Monday, September 26, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Some Practical Things

Esmeralda and Phoebus fighting. Image source.
So here's the last chapter of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (not counting the "Conclusion" section, which we will talk about next week). Since it's the last chapter, it deals with some very general stuff about the theory behind boundaries and how to apply them. The majority of it is really good advice, and I'll be typing up a bunch of quotes for you all to read, because PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THIS. Seriously. But... every now and then, there's a bit that just makes me, like ... why did they have to write that?

Speaking of "why did they have to write that", take a look at how the chapter starts:
I love music, lots of types. But I confess that there is one type of music that I really can't stand. It is a kind of love song where someone is in love with someone who is not treating her right. That part isn't the problem. It's the mistreated person's position in the relationship, and how she is responding to the mistreater. She passively complains, whines, and hopes things will get better, with statements like:
  • I'll wait forever (while you look for someone better).
  • Time will heal things (while you never make a commitment for years).
  • Please come back (simply because I ask you).
  • Why do you treat me so? (because you can).
  • I'll make you love me (even though you aren't capable of loving anyone but yourself).
Wait. Oh my god. Read this part again:
It is a kind of love song where someone is in love with someone who is not treating her right. That part isn't the problem.
Holy crap. Throughout this entire book, there have been many many things that raised small red flags for me because they sounded sort of victim-blame-y. I really have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. But what the hell is this? "That part isn't the problem."

What are they saying here? That it's okay to mistreat someone if they don't have good boundaries? It's totally okay to take advantage of people if they're good little evangelicals who were taught that their own needs don't matter? If someone is hurting another person, and the victim doesn't know what to do or how to stand up for themselves, then no injustice is being committed, everything is as it should be- oh, except the victim's lack of boundaries is a problem, right?

Ugh. What the hell is this. Why did they have to write "That part isn't the problem"? Like why the hell did that sentence have to be there?

Two paragraphs later, we have this:
Though no one has the power to fix anyone else, you do have the power to respond in healthy ways to your date when problems arise. And those type of healthy responses, which often involve the careful, caring use of boundaries, can go a long way toward a better relationship.
See, THIS IS GOOD. Why couldn't the whole chapter be like this? Why did they have to have that nasty victim-blaming language in the first paragraph?

Moving along, they talk about how it's important to have boundaries from the very start of the relationship- they're an important part of a healthy relationship, not something you bring out only in huge crisis situations. This is pretty similar to what they said in chapter 16. You have to communicate clearly about little problems so they don't grow into bigger and bigger things. You don't want a situation where one person just totally CANNOT STAND the other one's behavior, and the other has no idea there's a problem at all.

Then this part, which is REALLY REALLY GOOD:
Many people are afraid that when they begin saying no and establishing boundaries and consequences, that is a sign the relationship is over. Actually, boundaries help diagnose the character of your date and of the relationship. If you are in a relationship that ends when you disagree, it is not a healthy relationship.
Yes! This is so important. I can definitely relate to that fear, not wanting to tell a boyfriend that something was a problem for me, because what if he decides he doesn't want to be with me anymore? But the reality is, if you're not able to honestly talk about things, the relationship is shallow and superficial. You don't want a relationship like that anyway.

And they gave this example:
Think about the future. How can a man who refuses to listen to his wife's truth ever truly give himself up for her as Christ did for the church? (Ephesians 5:25). If your date can't hear the word no, the boundary is not the problem. His character is the problem.
Amen to that. And I found it delightful that their example is about how husbands have to submit to their wives. Sort of the opposite of all those purity-culture warnings about "how can the man be the leader of their marriage if the woman is the one to make the first move in dating?"

Anyway, the point is, having boundaries, saying "no" and expecting your date to respect that, is a sign of a healthy relationship. This is SO SO SO IMPORTANT. And it's not really something you see in pop-culture/media representations of dating and marriage. (Although if you know of any examples of this healthy dynamic being shown in TV/movies/etc, please leave a comment and tell us.)

And then this part, which I REALLY REALLY LIKE:
Whatever problem you are dealing with, the essence of it is probably that someone is sowing a problem and not reaping the effects (the boundary buster), and someone else is reaping what he never sowed (the boundary bustee) (Galations 6:7). That is the nature of a boundary problem in a relationship. The solution is the restructure things so the sower is also the reaper.
Well that is a really logical way of putting it. And I like how it's not about blaming anybody, it's just looking at the situation realistically and saying here is what's happening, person A is doing something that hurts person B but person A isn't really experiencing any bad consequences, so we need to change that. I would say we don't even necessarily need to blame person A- maybe they didn't realize they were hurting B, maybe there's no way they could have known. I think if it's some small, run-of-the-mill problem, it's not really necessary or helpful to decide "whose fault it is". Just work together and figure out how to stop the problem from happening again.
As you think about approaching your date with the problem, adopt a stance of love, respect, and mutuality. Let him know that you are not punishing him or getting revenge over past hurts. Your motive is love and reconciliation. You want to solve the problem because it is getting in the way of love's growth between you. Remember that the reality that you are even going to the trouble of dealing with the problem shows that he is important to you. This is the world of dating, where you can abruptly break off a relationship, no harm, no foul. Let him know that you are bringing up the problem because you care.
Yes. Good points, all of it. And let's just pause for a second while we wait for the purity-culture readers to recover from reading the sentence "This is the world of dating, where you can abruptly end a relationship, no harm, no foul." ^_^

But... then there's this part:
Many times, the one who has been trangressed against needs to apologize to the boundary violator for her own contributions, such as:
  • Not speaking up when she should have
  • Excusing, minimizing, or rationalizing the behavior
  • Telling others her complaint without telling him
  • Withdrawing or becoming passive as a form of protest
  • Threatening consequences and then not following up with them
These in no way excuse the behavior, but they do allow both parties to own their fair share of the abuse.
Okay, I was sort of on the fence about whether this was victim-blaming, able to see from a practical point of view how it could make sense and be reasonable advice, until I got to the last word there. "Abuse." What the hell?

They're not talking about abuse. (Or, rather, if they are talking about abuse, then HOLY SHIT this book is way less healthy than I thought, talking about how an abuse victim needs to apologize for how they react, oh my god.) Honestly, this reads like the authors were trying to use a wider vocabulary so they broke out their thesaurus and said "what's a word that means someone did something bad to someone else? oh how about 'abuse'?" I'm beyond shocked by how careless this word choice is. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "both parties [owning] their fair share of the abuse." If that's not victim-blaming, I don't know what is.

They're not talking about abuse here. They're talking about situations where, for example, person A always shows up late and person B really hates it but doesn't really say anything about it to person A, and then one day when person A is late, B totally blows up at them and A has no idea why. Now see, both A and B made mistakes that are pretty understandable. They probably weren't trying to hurt each other, they just weren't thinking about the other's feelings/ didn't know how to communicate about the problem. This is something that can be solved by teaching them about better communication.

But let's replace the word "abuse" with "problem" and talk about the idea presented there: that "the one who has been trangressed against needs to apologize to the boundary violator for her own contributions." I'm not sure how I feel about that- actually, I have sort of complicated feelings about the whole concept of apologizing- because of hell.

I used to believe that every little sin that a person committed deserved an eternity of suffering in hell. That's what I was taught. I didn't "misunderstand" anything. So, to me, the word "sorry" meant "I sinned," which meant "I deserve to go to hell for this." So you can understand why I would be really really hesitant to say the word "sorry"- only saying it if I truly believed that I made a deliberate decision to mistreat someone when there were non-sinful options I could have chosen instead.

