It’s time for a new episode of the To Love, Honor and Vacuum podcast!
Today we did a bit of a different one. Rather than having all of our segments, we just talked about one big thing: the earthquake in Christian circles where the purity culture is falling apart.
By “purity culture”, I mean that the extra-biblical rules that grew up around the idea that sex should be saved for marriage. Now, I believe that sex is meant for marriage. But what happened was that marriage became the end-all and be-all; virginity became equated with purity (even though the Bible doesn’t see it that way); and a whole heap of shame was added to the idea of sex. Plus we were told that if we abided by the rules of the purity culture, and had no physical contact at all (not even kissing) until we were married, and didn’t date, then marriage would be great.
While I was away in England, Josh and Shannon Harris announced on Instagram that they were separating. Josh Harris in many ways is the big face of the purity movement, writing the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye when he was only 21, and then following up with Boy Meets Girl, with lots of rules about courtship.
Josh has also disavowed those books, and is reconsidering much about the evangelical world right now.
I appreciate his humility. I am sorry for what he and Shannon are going through. I am sorry that many are gossiping about it. And so what we wanted to do in this podcast was NOT talk about Josh and Shannon (we mentioned it at the beginning, but then moved on) and instead talk about the bigger issue: how do we decide what to keep about the purity culture, and what to discard? And why is it that all of these rules haven’t led to great marriages? And I’m deliberately not putting “Josh Harris” in the title of this podcast so as to not use him as clickbait. It’s just that it was this news that got us thinking.
Listen in to the podcast here:
Rebecca and Joanna joined me for the podcast, and we debated lots of things about the purity culture. Again, I do believe that sex is meant for marriage. But there is so much wrong with the way we talk about purity, as my daughter Katie summed up here:
I’ve also written a ton about the purity culture, including:
- 10 Reasons to NOT Kiss Dating Good-bye
- 10 Things that Scare Me about the Purity Culture
- 10 Trends in the Purity Culture I’m Watching
The Purity Culture had Prosperity Gospel Undertones
Joanna explained this really well in the podcast (she’s really our resident theologian) but the prosperity gospel says that if you do certain things, God will bless you. And that blessing is in earthly circumstances. Things will go well for you. It’s a distortion of what the Bible actually teaches. Job did nothing wrong, and yet his life still was filled with hardship when everything he loved was taken from him. Sometimes life is just difficult. A better way of looking at all of this is with my book How Big Is Your Umbrella, which I wrote about the things that I yelled at God when my son was dying, and what God whispered back.
But what the purity culture said was that the reason that marriages are falling apart is because people are dating and doing things the wrong way. If you do them the right way, your marriage will be great (and you’ll have great sex, too!).
However, lots of people do things “the right way” and marriage is still tough. Sometimes sex is, too. I know so many on this blog who waited for marriage and then found out that they had vaginismus, making sex very painful. And it’s still a battle. I know others who found that a spouse had a really low libido, or that they had a low libido. Or they can just never figure out how to reach orgasm. (Please, check out The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex or 31 Days to Great Sex if you’re having trouble!).
We aren’t guaranteed anything in this life except that God will carry us through hardships when we surrender to Him. So many rushed into marriage, thinking they were doing it the right way, only to find they weren’t prepared.
As a church, we need to find a better way of talking about all of this–a way that keeps God’s perspective on sex without creating extra-biblical rules, heaping shame, or giving false promises. I hope this podcast can contribute to that discussion.
A Note from Rebecca: Are All Books Written by Young People Bad?
Something that’s been discussed a lot with the purity culture fallout is the fact that we all just jumped onto a book written by someone who wasn’t even legally allowed to drink in the US and allowed it to dictate how we all did dating and marriage.
My book, Why I Didn’t Rebel, was published when I was just 22. I wrote the initial blog post at 19, and wrote the book at 21.
While I was writing Why I Didn’t Rebel, I was acutely aware of how young I was. And Josh Harris’s story of writing Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye, honestly, haunted me while I was writing it. And here’s the conclusions that I have come to about young authors in general:
- Take everything you read with a grain of salt. In fact, I actually encourage readers to do so in my book! No 21-year-old should propose to have all the answers or have figured out “the secret” to something–we simply don’t have the experience (and again, because I really wanted to avoid the mistakes that others had made in the past I think I was pretty clear that this wasn’t supposed to be a parenting instructions manual, but was just conclusions I came to from hearing 25 people’s stories and reading a ton of research!).
- Young authors are often able to provide a fresh perspective on age-old ideas. When you get a book from a young author, you should be looking for something different than if it were written by someone working in that field for 20 years with multiple PhDs. When you’re looking at a book by a young author, you’re looking for a fresh perspective; a different point of view; a way that may challenge your preconceived notions of what is good, helpful, or potentially harmful. For my book, I really wanted parents to get to look at parenting techniques from a different angle–from the kid’s perspective. In a sense, I wanted parents to get to break out of the echo chamber of parents giving the same-old advice to other parents and ask the kids themselves–what do you think really worked?
- Any young author who isn’t terrified by the thought of writing a book probably shouldn’t be writing a book. I don’t think that a lot of people truly think about how they can be affecting people’s lives if they’re wrong. I had a lot of people go through my manuscript and offer criticisms, rebuttals, and tear it apart because I wanted to make sure that I was representing the stories in my book accurately (in fact, I made sure that every single person interviewed for my book read the chapters and approved the materials).
But above everything else, no matter how old the author is who wrote the book, a lesson that I’ve learned as I’ve watched so many people suffer due to bad teachings in books is that any book that offers a simple, formulaic solution to a complex problem is probably not a good one. That was something I struggled with in finding my core message with Why I Didn’t Rebel, because there simply wasn’t an easy way to wrap it all up. Sometimes, families did great when they had deep, theological talks multiple times a day. Sometimes, families were fine even if the kids hardly ever had heart-to-hearts with their parents. Sometimes, families thrived on a pattern of family devotionals and prayer together. Others just never really got into it but their kids turned out great too! There simply wasn’t an easy answer to the big question that people are asking.
But as I was writing the book, and struggling to find that easy answer, the fact that I couldn’t find one brought me a lot of peace. Because you know what? Parenting isn’t easy. Raising kids isn’t supposed to be easy because we’re all so unique. You, with your background and your family circumstance, are going to raise your children very differently than I will raise mine. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
But I hope we can all remember that even if there isn’t a simple formula for churning out kids who don’t rebel, the common thing we all need is just authentic relationship with each other and with our God. And there’s no easy answer for how to achieve that, which is in and of itself incredibly terrifying but also incredibly freeing.
If you are interested in reading the stories in my book and starting a new conversation about what general trends we tend to see among healthy families, do check out my book. I know this is a really weird place for a book plug, but I wrote it to be the antidote for a lot of the formulaic parenting advice that’s given today that, according to my interviews, really doesn’t work.
As someone who’s getting ready to be a first-time mom, the lessons I learned researching and interviewing for this book bring me a lot of peace and comfort–because you know what? None of these parents got it perfect. But their kids still all turned out pretty darn good because the foundation was a healthy one.