Raised Quiverfull: Looking Back on Purity

How do you feel about purity and courtship teachings today? Have you rejected some parts of it and kept other parts of it? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?

Joe:

I will and am teaching my children about safety, STD’s and unwanted pregnancies.  Also, by just being me, they get to see everything they would never want in a partner.  I want them to experiment and learn how to love another person.  I want them to try things academically, emotionally, and physically.  I want them to experience the whole spectrum of emotions.  I want them to know that they are not required to marry the first person they think might be marrying material.  I want them to know that they are not ever required to get married.  I want them to be who they are.  But, most importantly, I want them to be safe.

Latebloomer:

There are so many things wrong with the purity and courtship culture that I don’t even know where to start!  Those beliefs really are a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They say that women are weak and easily deceived by their emotions, and then make them that way by sheltering them from experience and higher education.  They say that teens must be gender-segregated because platonic friendship between genders is not possible; however, the act of segregating causes teens to see a sexual charge in every encounter.

Additionally, courtship teaching foolishly downplays the role of compatibility in choosing a spouse.  Reb Bradley was fond of saying that the goal of marriage is sanctification, not happiness, so it’s actually better for you to marry someone really different from yourself.   It’s not surprising that he would teach this, since his goal is to segregate the genders and keep the parents in charge.  Of course he downplays compatibility, since it is something that a person can only determine for himself/herself through getting to know a lot of different kinds of people and through spending a lot of time alone with a potential spouse.  I believe life and marriage will present you with plenty of growth opportunities even when you are highly compatible with your spouse, so you shouldn’t invite more trouble into your life by ignoring compatibility!

Personally, I feel that sex shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it has an important role in relationships even before marriage.  The process of getting to know each other mentally and emotionally is gradual, so why should getting to know each other physically be so abrupt?

I want my kids to have a very thorough and age-appropriate sex education, including how to prevent the spread of STDs and how to use birth control/condoms.  Ultimately, they are going to make their own choices, and I don’t want them to be unprepared.  I believe my role should be to encourage them to save sex for a committed mature relationship.  No matter what choices they make, I want to keep an open and non-judgemental environment in our home so they can come to me with questions or problems.

Libby Anne:

Basically, I don’t agree with any of the purity and courtship teachings I was raised on. I really can’t think of any of it that I’m keeping. I plan to teach my young daughter that her body is hers and she can decide what she wants to do with it. I’ll teach her that sex before marriage is fine – so long as she’s safe and uses birth control and protection – but that she should never let anyone pressure her into doing things she isn’t ready for. I want to teach her to be confident, responsible, and self-aware. I plan to always answer her questions about sex, etc., honestly and completely, no matter how young she is when she starts being curious. And finally, I plan to let her handle her own relationships, offering only advice (if she wants it).

Lisa:

I certainly have rejected a large portion of the courtship teachings. To be quite honest, I don’t think there are any parts I kept. Of course, I believe that a boyfriend should be a real friend, not just a crush. Somebody who really knows you. I believe you should get to know someone before you date, but I wouldn’t label this as general courtship teaching. A lot of secular people believe the same thing.

At the same time I’m trying to get rid off the extreme purity teachings, but that’s so much harder. I still behave strange around men, on one hand because I myself want to stay “pure” and on the other I still believe it’s inappropriate to talk to “somebody else’s husband”, since that makes him impure too. It’s very hard to get over and I can’t really tell you where exactly I stand.

I have no idea how I’m going to handle things with my kids. I suppose that will become clearer once I’m actually faced with the issue. I don’t think I’d want them to do the whole courtship thing, though. I trust that I will raise them to be responsible young people who can recognize good character when they see it. I trust that they’ll be able to pick a person who’s perfect for them, even if they’re not my type. They hopefully won’t need me to tell them what’s marriage material and what isn’t. And I hope that they’ll end up being people who date a man or a woman whom I at least like (even if I don’t love them!), and that they won’t show up with a person I couldn’t stand if I tried.