I don't believe that anymore, and actually now I believe it can be good to say "sorry" even if I don't really think I did anything wrong. For practical reasons. In that sense, I can agree with what "Boundaries in Dating" is saying here. If your partner wrongs you, but you want to reconcile and heal the relationship, it can be good for you to also say sorry, even though your reaction was totally reasonable and way less bad than what they did. Even if you don't really see anything you should have or could have done differently. If you want to continue the relationship, it can be good to pay lip service to the idea that you both did something wrong but you still accept each other. On the other hand, if you don't want to date them anymore, there's absolutely no reason you would need to apologize for having a totally normal reaction to someone's hurtful behavior- even if that reaction gets judged as "too emotional" or whatever so you're not a perfect victim.

Maybe my line of thinking here sounds dishonest, saying sorry when you're not actually sorry and you don't think you've done anything wrong. Or you could think of it as "I'm the innocent victim in this but I'm willing to pretend I'm not, because I care about you and I don't want you to feel that bad." Sort of sacrificial- we could even compare it to the idea of "Jesus taking our sins." [I don't believe in that particular view of atonement, but for Christians who do, maybe it helps my "say sorry when you don't think you've done anything wrong" sound more reasonable.] I'm not sure. I'm trying to figure out what "sorry" is supposed to mean, since I no longer believe it means "I deserve to go to hell for this." Anybody have any insight about it?

Anyway, back to "Boundaries in Dating." There's this really really good bit about how you should be specific when you talk to your partner about problems in the relationship:
Your best approach is to be very specific about the boundary problem with your date. Have specific events that you can draw from, what you felt when they happened, what was the problem with what happened, and what you wished had happened instead. If your date is a growing person, she will benefit from the information and want to know more, so that she won't hurt you again. If your date is resistant, the specifics will help nail down the issue in reality so that she has less room to rationalize, blame, or deny.
Yes! Totally agree.

The next part is about consequences. You have to have some kind of consequence when people violate your boundaries- otherwise the problem might keep happening and they won't be motivated to change. It's likely that the boundary-violating behavior is a habit, and it's not something that will suddenly change just because you tell your partner you're not okay with it.

The writers give some advice about how the set an appropriate consequence. This part is good:
Think of your consequences as protecting you and giving her a chance to change. They are not about making anyone change, nor are they about showing her how she made you feel when she hurt you. Leave revenge to the only One who has the right to it (Romans 12:19).
Wow. Boundaries "are not about making anyone change"- this is SO IMPORTANT and really should be emphasized more. A lot of Christian/ purity culture/ complementarian advice I've heard about relationships is along the lines of "here are the God-ordained steps you need to take in order to manipulate your partner into treating you right and have a godly relationship." "Boundaries in Dating" is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from that.

Instead, boundaries are about keeping yourself safe from people and situations which hurt you emotionally. When you set a boundary, it's not because that's how you force somebody to stop being a jerk- no, instead, it's about diagnosing whether this person will always be a jerk or if they're willing to change. If they change and treat you right, great! If not, then at least now you know you probably shouldn't date them- you can make choices such that you don't have to interact with this person and be hurt by their jerkiness.

Boundaries do not make people change. Instead, they allow you to diagnose whether someone is the kind of person who treats you right, and put restrictions in place so that bad people won't get close enough to hurt you.

Also, the part about revenge is really important too. In my experience, it doesn't work if you try to punish your partner in a way motivated by revenge. You're hoping for some certain kind of response from them, to show they really understand how they hurt you and they really feel bad. If they don't respond that way, you still feel bad and keep punishing them, and make them feel worse and worse too. It's just not a good strategy.

Next, the writers tell us to "avoid the Ultimate Consequence"- ie, don't threaten to end the relationship over every minor issue. (They do say that breaking up can be a very good thing in certain cases though. Yes.) And then there's this:
However, when you chronically threaten to leave someone, and that is your only consequence, that threat can lose its power. The other person can easily begin thinking, Whatever I do wrong, you'll leave me. I will give up. It's the same idea behind the law: you are condemned for disobeying anything and everything, so you feel disheartened and wrathful (Romans 4:15).

So... what are they saying here? That is just doesn't make any sense to say God is loving but continually threatens us with "the Ultimate Consequence" for every little thing we do wrong? Or that it would be really bad for a relationship between people to work like that, but with God it's totally fine?

Because yeah, this would make a really good argument for why "every little sin is infinitely bad and you deserve hell" is just totally wrong. If people treated each other like that, all our relationships would totally suck and we would feel awful about ourselves. (Oh, and we would think it's not a big deal when someone molests children- we're all sinners, don'cha know?) But I don't think that's the point the "Boundaries in Dating" writers are trying to make here- if they really want to question such a huge tenet of evangelicalism, they need to be much more explicit about it.

Anyway, next there's a list of possible consequences you can use. (They tell us "set consequences prayerfully" and I'm pointing that out because I cannot remember any other places in this book which advised us to pray about making decisions. I really can't remember any. Makes me very confused about what kind of Christianity the authors subscribe to.) I'm typing up the whole thing for y'all to read because dang, this just makes so much sense and people need to know this stuff:
  • Emotional distance: limiting the depth of emotional access you can be vulnerable with
  • Physical distance: leaving the room or an event if the problem occurs again. Take separate cars to events in case you need yours.
  • Time: limiting the time you spend together until the problem is resolved
  • Third parties: requiring someone to help, such as a friend, pastor, or counselor
  • Progression of commitment: stopping or decreasing the commitment level
  • Giving up exclusivity: seeing other people until the problem is resolved
Keep in mind the function of a consequence: to protect you, and to help your date face the realities of his destructive pattern.
Next they talk about how it's hard to enforce boundaries and consequences because we don't want to see people we care about unhappy, and we desire to be close to our partner, even if we know we need to put limits on that closeness. The writers advise us to stay connected to our friends, who can support us- not "reactive friends" that take sides, but friends who care about both partners and hope the relationship can be healed.

Also this:
If he is responding to your boundaries, that is a good thing. But make sure of why he is. It is important that he be changing because of his relationship with God, because it is the right thing to do, and because he doesn't want to hurt you. It is less important that he be changing because he thinks that is what it will take to get you back. There are so many sad stories of abused wives who let their husbands return prematurely because the husbands manipulated them into taking them back, without making true heart changes.
Okay, yeah, so this time when they use the word "abuse", they're actually talking about abuse. This is a real thing that happens in abusive relationships- for more information, go read about the cycle of abuse.

So anyway, the point is, you don't want a partner who views your boundaries as "here are hoops I have to jump through in order to get the kind of relationship I want." Instead, they should care about your boundaries because they actually care about you and don't want to hurt you. (But I'm kind of thinking that, in real-life situations, it's hard to tell the difference- or even to understand your own motives.)

And another piece of advice they give: "provide a way back to normality." The consequences are not permanent. Be clear about what exactly you expect from your partner and how the relationship can get back to normal again.

Next there's a sort-of-bizarre section on "spiritual growth." They are addressing this question: Is it enough that you set boundaries and your partner respects them, or should you also require them to be in a spiritual growth process? I don't really get it- I think what they're trying to say is, usually boundary problems are a sign of a deeper character problem- so should you try to get your partner to deal with that character problem, or is it good enough if they just don't have that behavior when they're around you? But their use of the term "spiritual growth" is pretty weird- seems like what they're actually talking about is character growth, maturity, etc (and yes, in this section they also use terms like "emotional growth" and "character growth"). Why use the word "spiritual" at all? Why bring God into it? (They talk a bit about how God wants everyone to always be in a spiritual growth process.) How does a person's character have anything to do with whether or not they view goodness, morality, etc, as coming from an intelligent supernatural entity?

