My mom walked into my bedroom and handed me a heavy biology textbook. “Read chapter 13,” she told me, breathless and blushing. Then she rushed out. I opened to the appropriate chapter: “The Reproductive System”. That was my entire sex education; I was 17 years old.
I think we can all agree: sex education should probably be done by people who have said the word “sex” out loud at least once in their lives.
My parents’ denial of sexuality couldn’t stop puberty, and couldn’t stop our curiosity about sex. Instead, their attitude clearly showed us kids that we could never go to our parents with any questions or concerns that were related to our sexuality or genitals. For me, I found some answers around age 11 when I looked up “sex” and “puberty” in the encyclopedia. Later, a hidden copy of “What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy” in my parents’ closet provided hours of heart-throbbing reading.
Not every homeschooling family is so repressed about sex, but at Reb Bradley’s church, my family found a culture of people who were also trying to ignore the elephant in the room. A favorite theme of Reb Bradley was sexual purity and “Biblical courtship”. He was fond of referring to 1 Timothy 5:2, which says, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” According to his interpretation, all young men were to treat all young women as sisters, absent of sexuality.
Paradoxically, Reb Bradley also taught that these single “siblings in Christ” should not be allowed to mingle freely with each other because of temptation…..wait, what? How are you supposed to treat someone as a brother or sister if you’re not allowed to spend time with them? I guess Reb really didn’t believe that platonic friendships were possible between the genders after all. I think even Jesus himself would have gotten disapproving looks like the mingling teens in the back row if he came to Hope Chapel. After all, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5)–if Jesus was close friends with single women even in ancient Jewish culture, then why was it forbidden at Hope Chapel?
So how could an honorable young man find himself a wife in this gender-segregated culture? Ideally, he had to notice a girl from across the room–for her godliness, mind you, not her body–and approach her dad to ask permission to court her. Without knowing much about her, he would have to prove to the dad that he was serious about a relationship with the daughter.
If the dad thought the young man was suitable, he would inform the young man of the physical boundaries of the relationship, such as when/if they could start to hold hands. The dad could also control the frequency of contact, monitor emails and phone calls, and require all interaction happen in the presence of other family members. It was encouraged but not Biblically necessary for the father to ask his daughter for her opinion of the young man, regardless of the age of the daughter.
I saw this courtship process attempted once in Reb Bradley’s own family. However, even with his courtship “expertise”, Reb’s involvement was not able to prevent a lot heartbreak, drama, and broken friendships when the courtship ended. And even Reb’s involvement and teaching couldn’t prevent at least three of his six children from having premarital sex, including one unwed pregnancy. I am not saying this because I think his kids are bad people–they certainly are not. I’m only saying these things because Reb Bradley is still trying to sell himself as an expert on family relationships and courtship. His materials give other parents false expectations of the outcome; people who take his advice should not expect better results than the man himself has been able to achieve.
When I started college at age 22, I determined to give male friendship and dating a try. It was very difficult at first. Because I was paranoid about flirting or being attractive, I had trouble relaxing and just being myself. However, I was encouraged to persevere because I could see the benefits right away. Long conversations with guys helped me see the world differently and let me experience a different style of communication. Once I could interact freely with guys, I stopped developing crushes on every boy I saw. I started to gain confidence about myself, and I started to see what type of guys I got along with the best.
Compatibility, not just character and beliefs, is important to consider when selecting a spouse. This is something that the couple can only determine for themselves by spending lots of time together, not only in groups but also alone. No wonder Reb Bradley tries to downplay compatibility; he wants to keep the father in charge and he wants the father to control the sexual aspect of the relationship as well. That’s why he teaches singles that they can make a marriage work with anyone, and it’s better for their sanctification to marry someone really different from themselves.
In case anyone cares, even though I dated a few different people in college, I was still a virgin when I married. However, I was surprised to learn that my virginity wasn’t the “gift to my husband” that I was led to believe. My amazing husband, himself a virgin at marriage, honestly didn’t care about whether or not I’d had sex before. Additionally, we both found that physical closeness helped us maintain emotional closeness and openness with each other throughout our dating relationship. 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? We were both very happy that we allowed some sexual progress in our dating relationship, and we both feel it has helped us to have a healthier sex life in our marriage.
For me, what I’ve learned is that there is no use in denying that we are sexual beings, and no benefit to fearing it or trying to hide it. Accept yourself, take responsibility for yourself, and make your own choices. You’ll find that sexuality is not such a scary and powerful monster when you stop treating it like one.
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Latebloomer is on a journey away from the ideals she was raised with in the conservative homeschooling culture. Becoming a wife and mother has prompted her to re-evaluate her childhood experiences in an effort to avoid repeating those mistakes. Her blog Past Tense Present Progressive is her place for sorting through her thoughts.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce