|Spock and Kirk's alternate-universe counterparts. Image source.|
Hi everyone! So I read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson, and, wow, you guys. It's a book about what sexual ethics are, and how to develop and live an actual sexual ethic, that actually makes sense and isn't just "no".
If you grew up in purity culture, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Like, I cannot recommend it enough. If you're like "well I know I'm rejecting purity culture, but then... but what am I supposed to do instead? What's 'normal'? What are 'the rules'?" yeah I was there for a while. READ THIS BOOK.
Anyway, I'm going to write a few blog posts about it. This is the first.
In the first chapter, "I Was a Teenage Virgin," Anderson talks about what happened when she told a guy (Ethan) that she liked him. Here's an excerpt from the book:
[Ethan] explained, "I sort of thought this was coming. But I don't think you want to be in a relationship with me. I have too much baggage."
He looked straight at me. "I'm not a virgin, Dianna. My ex and I had sex, and that's not what you want."
I was speechless. And not because he assumed I wasn't prepared for a relationship with a guy who was experienced. But because he was right- I wasn't. I instantly reshuffled his position in my life from "potential suitor" to "damaged goods- not marriage material ever." The look on my face gave my thoughts away, and he turned back toward campus, explaining, "I can tell by the look on your face that you're not ready for any of this. I need to deal with this sort of thing myself. I don't think I'm prepared to get into a relationship with someone who doesn't know these experiences and that's really all I can say about it."
My thoughts ran rampant: Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?
And OH MY GOODNESS I can totally relate to that feeling of shock. Because, back when I was in purity culture, I understood sex as this abstract, faraway, other-worldly thing, not an actual thing that is often a normal part of people's lives.
For unmarried people, sex was never a thing you would choose to do. No no no. It happened in the dark of night, when temptation dragged you away to an alternate dimension, where up was down and wrong was right, and people glued their hearts together and then ripped them apart again, and the next day you wonder, what in the world happened? It had been an out-of-body experience. And you know that you made those choices and so it's your fault- and yet, you have no idea how or why you made those choices. You couldn't control yourself, the temptation was too great. If only you had never let yourself be alone in a room with your boyfriend- yes, that was the last point where you had been in control, with the ability to win the fight against temptation. But you chose wrong, and whatever happened afterwards is your fault. (Ahem. This is rape culture.)
And the people who have had sex go on with their lives, with their torn-construction-paper hearts, in pain becaue they can never be whole again. Maybe they're happy sometimes, maybe they try to live a normal life, but a hopelessness hangs over everything they do, and at the end of the day, they wonder what's the point? (Ahem. "The consequences of sin" sound suspiciously like depression.)
On the other hand though, people who are married (and obeyed the purity rules before marriage) are having sex ALL THE TIME and it's AWESOME. They live their lives on a higher plane of existence, something us virgins can never know.
This is the story told by purity culture. For unmarried people, sex is an unimaginably terrible thing that we must fear. For married people, sex is an unimaginably awesome thing.
So unimaginable, in fact, that I never imagined what sex was like, in real terms.
And I'm trying to separate out what's because of purity culture and what's my own personality/desires/lack thereof. (I'm just talking about myself here- I kind of doubt this is normal for purity-culture girls. I don't know.)
To me, sex was just not a thing that people did. Yes, I knew the statistics- only a small percentage of girls who make a purity pledge would be successful in "saving themselves for marriage." Everybody said it was so hard to be pure. So I figured everybody tries really hard, but at some point they make a mistake and let their sinful nature break through, and they can't even believe what just happened, and they regret it. But this was also very abstract to me- I didn't understand how it could happen, how someone could end up accidentally choosing to have sex. But purity culture warned me so many times, that I believed it was a real risk, and I worked hard to stay away from situations where the first slippery step of the slippery slope might be present.
But the idea that sex is an event with a specific start and end, which takes place at an actual point on earth, at an actual date and time- yes, the same timeline in which my life takes place- and that it could be a normal part of life- nope, I never thought of it like that. Sex was just not a thing that people did.
