Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 87-110

“The Direction of Purity” &
“A Cleansed Past: The Room”

The bulk of chapter seven is dedicated to a concept I disagree with: any sex outside of monogamous marriage is a sin. I’ve laid out an argument for why I think sex that causes I or someone else harm should be our standard, starting here, but I am aware that my argument is not the only way to interpret the New Testament passages regarding porneia, usually translated “fornication” or “sexual immorality.” While I feel that my argument is sound, it does reflect a hermenuetic that conflicts with a more conservative understanding of the Bible and Christianity. I asked why NT writers would condemn porneia, and then based my position on the answer to that question. However, if your answer is “because God preserved penetrative intercourse for marriage,” then obviously you’ll end up in a far different place.

Personally, I feel people like Joshua aren’t taking a holistic approach to the Bible when they make arguments like “God preserved sex for marriage.” That narrow view comes out like this:

God guards [physical intimacy] carefully and places many stipulations on it because He considers it extremely precious. (94)

The only “stipulation” that (according to conservative evangelicals) God places on sex in the New Testament is “don’t have it unless you’re married,” so it seems logical to assume that when Joshua refers to “many stipulations” he’s referring to the Law. Unfortunately, the Law includes such “stipulations” as a woman being required to marry her rapist. I don’t think it’s possible to argue that a woman being forced to spend her life with the man who raped her represents sex inside marriage being precious.

However, I’m not the only Christian in the world and I believe one can make a “biblical” argument for saving sex for marriage, so I’m not going to fully address his argument. Instead, I’ll point out where I think he went wrong.

***

This chapter sees Joshua using The Quintessential Example of A Good Man Gone Wrong: and if you guessed “David,” you’d be right. As is typical, he talks about David and Bathsheba as if they had a consensual affair. There are so many reasons that interpretation is disastrously wrong– David raped Bathsheba, David is a rapist— but I think it’s important to highlight something else.

When men like Joshua talk about David and Bathsheba, they’re using David as an example of what could, theoretically, happen to anyone. You stay home from the battlefield. You indulge. You see a naked woman, and then you choose not to look away. You decide you want to sleep with her, and you figure out how to do it. You plan. And then you cover it up.

The problem with this narrative is that this is not a story about a man plotting out his affair. It’s about a man who decides he’s going to abuse his power and rape a woman. Every time this goes unacknowledged, these men inculcate rape culture in their congregations just a little bit more. They entrench, just a bit more deeply, the idea that they can kidnap a woman in the middle of the night and force themselves on her and that’s not rape. This is a total erasure of what consent is and what it looks like.

This is important because rapists are not monsters. They’re normal, everyday people. They’re our friends, our parents, our siblings, our pastors, our co-workers. They buy you coffee, they open doors for you, they preach messages about self-sacrifice and loving your neighbor … and they are rapists not because they’re so different from “normal” people, but because they believe that women are something they can just take. They believe that because we tell them so.

Because Joshua told them so.

I’ve talked some about why purity culture is incompatible with teaching consent, and it comes out here:

You can’t slow down, you can’t turn around; you can only continue speeding farther and farther from your destination. How many Christians in dating relationships have felt the same way as they struggle with accelerating physical involvement? They want to exit, but their own sinful passion takes them further and further from God’s will. (91)

Again, for this post I’m not challenging the idea that “God’s will” is to save sex for marriage. However, this section illustrates a problem because it views people as being in a default state of consent, when the reverse is true. A person’s default state is non-consenting. When you think every man, every woman, exists in a frame of mind where they simply cannot say no, even when “they want to exit,” then rape is impossible to commit. A healthy sexual ethic (even one that assumes that sex is sinful outside of marriage) must include consent as its basis. Except teaching consent undermines purity culture– and they can’t give up using fear of “being unable to stop” as their primary weapon.

***

Toward the end of the chapter he encourages “guys and girls” to help each other stay pure, and unsurprisingly I have problems.