Mattie:

I’m still sorting this one out. I think that Christians need to kill the double standard for purity/virginity and be consistent–if girls have to be virgins to be pure, so do guys. If girls need to guard their hearts and not have crushes, so do guys. But most of those teachings are idyllic BS and really give no practical or grace-filled help to teens struggling with sex drives, insecurity, and desiring to please God.

My husband and I did things before we were married that a lot of Christians would say was “going too far.” But I don’t regret any of the things we did, and I think our married sex life is healthier than it would be if we hadn’t. If anything, I regret that I spent so many years agonizing over the guilt I had for having a sex drive and desiring intimacy, for looking like a woman and wanting to dress like I had a figure. That guilt and fear paralyzed me and were not of the God that I know. Jesus doesn’t deal in fear–perfect love casts out fear.

I think Christians really can’t address this issue in any productive or healthy way until they have established for themselves a holistic theology of the body. I hope, one day, to raise my children to be comfortable with their bodies, to view physical intimacy as precious and good, and to understand that their bodies and souls are inextricably united (and so all relationships naturally require a physical element if they are to be whole).

And I plan to let my kids date. I don’t want them to define themselves and their love lives by what they are afraid of doing or becoming.

Melissa:

I don’t agree with most of it. I feel that some of the approaches from courtship can be helpful in finding a long term romantic partner or a spouse, such as being honest about expectations and beliefs and desires up front before making commitments. But the purity teachings were very detrimental, making it difficult to talk about many things and causing sexual hang-ups and body image problems.  I do not plan on teaching my girls that their bodies cause sin, or that all emotional and physical interaction with men is sinful. My hope for my kids is that they can be open and honest about themselves and their likes and dislikes, and know that they are always worthy of love and respect. I hope that my kids will feel safe to talk with me about all these questions and issues without fear of judgment or shame.

Sarah:

I think the idea of courtship is absurd and very dangerous. It is impossible to know what you really want or need in a relationship without ever having BEEN in a relationship. Having parents babysit your relationships sets you up for failure later in your marriage. As far as purity goes, I believe sex should be considered something intimate and special, and should be reserved for relationships of trust closeness. I plan to teach my children to love and respect themselves, and I want them to know that their bodies belong to them.

Sierra:

I have nothing but contempt for the purity doctrines I was raised with. They made me fearful and self-hating. I despised my body as it developed curves, because my church taught that a woman was responsible for sending a man to hell if he lusted after her. I bound my breasts and starved myself to avoid becoming a sexual being. I begged forgiveness so often for masturbation that I became convinced that I was a reprobate and my conscience had been seared – in other words, I was past forgiveness for the repeat transgression. I felt like damaged goods after leaving because I had dared to love a boy (secretly and from a distance – I don’t think he even knows now). My upbringing made getting into my first relationship extremely difficult, since I had to contend with feelings of inadequacy for never having dated and raging jealousy over the girl my partner had dated three years before we even met. Nothing good came of purity culture for me.

Oddly enough, none of this actually affected my having sex; I had a good first experience with the same partner I’m with now, and was completely ready and guiltless when it happened. And no, I’m still not married and it’s not a big deal to me. I think it’s because sex was so taboo that I never even thought about it. It wasn’t an option, so it didn’t even cross my mind.

Tricia:

The teaching of sexual purity has been part of Christianity from its early origins, and as a Christian, it’s something I certainly still consider valid practice for Christians of our day. However, I see it as meaningful if it is a personal, individual decision made in the larger context of a genuine spiritual walk. I don’t so much think of virginity as valuable in and of itself, and I definitely do not think it is something to frighten or manipulate one’s children into practicing. It’s not a trophy and it’s frankly tacky to treat it as such. Though it might sound trite and cliched to say it, there is so much more to a person than their sexual history, and sadly this can get overlooked in a world that glorifies purity so extravagantly.

