The Time Parents Interrupted Purity Culture
We didn’t encourage our teens to date, but we also didn’t say that they couldn’t. We did encourage them to develop friendships, have fun being kids, and not try to grow up too fast. Our 14-year old son had decided that dating wasn’t for him simply because, one by one, he had watched his friends fall into the girlfriend trap. Suddenly, they weren’t able to hang out anymore or didn’t have money to get a new video game because they had spent it on the girl. He didn’t want a girl dictating his social life or his cash flow, so he opted out. We thought that was a realistic view of the way things went and supported him. Our girls did opt to date, and that had its typical ups and downs.
I’ll admit that I bought I Kissed Dating Goodbye for our teenagers.
I pre-read it. This was 2005 and the whole purity thing was new to me. I wasn’t raised in church, and I certainly wasn’t a virgin when I got married. I found the book interesting but not what I considered a realistic way to live. I have always been one to take the advice that works and toss the rest, and I try to encourage my kids to do the same. While I understood that Josh Harris was telling teens to wait and save themselves because there can be benefits, his black and white take on purity also triggered in me a great deal of grief and regret. It sparked a period of self-loathing at having done things “all wrong.” Our church wasn’t pushing the book, but several of the youth staff who ran small groups were. The idea behind it became an ongoing theme as our youth pastor and his fiancée drew closer to their wedding date. For one entire year, we suffered through weekly installments on how Jeremy* and Ashley* were keeping themselves pure for their wedding night.
Jeremy could be quite blunt when discussing how he much was looking forward to sex.
The kids ranged in age from 11 to 18 years and met—all 200—each Wednesday. He detailed how difficult it was for him to hug her for any length of time, presumably because he would get an erection although he never came right out and said that. He explained how they only dated in public, and that he never drove with her alone in the car.
I always wondered why he didn’t trust himself. Did he honestly think that he would force himself on this woman if she rode in the car with him to Dairy Queen? I didn’t understand why he was so convinced that he couldn’t trust himself until time and distance from Evangelical Christianity brought some perspective.
Evangelical Christianity teaches that young men must marry if they can’t control their sex drive.
Girls are taught that they cannot trust themselves or their bodies, because their bodies make boys stumble and cause them to sin. In other words, the clothing a girl wears are what causes a boy to commit a felony. It’s not the boy’s fault, because he simply cannot control his sex drive with a pretty girl around who happens to be wearing a tank top. This is ingrained in the girls from around 6th grade on. They understand that their bodies are made for sex, but within marriage only. Youth in the Evangelical Christian churches are encouraged to marry quite young and girls know that once they are married, sex is their duty and they cannot say no to it. Over the years, I attended many weddings of 18, 19, and 20-year old former youth group students.
As their wedding date loomed, Jeremy’s sermons grew more passionate, outlining how excited he was to finally get to see Ashley naked. He would go off on a tangent about how “hot” she was, and how he “can’t wait until our wedding night, to be one with her.” The big day came, and they were finally married. I assume he came then, too. I doubt that Ashley did. The return from their two-week honeymoon brough much excitement among the students. We parents were looking forward to it as well; we hoped that it would bring Jeremy a new speaking topic. We could not have been more wrong.
He detailed how amazing their honeymoon had been. They spent most of their time in the hotel room, hahaha. He explained that they had truly become one flesh. “See this hot lady? She’s my wife now! I can have sex with her whenever I want to. You can’t do that! We waited for the wedding, guys, and that’s what you have to do, too. You have to wait for the ring, guys. No ringy, no dingy.”
My mouth had fallen open, and I didn’t realize it until my friend Susan* and I turned incredulously to face one another, and both had to close our mouths.
“Did he really just say that? To our KIDS??”
My heart and head began to pound as my blood pressure rose. Jeremy was still telling the kids all about how waiting was the best thing and how amazing sex was. Meanwhile, his beautiful new bride stood next to him, smiling as if she didn’t have a brain in her head. I felt horrible for this young woman.
It was difficult to tell how she was feeling as he put her on display.
She maintained a blank gaze and a big smile. Looking back now, I suspect she was dissociating to enable her to get through it. As they watched, the teenage guys were hooting like animals and the girls mostly looking uncomfortable. It was awful.
“Oh, I’d kill him if Dan ever did that to me!” Susan glanced at me and I agreed. This wouldn’t fly with me, either. Public humiliation is not something that I can tolerate and if it came from my husband, that would probably be the end of life as he knew it. Neither of us could believe what we were hearing.
For the better part of a year, we had listened to the pastor’s never-ending diatribe of purity propaganda.
Susan and I both had kids in the youth group. Hers were 13 and 16. Mine were 11, 13, and 14. We were not impressed with the “wisdom” of this 25-year-old horndog. We both agreed that we would email the senior Pastor about it the next day.
I could not wait that long. When I got home, I was so angry and disgusted. I wrote an email to the Pastor. I read it, rewrote it, and read it again. Then I rewrote it, again. And again. I finally gave up and picked up the phone. It was 9:45 pm, and I hoped it wasn’t too late, but I had to call him. Our Pastor listened to me, and immediately voiced his concern. I know that I was ranting, but enough was enough. I let him hear my frustration with the entire past year. I explained that it was maddening to listen to this pastor tell kids what to do when statistics prove that 50% are already sexually active (I wrote a post about that in 2013) and that heaping guilt on top of that can make things worse. It just causes more angst in an already confused age group. And to put his new wife in that position was simply unconscionable.
I expressed how angry I was at how he was talking to “my kids”—not just my ACTUAL children but all of the students that I’d watched grow up to this point—he was behaving completely inappropriately. It may have had something to do with the fact that his 11-year old granddaughter was in the audience that night, but my pastor’s final response to me was, “I promise you that Jeremy WILL find something else to talk about next week.”
Jeremy wasn’t there. One of the youth ministerial interns spoke. I don’t recall what he talked about, but it wasn’t purity or sex. Jeremy returned the following week, after being called to the carpet—and before the church board—about his behavior over the past year. Apparently, they had interviewed parents and staff, as well as some of the older youth group students. Jeremy never apologized, either publicly or privately, to the staff, students, or parents. He also never covered purity again in the short time he remained in his position.