Seems like there’s a lot of critique of the ‘evangelical purity culture’ in the blogosphere lately. I grew up here in Belgium as a pentecostal/evangelical Christian, and I always thought I’d seen a lot of talk about sexual purity and stuff in my life. But when I read critiques of the North-American version of ‘purity culture’ (Very interesting ones from the latest blog storm are Sarah Bessey, Elizabeth Esther for example, or find a bigger list in Scots challenging article at faith and food, and some more commentary from Richard Beck) and I must conclude that I don’t seem to know much about it myself when I see some of the details mentioned. Seems like there are 2 possibilities:
A) I’ve never been paying attention and did get a slightly different message than what was communicated.
B) What I’ve been taught is not at all as toxic as what appears to be taught in certain corners of the Christian subculture in the good ole Us of A.
What I’ve never heard in all of this was stuff like the following, all of which I would’ve disagreed with then as much as I would do now:
- female virginity is for some unclear reason much more important than male virginity.
- Men are supposed to take the initiative and always be the leaders, otherwise you have some kind of abomination going on.
- purity rings or rituals for girls involving the father.
- Non-virgins will by definition have a bad marriage.
- Never be alone with someone of the other sex that you’re not (yet) married to.
- if you’re single after a certain age something is wrong with you.
- You must give your first kiss on your wedding day, not earlier.
(Okay, the last whole ‘first kiss on your wedding day’ idea was something that some people might choose to do I suppose, but not at all something that anyone (except maybe for some teenagers who never had had a relationship but liked to talk about those rules a lot) would ever see as normative over here. It’s quite an exotic idea in our culture actually, not even recognisable as ‘conservative’… Maybe something for followers of Joshua Harris)
(And oh, the rule of never being alone with someone of the other sex might also be something I read in Joshua Harris, but which I rejected as otherworldly, as being someone who had all his life had female friends and had never had any problem hanging out with them alone at all the idea just didn’t have a chance with me…)
Even though I might disagree with some details of what I’ve been taught and the way it was communicated, I never encountered most of what those people and others I’ve read are critiquing. What I picked up from sex-talk in church, on teenage camps, and even from the people of wareliefdewacht.be, with was the local true love waits* but does not seem to exist anymore, and from imported wisdom from people like Rebecca st-James (the Christian rock-singer, who was very clear about both ‘true love waits and her intentional singleness at the moment) was something like:
- Sex is something important that you need to wait with until you’re married. Sex is beautiful in the right context and it is powerful, so it will do much good in the right context, and damage people in the bad context.
- Speak about boundaries in a relationship, which was mainly about the ‘how far will you go before marriage’, but the issue of consent and not being pushy was also communicated clearly…
- Virginity and sexual purity is equally important for boys and for girls.
- Love and friendship are very important in romantic relationships and marriage.
- Singleness is something to be embraced, and does not have to be a problem. For most it will be a season in their life that they will learn from, for others it might be a calling.
- Sexual sin might be serious, but there is always forgiveness, whatever you have done. (The weird term ‘recycle virgin’ was also used.) Anyway there’s no need in shaming those who have made mistakes.
When I was in my early twenties that Joshua Harris’ ‘I kissed dating goodbye’ (a book of which the Dutch title can be translated back as ‘unkissed, but not a frog’) was making the rounds, and that most people I knew found it ‘too American’. I can’t remember much of it, actually, I just know I wasn’t impressed at all.
Now I don’t say I would agree with everything if I’d have to hear one of those sex-talks again that I heard as a teenager, but I do not recognise the big problematic things at all… And really, I do not understand the asymmetry in which rules for women would be different from those for men. That’s just nonsense… (especially in a heteronormative frame, where sex requires both a man and a woman…)
So, my question is; those things that I do not recognise, how common are they?
And how do we frame talk about love, sex and marriage? I do believe that sex belongs in a lifelong monogamous family-forming relationship (which is not necessarily the same as a state marriage, I would think the sacramental part and the reality -2 people form one life-unit- more important), but there seems to be so much ballast on the concept of marriage and on all this ‘no sex before marriage’ stuff…
* they have nothing to do with this beautiful radiohead song.