That Time Mary Pride Put the Modesty Survey on Blast

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Mary Pride is considered by some to be “the queen of homeschooling.” She is one of the founders of the Quiverfull movement, the anti-feminism author of The Way Home, and the publisher of the wildly popular magazine “Practical Homeschooling.” I have previously covered problematic aspects of her worldview, including her thoughts on domestic violence and child abuse. Her belief that women’s use of contraception turns men gay is also bewildering.

That said, Mary Pride is also an expert at putting people on blast. Normally she puts her archenemies — child advocates, feminists, and LGBTQ people — on blast. But sometimes even her peers are not spared. The best example of this comes from her trash-talking of Alex and Brett Harris’ 2007 “Modesty Survey.” The following passage is from page 221 of the “Afterthoughts” chapter added to The Way Home‘s 25th Anniversary Edition in 2010:

Speaking of our daughters, I would like to say just a few words about the “Modesty Survey” and other attempts to “encourage” young ladies to dress according to some ill-defined, ever-shifting male standard of “modesty.”

The bottom line here is the belief that women’s dress can cause men to fall into ungodly thoughts. If I had the space, I would have plenty to say about this. For now, consider just this:

  1. The only female features that the Bible says cause potential male downfall are “eyes” (Prov. 6:25): literally “eyelids,” as in the KJV.
  2. The “strange woman” (KJV) or “adulteress” (NIV), who is by no means a Christian sister, leads a young man astray by her smooth speech (Prov. 5:3), not by her outfit.

Those arguing for the “Burqa Lite” standard of Christian dress also fail to explain how young men who faint at the sight of a Christian ankle are supposed to control themselves when out in the world.

Doctors see naked women. Missionaries see half-naked women. But we don’t expect them to go insane with lust.

Proverbs 7:6-27 describes a woman leading a man astray. She is loud, defiant, dressed like a prostitute, and deliberately talks him into committing adultery. Even so, the passage is all about how he should have known better.

I’m all for modest dress, but not because Christian men are going to fall into temptation left and right if various arbitrary skirt lengths, etc., are not met. In the New Testament, “modest” dress refers to “spending a modest amount on clothing,” not to the amount of cloth and where it is draped. “Modest” dress is contrasted with ostentatiously expensive clothing and hairstyles—and the passage is talking about how to dress for church (1 Tim. 2:8-10)!

This preoccupation on men’s part with women’s modesty is misguided and proto-Islamic. Once again, the older women should be teaching the younger what is appropriate. Neither older nor younger men are responsible or authorized to instruct the younger women in this area.

There are, of course, problems within this passage, including Pride’s penchant towards Islamophobia. But still…


Ex-Homeschooler Fashion

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 8, 2015.

As a former fundamentalist homeschooled kid, one of many aspects of life that I’ve had to do a lot of catch up in is fashion.  

I grew up choosing clothing based solely on modesty, which in my circles meant that I was shopping in clothing sections meant for the elderly and basically wearing fabric sacks.  Often, I had to make things for myself when even the grandmotherly clothing options failed me.  Everything I wore was at least 4 sizes too big and several inches too short, and I had no idea about choosing colors that complemented my skin tone, no idea about hair, no idea about makeup, no idea about skin and nail care.

There are many wonderful people in the world who spend their time/energy/money on more important and lasting concerns than on their appearance, and I have a lot of respect for them, but this wasn’t a choice that I had made for myself.  I had no choice in the matter, because my family and the fundamentalist homeschooling culture around me told me that trying to look attractive was vain, selfish, and worst of all, would cause men around me to sin.  So I continued to hide in my sacks, feeling like one of the least attractive people on earth, and feeling shame for caring about being unattractive.

During some particularly low times in my late teens, I felt that my hideousness was a punishment from God because my dad wasn’t a “godly” man according to the standards of the homeschooling church we attended in my teens.  I kept running into verses in the Old Testament (Job 42:15 as one example) about how God blessed godly men with beautiful daughters, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was my dad’s fault that I was so ugly.

So, when I finally started to escape from these soul-crushing beliefs in my early twenties, one of the first hurdles to overcome was my belief that it was wrong to put effort into looking attractive.  As I spent less time with people in our homeschooling church and more time with “worldly” people, I started to realize the irony that my “modest” clothing was actually drawing far more attention to me than “wordly” clothes would.  Step by step, through practice, I started to get more comfortable wearing more fitted, age-appropriate clothes with more skin showing.  I started to feel more at home in my body instead of wishing I could jump out of it and run away screaming.  I started to feel a small mood and confidence boost when I made an effort to be pretty, instead of a constant sense of shame.

