it's not ok, and we're not alright

Moving Forward

Since LifeAfterIKDG.com launched, we’ve heard from so many of you about your experiences with Joshua Harris’ works– I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl— and the wider purity culture he was a part of and helped promote. Many of your stories have been shattering, heart-breaking. I was personally left devastated for years because of the lies purity culture and Joshua Harris fed my earnest, God-fearing, innocent heart.

We’ve been through a lot, and have the scars to show for it.

Thanks to everyone who’s been sharing their stories, there’s a new light shining on purity culture and the consequences I Kissed Dating Goodbye has had. Unfortunately, not everyone sees us, or the bravery we’ve shown in sharing our stories, and approves. Yesterday, the managing editor of Christianity Today tweeted this:

As you can tell, it was a sentiment relatively well-received. Many of the people who responded to Katelyn Beaty’s tweet shared how there’s no need for us to be “melodramatic,” and the #IKDGstories team has also received similar thoughts through tumblr and twitter. Katelyn’s tweet, though, is a good place to start talking about a really important concept that all of us– those of us who are critical of purity culture and those not– needs to understand moving forward.

Purity culture is not just “weird.” It is an oppressive system.

Joshua Harris is certainly not solely responsible for it– in many ways, his books are merely a result of the purity culture he’d been imbibing since he was a child. Elisabeth Elliot wrote Passion and Purity way back in 1984, so Joshua was hardly being original when he penned I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Although he became the poster child for it and his book allowed purity culture and “courtship” to enter the mainstream in a way previously unseen, purity culture is a much larger problem than just his book.

Purity culture teaches that men are inherently monsters, and that women are responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped. Purity culture is incompatible with teaching consent or any model for healthy sexual relationships, inside of marriage or out of it.

In purity culture, there’s no opportunity to explain to vulnerable girls and boys that they are in control of their bodies and what happens to them. Teaching concepts like bodily autonomy and consent muddies the waters of a strict no sex until marriage policy, because those concepts tell us that we are not required under any circumstances to have sex– not by our unbridled hormones, not by a marriage contract. Teaching consent undermines the idea that there’s “no exit off the expressway” (in Joshua’s words); it undermines the whole premise that young people can’t be trusted to be alone with each other, or shouldn’t be permitted to hold hands or kiss because that would inevitably lead to “dangerous” (again, Joshua’s term) consequences.

Since the purity movement took hold in the 90s, most Christian teenagers grew up being taught that there’s only one way for relationships to unfold. The young woman is the sexual gatekeeper who is responsible for keeping both of them in the clear. If she slips up in any way– for example, dressing “immodestly,” a standard that changes from person to person–then anything that follows is her fault. If she’d followed the rules, then she would have been able to avoid any negative consequences. Young men are to do everything within their power to control the raging beast inside of them. They “bounce their eyes” and have “accountability partners” and keep a tight leash on a monster threatening at every moment to rage out of control.

All those messages combined remove consent from the equation. There’s nothing left but blame and control. There’s no room for love or grace and compassion, just condemnation and shame.

***

None of that means that everyone single last person who grew up in purity culture is going to experience it the exact same way. All our experiences are unique, and it is entirely possible for someone to have embraced the teachings of purity culture and not been harmed in obvious or dramatic ways. Not everyone will experience divorce, or be diagnosed with vaginismus or dyspareunia, or left in an abusive relationship with no way out. People like Katelyn and those who responded to her tweet experienced purity culture as merely “weird,” and seem to be baffled by the idea that there’s a connection between purity culture and rape culture.

However.

Just because not everyone experiences the fallout of an oppressive system in the same way does not mean that the oppressive system does not exist.

When someone reduces all the harm, damage, and trauma of purity culture down to something “weird” or calls our responses “melodramatic,” they are erasing us and dismissing our legitimate grievances. This happens because they have had the privilege of living in an oppressive system and not being significantly harmed by it. As some in Katelyn’s twitter thread pointed out, it’s possible for mitigating circumstances to moderate some of the potential for hurt. But the possibility for some to come out on the other side of a war zone unscathed means that they were remarkably lucky– it doesn’t mean that they somehow were “better” or “did it right.”

We were all in the battle together. Some of us were emotionally or psychologically traumatized, some were physically hurt, and some of us made it out of there “okay.” It’s incredibly wrong for someone to point at the rest of us bearing battle scars and try to claim that the battle never happened.

  • I think a lot of people who made it out “okay” also don’t realize the more subconscious impacts these teachings had.

