other thing is once you tell people that certain feelings are shameful, they can’t talk about them openly (and discover how normal they are.) People are told to be pure and they’re also told to confess their sins and be accountable – the way religions handle ‘accountability’ about sexual issues seems to me to be a serious violation of people’s right to privacy. “So, confess to this group of people all the smutty thoughts you have about girls son, but by all means don’t talk to girls or get to know them. As people. And above all, boys and girls must not talk openly to each other about this stuff!”

    • ScottInOH

      I agree in general, although I wonder if it’s all as machiavellian as that. That is, I suspect that many church leaders (today and historically) feared sex and women and wrapped that into their formal rules. They’re not just trying to control others, although that’s probably a nice bonus.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Today I was in a chatbox in a forum dedicated to a detective manga and there were a pair of guys saying the typical “All guys only want one thing form girls, they are this or that…” and when I confronted them saying that kind of generalisation was hurtful for both girls and boys who learn to fear sexuality and how it might make afraid of girls and the rest the only I got was that there were some good guys (and they were of course both good guys) but they were only 2% and the rest only wanted girl of thought of girls for sex and that 2% was friend zoned (I would like to kill the people who invented that stupid and inane concept) to which I replied to them that saying that the majority of boys were like that but not all made it all perfect /sarcasm and that my boyfriend was a good guy and a geek and we’ve been going out for almost 10 years and obviously I didn’t convince them of anything… They are young but so sold in these dmn prejudices… I wouldn’t be surprised to believe that they are all in favour of modesty even if ti’s a litte version of CP/QF.

    • smrnda

      They might be young enough that it’s just youth and inexperience. I know a number of adult men who had that viewpoint when they were younger but totally reject it today – some of them honestly confessed that it was just they were frustrated with the lack of success in getting into a relationship and get the whole “i’m a nice guy ™ but i’m getting friend-zoned ™” thing going in their heads. It was self-pity and youthful narcissism talking. It also indicates a serious amount of entitlement like life owes you a girlfriend. Guys like that need to listen to the song “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” by the Smiths…

      Also, why can’t you both be interested in girls for reasons of love and sex? I don’t think you can’t be sincerely interested in someone as a person and also interested sexually. Plus, the nice guys ™ might not be driven by wanting sex (or casual sex) but they can be pretty possessive sounding.

  • Autumn

    I just had to comment, as this page brought back a lot of memories for me, books about courting over dating, Elizabeth Elliot, Josh Harris and Boy Meets Girl, Almost Twelve… I came out of fundamentalist Christianity with the sense that my body and sexuality were things I needed to cover up and keep under control, and I’m so sorry to see the even more extreme experiences some of the writers here have had. I’ve done my best to move on and put all this behind me, but I think it’s important to remember that for some people this is still a daily reality.