Anyway, that's all for this chapter. Overall, this one was really really good. It was about general principles for why we need to have boundaries, and how to apply them. Lots of very important and healthy advice in this chapter, and I typed up so many bits for you all to read because they're things that nobody really ever explicitly taught me about relationships. People need to know this.

Next week will be the conclusion. Stay tuned, lovely readers~


A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: #stillpurityculture

Next post: Conclusion

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Colin Kaepernick and a second football player taking a knee. Image text: "This is what spiritual warfare looks like. #DetoxifyChristianity #BlackLivesMatter" Image source.
1. Gender reasoning exercises: Symbol, substance, and tabooing your words (More Trans, module 1-1) (posted August 31) "What’s being expressed here when the penis itself is treated as some inherently self-explanatory reason why the body attached to it shouldn’t be present in women’s facilities?"

2. How our elevated terrorism fears turned into something more dangerous (posted September 9) "But the problem was that killing some witches doesn't necessarily get rid of witches. Instead, it just makes you think there are more of them."

3. Bumped Off (posted September 13) "When I returned to school [after having a baby], my guidance counselor refused to help me apply for college. Her assumption was that because, statistically, girls like me are less likely to graduate high school, it would be a waste of her time to help me prepare for college."

4. Donald Trump’s one idea: The only thing that matters in this election (posted September 6) "That big idea is this: Some people are legitimate Americans and other people — regardless of citizenship — are illegitimate and not really real Americans at all."

5. Hurricane Gaston Song Full Video and Lyrics (posted September 3) "No one storms like Gaston / Makes clouds form like Gaston / Disrupts meteorological norms like Gaston."

6. Every word of this is true, urgent, and necessary (posted September 10) "'Deplorable' is a fancy word. Let’s just call it something simpler: sin. We’re supposed to deplore sin. To do otherwise is to become complicit in it."

7. Donald Trump’s birther event is the greatest trick he’s ever pulled (posted September 16)

8. What ‘SJW’ really means (posted September 13) "What is being scorned, rather, is the very idea and standards of that framework — the idea that “social justice” is, in fact, a Good Thing."

And these follow-up posts:
The suffix ‘-lover’ isn’t useful for constructing insults
No, ‘SJW’ is not used to deflate pompous Comstockian moralists. That’s not how it’s used at all.
The more important point about “-lover” suffix insults

9. Utah Cheerleaders Feel 'Body Shamed' After Male Classmate Complains That Their Skirts Led to 'Impure' Thoughts (posted September 15) The farther I get from modesty culture, the more utterly ridiculous it seems. A boy reported that he had "impure thoughts" because of a girl's clothing, and, bizarrely, adults responded in some way besides "well that sounds like your own damn problem."

Hmm. You know, it's because in modesty culture/ purity culture, policing people's thoughts is so important. SO IMPORTANT, in fact, that we need all women to help out in the policing of men's thoughts. If "I had a random thought about sex" wasn't seen as a huge disaster, modesty culture wouldn't exist.

10. Statutory Rape in Christian Homeschool Perspective (posted September 12) [content note: rape, rape culture, purity culture] "From my community’s perspective, however, the crime was the girl’s loss of virginity, something she will never get back and something the perpetrator could make right by marrying her."

11. Uncovering the problem of forced marriage in the U.S. (posted September 14) "I knew that I wasn’t going to say no. This was God’s will. God had spoken. And it was just not even an option."

12. The Origins of the Phrase 'Black-on-Black Crime' (posted 2015) "The term fit very well for that time period because it pointed to urban African Americans as being responsible for their own problems."

Monday, September 19, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: #stillpurityculture

Two cats sleeping together. Image source.
[content note: in this chapter, the writers use arguments, tropes, and language that are 100% purity culture]

Well here we are. Chapter 17 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, the don't-have-sex chapter. A lot of their examples and arguments are straight from purity culture, and reading this was infuriating.

The approach that this chapter takes is distinctly different from the other chapters. Instead of emphasizing common sense and making decisions based on real-world benefits to yourself, they explain some potential bad consequences of premarital sex and then claim that ALL premarital sex is unhealthy. How do you make that logical jump? Through fear. Through telling people they don't know what's best for themselves. And though "Boundaries in Dating" didn't say so explicitly, that's what they're doing.

But before we look at what this chapter said, I'd like to point out a few things it didn't say. There were two very key purity-culture arguments that were not mentioned in this chapter:
  1. You need to be abstinent because you owe it to your future spouse
  2. Having sex makes you dirty, and that damage is permanent
I found it very unusual that one's responsibility to one's "future husband" was not mentioned AT ALL. Yes, I'm serious- not one word about how losing your virginity hurts your future spouse. As I believe this line of thinking does nothing but cause shame, it's nice to see that it's not here.

And also, when they talk about consequences of having sex, they never say those consequences last forever. In fact, towards the end of the chapter there's a section about "forgiveness" which says, "With [God's] forgiveness, you can start over and be as clean as when you began." This is pretty surprising to me, because in the purity culture I learned, yes you can be "forgiven" but you can never fully undo the damage. That "sin" stays with you for your whole life. It will definitely cause problems in your future marriage. (Otherwise, we won't have enough material for our fear-mongering abstinence-only lessons for teens.)

But "Boundaries in Dating" only talks about the consequences in the present and immediate future, and only for the two people who had sex- not their potential future partners. However, they consistently use language about "giving yourself away" which does imply permanent loss.

Okay let's start at the beginning.

The chapter begins by telling the story of Jenny and Dave:
Physically, they were becoming more affectionate also. Hugs were turning into kisses. They enjoyed the closeness, never thinking they would get into trouble. But kisses were turning into more desire. They were both committed to their values of abstinence before marriage. So, always before it got too heated, they would back off. They both felt comfortable with each other.

Their relationship went along for a while like this, until one night they want too far. They had been lying on the floor watching videos and feeling very warm and close. Beginning with innocent affection, they moved on from there.

Jenny felt as if it had happened almost without her. Her values about physical limits before marriage were strong, but that night her values seemed to be somewhere far away from her awareness as she got lost in the closeness with Dave. It was a little like a whirlwind inside her head, and she really wondered in a way how it had happened.

Afterwards, she felt bad, and was remorseful about having given herself away. She had had no intention of going that far. The guilt was pretty strong, but at the same time she felt confused. Very aware of her feelings for Dave, she began to wonder why loving him physically was so wrong. Everything had felt so right, even if it was wrong. Confusion and doubt began to take over in her mind. She felt herself drifting away from him, even as she was drawn closer. Now she was feeling not at all like her old self, and she wondered what to do from there.

Sound familiar?
Yes it "sounds familiar," it sounds like every purity culture warning I've ever heard about "temptation" and how "one thing leads to another" and you can't trust yourself, you have to live in fear of your own body and your own desires, you have to set very strict rules about never being alone with a boy, never making out, because you never know when you might completely lose control and suddenly you find you've "given yourself away" and you don't even know what happened.

Ugh. It's all fear. I spent so long being afraid of my own body, afraid of what unknown mechanism might somehow, inexplicably, cause me to have sex accidentally (which would of course be my fault).

