Tweet by Katelyn Beaty: I’d love to read an essay right now titled, “Purity Culture/I Kissed Dating Goodbye Was Weird, and I Still Turned Out Okay as an Adult.”
Katelyn Beaty is a managing editor of Christianity Today. Her tweet was a response to the Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a collection of stories by individuals harmed by Josh Harris’s book of that name. Samantha Field has already pointed out that purity culture teachings aren’t simply “weird,” they comprise an oppressive system that creates serious and problems for young people’s sexuality and relationships. She also points out that while some individuals experience mitigating factors that lessen the effects of purity culture, this should not erase others’ pain.
I’ve been meaning to write a piece for Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye for a while now, so I’m going to go ahead and take this opportunity to do so. I’m going to write it in the form of a letter—to be more specific, a letter to Katelyn Beaty.
Purity culture threw some absolute shit at me, but in the end, I did turn out okay as an adult. I have a healthy relationship with a wonderful husband, two amazing young children, financial security, and a career that I love. We have a home and we’re putting down roots. We have friends and are building a community for ourselves. We are very, very happy. Oh, and did I mention that I have an amazing sex life?
But you know what? Getting to where I am now in one piece was like running across a field dodging bullets, watching peers go down left and right and always wondering if I was next. And I didn’t make it through unscathed, either. Sometimes I went down, too, and had to crawl while I healed, wondering if things would ever get better. I made it, yes. But I made it by the skin on my teeth.
I got married when I was barely 21 years old. Do you want to know why I did that? I got a boyfriend while in college—we called it courtship, and started out following all of my parents’ rules—and thanks to Josh Harris, I had no framework for understanding guy-girl relationships except one on a train barreling pell-mell toward marriage. After all, Josh Harris taught that every relationship should be intensely marriage-focused, else what was the point? So there I was, walking down the aisle, barely 21.
Do you know the statistics on early marriage? It turns out that divorce rates are higher for those who marry under age 25. Josh Harris didn’t tell me that. No one told me that. I had no idea that marrying young was a risk factor for divorce. And it makes sense, too—when I married, I hadn’t found myself yet. I was only 21! I didn’t know who I was. I was still figuring that out. I changed a lot in the years that followed my wedding, and my husband, no older than I was, changed too. We were both still growing up, still coming into our own.
Okay, new topic. Let’s talk about my sex life. When my husband and I were newly married we quickly discovered that our sexual interests and fantasies were not what you would call compatible. The way I liked sex, he didn’t. The way he liked sex, I didn’t. We once sat down and made a list of all the things we did and did not like when having sex, separately, and our lists were mirror opposites of each other. That was when I realized that I had been lied to, and that there is in fact some benefit to having sex before marriage, that sexual compatibility is a thing.
By the time we fully realized what was going on here, the full depth of it, we already had our first child and had moved across state away from family. We went through some pretty serious dry spells, and things that really sucked, but we stuck it out. Gradually, over time, we have found ways to make it work. Things still aren’t perfect. There are areas we’re still working on, but I am finally—finally—feeling like we actually can be sexually compatible. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the way things are is finally starting to feel good now.
But you know what? I know others, raised on the same teachings I was, who have gotten divorced because they weren’t sexually compatible with their spouses, because they couldn’t make it work, and because sexual compatibility is a thing that actually matters. And I know still others who have simply given up on sex, and have stayed together for everything else, inwardly pained by the fact that they will never know what it is like to have a fulfilling sex life.
Would you like to know something, Katelyn? Purity culture lies. Josh Harris and others like him sold me and my peers a load of goods. I made it across the field in one piece. I am “okay.” I have a wonderful husband, a solid marriage, and an increasingly fulfilling sex life. But I didn’t get here without a fight. I have had to claw my way through so much to get where I am. Others haven’t made it. It’s hard, sometimes, to feel so happy while so many of my friends are picking up broken pieces.
I survived the battle, yes, but the battle did happen, and it fucking hurt.
There you go, Katelyn. Now you’ve heard my story. I read and applied I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I still turned out okay as an adult. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have scars. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have to fight. That doesn’t mean Josh Harris’s teachings didn’t cause me a boatload of trouble and make my life harder.
I survived, yes—but that means I had something I had to survive.