    I was raised evangelical Christian, and the purity culture was prevalent in all the churches I attended (and homeschool curriculum). But my dad was never a big fan of the purity ring bs (he has more common sense in his religious views), although my mom was very into it. So I grew up very immersed in it but with a more open minded parent on the sideline. Which helped. I do wish he’d put more of a stop to my mother’s nonsense, but at least he didn’t play into it.

    But anyway, I walked away around 16-17. The second i was exposed to anything in college I immediately realized how little sense everything id already been questioning made. I didn’t think sex before marriage was a bad thing and became sex positive pretty quickly without having anyone sex positive in my life or even understanding what that was. It was just the logical choice. Sex was just your body doing something, and if it was consensual, why the big deal? It’s just sex… But… that didn’t mean the subconscious lessons were rejected.

    First time I had sex, it was either slutty or sex positive, depending on your definition. I was perfectly happy with my decision, and in no way coerced, but every
    friend I told that I knew through church tried to claim I’d been “taken advantage of”. It’s hard to keep from feeling ashamed when you have that much pressure to view it as negative.

    But that really wasn’t the worst part. When I finally started a serious relationship, it was abusive. And I didn’t recognize it because of the way I grew up. His constant demands for sex… I thought they were normal, or at least typical. It turned into rape pretty quickly and I felt guilty for not giving it to him enough, and so even though I knew him continuing to go when I said “stop it hurts” was wrong, or him threatening to kill himself or others (including me) until he got it was wrong too, or punishing me with hours of verbal and emotional abuse if I said no. Or grabbing me continually and continuing to do things as I pulled away or told him it hurt. I knew it was wrong, but I put up with it because of the subconscious lies I still believed about sex. Men need it. They’ll act out if they don’t get it. If you gave it to him enough, this wouldn’t happen. And so on. I lived years longer in that hell than I should’ve because of those subconscious lies.

    It’s also made me, since leaving him, think that men who don’t show an obsessive interest in sex must not like me, only to find out they’re just not sociopathic sex addicts like my ex but are still extremely interested in me. Despite not trying to force me to have sex 24/7. That’s the type of thing that lasts long after you consciously reject purity culture, even if you weren’t as steeped in it as some people. And I doubt everyone even always recognizes how those subconscious things can have serious effects on their lives.

    • Korrine Britton

      I very much relate to your relationship with your exhusband. My marriage was similar, and we were both raised in purity culture.

      • It’s good to know I’m not alone! He is also my ex husband as well, and I do think even though he wasn’t raised in purity culture specifically, he was raised with an extremely sexist view towards sex, and add that onto how his parents both controlled and coddled him, he learned he was entitled to whatever he wanted and could throw a fit or manipulate when he didn’t. And fits and manipulation become far more dangerous in adults. Mix that with a girl like me who was used to that kind of behavior from the environment I grew up in and still subconsciously held onto the lies purity culture teaches about men, and had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like, as well as had enough social anxiety from the isolation from homeschooling that I failed to form very many long term connections with people who didn’t force me to… and you have a recipe for an abusive relationship that went on way too long and really could’ve gotten pretty dangerous with how he was escalating. I do think we were both products of our environments that were dysfunctional in differing ways, and it didn’t have to be that way if we’d had healthier role models.

        • Korrine Britton

          In my case, my ex was homeschooled; he’s the youngest of 5, and (according to his siblings) the Golden Child. I was the oldest in a Fundy family, so I’d had submission beaten into me.

          It was a toxic.situation, and even when I changed and began to set.boundaries, things simply got worse.

          I’m glad you’re out of that and safe now. Learning what a healthy relationship looks like is hard, but so WORTH IT.

          • I’m glad you’re out of it too! It was similar for me. I was very submissive for a while, and then when I tried to set boundaries, it got worse or he just switched to different types of tactics. I think once it becomes that toxic, setting boundaries usually does make it worse. If someone’s used to getting their way, setting boundaries just seems like a threat. This is where I think a lot of the evangelical teachings on divorce are very dangerous. You really have a lot of pressure to do everything you can to “work it out”, when trying to do so can just make it so much worse. I agree it’s so worth it to learn what a healthy relationship is and settle for nothing less.

    • Ron

      Both people consenting to do whatever they feel like at the moment does make logical sense, just as long as each of us is our own god and we’re willing to take full responsibility for the consequences. But I made a choice some time back to be a follower of Jesus, and now I answer to a God who is greater than me and my sin. (Yes, I’m aware that talking about sin went out of fashion some time ago, but it keeps showing up in my life, so I need a grace-based solution.)