We [men] need to stop acting like hunters trying to catch girls and begin seeing ourselves as warriors standing guard over them … we must realize that girls don’t struggle with the same temptations we struggle with. We wrestle more with our sex drives, while girls struggle more with their emotions. (98)

Beat my head into a friggin wall.

This is, in short, benevolent sexism. Joshua places women on a pedestal and tells men to guard it … and then he goes on to reassert the myth that women are chaste angels who are lured in by romance. It’s not his fault he thinks this– I’m pretty sure every woman in his life has spent a long time reinforcing the message that women just don’t experience arousal, not really— but it’s frustrating nonetheless. Women are just as capable of experiencing hubba hubba feelings as men are, and science backs me up.

He then goes on to share a story about his friend Matt who wanted to date Julie, but refrained from flirting with her for a period of time because “God made it clear to Julie that she had to focus on Him and not be distracted by Matt” (98). Joshua says look at him, that was the right thing to do, and I agree– but for an utterly different reason. In Joshua’s telling, Matt’s focus is on honoring God by not interfering with Julie’s time of “serving Him.” In my view, Matt did the right thing because Julie set a boundary and Matt respected it. Julie said “I like you, but I want to wait” and Matt, instead of interfering with her decision or trying to get her to do what he wanted, made himself be ok with waiting.

But talk about boundaries in relationships subverts the teaching that women aren’t allowed to have boundaries once they’re married. They’re not supposed to deny their husband anything. After all, their body doesn’t belong to them, but to their husband. And vice versa, supposedly, but when have women ever literally owned their husbands?

It gets worse when he turns to “The Girl’s Responsibility,” where he focuses on women being modest:

Now, I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self-control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body. (99)

Anyone who’s ever criticized Christian modesty teachings points out that when they say that men are “responsible for maintaining self-control,” and it’s not a woman’s fault when a man “stumbles” they’re not being honest. Joshua contradicts himself not even a paragraph later:

A single mom who had recently rededicated her life to Christ told me, “I went through my closet and got rid of anything that might have caused a brother in the Lord to stumble. I asked God to forgive me and to help protect the purity of those around me.”

If it’s not her fault, why does she need forgiveness?

Hilariously, the problem with telling women they have to be modest or they’re sinning is highlighted in this little line: “even in the summer, when it seems impossible to find a modest pair of shorts!”

Ah, Joshua. This is one of the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to read your book when I was a teenager … you think shorts can be modest. Not just pants. Shorts. Dear Lord, you’d allow a woman to expose her knees?!

And that right there is the biggest reason why teachings on “modesty” are the biggest load of crock. There are no clothes a woman can put on her body that a man can’t conceive of as sexy, because it’s not actually the clothes. It’s the man and his own personal issues– what he personally finds attractive or sexy, or what his personal fetish is. It’s impossible for a woman to “cause” her brother to stumble because no woman is psychic, and even if she dressed to avoid one man’s fetish, she’d just end up in an outfit that is some other man’s fetish. It’s ridiculous.

***

The last chapter of this section is Joshua telling us about a dream he had that he thinks illustrates God’s forgiveness and grace, which I think is a good thing to include. As much as I disagree with the way he’s handled … almost everything … one thing he hasn’t done (at least so far) is talk about how ruinous sex outside of marriage supposedly is. Oh, he’s talked about how “dangerous” it is, and how we can’t give pieces of our heart away, so he’s definitely contributing to the damaging consequences of purity culture, but he hasn’t said anything like “having sex makes you a half-eaten candy bar or a cup full of spit” so I guess that’s something.

The next section we’re getting into is “Building a New Lifestyle,” so we’ll see how that goes.

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  • You know, now that I’ve been married a little over a year (which makes me sooo experienced and full of wisdom) I’ve been rethinking why it was so important for me to “save myself.” I don’t know if God reserved sex just for marriage. I do know that people married a lot earlier back then, so people didn’t have to deal with years of repressed desires before “settling down” in their late twenties or thirties like they tend to do now. And then there’s the issue of getting stoned if you had premarital sex, but other than that, the Bible isn’t that specific about abstinence, is it?