Yes, this is a common trope in purity culture. A Christian couple is committed to abstinence before marriage, but one night they're alone and kissing and somehow, sex just happens. As I am no longer in purity culture, I no longer believe that it's possible to accidentally have sex. But there must be at least a bit of truth to this trope. For a long time I've wondered what's really going on when people tell stories like this. I have come up with 3 possibilities:
  1. When people are single and thinking about relationships in a purely hypothetical sense, with purity culture as their only source of information, it's easy to make that commitment to not have sex. But then they get into a real relationship and find that it's totally different from what they were taught. They discover that, in the real world, there's nothing wrong with showing affection and love to each other. All those fearful warnings just weren't true. So they decide they no longer believe in purity culture. They no longer believe it's a sin to have sex outside of marriage. And so they choose to have sex- though when they're around church people, they may still claim to believe it's a sin. They may claim that sex "just happened" to them so that church people don't judge them as hard.
  2. People believe it's a sin to have unmarried sex, but in certain circumstances, like at night when they're tired and alone with their partner, they start to wonder if maybe it wouldn't be so bad. I've had similar experiences- in college, at night, hanging out with friends playing cards, when suddenly I wonder what it would be like to kiss that guy. I guess this is what it means when purity culture talks about "temptation." But there's a big difference between thinking it and doing it. You weigh your desires against your convictions, and you make a choice. Maybe you decide, "oh screw it, let's just have sex."
  3. One partner pressures the other into it. Maybe partner A says no and partner B doesn't respect that- they keep pressuring A over and over until A gives up. Or maybe A finds themself too shocked and afraid to really react, and B just does it to them. Purity culture would tell you that A and B are both at fault because when you're alone with your boyfriend/girlfriend, you know this kind of thing could happen.
In scenarios 1 and 2, people are making a conscious decision to have sex. Scenario 3 is rape [or at least, consent in that case is very iffy]. And when I read the account of Jenny and Dave, I find it very suspicious that we only hear how Jenny felt about it. Jenny "felt as if it had happened almost without her." Jenny felt like she hadn't consented. Did Dave pressure her into it, even though he knew she wanted to not have sex until marriage? Why don't we get Dave's side of the story? Is it because there's no way we would believe it if he also claimed it happened to him accidentally?

I can understand why people in scenarios 1 and 2 (and B in scenario 3) would claim that "one thing led to another" or "we stumbled", that somehow they had sex without ever making a conscious decision to have sex, but are at fault for putting themselves in that situation in the first place. In purity culture, no one is ever allowed to say yes, so the only way people can explain their consensual sex (or rape, if you're in scanerio 3) is by claiming sex can "just happen" even when neither partner consents. In other words, it's impossible for purity culture to actually teach what consent is. And as a result, it's impossible for purity culture to make a distinction between sex and rape.

This teaching is so incredibly harmful. It made me terrified of my own body, terrified that I might just go on autopilot and somehow have sex and ruin my purity. And it teaches rape victims in scenario 3 that it was their fault and that it wasn't rape. You were alone with a boy- what did you expect? You were kissing- don't you know that a guy will get all turned on and won't be able to stop himself? You were dressed immodestly- advertising something that wasn't for sale, how unfair to the guy.

It is absolutely NOT OKAY that "Boundaries in Dating" published this purity-culture trope. Most of the book is good and healthy advice, but this, ohhh no. This is the exact same story you hear from all the purity-culture advocates. And it is not okay.

Let's continue. And no, it doesn't get better from here.

Next, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" present us with "The Big Rule" [yes they literally call it "The Big Rule"], which is 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
It is God's will that you should be sancfitifed: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
That passage is printed on page 241 of "Boundaries in Dating", and they spend the next 12 pages going through it phrase-by-phrase, explaining, interpreting, giving examples.

I want you to understand how COMPLETELY DIFFERENT this approach is from anything else we've seen in the book. In the previous 16 chapters, bible verses are typically offered to support the authors' point of view after they've already explained said point of view. The bible verses feel like an afterthought, just thrown in to make a churchy audience happy. Their explanations are not based on the bible at all. In the majority of cases, you could remove the bible verse and you wouldn't have to change anything. They're not an essential part of the point of view presented in this book.

There was only 1 other part of the book where a several-verses-long passage was printed, and that was Psalm 101:2-8, in chapter 6. This was when they were talking about things that were totally unacceptable in a relationship, and they pulled a bunch of examples out of that psalm. However, after listing the ones mentioned in the psalm, the writers added their own list of "destructive" qualities in a relationship, and their list is twice as long. So even in that example, their argument wasn't mainly based in the bible.

In none of the other chapters in the book did they start with a bible passage and use that as the basis of their argument. But here in the don't-have-sex chapter, this passage from 1 Thessalonians defines the structure of the whole chapter. I cannot emphasize enough how different this is.

Anyway, before we get into their interpretation of this bible passage, I would like to point out that nowhere in that passage does it say unmarried sex is wrong. It says we must avoid "sexual immorality", control ourselves, treat each other right, etc. I would like to make the claim that it is possible to follow all of those commands and also have umarried sex. And if you think that this passage from 1 Thessalonians tells us unmarried sex is a sin, then you're coming into it with A LOT of assumptions. Probably the biggest is that unmarried sex is a form of "sexual immorality."

First, let me ask you this: what is the definition of "immorality"? I define it as treating people like things, using them, not treating them with love and respect. This is the biblical definition of immorality, as we can see from Luke 6:31, Romans 13:9-10, and many other verses about love and how we should treat each other. (I'm just kidding about the "biblical definition of immorality" though. There are lots of verses that support my view on immorality, but the bible is not a dictionary. There's no such thing as "the biblical definition of" anything.)

So, if immorality means "not treating people with love and respect", what is sexual immorality? It's hurting people, treating them like objects, not showing love, in a context related to sex. That's it. (Credit: I think I first heard this line of reasoning from Fred Clark, though I can't find the exact post where he wrote about it.) Why on earth would all premarital sex count as "sexual immorality"? If you follow principles about respect, consent, and communication, then it doesn't hurt anybody.

Okay, so under this ideology, what counts as "sexual immorality"? Rape is sexual immorality [note: I shouldn't have to say this, but the rapist commits sexual immorality, the victim does not]. Cheating on your spouse is sexual immorality. Teaching people that their sexual orientation is unacceptable to God is sexual immorality. Forcing a rape victim to "confess" her "sin" is sexual immorality. Advocating for "family values" or "religious freedom" as a way to fight against equal rights for LGBT people is sexual immorality. Shaming a woman for "immodest dress", claiming that you know from her clothes that she doesn't respect herself, is sexual immorality. Teaching women that they have a duty to have sex with their husband (and there's no such thing as marital rape) is sexual immorality. Telling children that their lives will be ruined if they have sex before marriage is sexual immorality.

When we look at the Thessalonians passage, we will find that it is telling us to treat others with respect and not act out of lust. All of this is consistent with my definition of "sexual immorality," but has nothing to do with the question of whether or not anybody is married. Using marriage to define sexual immorality is completely illogical.

Spock says illogical. Image source.
Yet for some reason, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" think this Thessalonians passage gives us a command to not have unmarried sex and the reasons for it. That's not how I read it.

(Okay one more objection I should address: You might disagree with my definition of "sexual immorality" because the original audience would have understood it to include premarital sex. Okay, sure. In their society, which didn't have birth control, women didn't really have rights, and women were seen as less valuable if they weren't virgins, then yes, it was actually immoral for a man to have sex with a woman if they weren't married. There were huge risks and consequences, which disproportionately fell on women. Now, however, we don't have that situation- now what's immoral and actually causes real-world damage is teaching purity culture.)

