This story was contributed by Vyxsin Drake, a poly queer woman. The team at LifeAfterIKDG.com is especially interested in hearing from those in the LGBT community and people of color.
I was the eldest daughter of a conservative Christian minister, and my parents did everything “right.” I was in church and Sunday school every week, part of a local AWANA club memorizing Bible verses, and homeschooled in a conservative group led by other religious parents. I sat for hours listening to straight white men talk about how there would be college professors who would challenge my faith and ridicule me for believing in God, and how there would be roommates, friends, or coworkers that would pressure me into having sex — because having sex as a good straight Christian woman, as we all know, is the cardinal sin. I honestly think that most evangelical Christians subconsciously believe that consensual sex between men and women is worse than rape. At least you didn’t want to be raped.
The ideals of I Kissed Dating Goodbye were presented to me from a very young age, far before Josh Harris decided to open his mouth and spit his bile. I remember when I was about seven years old, watching Aladdin, and the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine kiss for the first time came on. My mother made a face and said, “they should have waited until they got married to do that.” That is the very first bit of sex education I remember: you should wait until marriage to do anything remotely sexual and if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.
My parents never educated us on sex. Because I was a very curious and sexually driven child, I learned from sneaking books off my dad’s bookshelf about the consequences of sexual abuse and rape. My introduction to sex education was not presented as something that loving partners did to care for each other, but rather something horrific and ugly that a man did to a woman or child. I learned very quickly that sex was shameful, and not something you talked about openly.
Cut to when I was a teenager and learning how to masturbate. At some point I discovered how useful a shower head was for an orgasm. It was glorious, but I instinctively knew that I could never tell anyone about it. Purity culture doesn’t curb sexual appetites, it just teaches you how to hide them. Especially when your best friend comes over for sleepovers and you spend the night touching her body and kissing her neck. I didn’t know what being gay or queer was back then, but I knew that I loved her as much as I loved the cute guy in my youth group.
So when I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the ideals presented weren’t foreign to me, it just put a more romantic spin on the whole “save yourself for marriage or else no good Christian man will ever want your whore ass” bullshit. It seemed like a really good idea at the time, because I was in college and involved in a Christian ministry where women were constantly critiqued for the style of clothing they wore, the way they spent their time, what men they spent their time with, and if they were “flirting” too much. I wanted so desperately to be loved, so I threw myself into following all the rules and suppressing my sexual urges. I even stopped masturbating for nine months!
Unfortunately, my sex drive is a powerful thing, and I finally broke down and had “penis in vagina” sex for the first time with a guy I’d been dating for a month. I didn’t love him. I didn’t even like him all that much. I just wanted to have sex.
Afterwards, I wanted to kill myself. All those phrases drilled into my head from a young age haunted me: “you’re dirty,” “you’re impure,” “no man will want you now,” “you’re damaged,” “you’re a slut.” Purity culture isn’t just some cutesy romantic ideal that protects you from pain. It’s misogyny cloaked in religious language programmed to make women hate themselves and hate one of the main things that makes them who they are.
Praise Athena for my best friend at the time. He took me in when the church looked down on me for losing my virginity, my ministry kicking me out, and my “friends” slipping away. He spent many late nights convincing me not to harm myself, that it was all going to be ok.
And you know what? That man is the main reason I’m alive and decently happy today. After a year of us being great platonic friends and both of us being in therapy, we started dating. And fell in love. And started having sex. I had the worst panic attacks at the beginning because I was convinced our relationship would fall apart and he would leave me because that’s what Joshua Harris and my parents and the church and everyone else said would happen. I’m talking about breaking down sobbing and screaming while he was still inside me. And to his credit, he handled it beautifully. He would always hold me and tell me it was gonna be ok, that I was safe.
Eventually the panic attacks stopped. Eventually the guilt went away. And eventually I figured out I was anything but a good straight monogamous Christian girl. Two years into my relationship with my boyfriend, I came to him because I realized I wanted a girlfriend too. He was surprised, but supportive. It wasn’t easy, I still had a lot of emotional baggage to cope with and he had to deal with the insecurity of his partner wanting to be with other people while still being with him.
So if anything, my story should provide anecdotal evidence that purity culture doesn’t always produce the results they’re hoping for. I turned into a queer polyamorous kinky liberal feminist stripper that has a lot of sex with a lot of different people. And I am happy. I’m very grateful that I had the privilege of being able to work through the shit that Joshua Harris piled on me, because I know that there are thousands of people that still hate themselves due to his books.
And to those people, I just want to say that I’m sorry the church fucked you up like this. I’m sorry for all those sleepless nights, those horrible dark days when you just wanted everything to end. I can’t promise you that it gets better, because my story is not your story. But I can tell you that I believe in you, that I think you’re beautiful, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. To my fellow LGBTQIA friends, you’re beautiful and perfect just the way you are. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you need to be straight or the gender you were born with to be ok with God. I love you very much and I hope that maybe one day we can all sit down together to have a drink and be fucked up together.