    Anyway, I think for me it was about avoiding heartbreak. If I had lost my virginity to my first serious boyfriend, I’d have been devastated, considering how that relationship ended. But if I waited until after the wedding to have sex with my husband, we would have had a miserable honeymoon, and that is no exaggeration. For the longest time, sex was so painful I cried. Now it’s upgraded to just uncomfortable, but it took longer than the amount of time we’ve been married just to get to that point. And now I’m realizing that sexual compatibility is a far bigger deal than I thought it was. I used to think prioritizing that in any way was selfish. Well, now I know better. And now I’m all kinds of confused about what I think in terms of unmarried sex being sinful.

    • Kevin

      For me part of the reason I have chosen abstinence is I’m concerned with how sex will affect various aspirations I have and I want to wait until I find someone who cares about me, rather than just a few minutes of pleasure. This is on my list of posts for my blog, in which I’ll go into more detail.

      • I appreciate an answer like that one over a bland, nonspecific “It’s against God’s design.”

        • Kevin

          I heard on a Reasonable Doubts podcast that the most successful abstinence-only programs focus on the impact sex has on your life, in areas such as education, career, etc rather than God Said It(TM).

          • If people are honest with themselves, they’ll understand that the reasons people were encouraged to wait back then are much different than the reasons people have for waiting now. It’s not like women had the option of avoiding sex so they could launch a career and not worry about the possibility of babies.

          • m. castleberry

            Absolutely I believe that. I grew up outside the church, and God didn’t even figure into my reasoning for delaying sex (“sex” in the sense we are talking about in this context) until after college. You’ve got to have a *personal* reason, as well…

      • Stephanie Gertsch

        It is possible to date someone and care about them though 😛

      • I agree with Stephanie– all the benefit of the doubt for you of course 🙂 but the “until I find someone who cares about me, rather than just a few minutes of pleasure” is the false dichotomy that Joshua is working with in IKDG.

        Handsome and I deeply cared about each other, which was why we had sex before we were married.

        I understand where you’re coming from. I’m not the sort of person that can do casual sex stuff. I’ve tried, it just doesn’t work for me. However, “one night stand” and “monogamously married” are on complete opposite ends of a rather broad spectrum.

    • My wife and I waited until we were married before we had sex, and I don’t regret waiting until then, except when I do.

      Sexual compatibility is something that we never discussed and never were encouraged to discuss during premarital counseling. Eighteen years and three children later, the disconnects and challenges created by our sexual incompatibilities have been driving me to the breaking point — and I doubt it’s been much fun for her, either.

  • Kevin

    Concerning the modesty, a number of years back I got one of the elders to admit to male responsibility. It came after one of the young men admitted to having a shoe fetish and looking at fetish videos online. When I brought up the role of modesty(since fetishists care about whatever their fetish is) I asked what responsibility women have not to cause men to stumble. The elder responded it’s the guy’s responsibility to guard his heart.
    When reading about the Middle East(either Saudi Arabia or Iran) I read they have modesty rules for men as well(though women get the larger share of the burden). I realized I never heard a Christian talk about modesty requirements for men(I did begin to think about what I should do to not cause women to stumble.)

  • Beroli

    Joshua says look at him, that was the right thing to do, and I
    agree– but for an utterly different reason. In Joshua’s telling, Matt’s
    focus is on honoring God by not interfering with Julie’s time of
    “serving Him.”

    Which has disturbing implications for if she hadn’t brought up God. If she’d just said “I like you, but I want to wait,” would Joshua have considered Matt justified in brushing off her expressed wishes and pressuring her? (Not for premarital sex, presumably, considering Joshua’s views, but quite possibly to shove her uncertainty aside and marry him.)

    Perhaps oddly, I’ve never heard someone say “I had fully consensual sex before I was married and I wish I hadn’t,” though I have heard people say “I waited to have sex until I got married. I really wish I hadn’t. We have (or ‘had,’ if it’s the speaker’s previous rather than current spouse) massive sexual compatibility problems which I was not in the least prepared for; I didn’t even realize that was a possibility.”