Courtship I think of as a reactionary fad within fundamentalism/evangelicalism, which can be either harmful or mostly benign, according to the emotional and spiritual health of the people practicing it. However, in most cases I’ve seen, it’s been more harmful than not, so I would be extremely cautious about recommending any form of courtship to my children. On the other hand, I’m really not sure how best to prepare them for relationships. I think this may be something that I’ll simply have to figure out as I go. Thinking this through really hasn’t been a priority yet, as they are still quite young and I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind.

As for emotional purity, as far as I can tell it mostly just makes already anxious and frightened young women gain an additional layer of neurosis. Maybe there are some good ideas mixed up in the teachings, but for now, I can’t identify them as I’ve only seen the harm they can cause.

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Raised Quiverfull Introduction — Purity Summary

  • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

    I should clarify the last couple of lines in my response: I meant that as a teen I had never even considered sex “on the radar,” so when I actually became sexually active I was pretty much a blank slate. Also, I initiated our first time, so I never felt out of control about it.

  • Red

    “Courtship I think of as a reactionary fad within fundamentalism/evangelicalism, which can be either harmful or mostly benign, according to the emotional and spiritual health of the people practicing it. However, in most cases I’ve seen, it’s been more harmful than not, so I would be extremely cautious about recommending any form of courtship to my children.”

    AND

    “Maybe there are some good ideas mixed up in the teachings, but for now, I can’t identify them as I’ve only seen the harm they can cause.”

    You have pretty much summed up my conclusions on courtship and the purity culture, Tricia. It’s often difficult for people to understand why courtship and purity teachings are harmful, because there is a grain of truth in them and some families practice them successfully. It’s so hard to make people understand that in a broad sense, these things are often damaging!

  • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

    To Latebloomer:
    Teens? My husband is concerned about my five-year-old playing with a little boy about her age. Both kids are in public settings or under parental supervision, but my husband is concerned about our daughter being “corrupted” by a hug from him. She’s FIVE! Puberty and the accompanying hormones are still about a lifetime off!

  • ScottInOH

    Mattie wrote

    I think Christians really can’t address this issue in any productive or healthy way until they have established for themselves a holistic theology of the body.

    I don’t know if you chose that last phrase purposefully to refer to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Do you know of it and have criticisms of it, or was that an accidental phrasing? (In case it’s not clear from what I’ve written before, I’ve got a growing number of problems with the book, but JPII certainly wanted it to be “holistic.”)

    • Mattie Chatham

      It was coincidental. I haven’t read JPII’s book, though I intend to. I have mostly been influenced by Walker Percy and Flannery O’Conner and how they see the physical world, which I suppose has a lot of things in common with whatever JPII has to say in his book, as they are all Catholics.

      What’s your take on the book?

      • ScottInOH

        That’s a fair question, and it’s probably a good time to admit that I’ve read about it, rather than having read it directly. (It’s a series of more than 100 lectures he gave, and it might be best to have a dictionary at hand when trying to read it…) Overall, though, its essence is the same sort of teachings we’ve been talking about:

        There’s something wrong about most sex (he does not say this, and in fact denies it, but he argues, among other things, that there is virtue in abstinence, even within marriage), although sex within marriage, when understood properly, is an almost magical, transcendental experience.
        It restates the Church’s disapproval of all “artificial” methods of contraception, not because they might kill a baby, but because they break the link God intended between the sexual act and procreation.
        It emphasizes different, God-intended roles for men and women and states that a woman’s fulfillment lies in motherhood.

        The thing is, one can also find good things in there. It emphasizes, for example, that people shouldn’t try to use each other for their own gratification and that they shouldn’t objectify each other. But going much deeper than that leads to the kinds of insecurities (and worse) that have been raised in the last few threads.

      • ScottInOH

        I know no one’s on this thread anymore, but for some reason I wanted to clarify that I’m not basing my evaluation of ToB on a bunch of critical websites or anything. I’ve read a number of summaries at pro-ToB sites, including ones at ewtn.com. I’ve also looked through Theology of the Body for Kids, which was used for sex-ed for my kids at school.