Because I would rather be “fucked up” than go back to being a “perfect Christian girl.”
I’m encouraged to hear that Joshua Harris is expressing doubts and regrets about his purity trilogy, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl, and Not Even a Hint. It’s a difficult thing to realize that your past writings were harmful. I’ve been through it myself.
My name is connected with I Kissed Dating Goodbye as I wrote the foreword to the second, revised edition in 2003. (The original 1997 bestseller featured a foreword by Rebecca St. James). After the surprise of seeing my own words quoted in the excellent article by Samantha Field, I want to take this opportunity to publicly agree with her critique of my foreword and the book itself.
This is not to criticize Josh Harris, a sincere person who seems to be evolving in his beliefs, but to make it clear that I repudiate my past association with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the purity movement.
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:
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 (@KatelynBeaty) August 25, 2016
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.
Last night we held our first twitter chat for the LifeAfterIKDG.com campaign, using the hashtag #IKDGstories. Our chat was structured around questions written by the @IKDGstories team. In case you missed the chat, or would like the opportunity to expand more on these questions without being limited by Twitter’s character limit, we’ve listed them below.
- When were you first introduced to I Kissed Dating Goodbye? Was it given to you by church or parents, or did you get it for yourself? Or, perhaps you didn’t read it yourself, but it was a part of your culture?
- Did you have relationships in high school/college/beyond, and, if so, were they affected by I Kissed Dating Goodbye?
- Did you ever get married? Did the teachings of I Kissed Dating Goodbye play into your marriage?
- If you exist outside of the white, heteronormative narrative of purity culture, how did Joshua Harris’ teachings make you feel?
- What are your feelings about dating/relationships/marriage now? How have you worked to undo the harm caused by I Kissed Dating Goodbye?
The following is the beginning of an extended, in-depth review of Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Here’s where you can find the entire series, which is in ten parts. Each post covers one or two chapters and makes the connection between the principles Joshua advocated for and the consequences those principles have had on Christian culture.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships by Joshua Harris originally came out in 1997, when I was ten and Joshua was twenty-three, although I didn’t read it until I was in college.
I’m aware of the fact that a twenty-three-year-old is going to say some laughably naïve things about relationships, and I think that Joshua might be aware of that, too. I reached out to him and asked if he’d like to be a part of this review series, but he declined. Because of all of that, I’m going to do my best to keep in mind that what he said in 1997 may not represent his views now (although I am working with the updated 2003 edition). [note: a recent NPR interview indicates that Joshua hasn’t seemed to change his mind about the principles in the book, although he does acknowledge that his inexperience contributed to some problems.]
However, it’s important to keep in mind that although he might have matured and changed, his book is probably the most popular book on courtship (and possibly on Christian dating in general) ever written, and it’s continuing to have an impact today. Goodreads reviewers have written “It just gives me whole new perspective between courtship, dating and in relationships” and “I wished to have had this book before I got married” and “Life changing” and “a must read!” as of last month, and on Amazon the recent reviews are even more glowing, including one that went up last week. Over 70% of the thousands of ratings this book has gotten are 4 or 5 stars, and it’s still relevant, still influential.
I mention all of that because it honestly surprised me. When you lovely readers suggested that I dig into IKDG, I was hesitant at first because I thought of it as a relic from my college days. Were people still reading this? I wondered … and it turns out, yeah. They are. And while mine won’t be the only critical review– there are plenty on Amazon and Goodreads– I think it may be the first in-depth review that gets down into the trenches and examines the details of what went wrong in this book.
I’m going to start this post with a weird confession: I’m not sure I ever actually read I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I was an avid reader as a teen and tend to remember the books I read vividly. Like the Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn, for instance, which had a strong influence on my notions of purity and romantic relationships. I also remember reading Passion & Purity by Elizabeth Elliot, which my mother gave me as a gift one Easter. But for some reason, I don’t remember reading Harris’ now infamous book the way I remember these others. This is not to say that I didn’t read it, just that I don’t *remember* the physical act of renting it from my church library (where the majority of my reading material came from in those days) or flipping through its pages. The fact that I’m very familiar with specific anecdotes in the book tells me that I either did read it and simply don’t remember, or my memories merely reflect the many conversations I had with my peers who did read the book.
Regardless of whether or not I personally remember reading it, Harris’ work exists as a primary resource at the center of my purity culture experiences, right alongside the work of Robin Jones Gunn and Elizabeth Elliot. It’s also worth noting that Harris cites Elliot’s work as a source of inspiration several times in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris certainly didn’t invent purity culture, nor was he its pioneer leader, but I understand him now as the next-gen poster boy for the political movement that American evangelical purity culture became (for more on this, I highly recommend Dianna Anderson’s book Damaged Goods.) What made Harris’ work so influential was how young he was when he wrote it—just 21 years old. He was practically our peer, for those of us who came of age in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. At the same time that my parents were pushing the work of Elizabeth Elliot into my hands, my peers were reading IKDG and telling me, “I read this book by this guy who is pretty close to our age, and this is how he says romantic relationships should work.”