    • We clearly lived in different worlds. I heard plenty of stories about girls regretting the way they lost their virginity – the guy was using them, didn’t return their feelings, didn’t call back for a second date, whatever – but the few people I know who waited were satisfied in that they knew the person they were intimate with was in it for the long haul. There is a security in that which isn’t to be understated, but sexual compatibility was completely written off in my women’s small groups as selfishness.

      • Beroli

        Indeed we did. (I can only think of one person I ever talked to about the subject irl who really seemed to think having sex outside of marriage was a moral issue, and she didn’t seem to regret having it so much as kind of vaguely regret that she didn’t regret having it, because it didn’t match her religious beliefs on the subject–and people talked pretty freely about sex where I grew up; in my first job, as a reading-writing tutor, I remember being asked to help a teenage girl with an essay which casually talked about her boyfriend’s penis.) Of course, I have no idea how many of the people I knew were in abusive relationships they just didn’t tell me about.

      • Kevin

        I don’t remember anything about sexual compatibility before reading tweets and blogs critical of purity culture(and considering my decision for abstinence it frightened me a little). Despite this there are a few things I know I like and always hoped to be able to talk about it to any potential partner.

  • A thoughtful, thought-provoking post. I’m wondering if you can explain your perspective on premarital sex for me a little more, though.

    A little background: I grew up in a Presbyterian home, was born again around the age of 18, and generally identified myself as an evangelical or Pentecostal for the next 15 years or so. (Not any more.) As a result, the main lesson of sexual morality was to wait until marriage, and I’ve generally regarded that as “the biblical view of sex,” though I’ve never really bothered myself over whether other, unmarried couples were having sex.

    I now am 45 and the father of three daughters, one of whom will attend college in two years. Some time a few months or a year ago I realized that I’m not particularly alarmed at the prospect that she might have sex in college with a partner. While I would prefer that she wait and commit herself to one partner, I’d rather know that she makes whatever decision she makes maturely and responsibly, and I’d rather she know that having more than one partner in her life will not cheapen or diminish her in any way. The right person is not going to love her any less for sexual experiences that she already will have had.

    That said, I’d still prefer that she wait until she’s married, if for no other reason than that’s the moral code I received and have tried to pass on to my children. But I’m also always trying to understand my faith better, and from other points of view. You’ve said a few times that you see premarital sex as not inherently sinful, and I’m honestly intrigued. Could you explain your reasoning for me?

    • I link to the series where I explained how I arrived at this conclusion at the top of the post.

      • Kevin

        I’m going to look into it. It’s a radical viewpoint from my upbringing, but the Bible says, “Test everything; hold on to the good.”(1 Thess. 5:21) and the Bereans were praised for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”(Acts 17:11)
        There’s also the promise “Whoever who seeks finds”(Mt. 7:8).

  • Jackalope

    This is more related to the David and Bathsheba comment, but thank you for pointing this out! When I was younger it drove me up the wall to hear people talking about Bathsheba being this temptress when… he was the KING. He had the power to have her executed if she said no. I won’t say that this completely erases her ability to say no in any meaningful way, since people are creative, but it comes pretty darned close. The “gun to the head” argument is generally acknowledged as a valid excuse for doing something you are morally against, since we know how strong the survival instinct is.

    (And as a side note, I had also not noticed [as you mentioned in the side link] that she was cleansing herself from her period. Seeing that that is the case, not only was David a rapist, but he was a stupid one, since he was choosing to rape a woman at her most fertile time of the month. Not a good plan for hiding what he did. He could have waited another week and then tried, and everything would have blown over.)

  • When I think about the women I know, the idea that I am a warrior guarding them is just hilarious.

  • “It’s impossible for a woman to “cause” her brother to stumble because no woman is psychic, and even if she dressed to avoid one man’s fetish, she’d just end up in an outfit that is some other man’s fetish. It’s ridiculous.”

    Yes!!! I’m so incredibly tired of this. For goodness sake, we once went to a church when I was in like 3rd grade where the pastor, from the pulpit, denounced open toed shoes of any kind because the feminine foot is so alluring out was clearly meant to be seen only by your husband. He even prohibited little girls from showing their feet to their fathers or brother to avoid inciting lust in them. I wish I was kidding.

