Well the internet has blown up this past week over the news that Josh Duggar sexually abused at least 5 girls, including some of his younger sisters, back in 2002 when he was a teenager. (See last week's blogaround and this post by the Slacktivist for links to what other bloggers have written on this. The whole ex-evangelical/ex-fundamentalist/ex-purity-culture blogosphere has been writing about these kinds of problems for years and we have a lot to say.)
One thing that strikes me is how the Duggar parents are protecting Josh, talking about forgiveness as if this is all just in the past and everything is fine now. As if it doesn't matter. This is so odd, because the Duggar family is SO SO SO far to the extreme end of purity culture, whose entire premise is "anything sexual that happens before marriage will ALWAYS MATTER FOREVER."
So let's talk about what happens in purity culture when you don't live up to its impossible standards.
Purity culture teaches that all of your romantic and sexual experiences belong to your (future) husband or wife. (The assumption is that everyone is straight and gets married exactly one time.) Basically, you start out completely pure- emotionally and physically- and then every crush, every romantically-charged bit of physical contact with a member of the opposite sex, every dating (or courting) relationship erodes your purity a little. You go on your first date, and a chunk of your purity is gone. You have your first kiss- now an even bigger chunk is gone. You have sex- oh my dear goodness- ALL of your purity is gone.
(Or rather, your purity is gone, because purity is defined as lack of experience. But purity culture also talks about "pieces of your heart"- at first you start with an entire heart, and then each action that erodes your purity does so by transferring a piece of your heart to your romantic partner. You have to stay in the relationship or else those heart bits are lost forever.)
Back when I was in purity culture, the part I never understood was how to move from a state of being completely pure and knowing nothing about romantic relationships, to marriage. Really, you had to give up some of your purity in exchange for the information and experience you would need in order to know if someone would be a good marriage partner. The challenge was in how to carefully calculate each move so as to lose the least amount of purity, while maximizing the information that could be gained. How to get engaged without ever falling in love.
Also, I believed that if I prayed a lot and was perfectly obedient to God, I would be able to successfully go through that whole process and get married without losing any pieces of my heart. Purity culture offers a guarantee of no heartbreak.
(The Duggars attempt to solve this problem through a courtship process, where everything the couple does must be approved by the parents. And of course, a lot of praying about it.)
Anyway, the point is that purity culture sets up this ideal "best-case scenario" where the first person you ever have a crush on is the person you marry. Furthermore, the less you have actually physically touched them before the wedding, the better.
But realistically, they know that's not going to happen. Being pure is really hard, and people make "mistakes". Purity-culture Christians date and break up. (Though some use the term "court" instead of "date.") You hold hands with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes people even kiss. And- gasp- sometimes, because of too much temptation, a couple may have sex.
People who preach purity culture acknowledge that within the church, the vast majority of people end up having premarital sex. (In fact, purity culture uses this as motivation to advocate even harder for purity.) And even if you haven't had sex, essentially no one ends up "pure" for their wedding day. I guarantee you, right now, there are girls who have never been kissed, never been in a relationship, and they still feel so much shame over how impure they are.
So purity culture teaches that God gives us this impossible standard- have absolutely no romantic or sexual experience before your wedding (or at least, no romantic experience aside from the person you're about to marry)- and essentially no one can keep it. And we count our thoughts and actions as sin, we pray, we believe God forgives us, but still, we are impure.
|Dear god this is creepy. Image source.|
In purity land, the correct answer for anything sexual is NO. It's a sin to consent, so people explain Christians having premarital sex in terms of temptation and falling into sin. I mean, of course we WANT to follow God, we WANT to not have sex, in theory, but ... you know... sometimes a couple somehow ends up alone together and it "just happens." Then they use language like "we stumbled." When I was in purity culture, I believed that if the circumstances were just so, it would impossible to control myself. I would have sex by accident, and it would be my fault for putting myself into a situation with so much temptation.
There is no consent. If it were possible to give consent, that means you have the presence of mind to make a decision about whether or not to have sex, and of course, if you're able to think clearly like that, you would say no. (This also applies to using condoms and other protection- if you're able to go to the store and buy a condom, you're able to choose not to have sex. Using a condom is a greater sin, because it means you actually PLANNED to have sex.)
(This is rape culture. It completely blurs the distinction between consensual sex and rape.)
Basically, purity culture teaches that we're all animals (well, men more so than women), unable to control ourselves, and given the right combination of circumstances, our bodies will have sex and we'll be unable to stop ourselves. All we can do is be on guard against those such combinations of circumstances.
Purity-culture adherents who have premarital sex claim to have done so by accident. But they admit it's still their own fault- it's a sin- for foolishly putting themselves into a situation where it could happen.
So let's come back to Josh Duggar. Some people have sex with their girlfriend "by accident", because they "can't control themselves." Josh Duggar sexually abused his sisters because he couldn't control himself. So, what's the difference?
(To be clear, Josh Duggar did not say he "couldn't control himself" or anything like that. In his non-apology, he said "I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret." My point in this post is to show how purity-culture advocates would view these kinds of situations- even though they may not necessarily say their views so directly.)
In purity land, teenagers are always having sex by accident. As long as they feel appropriately guilty, there's no challenge to the purity ideology and everything keeps moving along like normal.
If you believe that a girlfriend and boyfriend can have sex completely without intending to, then the idea of a teenage boy sexually abusing his prepubescent sisters doesn't seem too out of the ordinary. I mean, of course someone would do that, if the circumstances are such that there's too much "temptation." And of course it's a sin and he should be held accountable for it- but the point at which he could have chosen differently was way back when he first became aware of the temptation present in the home. Not when he was, you know, actually sexually abusing them.
Purity culture sets up an impossible standard, and when its followers fail, they claim they were overwhelmed by temptation, unable to control what they bodies were doing. In this ideology, it's totally understandable that a boy would touch his sister, and it's the same as any other unmarried sexual contact. Of course he couldn't control himself- if he could, he wouldn't have done it, right?
So of course he should be protected from legal consequences. "The world" is so far gone, they think consensual sex is okay- oh, the horror! No, we can't have them judging Josh Duggar. This is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could have happened to anyone.
In purity culture, rapists and abusers are not predators. They're just sinners who don't know their own weaknesses.
(And I'm so glad I no longer buy into any of that bullshit.)
Josh Duggar and His Victims are "Damaged Goods"
Josh Duggar's Real Victim Was God (So It's Okay)