        OK, I’ll shut up now!

  • shadowspring

    Just wondering, Tricia, WAS sexual purity a part of Christian teaching from the beginning, or was that only for women? The chapter in Corinthians (I Cor 7) that talks about marriage only gives three kinds of people any choice about marriage: a father can decide whether to “give” his daughter in marriage, and anyone he chooses is fine. A man can decided to marry his betrothed “virgin”. The proposed wife is the only called “virgin”. That title is not used of the prospective bridegroom. And a widow can marry whoever she chooses, though Paul writes that she’ll be happier single in his opinion.

    Sexual purity for young girls I get, as that’s who the term “virgin” is applied to, but there is no such term for the man seeking to marry. Also, daughter was dad’s property to transfer to another man. Only the widowed woman was able to make decisions for herself.

    My question when reading this is: is this passage a description of how to live out Christianity for all people throughout all time, or a culturally-normed attempt to parse out the commands to love one another in answer to a specific question from a first century Corinthian father ? Was it merely Paul’s opinion (as he claims)? Did he give this answer serious thought? I don’t see how women as property can possibly fulfill the great command to “love one another as I have loved you”.

    This passage is one I have carefully considered personally myself.

    • ScottInOH

      I was always taught that any extra-marital (and therefore pre-marital) sex was “adultery,” so sexual purity was a command to men, as well. There are also many passages that recommend against “impurity,” and Paul is particularly against pursuing “pleasures of the flesh.”

      • shadowspring

        Why then is the unmarried man not referred to as a virgin, in your opinion? And is there not a place in the OT about a husband contesting his bride’s virginity? I don’t recall any similar passage where a bride can contest her husband’s purity.

      • ScottInOH

        You have obviously looked at it from this angle much more closely than I, and you raise interesting questions. It’s quite possible that what I learned growing up was simply a 20th-century American attempt to argue that Christianity had always taught that men should remain virgins as much as women should. I think it’s pretty easy to read the Bible (or at least the New Testament) that way, though, and JPII’s Theology of the Body argues that Jesus’s admonition against committing adultery “in the heart” was in part a condemnation of the sexual and marital practices of his time. I can’t say for sure, though.

  • Karen

    Comment here from someone of a Catholic background, who nevertheless grew up in The World:
    Sex happens. Training children to be sure of themselves and their ownership of their bodies, and teaching them never to do anything they’re uncomfortable with, are good teachings. Teaching that sex belongs exclusively in marriage, in a culture where educated people marry late, is NOT a good thing. Get your kids educated. Leave the sex decisions to them.

    Among my circle of friends, I’m the very rare bird who married the first person she had sex with (before we were married). We married right after his graduation from college (I still had a couple of quarters to go). Among our friends, marriage was usually put off until the couple was ready to have children. Marriages typically involved people in their late twenties/early thirties who’d been living together comfortably for years. Occasionally children predated the wedding, but that was pretty rare. Women still changed their names, but the biggest change was to go from “tenants in common” on the home ownership to “joint tenants with right of survivorship”. (Folks not from the U.S. ignore this bit of legalese.) Most of these folks have been married a couple of decades now. No divorces in sight.

    Don’t worry about sex, worry about birth control and making sure your kids are sure of themselves and able to say NO to whatever’s uncomfortable. They’ll get the rest sorted out, usually amicably. If you’re worried about their religious obligations, don’t; if you’re sure they know the dogma, let them sort out what they believe, and how they discuss their shortcomings with your deity. They’ll work it all out in the end. Most of the friends I spoke of before are Christians, and they’ve sorted Christianity out for themselves. They might well have decided that their pre-marriage behavior was in fact, against Christian principles; but that might have been something they had to learn by themselves.

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  • dx713

    What I’ve never understood was the part about emotional purity.
    Giving away pieces of your heart? What? Is love a limited resource now?

    From what little I know about psychology, it would rather be the reverse: having already experimented an emotion and/or a relationship would make one even more prepared to handle the next time in a mature manner…

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