      • Beroli

        Did you bother to read the comment you’re replying to?

        • Have to agree here. That reply really had nothing to do with what I was talking about. That even though I grasped consent and sex positivity in a logical sense, I still subconsciously held onto a lot of oppressive beliefs that led to me not understanding how to handle my consent being violated by my ex husband and others, and even thinking a lack of that boundary breaking meant a lack of interest from men who did understand consent. Those subconscious lies caused me a lot of very serious problems and put me in a lot of danger, was the point I was making.

        • Zebra

          Alternatively Ron is pro-rape and/or a rapist. I’m not about to rule that out. Anyone so monstrously entitled to rant about sin to a survivor is uninterested in boundaries, consent, and empathy anyway, why not believe him when he says he considers the rapist in the right?

        • Ron

          I simply believe the standard for the correctness of my behavior is even more demanding than obtaining someone else’s consent, certainly not less than consent. It might be somewhat easy for a manipulative perpetrator of abuse to “obtain consent” from someone who has never known anything but abusive relationships, so even consent as a measure falls short. The standard for me goes beyond the question of consent, because Christ raised the bar even above consent. The standard is self-sacrificial love, a love that would not engage in “consensual sex” if it were not the truly loving thing to do.

          I’m not sure how that would make me “pro-rape and/or a rapist” (referring to a comment below). That we all have sin, whether perpetrators or survivors or neither of the above, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who takes a critical look at themselves and the world around them.

          • Beroli

            That still seems to have very little to do with the comment you’re replying to, unless you mean to suggest that no one who proclaims the moral beliefs you are would be a rapist–and I certainly hope you are not sufficiently unaware of reality to do that.

            In fact, you appear to be simply using a comment describing abuse to trumpet your moral superiority, unconnected to anything in the comment except that the comment is not as deferential to Christianity as you think it should be. That willingness to use asoundinthesilence for your ego gratification seems to coexist oddly with your assertion that, of course, you’re far more moral and loving than anyone without your religion could be.

          • Ron

            I’m sorry for my inability to communicate clearly. It seems that has opened the door to assertions about my character and intent, even the likelihood that I am a rapist of pro-rapist. I have made it very easy for others to put words into my mouth and intent in my heart. I guess I’m a bit surprised, though I now think I shouldn’t have been.

            No, I think my real problem is that I lack the natural character to be as “moral” and “loving” as I believe I am to be. I fail and fall short of being a truly loving human being. I am by nature a selfish, self-seeking person who struggles with wide range of character defects.

            But I’m growing and changing. And that process has led me to the conclusion that “consent” is not enough. Consent falls short of self-sacrificial love. And I fall short of self-sacrificial love. But that does not make me into the person you believe I am.

          • Beroli

            I believe that you’re the person who’s done what I’ve observed you to do. That’s absolutely reliable, in my experience.

            If you don’t want to be someone who scores points for your religion on the abuse victim, don’t. If you have nothing supportive to say then say nothing; that’s well within the moral range of an atheist and if you demonstrate that it’s not within your Jesus-buffed moral range, people will observe that and draw conclusions about it.

          • Ron

            Good point, at least part of it. Thanks.

  • Nicole Chase

    Amen and thank you.

  • yes

  • Korrine Britton

    So very well said.

  • YES.

  • bunnykiwi

    That tweet is so insensitive. No, we’re not being melodramatic. If Christians actually listened to people who were hurting, instead of dismissing their legitimate concerns (this spans across ALL hurting groups, especially the LGBT community), they might actually develop an ounce of compassion.

    Part of what the evangelical movement doesn’t understand is that they didn’t teach kids how to think and make decisions for themselves. We never had the ability to be responsible for our choices, because we were too scared to even make choices and be ok with our mistakes. When we made “mistakes” or “went too far” we shamed ourselves and hated ourselves. This cycle was was so incredible fucking damaging, and a large reason why I am no longer a Christian and so much happier with my life because of it 🙂

  • wanderer

    Katelyn’s statement is odd to me. On the one hand, I think, “that’s nice that you would like to hear a story like that. I would like to be eating a lime popsicle right now. Thanks for sharing.”
    The other part of me knows exactly what she means. She is trying to put a positive, happy face on what she interprets as negativity. She seems like she has a desperate need to have things be positive and ok and not as bad as people say they are.
    To that I say: why? Why do you need this? Why would you rather hear that story than real ones?
    Might be worth it for her to take a few minutes in self-awareness to think about why there’s something that seems scary about that truth for her.