I really can’t let this go by without commenting on it. It seems Kirk Cameron took his daughters to Jessa Duggar’s wedding because he wanted them to see the wedding of a couple that chose not to kiss until marriage—to serve as an example, of course. As a read through a news article that quoted Kirk Cameron explaining this, I found myself becoming both angry and frustrated. I don’t understand how people so much older than I can be so clueless about relationships. It boggles the mind.
Cameron’s remarks bring up important points about the way evangelicals view relationships and the way purity stands in for things like communication or caring. Because for evangelicals, sexual purity is the golden standard. It’s almost as though nothing else matters. Learning healthy relationship skills completely goes out the window, completely dwarfed by the overwhelming importance of a couple not touching each other in certain ways.
Let’s look at what Kirk Cameron had to say.
It’s something every little girl’s father can relate to.
Actor Kirk Cameron, who was one of the 1,000 guests at Jessa Duggar and Ben Seewald’s wedding in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Saturday, says he wanted to bring his teenage daughters to the event so they could witness an actual marriage where the couple hadn’t even kissed before they said their ‘I do’s.’
“I want them to see that and go, ‘That’s what I want for my marriage,’ ” the former Growing Pains star, 44, tells PEOPLE. “Nobody does this. And as a dad, it thrills your heart. I want a guy that honors and respects my daughters like Ben is respecting Jessa.”
Somehow I don’t think this is actually something “every little girl’s father can relate to.” Most fathers don’t have a problem with their daughters kissing before their weddings—in fact, I dare say most fathers would be scandalized a the idea of their daughters not kissing before marriage. This is not something “every little girl’s father” can relate to, it is something every controlling micromanaging father who spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the state of his daughter’s vagina (and lips, apparently) can relate to.
If the idea of his daughters not kissing until their wedding days “thrills” Kirk Cameron’s heart, he really needs to think about his priorities for his daughters. But this is the problem, is it not? Look, I was raised in the same environment as the Duggars. When I was getting to know my then-boyfriend-now-husband Sean, my parents cared more about whether or not we were having sex than they did about whether we were communicating, whether we were learning to work together as a couple, and whether we cared about each other and considered each other’s needs. This
How exactly is Jessa and Ben waiting until their wedding to kiss a sign of Ben respecting Jessa? And if not kissing until the altar were actually a sign of respect, why does it only go one way? Wouldn’t it also be a sign of Jessa respecting Ben? Oh no, it wouldn’t, because it’s women’s sexual purity that really matters when it come’s down to it, not men’s. But look, if Ben and Jessa had mutually decided to begin kissing while dating, enjoying making out as part of a balanced, healthy relationship, in what universe would that be Ben disrespecting Jessa? It wouldn’t.
In Kirk Cameron’s world, in the Duggars’ world, in my parents’ world, the concept of “consent” is conspicuously absent. Whether an unmarried couple is having sex consensually or non-consensually is irrelevant, because what matters is that they are having sex. There is no criteria here for determining what premarital sex is healthy and what premarital sex is abusive, because all premarital sex is lumped together as bad, bad, bad. And somehow, if a couple is not having premarital sex that de facto means that their relationship is healthy and good. Do they work well together? Do they communicate well? Do they care about each other’s needs? None of this matters. What matters is whether they are having sex.
I mean think about it. Kirk Cameron decided that watching Jessa and Ben get married would be good for his daughters, because he wants them to see two individuals who have never kissed get married, and to take that as their ideal. But what does Cameron actually know about Jessa and Ben’s relationship? Nothing. He doesn’t actually know if they have a healthy relationship. He doesn’t actually know whether they are going about this whole marriage thing responsibly. He doesn’t know because he never even thought to ask. He assumes Jessa and Ben are a perfect example for his daughters because they have not kissed. And not kissing means their relationship must be healthy, right? Nope. Wrong.
And there is something else, too. Ben waited to kiss Jessa until their wedding, yes, but what about after their wedding? What about those times when Ben wants to have sex and Jessa doesn’t? Evangelicalism does not have a good way of dealing with this. Because evangelicals have de facto placed married sex into the “good” box and do not generally include consent in their sexual ethic, they don’t have a good way to address the importance of consent within marriage. Has Kirk Cameron even thought of that? Of course not, because for him what matters is not whether Ben respects Jessa’s desires but rather that he follow’s God’s rules—no sex before marriage, yes sex after marriage. Consent does not enter the picture.