All right, so "Boundaries in Dating" first highlights the "holy and honorable" bit from that bible passage. They say that sex is very very special and valuable, and therefore you shouldn't give it to someone if there's a risk you could break up. They say, "It is the highest value that your body possesses to give to someone you are in a romantic relationship with." Yeah, this is purity culture rhetoric, VERBATIM. Ugh.

To illustrate their point, the tell the story of Amanda and Monte. Monte said he wasn't ready for marriage yet, but definitely would be in the future. Amanda believed that yes, he would be "the one", so they started having sex. Later Monte decided nope, he didn't want to get married, and so they broke up. Amanda was devastated. "She thought they would be together forever and she had given all of herself to him. So she felt as if a lot of herself went away as well. In short, she had spent it all, and was left with nothing to show for giving herself away." Yeah, the whole thing is full of "gave yourself away" language. It makes me sick.

Then, to make things even worse, they tell another story. There was a man (who isn't given a name, for some reason) who was planning to get married to his girlfriend. But they didn't have sex yet, because he had "had a few experiences like Amanda." They ended up breaking up. But it wasn't that bad for him, compared with previous breakups, because they had never had sex.

Then this:
What is the first lesson here? It is that sex is set apart for a purpose, and has great value. It is for lifelong commitment and needs to be esteemed. In a physical and spiritual sense, it is all you can give someone. Therefore, it should not be given away lightly. In the same way that you do not give your life away to anyone but the person you marry, so your body should belong only to the person you marry as well. It is all you have. Don't throw it away. Give it to someone who is going to give himself to you forever. [italics in original]
Holy crap this is full-blown purity culture, and it is TRIGGERING AS HELL.

Ai yo, where do I begin?

The assumption behind this is that sex- a physical action- is connected to emotions in a very specific way that's THE SAME FOR EVERYONE. That's a bizarre assumption. In the real world, sex can mean different things to different people. I think it's very common that sex has deep emotions attached to it, but that's not always true. A lot of people are able to have casual sex, without a deep emotional connection to the other person. In my opinion, the important thing is you have to know yourself. Know what kind of emotional meaning sex has for you, and based on that, you can make decisions about the type of relationship in which you would be willing to have sex. (And it's no good to pretend there are "no strings attached" when there actually are, or to use sex to try to fill some other emotional need. But the healthy approach is to know yourself and that your emotions and mental health matter. Just telling people "don't have sex" doesn't solve those problems.)

(And I would also like to point out this bit, about the nameless man who broke up but fortunately didn't have sex: "It was as if he had held on to himself until it was safe to let go, and since it never was safe, he had lost her, but he still had himself intact." This equating of marriage with total safety is really unhealthy. [And directly contradicted by chapter 11 of "Boundaries in Dating", which warns against making a huge commitment too fast.] Marriages can end, through divorce or death. Just because you promise for forever doesn't mean it will really be forever. Abuse exists. Marital rape exists. Nothing is ever completely safe. Purity culture's promise to navigate you from the safe state of singlehood through the horrible minefield of dating to the ideal utopia of marriage is one of its strongest selling points. I'm not okay with any ideology which buys into this view of "safety.")

Also, "Boundaries in Dating" is playing a very dangerous game of measuring the depth of a relationship based solely on how far you've gone physically. This is a key idea in purity culture, and it's so wrong. (Purity culture is completely OBSESSED with sex.) They're saying that a breakup where the partners had had sex is worse than one in which they hadn't- as if sex is the most important measure of a relationship. That's ridiculous. There are so many other factors at play here.

AND HOLY CRAP that stuff about "It is all you have." HOLY SHIT that is harmful. So if you have sex with someone and then break up, you're completely ruined and empty. You have nothing. You are worthless. Now, none of those things are said explicitly here. They don't talk about sex having consequences that last forever, and they don't say "your virginity is the most precious gift you can give your husband." [As I've said before, I hold responsible every adult who has ever just sat by quietly when someone said that vile, misogynistic garbage fire of a sentence, rather than falling out of their chair in a shocked and appalled manner.] "Boundaries in Dating" doesn't specifically talk about long-term or permanent consequences of having sex. But when they talk about "giving yourself away" and how sex is the most valuable thing you can give, that "it is all you have" [this is literally a quote from the book, page 243], is there any other way for their readers to understand it? How could it mean anything other than "you've lost everything and you're ruined forever"?

If you don't believe unmarried sex causes permanent damage, then for god's sake don't use language about "giving yourself away." If you give something away, it's gone. It's not yours any more. You do not have it any more. That's a permanent loss- unless the other person decides to give it back, but you never hear anyone talk about giving someone's body back after they break up.

This crap about "it is all you have" is completely unacceptable. (And it stands in direct contradiction to examples in previous chapters of "Boundaries in Dating" where people had sex and broke up and things got better.)

The next section focuses on the "self-control" bit of that Thessalonians passage. We read the story of Josh and Marty. [Marty is a woman.] Josh wanted to wait til marriage, but Marty wanted to have sex. When Josh said no, she would try to pressure him. Then Josh started to realize that there were other areas of the relationship where Marty couldn't take no for an answer. When they disagreed, she would try to pressure him into doing what she wanted. "he realized that she was unable to be happy if she was not getting her own way, and sex was just a sign of an overall character issue that she had in delaying gratification."

Okay, yes, I agree, this is a problem. Trying to coerce someone into sex is definitely sexual immorality. Because it's disrepectful and shows you don't care about what the other person wants. Not because you're not married. Guess what, even if you are married, it's still not okay to pressure your spouse into having sex when they don't want to.

Their point is this: you don't want to be in a relationship with someone who can't sacrifice and make compromises. But guess what? That has absolutely nothing to do with premarital sex. Guess what? You can have self-control, respect people rather than pressuring them, be willing to accept delayed gratification, AND ALSO have premarital sex.

And this line of thinking- that "self-control" is a reason not to have sex- comes dangerously close to the belief that avoiding pleasure just for the sake of avoiding pleasure is a godly thing. Previously, "Boundaries in Dating" has taken a strong stand for the idea that your emotions, needs, and desires matter, that it's not healthy to always "deny yourself", and you shouldn't submit to people who treat you like your own needs don't matter. But you can't preach that refreshingly healthy view while also believing "self-control" is a reason not to have premarital sex.

Ugh. It makes me so angry. The majority of this book is good, healthy advice based in reality, and then there's this garbage about not having premarital sex, a total departure from the tone of the rest of the book. This chapter is like "here's God's rule, and here are some reasons that don't actually adequately justify it, filling in the rest with straight-up fear will be left as an exercise for the reader."


Okay, up next is the section on "passionate lust." Here, read this paragraph, and then we will laugh at the irony together:
Basically, a healthy person is someone who is integrated. What that means is that all aspects of a person are connected and working together. Sex is connected to love, relationship, and commitment. The body, the soul, and the mind are all working together. Like we said above, the body is given 100 percent to someone who gives you 100 percent of everything else. If someone has not married you, then they have given you less than 100 percent, so they get less than 100 percent of your body.
First of all, there are ex-purity-culture bloggers who have writen about how purity culture is essentially a gnostic heresy. Purity culture is all about how the body is bad and you have to control your body and deny your body's desires. OF COURSE this leads to a separation of the self from the body. So I find it hilarious that "Boundaries in Dating" is claiming that this purity culture crap has anything to do with a healthy integration between body and soul.

Furthermore, how can they say "Sex is connected to love, relationship, and commitment" but teach that (before marriage) you should have love, relationship, and commitment but NOT have sex? Doesn't that seem like an unhealthy and unnatural split? I now strongly believe that it is very unhealthy to artificially ban sex from a committed and loving relationship where the partners feel that it's the right time to share their sexuality with each other (note: the commitment level at which sex feels natural will vary from person to person, some people have casual sex and that's fine, some people wait til marriage and that's fine). In order to keep themselves from having sex in a loving relationship where the emotional connection matches the level of the emotions tied to sex, they have to keep telling themselves it's so wrong, it's so evil, all sorts of bad things will  happen, God will be hurt, etc. The more comfortable and committed they feel together, the more outlandish and over-the-top scare tactics they need to force themselves to believe in order to "stay pure."

[In my 2012 post "How far is too far?" Finally a REAL answer, I presented the mind-blowing idea that the different dimensions of connection in a relationship- physical, emotional, etc- should match. You decide "how far" you should go by what level of physical closeness feels like it accurately reflects the emotional connection you have. I still believe that. But back then, I was in #stillpurityculture, so I said OF COURSE the emotional connection and commitment of marriage is the correct level for sex- which directly contradicts that whole idea, actually- and is what "Boundaries in Dating" is trying to do here. I did not know that the emotions tied to sex could be different for different people. The writers of "Boundaries in Dating" are professional psychologists with a lifetime of experience. What's their excuse?]

And this stuff about "100 percent of your body" is also ridiculous. When they talk about "sex" in this chapter, I'm assuming they're referring to vaginal intercourse (though other sexual acts are also not allowed, obviously). To be clear, "Boundaries in Dating" does not offer an explicit definition like this- I'm assuming it because that's what purity culture/ society in general typically means by "sex." It's so weird that they're using language about "100 percent" when they're talking about something that, in its most basic form, just involves a penis and vagina and no other body parts. If you have vaginal sex but not anal sex, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but your partner never rubbed the back of your head with their hand, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but never show your partner any ultrasound images of your internal organs, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"?

If you have sex with one partner, then break up, then have your appendix removed, then have sex with a new partner, does that mean that your ex got "100 percent of your body" in a way that your new partner never can, because they can't be anywhere near your appendix? What if you start dating the surgeon who performed the operation? Wait, does a surgeon have "100 percent of your body" in a way that a sexual partner never can?

My point is, "giving away your body" is a euphemism for performing acts which stimulate certain areas [genitals, skin, tongue, etc], which definitely ARE NOT "100 percent of your body". And as a math person, I believe it's utterly ridiculous to attach actual numbers to a euphemism which doesn't literally describe the act to which it refers.

But that "100 percent" crap is straight-up purity culture rhetoric, and it is not okay.

All right but anyway, I told you this section of the chapter was on "passionate lust." That whole bit about how the love and commitment in a relationship should match the level of sexual intimacy (which I agree with, and that's why I think, for most people, it's healthy to have unmarried sex) is used here to warn us against having sex in a relationship that's not very deep. We read the story of Janet and Steve, who were having sex, but it turned out that Steve wasn't really able to connect with Janet in other aspects of the relationship. So the writers are using "lust" to mean pursuing sex too much at the expense of developing your abilities to actually love people and have healthy relationships. They say "Sex during dating often hides a person's lack of relational skills." Yeah, I agree, that's a problem. But it definitely doesn't mean all unmarried sex is unhealthy. That would be quite an illogical jump to make.

Yes, it might be good for some people, who wonder if they're having sex too much and it's causing problems for them in other areas, to abstain for a while. But if you don't have that problem, then this "lust" stuff is not a valid reason to forbid you from having sex. [note: I want to be clear, when I say "not a valid reason", I'm talking about people making rules for other people. If you're thinking about what choices you want to make in your own personal life, you don't need to come up with some justification that other people will judge to be a "valid reason." "I don't want to" is a good enough reason. It's your life, your choice.]

They also mention "sexual addiction" and tell us the story of Sally, who felt like she was "unable to stop" sleeping around:
As we began to explore the issue, I got a commitment from her to get some support that she could call in case of an "emergency," and to promise me that she would commit to abstinence so that we could find out what was driving her to this dangerous behavior. (The risk of HIV is higher than many realize when engaging in promiscuity, and it does not mean anything that the person has passed a test recently. The virus could be in the undetectable time period.)
I'm showing you all this paragraph because it's a surprising departure from all the other straight-up purity-culture arguments in this chapter. They used the word "dangerous" and then explained that there is a risk of HIV transmission. Wow. This is shocking to me- usually when purity-culture promoters say sex is "dangerous", they're talking about getting your heart broken and losing your purity- diseases and pregnancy are the least of your worries.

Anyway, turns out Sally's father had left when she was young, so she was always looking for attention and approval from men, and that's why she had sex so much. Yes, this isn't healthy. For people who are trying to use sex to get love and approval because they have emotional issues they haven't worked through, abstinence can be a really really good and healthy choice. And these writers are psychologists- I can believe that they meet a lot of people in that situation, and see that it's helpful for those people to stop having sex. But there is absolutely no justification for extrapolating from there to the very extreme idea that everyone shouldn't have sex before marriage.

The next section looks at this bit of the Thessalonians passage: "In this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him." They basically just rehash points made previously in the chapter, about how premarital sex is emotionally unhealthy, so by having sex, you are wronging your partner by putting them in an unhealthy situation. (Again, it's very surprising to me that there is no talk of wronging anyone's "future husband.")

And there's this:
If you say you are a person of love, then you won't wrong someone you love. You will wait. You will respect them enough to not push them or use them in this way.
Ugh. Why is "waiting" equated with love and respect? Here, go read Libby Anne's post on why this way of thinking is completely backwards.

In the next section, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" take the Lord's name in vain by claiming that God believes we shouldn't have sex before marriage. And that this is an important test of whether a person is truly devoted to God or not. There's also talk of how we belong to God and therefore we aren't allowed to make our own choices about this. This is completely contradictory to eveything else in "Boundaries in Dating," which is grounded in the idea that our needs matter, our emotions matter, our desires matter, and we should do what benefits us and helps us have healthy relationships [ie have boundaries and don't let people walk all over you]. The whole "you belong to God" thing says that we have a God who walks all over us. And this blog post is getting too long so I decided to write a whole separate post on why "you belong to God" is really messed-up.

"Boundaries in Dating" says it's important that you're with a partner who obeys God instead of only looking out for themself. If they are willing to have sex before marriage, what happens when other temptations come along? Maybe they'll treat you wrong because following God's rules isn't important to them.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it doesn't realize that people choose which version of God to believe in. If you're a selfish person who wants to mistreat people, you can totally find a version of God who will approve of that. It might even be a version of God who forbids sex outside of marriage. Look at all the ex-complementatian bloggers who write about how complementarian men use their theology to get away with mistreating women.

If you're the kind of person who only treats people with decency because your God forces you to, it's all too easy to come up with excuses for why your God is totally fine with the way you mistreat certain groups of people. (See: hating the sin and loving the sinner.) If you're the kind of person who truly does respect others, then you don't need a God to make rules for you.

"Boundaries in Dating" is trying to argue this: If your partner is willing to obey God and not have sex before marriage, this proves that they are good and moral and will respect you. But it could just as easily go like this: If your partner is willing to obey God and not have sex before marriage, they feel they are making a big sacrifice and they deserve a big reward, therefore after you are married, you owe it to them to have sex any time they want, and they won't respect your "no."

There are purity culture women who can tell you they totally didn't realize how manipulative and abusive a guy was because he believed in no-sex-before-marriage and covered it all in religious language.