All right let's tell some fun stories to illustrate this. From the achives of "Perfect Number Used To Be Really Naive And Not Have A Clue About Sex Or Anything."
Back in middle school, we read the book "The Outsiders." The main character is Ponyboy, and there's also his brother Soda, and Soda's girlfriend Sandy but she's a pretty minor character. Anyway, at some point we find out that Sandy is pregnant. (As I recall, this wasn't really stated super-obviously in the book- the class didn't get it and our teacher had to point it out to us.) My reaction: "Oh my goodness, that means she had sex with someone!" Later we find out that actually Soda is NOT the father. My reaction: "Wait, why would we have thought Soda was the father? Like, we know Soda, Soda is one of the good guys. Why would he have had sex with his girlfriend?"
Yeah. Totally did not get that there is a correlation between who's dating who and who's having sex with who. (Whom?) Sex is a very very bad sin- having sex with one's boyfriend is just as bad as having sex with someone else (while you have a boyfriend). (I mean really in both cases you're cheating on your future husband so, what's the difference? Also, how about we all agree that when somebody uses the phrase "cheating on your future husband" unironically, we laugh them out of the room. Because, I mean SERIOUSLY? "Cheating on your future husband"? LOLOLOLOL what does that even mean.) (It means purity culture doesn't understand the concept of time. That's what it means. Seriously though, laugh at these people because that is ridiculous.)
Here's another example: when I was a freshman in college, there was a student activities fair where campus groups gave out fliers and free stuff and tried to get new students to sign up for various clubs and activities. The campus health center was giving out small buckets of health stuff. I took one back to my dorm room without looking to see what was in it.
Well. A few days later, I looked in it. There was a flier about the health center, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a condom- OH MY A CONDOM?!!!!!
[note: on retelling this story, I'm a little confused on the question of how I even knew it was a condom. I'm sure at that point in my life I had no idea what condoms looked like. The word "condom" must have been printed on the packaging- that's the only way this story is believable.]
As you can imagine, I was horrified that I had unknowingly brought something so evil and disgusting into my room. I threw the condom in the trash. Then I looked through the rest of the stuff in the bucket and threw away most of it too, because in my mind the whole thing was contaminated.
Then I went and washed my hands.
I mean, can you imagine anything more gross than a completely new, sealed-in-packaging condom?
Sex was just this faraway, abstract, scary thing, and here was a tangible object which existed at a real position in three-dimensional space, which had volume and mass, and which a person could actually hold and (if they had received adequate sex ed) use properly.
Such a strange experience. You guys, I was terrified. And angry. Why would they give me a condom? What on earth did they think I was going to do with it?
Sex was just not a thing that people did.
One more fun story: so, the first guy I dated. I totally never ever had a desire to have sex with him. It never even occurred to me that it could be a thing we would decide to do or not do. I thought about sex only in the context of "I don't think I should sit on his bed because what if one thing leads to another and..." Not because "one thing leading to another" was something that actually seemed like it could happen, but because purity culture taught me I must never underestimate the depths of sinful desire that lived inside me.
Sex was something to fear, something that might come upon you and ruin your life if you weren't careful to avoid temptation. (And again, it would be YOUR FAULT for not avoiding temptation.) I never ever imagined it could be a normal part of life. I never ever imagined it could be a decision that people made based on an assessment of the risks and benefits.
And as for people who have had sex- well, I tried very hard to do the "not judging" and "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing. Of course I would 100% love them as friends (and yes, I did have friends who had sex) but I wouldn't want to be in a romantic relationship with them. Nope, that side of them was broken and dirty. (To be clear, I TOTALLY DO NOT believe that any more.)
So I very much relate to this line in Anderson's story: "Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?" To find out that your crush has had sex- I mean, that completely changes the type of person they are, at a fundamental level. "What other sins were people hiding from me?" YES, I would have thought that too.
Sex was a fear that I expected to hang over me until my wedding day. Not a thing that people did.
posts I've written about Damaged Goods:
Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did
Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?
A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE