the problem with purity books.


{for le blog aesthetic // not mine}

As some of you may know, I started re-reading Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally last year. It’s taken me a long time to get through it, and I’d wanted to finish it before I wrote this post, but I have too many thoughts on it (and other purity books) to wait.

Plus, why SHOULDN’T I rant about why I always felt so alone on Valentine’s Day today?! These books are one of the main reasons I felt so single on this day of every year as far back as I can remember!

Buckle up, because these thoughts have been festering in my mind for years and I’ve just learned how to express them over the last several months (and they’re all over the place so bear with me).

If you grew up in a conservative bubble like I did, you grew up hearing about, reading, and being heavily influenced by these books. You looked up to the Botkins sisters, secretly wanted to be Jasmine Bauchum, wanted to marry a Harris brother, and maybe even traveled several hours to a Bright Lights conference. (Check off all of those for me.)

I grew up entrenched in this system. My parents had their legitimate and valid reasons for encouraging this mindset. I don’t regret anything I learned while in this phase of life because it shaped me into who I am today, but I do still have some scars and even struggle at times with the lasting consequences that I continually have to deal with as a result of this mindset.

The biggest thing that influenced this purity trend in conservative Christian circles were the books written, starting with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and lasting through newer additions such as It’s (Not That) Complicated and Joyfully At Home.

These books are written mostly by young women who had no personal experience with the real dating world. (And still, in their mid thirties, have no experience. Still unmarried, still living at home. Jasmine is the only one who has some semblance of a normal life. She’s my hero and my hope.) The only things they know about it come in the form of horror stories from older people who want to keep them away from it for one reason or another. Starting a book with only this knowledge is a major recipe for disaster. Well-intentioned, of course. But still a disaster.

These books started an “us against them” mentality – courtship versus dating, Christians versus non-Christians (or better Christians versus less enlightened Christians). They made it a fight, with strong feelings on each side. Anyone who thought differently than us was wrong, with no exceptions. Saving yourself was obviously the best way to go about this, and thus would yield the best results (right???), so why shouldn’t we be confident that we’re right and our everyone else down?

In reality… courtship is not the only way and it absolutely will not guarantee a perfect (or even great) marriage. You can’t make a blanket statement and say something like “all dating is evil” because you also can’t say that all courtship is good. And that’s the kind of mindset that these books encouraged.

I also think it’s such a tragedy that these books shamed girls into being afraid of their feelings – that, just because they have a crush on someone, they’ve given away bits of their heart. So not only are girls afraid to admit that they have crushes, but they feel like they’ve already lost.

I’m sick and tired of the notion that purity is something that can be irrevocably lost.  These analogies about sticky notes, chocolate cake, suckers, and roses – they’re all incredibly and horrifically wrong.  The whole point of the Gospel is that Jesus took what was dirty and made it clean.  Period.  He took the broken and made them whole, and all that remains is a beautiful, flawless testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.  That testimony isn’t “ruined” by mistakes made.  Once repentance is reached and forgiveness is given, it’s done.  Over.  The mistakes we make are lessons to be learned, not something to be held over our heads for the rest of our lives.

I’m also sick of this thriftstore Jesus Who is somehow bound by what conservatives say about Him and about grace and about purity – that you’re damaged goods if you didn’t immediately jump towards and end up with the first thing that came towards you. That girls are supposed to sit around and wait for guys to come along so we can fulfill our ultimate purpose as a wife and mother. (Hooo, boy, better stop that train before it leaves the station. That’s another post for another time.)

Listen. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s fine to feel disappointed and even sad that you’re not in a relationship. More than that, it’s completely normal.

Just don’t stay there.

Being single is hard. I know. (I was there for twenty-two years before a guy showed interest in me.) There’s no way around that. But being married is hard, too. Every season of life has hard parts. But faking a smile, ignoring the feelings, and saying, “It’s okay! I’m single because I’m waiting for someone God has for me!” is neither productive nor honest. And it’s about dang time someone takes an honest look at relationships – dating or courting or whatever the crap you want to call it.

I’ve toyed around with writing a purity book, but I wouldn’t even seriously consider it for a while because, even with a lot of guy friends and my current dating experience, I don’t think I have enough knowledge – even though it’s a lot more than these girls can say. (For that, go to Leslie Ludy. She has the experience to back it up – and the marriage to prove that it can work and last!)

If I were to write a purity book, though, I’d say this – stop. being. so. serious.  Yes, this is one of the most important decisions of your life and yes, it should be seriously thought about.  But you don’t have to stress over every single facet of your relationship the entire time.  It’ll only bring added stress. Bringing this full circle to what I started to rant about, as the writer of one of a new favorite blog says, “The average neurotic [conservative, quiverfull/courtship] adherent … has been taught that everything is a sin and that they are corrupting every male simply by being alive.”

Don’t be so intent on “finding the one” or “staying in God’s will” that you miss out on actually living. Because there’s so much more to life than someone’s hand to hold.

Precious girl, you’re worth more than that.

{Bonus thoughts: Someone who views everyone as a potential spouse is someone to be wary of. We should look to see everyone as a potential friend. If a guy only saw me as Wife Material and didn’t want to be friends with me first, I’d run. FAST.}

28 thoughts on “the problem with purity books.

  1. Pingback: a short note on relationships. | inklings press

  2. Pingback: review: i survived i kissed dating goodbye. | inklings press

  3. I know this post was written some time ago, but I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly– 100%– with you Ashley. I am close to the end of Before You Meet Prince Charming, and it just amazes me how the author believes that dating, let alone having a crush on someone, is some sort of mortal sin. The authors of these purity books make it out to where talking about crushes or feelings towards someone is considered “gossiping!” I think this world needs more people open to talking about feelings than these books say. And while I 100% agree that saving yourself for marriage is a wonderful decision, there are some people who didn’t make that choice. And because of this, purity books should also focus more on the redemption found in Jesus, rather than practically shaming girls into the idea that there’s no hope for them if they didn’t choose to wait until marriage. Like you said, the whole point of the gospel is that Jesus came and wiped away the dirty, and made it clean, and I think it’s about time the media and the authors of these books began to realize that people make mistakes. It’s forgiveness, and redemption, that needs to be focused on, just as much as the books talk about being pure.

    • I completely agree! Without overstating anything I already said, I think that the emphasis should be made on grace, not purity. Thanks for reading!

  4. 2 comments:

    1- are you willing to follow God even if very few follow you, or you walk alone?

    2-Romans 7:3 is very interesting as it gives a permanent label of adulteress. My point being that you can be forgiven, but you still have to live with the earthly consequences.

      • No no no. Sorry if it came off like that. I was drawing to the verse that gives a principle.

        The point was the last sentence in my comment- that the scripture in question makes a blanket statement about crossing a line. The consequence is that a label is permanently given to the person, and there will be earthly consequences.

        Being saved and in Christ means that they won’t be held against you for purposes of eternal judgment.

        Also, see Romans 6:1-2

        • Let me elaborate a little bit more, especially in regards to the post’s comments about purity. Can it be lost? Yes and no. Yes meaning the hardness of heart, searing of a conscience, knowledge of the impure, etc. Can you then live a life of purity, yes. But the memories and knowledge of what is impure will remain, and challenge you, for the rest of your life. That doesn’t mean you are “impure,” but it means there are consequences and ramifications.

          You can give them example of a porn addict, an alcoholic, a con artist, etc.

          As per the courtship books, I personally went through a phase of agreeing with them, disagreeing with them, and then back to generally agreeing with them.

          I don’t think any actually get to the point of what marriage is, and how to pursue it while guarding your heart.

          I’ll save my comments on that for another time.

  5. I’m so glad you finally wrote this post! And what a perfect time to post it too, lol. I sorta grew up in this same culture where my father wanted me to remain pure and pursue a courtship instead of a dating relationship. I went to Bright Lights a few times and read a few of those purity books. I entertained a dream of becoming married as soon as I turned 18, maybe even younger, and raising a family.
    I look back on those days and shudder that I was part of that community. Let’s say I turned out completely different than I expected to when I was thirteen. I’m eighteen years old pursuing a college career. I came out as asexual a year ago, and the icing on the cake–I’m dating a guy. daatingggg. If only my father could see me now…
    I totally get what you meant about that culture being the whole reason for feeling so alone on valentines day. I was taught that guys were nothing but potential mates and that I needed to guard myself around them so I wouldn’t cause them or myself to stumble, instead of that they could be my friends, which is really what I want.
    you should definitely write that post about our purpose being “a wife and a mother”. I would love to hear your opinions on that!
    sorry for the long comment and I probably haven’t said anything new. Just wanted to say good job and keep writing! You’re an inspiration 🙂

    • I am too! It was a longggg time coming, I know. Ugh I relate so much. LOOKIT YOUUUU. You go, you rebel, you!!!

      Absolutely – which suuuucks. Most of my best friends growing up were guys, and I never told anyone that bc it was frowned upon. If only I could’ve embraced those friendships wholeheartedly!

      I just might!

      Haha don’t apologize! I love long comments! Thank you!!!!

  6. Ashley, this was so good! I didn’t grow up specifically in this courtship culture, but I definitely heard about “intentional dating.” I kind of dated a guy for around 3 months, and the whole “intentional dating” mindset combined with my very rule-following, people-pleasing personality stressed me out and would cause me to overlook the fun, good, sweet moments I was having because I was too focused on the future.

    Your bonus comment was SO TRUE. In the singles (college/career) Sunday school class at my church, the guys and girls not in a relationship tend to sit on opposite sides of the room, and it is SO awkward. (We are mingling more, praise the Lord.) Teaching teens that the opposite gender is dangerous and not teaching them how to healthily (NORMALLY) interact and be friends with a single person of the opposite gender is SO detrimental to healthy mental processes about relationships. Personally, that mindset made me overthink every. single. reaction with guys I had just met.

    I love reading your posts about this because they echo so many of my own feelings. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in unraveling certain unhealthy mental processes from my childhood. Thanks!

    • Aww I’m so glad it touched you! I completely agree. I can get that way sometimes, and I often wonder how much is just me, and how much is this subculture I grew up in.

      YESSSS. Healthy friendships between guys and girls!!! My best friend from 12-15 was a guy but I was too afraid to say it bc guys and girls can’t be just friends – or so I’d been taught. Ugh I’m so sorry. Definitely know how that feels!

      Aww thank you! I’m so glad they help! YOU ARE NOT ALONE. That’s partially why i write them in the first place – big to prove how far I’ve come (hint – it ain’t far), but to show the things I’ve learned along the way and testify to God’s grace as I break free of these ideas! Thank you for reading and commenting!!!

  7. This is going to sound Devil’s Advocate, but it isn’t really because I don’t pick sides if the issue is a grey area, I’m my own side. I also don’t know if any of this is coherent. Like I commented earlier, after you mentioned this book months ago, I considered re-reading it, but decide to just get rid of it. I’m beyond it.

    I was raised with a lot of people who had at least one parent as a first-generation Christian. I think a lot of these parents (mine included) confused behaviorism with salvation because they came from the world whereas all mine generation were raised that way. So basically, the Gentiles unintentionally raised Pharisees. And I think that this is part of the issue with some of these books. Also, I think my generation tends to completely backlash and in pointing out errors, throws out what is right.
    I don’t really consider that I was raised in the “purity” culture. I don’t think my parents weren’t that legalistic and rule based (we aren’t planner types and I think sometimes that spreads to spiritual things), so most of these books I READ of MY own VOLITION. As an unsaved person. I must wonder how many of my generation did that, confusing salvation and works.

    Also, I don’t think all these people meant badly. I think some of it is reactionary (like some of what is going on now is reactionary against it), and I don’t think that is a clear and impartial and practical way to view things. I think a lot of the error is the IDOLATRY of many of the “follower” type people (a dangerous personality trait to have, and again, not at an issue with my family, especially me, we are more willful/contrarian) or a tendency toward legalism and cookie-cutter expectations. I think the damage is more for the follower/legalistic type of person, and they extend the damage. I think broad-brushing blanket statements are dangerous and often wrong, which is the issue with this “movement” (I didn’t really know it was a “movement” per say) and those against the “movement.” I don’t think appending broad terms like “conservative Christians” to this is at all helpful and accurate. I think it’s a bit of a big fish issues in a small PUDDLE. Basically, I don’t like zero sum or the some/all fallacy and groupthink. Those are a major portion of all the controversies out there, I think.

    I think my parents (Mom especially) main concern was keeping us SAFE. My sister and I were talking with my mom about all this #MeToo stuff and wondering about people who don’t seem to protect and warn their children against the evil in this world (the ones who could do so of course). Of course, we were fearful children also, but we did protest Mom always having us in her sights until adulthood . . . and after, Mom doesn’t really think 18 is adulthood. And I feel like I need to build a protective bubble for my future children that is even stronger after watching the news recently.

  8. AMEN.

    I have so many issues with purity books—they’re all so well-intentioned, but then they tend to fail so hard. You did a very articulate job summing up MY feelings on them, too. ❤

  9. You need to write that book, Ashley. Maybe not yet; but you need to write it.

    Because people need to hear this stuff–and they need to hear it from YOU. I didn’t really grow up in this culture so I still don’t fully understand it, but you did, and you can call it out for exactly what it is. Which is so very, very needed, if we’re going to undo the damage that has been wrought.

    Heck, even though I wasn’t raised in the purity movement, per se, I still somehow got the message (idk where???) that I was “supposed” to get married and that was ALL I was supposed to do. Nothing else; because God couldn’t possibly have any other ways open for me to serve Him. Even after I started college and began planning for a career (and up until very recently, in fact), I held onto the idea of imminent marriage as a kind of “crutch,” because I was afraid of the idea of living an independent life: “Oh, it’ll be fine, I’ll meet someone soon and get married right away and then I won’t ever need to start a career.”

    I only really ditched that attitude last year. And the freedom has been nothing short of amazing.

    I’m not hiding behind the hope of early marriage anymore. I’m living MY life, on my own terms, and I’m serving God with my career; and I’m determined to enjoy every moment of it. If I happen to meet someone along the way . . . awesome. But I’m not waiting around for him anymore. He’s gonna have to catch up with me. 😉

    • I just might. Sometime in the far, distant future. 😉

      Very true. I’d love for other people who grew up in the same mentality – guys AND girls – to have the courage to stand up as well, because the world needs to hear varying opinions and perspectives. I know mine differs drastically from lots of my friends and even my sisters.

      YEP. I believe it. It spreads throughout most of these conservative circles, whatever your background, because of the well-intentioned (and partially true) belief about men and women’s roles in society and in the home. Ugh, I’m so sorry – that’s so unhealthy. This mentality makes girls assume that they’ll get married right out of high school, but the odds are stacked against them because of how seriously people take courtship – like it’s just one step away from marriage and basically engagement.

      That’s beautiful. I’m so happy for you!

      YES. Same! As long as you live life the way God’s will dictates – career or marriage or motherhood or whatever He calls you to – you’re good. YESSSSSSSS. This life is a race to be pursued together, not detoured to meet someone. God knows I wasn’t looking for a man when I met him. *rolls eyes* 😉

      • Oh yes! I agree. A variety of perspectives–lots and lots of people speaking out–would be even better! 🙂

        Thank you. ❤ I'm happy, too.

        Exactlyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. I've realized–slowly–that God's Will for me (at least right now) is literally staring me right in the face: He wants me to study, and learn, and teach others. Those are the gifts He gave me, and developing them is my responsibility. So heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work I go 🙂 And whatever else happens . . . happens. But my life is RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

  10. YES. I love this so much. I’m very happy being single but I too know it can be hard sometimes (just like, as you said, being married can be hard sometimes). One of my biggest pet peeves is this idea that you have to ‘wait’ for your life to begin (sounds like a big phrase but honestly more people view it this way than they’d like to admit) when you get married. Don’t wait – LIVE. 😀 Also being single has TONS of great things. (Lol, I just wrote a blog post about that yesterday. :-))

    I get it, and honestly, I think the courtship-moment was started with the best of intentions. People want to honour God, but it does not honour God to be legalistic, to be black and white about matters the Bible is not black and white about, and yes to minimalise His grace by saying that you become ‘a better Christian’ by dating a certain way. That’s wrong.

    And yes, I hate that these book shame girls (and boys!) to having feelings/crushes… instead of being open and just being about to TALK about it. Gosh people, stop making this life so dang serious. (Of course… ya know, there *is* a time to be serious about relationships but… not like this! :-P)

    I’ve only read one ‘purity’ book (Boy Meets Girl) and I found it annoying. There were good things in it, but there were also things in it that made me throw the book on the ground. 🙂 However, I don’t think we should be too critical; let’s take out the good of ‘the purity culture’ and leave the rest out. Let’s definitely not put purity in a bad box, God calls us to be pure, but it’s soooo different than these books are making it out to be. It comes from the heart; from Jesus.

    Long comment over – I loved this post. ;-D

    • Gahhh, yesssss. It’s like the song from Tangled, which never rested well with me. I wanted to be like, “Girl, your life began eighteen years ago!!! START LIVING IT!!!” And honestly I can’t imagine how much changes after you’re married. It’s not like you get anointed with tons of wisdom or a new calling or whatever. Yes! Ooh, I’ll have to read it. 🙂

      It was, and I think even Josh Harris (who obviously didn’t start it but definitely had a hand in it’s explosion in the 90s) didn’t intend for it to go as far as it did. People took his works and ran with them, away from common sense in an effort to be “holy.” And that’s just not cool. YES!

      Ugh, I hate it too. I know people who were – and still are – afraid to admit to these COMPLETELY NORMAL AND NATURAL AND GOD-GIVEN DESIRES because they feel like it’s wicked. Hello. Would God have given you these emotions if they were wicked? I THINK NOT. Completley agree.

      Same. I didn’t get all the way through that one. Again, great advice, but some not-so-great, and all of it was taken wayyyy too far. AMENNNNNN.

      Thank you for reading it and leaving a comment!

  11. I’ve waited SO LONG for this post and agree with it SO MUCH that I feel way too invested not to comment.
    Rather than write a thesis as a reply, I’m just gonna say that you absolutely hit the nail on the head and I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said! The whole courtship / purity movement, whilst well intentioned, is at it’s core, flawed and based on incorrect theology. On top of that, the common, patriarchal interpretation of courtship has rendered it one of the most damaging practices throughout the Christian community. So many of our generation have to suffer the consequences of this but it’s heartwarming to see more and more of us standing up and speaking out against this movement. May our future daughters know what it is to have normal relationships!
    Thank you, Ashley

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