    It’s easy for people to excuse more basic purity culture because stories like that are so extreme. The problem is that any time we try to dictate another person’s body, we’re just as bad because we all speak from our own weakness.

    • m. castleberry

      Yes! So much this, “even if she dressed to avoid one man’s fetish, she’d just end up in an outfit that is some other man’s fetish”. Ugh. I can’t be specific here, lest I violate the trust of someone I used to know, but the fetish doesn’t even have to include something commonly seen as sexy, such as peep-toe shoes (YMMV–some workplaces these days allow them, but others don’t). It can be something incredibly un-sexy in popular opinion, but for someone out there, it works.

      I recall being in a pet store at one point–no makeup; no hair “style”; no jewelry; slouchy, crew-necked, long, too-big clothing; and when I sought assistance from a salesperson, he *put his hand in the small of my back* to guide me to where the product I asked for was! So….so much for being able to take responsibility for someone else’s desires….

      • Kevin

        Seconded on fetishes not being seen as something “sexy.” I know someone who made a comment to a friend because he saw said friend eye-balling a woman’s boots in a gas station. That’s the problem…since any kind of footwear is someone’s fetish…that’s my case for modesty culture being unreasonable. I just hope they don’t decide to ban women from driving, lest pressing the pedals “Causes Guys To Stumble”(TM)!

      • KellyLynne

        Yep. My husband (boyfriend at the time) once commented on how incredibly sexy I looked during a five-mile hike. I was wearing a baggy t-shirt and shorts, my hair was a mess, I was dusty and sweaty. You could wear a burlap sack–somebody probably has a burlap sack fetish.

    • LOL. Sounds like he’s never met a ballet dancer or figure skater. I have callouses that I’m pretty sure are permanent. Nobody is going to lust after them.

    • tt

      Two items. 1–I once had a non-traditional teaching student observing in my classroom. After my lesson was done, he came up to me and told me my shoes were “so sexy” that they distracted him from paying attention to my teaching. I was wearing scuffed up brown flats. (And, yes, I reported him to his university supervisor and after another similar incident in another classroom in our school, he was removed from their teacher education program).

      2–Last weekend, I was at the grocery store with a sloppy pony tail, no make-up, baggy cut-off sweat pants (that fell below the knee), and an oversized t-shirt. I am also over 40. A guy followed me around trying to flirt the entire time I was shopping. Never mind the lovely wedding ring I wear.

      Women can’t prevent guys from finding them attractive by policing their own appearance. Some guy somewhere will find something we don’t think is that attractive very attractive.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    My own personal reason that sex outside of marriage is a bad idea is entirely practical – pregnancy. This probably has alot to do with personal baggage, and when I explain, it won’t even make logical sense. My mother knew that her relationship with my father was going to fail, but he offered to marry her, and she took him up on it for one reason: she wanted a baby. As she told me, she just hoped he stayed around long enough to get the job done. He did, she got pregnant, they split up, and after giving birth she had a complete nervous breakdown, was in a mental hospital for 2 years, and forgot she had even given birth. I was left with no functional parents, and an iron clad determination to only bring a child into a stable situation. The Christian world supported me in this, and was one reason Christian culture had a safe feel to me as a teenager. Although people might be fooling around behind the door, everyone at least gave lip service to the ideas of keeping sex within a functional marriage, and not getting pregnant with the intention of ditching the other parent. When I think about this now, it does frustrate me that I never had the opportunity to search out a little more nuance in what sex is supposed to mean to Christians. Then again, my family background was simply so dysfunctional that evangelical culture felt healthy by sheer comparison, and I didn’t get to the point of questioning Christian culture until much later.

    • Jackalope

      I think that sounds perfectly logical and reasonable. And kudos to you for your determination to give your baby a more stable foundation than what you had.

      I too have found pregnancy to be a good deterrent. For health reasons hormonal birth control isn’t on the table, so….