In other words, the driving force behind Harris’ work was peer pressure.
And this is why, despite my foggy memory of the book itself, I’m contributing to the Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye project: because for me and my friends, Harris’ teachings had a literal, tangible, memorable impact (read: consequences) in our relationships and developing sexuality.
This post originally appeared on The Salt Collective and has been republished with permission.
“You should date,” Mom said, “so you can learn what you like and don’t like in a guy.”
I was standing in my family’s kitchen, home for the first time from my freshman year of college, and my mother’s words caught me by surprise. After years of telling me that I wasn’t allowed to date because it would distract me from my studies (which did nothing to stop me from obsessively journaling about dudes, talking to them on the phone and IMing them for hours, and talking and IMing about them with my girlfriends for hours more — so much for no distractions), she had abruptly changed her tune when I left for college. When I called home during Welcome Week to tell her about all the fun things I was doing, her first response was, “Have you met anyone?” (What? When was I supposed to learn how to do that? The answer was decidedly no.) But the complete 180 aside, her words to me in our kitchen that evening were perfectly normal advice for a woman to be giving her 17-year-old daughter.
I, however, was having none of it. Because you see, I had already seen the light about relationships: I had kissed dating goodbye. Like scores of other young, impressionable Christians who came of age in the late ’90s, I had read Joshua Harris’s missive against dating before one was ready for marriage and taken it as gospel — and all the more readily because it provided a theological affirmation for what I was already doing at the time, which, thanks to Mom, was not dating. So I received her new advice with what can best be described as amusement at her unenlightened thinking.
“I don’t need to date,” I said, with a combination of pride and condescension that only a college freshman can muster. “I can learn everything I need to know about a guy by observing him in group settings.”
I don’t know how she kept a straight face.
The premise of Harris’s book was fairly simple: The ultimate purpose of dating is to find a lifelong partner. So if you’re not ready for something serious, why are you messing with someone’s heart? That’s selfish. You should hold off on dating until you’re ready to get married.
To his credit, I think Harris had only the best intentions in mind. And he had a point: Many people mess around with people they have no intention of being with long-term, and people get hurt as a result. That’s fair. But his philosophy created another problem: A lot of people took it very, very seriously and stopped dating in high school and college altogether. This was especially true in my Taiwanese American community, where dating in high school was already prohibited and no one, male or female, was considered ready for marriage before they established a career (i.e., before age 25). So a lot of people stopped dating during the period when they could learn how to relate to potential partners with relatively little consequence. Instead, they started learning how to date in their mid-twenties, when marriage was a real possibility — and the stakes were infinitely higher. Now, mistakes that were simply the result of inexperience, ones that would have been understandable in high school — like not calling when you said you were going to — were interpreted as character flaws, red flags, dealbreakers. At 24, many of my peers and I were figuring out things that we should’ve learned at 16, like how to bring up conflict in a relationship, how to communicate to someone that you care about them, and simply how to (non-creepily) ask someone on a date.
I felt these repercussions from every angle. I remember all the ambigi-dating that went on in college: Since we weren’t supposed to be dating, people would just hang out in nebulous, undefined relationships that often ended without warning, since no expectations had been set, and caused their own share of pain and confusion. I remember finding myself in a recurring dilemma, because the only dudes who were clear about wanting to date were ones who didn’t share my faith, something that was important to me in a partner. I remember the sheer panic I felt the one time a Christian guy did broach the topic of dating with me and said that the purpose of dating was marriage, so that was the direction in which we were heading. (I had spent less than 10 hours with him — we met at a retreat and lived in different states — so I think my terror was justified.)
I also remember having the realization that it would not kill me if a boy knew that I liked him — that it might actually be a good thing, because it could expedite the process one way or another. If he liked me, it could move things forward; if he didn’t, I could move on.
I was a third-year graduate student at the time.
Harris may have spared me from heartache, from getting involved with dudes who didn’t take me seriously and misleading guys I wasn’t really into. And that’s not trivial. But because of him, I also missed out on opportunities to learn what it’s like to be in a relationship, to learn how to treat a partner well, to learn how to communicate my feelings in a healthy way — before the potential of marriage amplified the pressure. Instead, these lessons were learned in my early- and mid-twenties with guys who probably did not expect to be dating someone with the relationship know-how of a high school freshman. (Sorry, dudes.)
I’m grateful that this fad has passed, that people seem to have calmed down a little about dating and gone back to seeing it for what it is: an avenue to find a potential life partner, yes, but also an avenue to learn how to be a good life partner for whenever that time comes.
Written by Liz Lin