Now that they've finished going through all their reasons not to have sex, they sum it up with this bit, which is their answer to the question "How far is too far?"
But, as you embrace your sexuality, do so with self-control, sanctity, high esteem, lovingly and not lustfully, sacrificially and not "wronging" someone, and in submission to God. Then, when you are dating, you will have built in some very good limits and expression of your sexual person. You will know, for example, how far is too far. You cannot act out inappropriately with these guidelines in place. They are appropriately confining.
Umm. Yeah, I agree, all of those are very good guidelines, which people absolutely should use to answer the question "How far is too far?" But no, those guidelines do not lead to the conclusion "it's only okay to have sex with your [opposite-gender] spouse." And the answer to "how far is too far?" is going to be different for different people in different situations. It's based on the mapping between emotions and physical actions- and there's no "one size fits all" for what that mapping is.

In the final section of this chapter, we read something that goes against the purity culture I learned. I was pretty shocked. The section begins with the story of Angie:
Angie was twenty-four and disillusioned about sex in relationships. Having slept with more guys than she even wanted to think about, she had a "what's the use" feeling. And it started, she said, when she was fifteen. As she put it, "Once I had made a mistake, I thought that I had already blown it. I had not saved myself for that one person whom I would give my life to. So, with the next boyfriend, and the ones after him, I thought, What's the difference? I already blew it."
Okay first of all, I wonder where she got the idea that once you have sex once, all is lost and you might as well go have sex with everybody. Oh wait, no, I don't wonder, she got it from ALL THAT CRAP ABOUT "giving yourself away" and how if you have sex you're making your body cheap and worthless, and how "it is all you have" [again, this is a literal quote from page 243].

Also, I'd like to point out, this is the only time in the entire chapter that there is any mention of a future spouse benefitting from one's abstinence. It's kind of odd that the writers don't comment on Angie's reasoning about her future "one person"- if they really diasgree with purity culture's insistence that virginity is owed to one's "future spouse", they should SAY SO.

Let's see what the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" have to say about Angie:
That was before she understood the way that God looks at our failures. He does not look at us like a piece of porcelain that, once broken, is always broken. He looks at us all as broken people whom he makes new again. With his forgiveness, you can start all over and be as clean as when you began.

Wow. This very much flies in the face of everything I was taught about purity, back in the day. The "broken piece of porcelain that can never be fixed" metaphor sounds EXACTLY like something you might read in a purity culture book. Yes, you can be forgiven, but you will always be damaged goods. You can never be as valuable as a virgin. That's what purity culture says.

The idea that there exists forgiveness for "sexual sin" that can actually make you completely pure again is shocking to me. I guess it means the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" don't value virginity; they value abstinence. They don't care about the checklist of things you may or may not have ever done one time in the past; they care about your current habits and what kind of person you are now.

This is orders of magnitude more healthy than "you are damaged goods" but it is #stillpurityculture, so... yeah.

So they talk all about forgiveness and how you can grow as a person and develop healthy relationship habits for the future, and then this:
So, ask him for that forgiveness now. If you do not know Jesus, ask him to be your Lord. Turn to him in faith and he will cleanse you. And then walk in that state of being guilt-free. It is a strong state indeed. And if you do, then you can wait on the real thing.
Yes, the chapter ends with a ****ing altar call.

All right, so that's chapter 17. I'm really unhappy with how they wrote this chapter. It's different from the others- it starts with a bible passage, calls this "The Big Rule", and spends the majority of the chapter examining and interpreting the passage. This is so completely different from all the other chapters, which had bible verses mixed in but the authors' main points were not dependent on them. It gives some examples of why unmarried sex could be unhealthy, and then makes the illogical leap to say that EVERYONE shouldn't have unmarried sex. This is so so so incredibly different from the shockingly healthy advice in previous chapters that said that your own needs and desires matter and it's important to really know yourself, to rationally examine the situation that you're in and see how different choices might affect you and your partner.

It almost feels like a betrayal. If this was a standard purity-culture book, the majority of the stuff in chapter 17 would sound pretty normal. But this is a book that, over and over again, has shocked me with how many basic, foundational principles of purity culture it directly disagrees with- principles like "having a past is bad" or "the man has to be the spiritual leader" or "you have to be super super committed from the very start" or "it would be disastrous if anyone ever compared their partner with their ex." But now in this chapter they're just recycling the same garbage you hear from all purity culture promoters- warnings about how people accidentally have sex, language about "giving yourself away", etc.

This is really disappointing. Yes, it would be much much healthier to teach kids the principles from "Boundaries in Dating" rather than the purity culture I was taught. But I'm still not okay with it. "Boundaries in Dating" is #stillpurityculture. It still promotes fear of the unknown rather than logically evaluating a situation and the real-world risks and consequences of one's actions. It still teaches that you're not able to make your own decisions because you belong to God and you have to obey God, no matter how arbitrary and harmful the rules may be. It still says that "self-control" is a reason to abstain from sex, as if pleasure is intrinsically bad and it's godly to deny yourself pleasure for no real reason.


The title for this post, #stillpurityculture, is a Twitter hashtag started by Emily Joy and Bethany Suckrow, to point out that IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH when people criticize purity culture but still believe unmarried sex is inherently sinful. See Emily Joy's video for more.

I agree. It's not possible to create a healthy view of sex while still believing that all unmarried sex is inherently sinful. But #stillpurityculture is an important phase that a lot of people go through when they question purity culture. You can read this post and this post, from when I was in the #stillpurityculture phase. Logically, I could see all the reasons that purity culture was wrong, but I still had SO MUCH FEAR, so I wasn't able to actually honestly consider the idea that premarital sex might not be a sin.


A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: Set Limits Early

Next post: Some Practical Things

Friday, September 16, 2016

My Top 14 Minor Star Trek Characters

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, I would like to present my favorite 14 minor Star Trek characters:

Pakleds. Image source.
1. The Pakleds (ie "we look for things to make us go")

In the Next Generation episode "Samaritan Snare", the Enterprise receives a distress call from the Pakleds, who say their ship is broken and they need help. They come across as completely clueless and they keep saying "we look for things to make us go" as if they have no knowledge about any of the technology on their ship. When Geordi beams over to help them, they kidnap him. Turns out they weren't so clueless after all. (Or rather, they believe Geordi can make them go.)

The Borg queen talks with Data, who is in restraints. Image source.
2. The Borg queen

In the movie "Star Trek: First Contact," the Enterprise is invaded by the Borg. Data is captured, and the Borg queen tries to turn him. She gives him human skin implants on his arm and face, and he is able to feel new sensations he never could before. (Also they kissed and maybe more?)

The interaction between the Borg queen and Data is interesting because she is able to tempt him in a way that no one else can, and he really did struggle with the idea of betraying the Enterprise and staying with her:
Data: "And for a time, I was tempted by her offer."

Picard: "How long a time?"

Data: "0.68 seconds sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity."
T'Ping stops her and Spock's marriage ceremony. Image source.
3. T'Ping (a very logical Vulcan girl)

In the Original Series episode "Amok Time," Spock experiences pon farr (the Vulcan drive to mate once every seven years) and the Enterprise goes back to Vulcan to find Spock's betrothed wife, T'Ping. However, instead of going through with the marriage, T'Ping exercises her right to choose a challenger and have him fight Spock. She picks Kirk, who is then informed that it's going to be a fight to the death.

Kirk and Spock fight (watch the video here) (or this video of cats) while everyone watches. Finally, Spock strangles Kirk and everyone thinks Kirk is dead (spoiler: he's not). T'Ping then explains that she actually wanted to marry her Vulcan boyfriend Stonn, but chose Kirk to challenge Spock because, regardless of which of them won, they wouldn't end up marrying her anyway- indeed, we see that Spock felt terrible after "killing" Kirk and was no longer interested in marriage. Highly logical.

