Question 1: 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.
Question 2: Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?
Heck no! I had escaped my mother’s imprisonment by the time I met Kristine, my wife. Her parents were so happy that their daughter had found such a godly young man who wanted lots of babies and would guide her spiritually. I put an end to all that by having sex with her before we were married. We were pregnant at our wedding. I carried that guilt around with me for almost a decade.
My dad was skeptical about following Biblical courtship, but I still believed that it was God’s way of protecting my heart and my purity. I also secretly felt that I didn’t have the confidence, social skills, or experience to find a husband myself without the support of the courtship system. I hoped that if I played my role correctly, God would let everything work out for me even though my dad wasn’t excited about his role. However, I did not have the opportunity to be courted because no one was interested in me, and I don’t blame them!
I did have the unfortunate opportunity to see an arranged marriage unfold at church between two adult children. Their parents held a meeting and decided that their son and daughter would be good for each other, so they allowed them begin communicating through monitored emails. I remember hearing the mothers talking at church about how cute the first set of emails was, since they only said, “How are you?” and “Fine, thanks.” It was disturbing to me, even back then.
I also witnessed a failed courtship attempt between a young man and one of Reb Bradley’s daughters. The courtship was broken off with a lot of drama, heartbreak, and severed friendships, and it made me realize that courtship was not very effective at protecting the girl’s heart like Reb Bradley had taught. It seemed like it was even more damaging than dating because there was so much pressure and attention on the couple.
While I always thought I would participate in a parent-guided courtship, I actually didn’t. By the time I was in my first ever guy/girl relationship, I had already begun breaking away from my parents’ beliefs to the extent that I refused to let them control my relationship, though they tried really hard to do so. In the end, marrying my husband was my decision, and my father refused to grant his approval or walk me down the aisle at my wedding. To be honest, though, at that point, after everything that had happened between my parents and I, it was important for me to say adamantly that this was my decision, that I was my own person, and that I could choose my own life partner, so I wouldn’t have wanted my father to walk me down the aisle anyway. I was lucky, though: my parents and siblings did come to my wedding.
I have been in a courtship, yes. My experience was pretty negative. My parents picked the young man. I don’t know if there were any other men interested in me before him, but it could be. My Dad had tested him before even telling me that somebody was interested. When they told me he had feelings for me, he had already been approved by my Dad. I wasn’t really given the chance to say no to this. This has a variety of reasons, one being that a man cleaves his wife (not vice versa) and that I needed to trust my parents and listen to my Dad. I was told to take a look at him because my Dad thought he was the one for me. It doesn’t sound like forcing, but believe me, you don’t get to say no to that without being labeled rebellious.
My courtship was heavily chaperoned and we didn’t see each other very often. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for weeks, or even months – his family lived far away and due to the many children they had, trips were expensive. We also weren’t allowed to do things dating and some courting couples do, like going out for dinner or seeing a movie together. Most interaction was kept inside the house. Even conversation was chaperoned, especially in the first year of courtship. I had a pretty long courtship, for one because the man who was courting me still needed to prepare to provide for a family, because I was needed by my parents (so I figure my Dad didn’t allow him to propose for a long time) and also because we couldn’t have regular meet ups. I broke off my courtship the day the man proposed to me, which ultimately caused me to be shunned by my entire family.
I began to shy away from the rigorous courtship “plan” that I initially had when I got to school and had a few guys who were interested in me and went to my dad for approval without discussing anything with me first. This was horribly awkward and frustrating, and I began to want more control over my relationships with guys. When I fell for my husband, it was quite a surprise to me and happened fairly quickly during my sophomore year. We hung out all the time and were best friends, and so eventually he decided to approach my dad. But since he didn’t meet all the standards that my parents and I had initially laid out for “a prospective suitor,” my dad told him that we couldn’t court/date. A few months later, I decided that this wasn’t realistic or right, and told my dad this. But since I still wanted his approval, we walked through a process of getting my dad’s blessing on our relationship, and even hashed out an understanding where we were going to “call it dating” but still have my parents involved.
Once we were dating, this system didn’t work out very well, because my dad felt that he had the final responsibility for the health of the relationship and was overly involved, and I was making decisions with my boyfriend (like deciding to kiss, without consulting my dad for approval) that he didn’t like. There was also a big to-do over the fact that my boyfriend had student loans and I didn’t, and my dad saw these loans as sinful debt that would have to be paid off if we were to get his permission to marry.
I finally put my foot down and told my dad that I was an adult and that I was going to do what I believed to be right and appropriate, and that we’d ask his blessing if we decided to get married, but that he was not “in charge” of this relationship. This didn’t go over so well, but time and physical distance made this transition easier. My boyfriend also sat down with my dad and told him that he saw me as an equal and an adult, and that neither of them had the right to try to control my decisions.
We did get married with my parents blessing, respecting their preference for a short engagement, and tried to the best of our ability to keep them satisfied that we were making thoughtful decisions and being mature. But this was mostly because I wanted to respect my parents and not cause a scene that would make my siblings question my parents’ authority.
Yes. My spouse had to ask permission to court me and get approved my father. We were not allowed to be alone without a sibling or adult chaperone. We avoided all physical contact until my father gave permission for us to hold hands. I was very self-conscious about being an example of purity for my siblings. Neither I or my spouse had ever been intimate with anyone else, and my father had told me that we should not kiss until our wedding day. This appealed to me romantically, and so I kept the rule for some time. We were allowed to be alone on walks outside or in an adjoining room after we were engaged. Eventually we did kiss shortly before the wedding, although we felt ashamed of the minimal physical contact we had during our engagement.
It was always expected that I would participate in a parent guided courtship, but I was rebelling secretly by the time I was 17. When I escaped to a hyper conservative Christian college, I started dating and eventually met my husband. I didn’t tell my parents anything about him. When I eventually brought him home to meet the family, my dad absolutely flipped out. We continued to date at school without any supervision. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents, lying to reassure them that I was still obeying their wishes.
I did not court. My “intended” (how scandalous!) was not allowed to court until he graduated from college. By the time he did, I had left the church and cut off contact with him.
Yep, I played the courtship game to a T. It “worked” in the sense that I got married and my marriage has been mostly happy, but other than that my courtship experience was a time of trial and disappointment. Libby Ann has done a great job of explaining how emotional and religious abuse, enmeshment, and fuzzy boundaries are common problems in CP families. I would further note that many young adults from these homes are frightened of their own emotions and of making decisions for themselves. Courtship has a way of bringing all of this to the surface, and it was during my courtship that I first began to have an inkling of how messed up things were for me.
I became emotionally and psychologically symptomatic– anxious, depressed, and dissociative. I didn’t know what was wrong with me or what to do about it, but I felt that I was going crazy. I was happy about my suitor, a childhood friend whom I had been secretly crushing on for years (in spite of emotional purity dogma), and frankly I was also happy to be on the way to leaving my family and starting a life of my own. I dimly concluded that the problem was that in courtship, I was being swept into an artificial role in a contrived system, and that maybe this wasn’t good for a person. Now I believe that many latent problems in my family and in the CP/QF system were being manifested as I engaged in the process of detaching from my parents for the first time, while also navigating my first romantic relationship. Of course it was tough, but I naively thought that if I just pushed through things would be magically better when I got married.
Surprisingly, I turned out to be partially right. Once the courtship was over and I was out of my parents’ house and safely married my symptoms went away for a time and I felt very happy. However, during my first pregnancy and especially after the birth of my child the crippling anxiety and dark depression began to return. You can only run for so long. Since mental health treatment was covered by our insurance, and since my husband didn’t have the extreme dislike of “ungodly psychology” that my parents had, I began a bit nervously to consider trying secular talk therapy. Seeing what a nut I was becoming (I’m saying this tongue in cheek, although sadly there is some truth to it), my husband encouraged me in this, and now nine months later I can say it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. My therapist has helped me to identify and work through so much that I sensed was wrong but couldn’t quite identify. My husband has been supportive of the changes we’ve needed to make. My symptoms have decreased, my confidence has grown, I’m happier about life, and much more insightful and aware about my past and its problems.
Question 3: 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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Question 4: Do you feel that the purity and courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how?
Yes. It caused us to have six children and made my wife scared of sex. While I love my six children, a smaller family would have been a better choice for both of us. I, for one, am not cut out for so many children. Every day is a constant battle of sanity. And yet, as I said before, I really do love my children. On the other hand, never does a day go by that I am not embittered by the teachings of sex in mainstream Christianity and even in much of our culture today. A woman is expected to shy away from it and a man is expected to be a rabid dog to get “it”. There is no room for compromising the status quo. Because of this, our first six years were hell in the bedroom. Even now, there are some lingering effects and yet, when a couple works together, completely and wildly in love with each other, even the chains of artificial bandage can be broken. And we will be victors. I guarantee it.
The effects of those teachings were predominantly unhealthy. They made me feel responsible for helping men avoid all sexual thoughts about me. I could never relax and just be myself because I had to guard against flirting or looking attractive. Although I’ve escaped most of the damage from this mindset, I still occasionally feel guilty about too much eye contact with a man or about dressing too attractively.
First, I regret that I never dated anyone else before dating and marrying the man who is now my husband. I wish I hadn’t been taught that crap about “giving away pieces of your heart.” I regret that I never had sex before I lost my virginity to my husband. I wish that I’d had the chance to gain experience, and that I hadn’t been taught that sex before marriage was wrong. My husband never saw my sexual or emotional virginity as a gift – it didn’t mean anything to him. And further, the purity teachings I was raised with gave me sexual dysfunction that I am still dealing with today.
I’m sure they do, I can’t tell you the full extent (yet). Concerning purity, I have issues with physical touch, feeling dirty or sinful whenever I feel like something is impure. Like a male friend (not boyfriend) touching my arm or giving me a hug. I’m surprised I have a rather healthy image of sex compared to others who left the P/QF movement. Some are deeply afraid of anything sex, I guess I’m lucky I can still view it as something positive, something to be treated with care but not something that will kill you or cause you to do drugs. I’m still not sure what I think of physical touch or even sex before marriage and I’m taking my time to make up my mind on that one.
As for courtship, I abandoned those teachings for the most part. It’s supposed to protect you from bad feelings, thoughts, fantasies. But it just doesn’t do that. You still wonder what it would be like to kiss a guy, or how your Prince Charming looks, or anything that’s normal for young adults. If you’re easily pushed into making the wrong choices, something along the lines of courtship might be better, but I think if you’re not one to be talked into having sex “just to prove you love your partner”, you don’t need a bodyguard every time you grab a cup of coffee with your date. I also think that it’s important to have talks without the factor of embarrassment – some things you don’t want to discuss with your little brother next to you. Of course, there’s more to a person, there’s a family behind everyone and taking a look at that is important too, but not in such a heavy fashion as courtship attempts to do it.
Not if I can help it. Perhaps I’m a lot more cynical than I would be otherwise, and I suppose I enjoy the freedoms I have now more than I might if I had always taken them for granted (wearing a bikini, for example).
Yes. I still feel instinctively suspicious of men. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I am still feeling that way, but a good example would be when I was at a LGBTQ resource center I found myself thinking “I can relax here because all these guys are gay” and then felt surprised that I had just thought that! I also still have a hard time believing that it is okay for me to desire sexual pleasure, I sometimes still find myself feeling guilty for wanting sex, or feeling like my partners needs should come before mine and having hard time expressing my own desires. I also have to overcome guilt for sometimes needing to say no to sex, because I was taught to believe that it was my duty to always be sexually available, and that not being sexually available risked losing that partnership.
The teachings I was raised with still affect me to this day. In my marriage, it was very hard for me to move past the expectations I had of my husband and myself. For example, I was taught that all men ever want is sex, so I expected that my husband would always initiate and pursue. When he turned out to be a normal person who liked to sleep or watch TV sometimes, I started to think there was something wrong with me. Another area where I was affected, was the fact that my husband had dated more people than I had before marriage. He had more experience than me, and I often felt jealous of his past. I treated him like damaged goods for quite some time, and that’s something I wish I could go back and change. Once I was able to shake of the brainwashing, I realized I am very happy he dated other women. He knew exactly what he needed in a partner, whereas I was just guessing.
The good news is I think those issues can be completely worked through. I have dealt with the issues I wrote about above [See Sierra’s answer to Purity Q. 3]. The only lasting effect for me is that I absolutely detest long skirts. I can’t wear them. Anything below my knees gives me horrible flashbacks.