I am sick and tired of evangelicals focusing on who touched who where rather than teaching their children healthy relationship skills. It’s completely ridiculous. Growing up in an evangelical home and church, I heard again and again how important it was to maintain my sexual purity, but not once did I hear about the importance of communication and compromise in a relationship. Not once did anyone tell me about consent. Not once did anyone talk about what an abuser looked like, or how to recognize an abusive relationship.
Now maybe Jessa and Ben do have a healthy relationship. I honestly don’t have information to know one way or another, because not kissing until marriage is not some sort of neon sign reading “Healthy Relationship!” It’s not a neon sign reading “Unhealthy Relationship!” either, because each couple should be allowed to make their own decisions about when to have sex and when not and what kind of sex they want to have. But if Jessa and Ben do have a healthy relationship, well, it won’t be because they didn’t kiss before the altar. It will be because they communicate, listen to each other, look for compromises, and respect each other’s person and needs.
Anyway, back to the article about Cameron’s remarks:
Cameron, a born-again Christian, says he initially didn’t think he could make the ceremony, but after talking about it with his wife, she convinced him otherwise. “She said, ‘Did you see the thing in PEOPLE magazine about their rules about love and sex? It was awesome!’ ” he recalls.
“So while I normally wouldn’t fly that far for any old friend’s wedding, my daughters will very rarely get the chance to see a wedding where a husband and wife saved their first kiss for the altar,” he says. “I want them to see this, because I don’t know that they ever will again.”
So, that PEOPLE magazine article that Cameron’s wife gushed over? That’s the article where the Duggars reveal that father Jim Bob read all of the courting couple’s texts and that the couple was constantly and permanently chaperoned, ensuring that the couple would never be able to talk in private. Honestly, if there’s anything that sabotages healthy relationship building, it’s constant surveillance. If Jessa and Ben do have a good relationship, it is in spite of their parents’ surveillance, not because of it.
Do you know how kids learn to ride a bike? By taking the training wheels off. You can ride a bike with training wheels until you’re blue in the face, and you still won’t know how to ride a bike without training wheels. Only if you take the training wheels off will you actually learn to ride a bike. Sure, the child will probably have a few spills along the way, but that’s part of the learning process. Parents like the Duggars—and presumably Kirk Cameron—never take the training wheels off. They keep them on and then assume that magically, somehow, on their wedding day, their children will suddenly know how to ride a bike. It doesn’t work that way.
His daughters, Bella, 16, and Ahna, 15, who watch the hit show 19 Kids and Counting, were thrilled to be able to attend. “[When] we got an invitation from Jim Bob and Michelle, they were like, ‘Dad, we are GOING. We are GOING!’ ” Cameron says with a laugh.
I would have responded the same way when I was 15 or 16. All I knew was what my parents told me. I believed everything they said about sex, love, and marriage. I promised to save my first kiss for the altar. I wore a purity ring. What changed my way of thinking? A young man named Sean, actually. He didn’t believe sex before marriage was wrong, but he nevertheless respected my desires didn’t pressure me into having sex with him. This fractured my carefully dichotomous world and made me rethink a lot of things.
I’ve come to realize that respect has more to do with listening to and respecting the other person’s desires than it does with not having sex. I’ve come to realize that consent is a much healthier sexual ethic than an evangelical ethic that boils down to “don’t do it before marriage.” I’ve come to realize that when people focus solely and intensely on whether or not there is sex, other things can get lost in the shuffle, and there is a decreasing emphasis on recognizing abusive relationship patterns or promoting healthy relationship skills. And somehow, Kirk Cameron’s decision to bring Bella and Ahna to Jessa and Ben’s wedding brings all of these things together for me.
It’s sad, somehow, that someone with as much life experience as Kirk Cameron can miss all of this. Perhaps more sad is how these beliefs will affect his daughters. They need healthy relationship skills, not a father inordinately concerned with what they do in their spare time.