Spock's huge smile when he sees Kirk. Image source.
Also Spock totally smiles when he gets back the the Enterprise and sees Kirk alive.

Picard and the captain of the Tamarians. Image source.
4. The Tamarians (ie "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra")

In the Next Generation episode "Darmok," the Enterprise meets a group of people who communicate exclusively in references to stories that are well-known in their culture. They keep saying things like "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" and "Shaka, when the walls fell" and obviously the Enterprise crew has NO IDEA what they're talking about. The Tamarians beam Picard and their own captain down to a planet. Basically the idea is they have to learn to help each other survive, and by doing so they will learn how to communicate. You know, just like Darmok and Jalad did at Tanagra. Obviously.

This episode raises some interesting questions about language. First of all, fans have pointed out that it doesn't make any sense for a language like that to actually exist- how can they even tell the stories in the first place if they only speak in allusions? How can a language like that be used to describe very very specific things? Seems like you need an entire sentence just to communicate one word or general concept. BUT at the same time, it shows the concept of a universal translator (which is what Star Trek uses) is absurd. The Tamarian language is a pretty extreme example, but there are ALWAYS cases where some phrase just DOES NOT TRANSLATE because it is connected to culture, and people unfamilar with that culture absolutely will not be able to understand. Lolololol "universal translator", yeah, sure. (Source: I speak Chinese.)

Dr. Soong. Image source.
5. Dr. Noonien Soong

Dr. Soong is the cyberneticist who created Data. And that is just the coolest thing ever. (Did I mention I work in robotics?) I would say Data's most important feature is that he's able to learn. This means he has a personality that changes and grows over time, he can get to know people, he develops habits, etc. Seriously, that's all you need for the best robot ever: the ability to try various behaviors, analyze sensor data indicating the results of those behaviors, and use the feedback to modify future behavior. A robot like that, damn. That robot is going to be intelligent and human-like; it's going to take on a life of its own. It's all in the sensors and the feedback, that's what makes an awesome robot. (I may be sort of biased- I basically just work with sensors.)

Data and Maddox. Image source.
6. Bruce Maddox

In the Next Generation episode "The Measure of a Man," Commander Bruce Maddox wants to take Data apart to do research on him. This leads to a very offficial hearing where Data's rights are debated- is he the property of Starfleet, or does he have the right to make his own choice about this? Does he count as a life form worthy of respect, or just a machine to be used? Is Data the first of a race of disposable slaves?

This is my favorite Next Generation episode, because I totally love Data. (Y'all, go and watch this scene.) But then I realized, I'm doing research in robotics- I'm really more like Maddox. Ohh, awkward. Maddox is definitely presented as the bad guy; he's really disrespectful to Data, treating him like a thing instead of a person. Not cool, man. But ... aren't all of us in the robotics industry like that? Isn't that the whole reason my job exists? We want to create better and better robots, to do jobs that are too dangerous for people to do. If you send out a robot to do search-and-rescue, or disable a bomb, or handle nuclear waste, and your robot gets destroyed, well, it's not that bad, it's not like a person died or anything. (They're basically glorified remote-control cars. They aren't people. They have no rights.)

Data isn't a normal robot though. Data really is special. He has a whole personality, goals, friendships, etc. But do his crewmates on the Enterprise treat him like a person because they're not experts in robotics, so they have some super-romanticized view of what an android is? For someone like Maddox, who better understands how Data works, maybe there is no illusion of "wow he's totally like a person instead of a machine." (Sort of like how, in popular culture, people always talk about how robots are going to take over the world, but those of us who actually work in robotics know it's really difficult to get a robot to walk on two legs and open a frickin' door. See this hilarious video.) Hmm.

Data, Geordi, and Dr. Farallon examine an exocomp. Image source.
7. The exocomps

Okay I promise this is the last one about robots. In the Next Generation episode "The Quality of Life," we meet Dr. Farallon, who has built 3 robots ("exocomps") to do repairs at her research station. Data notices that one of the exocomps seems to have behavior motivated by self-preservation, which makes him think it actually counts as a life form worthy of protection, rather than just a machine. He believes Dr. Farallon should stop using them.

Now, imagine you're Dr. Farallon. This has got to be super-annoying. You built these really useful machines, and then some dude shows up and tells you you can't use them because they are life forms and it's wrong to force them to work for you.

Anyway, the whole thing becomes a problem when there's dangerous radiation at the research station and the only way to fix it is to send one of the exocomps in to blow itself up. Data won't allow them to force an exocomp to go to its death though. I won't spoil the ending- it's really good.

And it's ADORABLE how Data takes it upon himself to stand up for the rights of these 3 robots.

Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and a lot of tribbles. Image source.
8. Tribbles

Remember the time somebody brought a cute little tribble on the Enterprise and then it started breeding like crazy and there were just SO MANY TRIBBLES? Good times.

Spock mindmelds with a humpback whale. Because of course he did. Image source.
9. Whales

In "Star Trek IV", (which, bafflingly, is not titled "Star Trek Saves the Whales") for some reason the Enterprise crew has to go back in time and get some humpback whales. I hope the reboot movies do this too. Lololol. WHALES.

Ambassador T'Pel. Image source.
10. T'Pel

In the Next Generation episode "Data's Day," T'Pel, a very well-known Vulcan ambassador, dies in a transporter accident. OR DOES SHE? Turns out she was actually a Romulan spy all along, and the Romulan ship beamed her aboard safely while beaming some fake "remains" onto the Enterprise's transporter pad.


Kirk, Spock, and Captain Pike. Image source.
11. Captain Pike

In the 2-part Original Series episode "The Menagerie," we see Captain Pike, Spock's former captain. He has been badly injured, can't move at all, can't speak, and is confined to a wheelchair-like machine with a light that flashes once for "yes" and twice for "no" (this is the only way he can communicate). Anyway, Spock takes Pike against his will, takes command of the Enterprise, and is generally super-shady about the whole thing. Spock is in SO MUCH TROUBLE. But in the end, we find out that Spock's actions were totally logical.

Sulu holding a really furry dog with a unicorn horn. Image source.
12. This dog

I have no idea what's going on in this picture, but look at that ridiculous dog. Also, io9 asks the truly important question: Why aren't there more memes about Star Trek's Unicorn Dog?

Picard, Keiko, Ro, and Guinan beam back to the Enterprise and discover they have been turned into younger versions of themselves. Image source.
13. Young Picard

In the Next Generation episode "Rascals," a transporter malfunction turns Picard, Guinan, Ro, and Keiko into prepubescent versions of themselves. (Because that's TOTALLY how transporter malfunctions work.) As luck would have it, the Enterprise is hijacked by Ferengi, who take all the adults captive, and the child versions of these 4 crew members save the day. (And young Picard is SO BRITISH, it's great.)

I love the part where Picard is pretending to be Riker's son. While a Ferengi listens to their conversation, little Picard accidentally calls Riker "number one" (just like he always does) and then nervously explains to the Ferengi "he's my number one dad" and makes everything hilariously awkward. Dude, if you just hadn't said anything, it would have been fine.

And also a shoutout to young Keiko, for making her husband Miles O'Brien feel like a pervert.

Droxine. Image source.
14. Droxine

I just put her on the list because what the hell is going on with that dress?


Those are my top 14, but I'm sure there are others I've forgotten. (Also I've only seen TOS and TNG.) So tell me, who are your favorite minor Star Trek characters?