      • Cbearicus

        I’m not able to use hormonal bc, either. The Paraguard IUD has been a lifesaver. It’s not for everyone, but could be something to look into.

        • Jackalope

          Thanks for the tip!

      • Kevin

        For me the potential of getting a woman pregnant is a deterrent as well: I just don’t think it’s right for me to dump that on someone unless we’re both ready for it!

  • One thing that confused me as a late teen/young adult is that boys/men are essentially told that we should find modest women attractive, since those are the kinds of women we are supposed to pursue and then marry. But if we find them attractive, we’re flirting with sin again, and potentially causing them to sin because it was their modest dress that made them attractive. It seemed the only winning scenario was to not be attracted to anybody, but then I would have been at odds with the mantra that we are sex robots who can’t control ourselves. I never did figure out how to navigate those contradictions.

    • Kevin

      For me I started questioning my faith at 18, wanting more than just the four walls of the church and to see the world. Thus I started expecting to date/marry a woman outside the church, thus all that was irrelevant.

  • Cbearicus

    I feel as though I was damaged a lot by my upbringing in the conservative Christian purity culture. I was raised with much of what is described above, as well as the idea that a woman is ruined if she has sex before marriage. That and the shame of pregnancy out of wedlock.

    As someone with a high sex drive, it was implied there was something innately wrong with me (women don’t get aroused, right?). I was terrified to be in a relationship with anyone for fear of what I might do. This fear of closeness was instilled in me early on, and still lingers despite that I’ve left Christianity. The idea of purity is still there and still damaging.

    Currently I’m struggling with understanding the ability of people to engage in consenting polyamorous relationships. I feel like my upbringing did nothing to prepare me for the complexity of love and intimacy that exists in humanity. I’m at a hopeless and angry point with it all right now. And it’s causing difficulties in my current relationship.

  • kittehonmylap

    (TW: rape)

    Thank you for making the point about rapists being normal people. So many of my friends have been disbelieved about their rapes because the guy who did it was “a good guy” or “had a good reputation.” I’m still struggling with acknowledging my own sexual abuse from my ex husband, in no small part because he is a Good Guy- albeit also an asshole- and the abuse was more about selfishness and brain fuckery. I am afraid of telling people I do not trust completely because we had a relationship that on the surface looked totally reasonable and good- because he comes across as a Person Who Would Not Do That.

    • I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about this. A few weeks ago I heard my neighbor (we live in a townhome) screaming at his wife, and his wife was clearly terrified, begging him to stop. The altercation ended before I decided to call the police, but it was still terribly frightening.

      Yesterday my friend saw this man outside with his kids, and she came inside and said “oh, well, maybe they’re just really kinky or something? He was so gentle with his kids.” All I could do was stare at her for a second before I said “My rapist/abuser was absolutely terrific with children.”

      This was the default reaction in my friend– who’s survived an abusive relationship, an abusive childhood. It’s difficult to overcome the idea that abusers and rapists are always consistently terrible to everyone– when they’re not. They wouldn’t able to be abusers if everyone could clearly see their abuse everywhere they went. Abuse is 60% about covering it up and making sure their victim doesn’t even believe themselves enough to tell anyone.

      • Kevin

        People give the same reaction when they find out their neighbor is a serial killer. As it was written long ago, even Satan masquerades as an angel of light!

      • David Andersen

        Yes, yes, yes. Abusers excel at acting and gas lighting.

  • Lucy Moore

    Apparently the fact that men can have a fetish for Victorian dress does not occur to modesty teachers.

  • Matt Cardier
  • LadyWoman

    I’m honestly surprised that people still believe and perpetuate the idea that guys only want one thing so we ladies (who clearly have little interest in that thing beyond keeping a man attached to us) have to constantly be on the defense or protecting men from themselves.

    With the guys I dated before my husband (churchgoers all, like me), I was the one wanting to go further and they were the ones to put up the boundaries. I can’t say whether my sex drive was HIGHER than theirs, but ours were at least equal and they became the “gatekeepers”. Little ol’ vagina-having me wasn’t the one defending my precious purity from a ravening male.