It just takes a few sentences to describe it, but this process took many years.  

And that was just to alter my perspective!  Over a decade later, through the body ups and downs of two pregnancies, I’m continuing to try to fill in the gaps and learn how to dress for my body and skin type, how to style my hair, how to apply makeup, and how to accessorize.

Something I never imagined that I’d do, but that I now absolutely love, is using a personal stylist through a service called StitchFix.  I’ve signed up to receive a box of 5 clothing items every few months, chosen for me by a stylist based on my size and tastes and needs.  I was very skeptical at first because I have so much trouble finding clothing that I like and that fits me well, but I decided to give it a try because the most I had to lose was a $20 styling fee if I decided to return everything.  I’m so glad I tried it, because every box I receive has hugely improved my wardrobe, helped me learn more about dressing my body type, and taught me more about what pieces pair well together.  I’m particularly impressed with the jeans my stylist has sent me–after many frustrating hours trying on probably over a hundred pairs of jeans in the last decade, I just pull these jeans out of the StitchFix box on my doorstep and OMG PERFECT FIT!!

I know there are many of you who have also had to learn so much very late in life about taking care of your appearance, and I wish we could high-five each other about how far we’ve come.  If there are some of you that think you might benefit from StitchFix as much as I have, so here’s my referral link if you are interested in trying it:  (Thank you in advance if you use my link to sign up–I’ll get a $25 referral credit to feed my new fashion habit).

What Do “Certificates of Purity” Communicate to Sexual Assault Survivors?

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Content warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

By now you have likely heard about the increasingly viral story of Brelyn Bowman and her father, Pastor Mike Freeman. Pastor Freeman glowingly shared on social media the fact that his daughter presented to him, on her wedding day, a “Certificate of Purity.” Brelyn wrote on Instagram that she “present[ed] a certificate of purity to [my father] signed by my doctor that my hymen was still intact.” This fact — that Brelyn has an intact hymen — is the evidence used to demonstrate that she preserved her “purity” until her wedding day.

There are problems with this scenario, which many internet commentators have addressed. For example, there are plenty of non-sexual activities one can engage in that can break a person’s hymen — riding a bike, gymnastics, even performing a worship dance in your church. There are also plenty of sexual activities one can engage in that do not break a person’s hymen.

In other words, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the state of one’s hymen and one’s “purity.” If you are a young person committed to Christian purity or the parent of such a child, obsessing with the young person’s genitals is a red herring, and honestly an unhealthy way to present the concept of purity to one’s children and future generations. The Greek word the Christian Apostles used for “purity,” ἁγνεία, comes from a word used to describe religious ceremonies, ἁγνός, which means holy or set apart in the sense of preparing for worship. It is the idea of dedicating one’s entire self to God, which is a more uplifting thought than parents obsessing with the state of their children’s genitals. It also makes 1 Timothy 4:12 sound less creepy. With the Freemans’ definition of purity, 1 Timothy 4:12 would read, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and your intact hymen, show yourself an example of those who believe.” We get a better translation saying, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and your dedication to God, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

But even more importantly, this latter concept of purity — in other words, the concept of purity that is actually from the Bible — is something everyone can aspire to, regardless of tragedies that may befall them. And that’s what I think the Freemans aren’t thinking about: tragedies.

Did you know that 1 in 5 girls is a victim of child sexual abuse?

Did you know that abuse can include molestation and rape, both of which can tear a hymen?

What are your “Certificates of Purity” telling those girls?


Take a moment and think about it.

They are telling abused kids that, if their hymens aren’t intact — because they were assaulted or raped — then they don’t get to be “pure.” No intact hymen? No “Certificate of Purity.” Sorry, that’s just how it is. Because you’re using intact hymens as the standard of purity, remember?

So now abused kids not only get shame every single day of their lives from the day they were abused until their wedding day. They also get shame on their wedding day, too. Because they don’t get happy smiles from their fathers. They don’t get Instagram pictures with proof of their “purity.” They are used, defiled, and dirty. There is no redemption for them.

These are demonic messages to communicate to abuse survivors and they are the messages your “Certificates of Purity” communicate. 

If you don’t believe me, listen to what one rape survivor herself says:

“I had to go through the True Love Waits program. The ‘activity’ I remember the most was a wrapped present. I held the package and stood at the front of the room. Then, the youth leaders lined up the guys and each of them tore off some of the paper. Then I had to read some paragraph about how virginity is like a gift – no one wants a present that was ‘meant for them’ to have already been opened by someone else. Because of that one activity, I never told anyone I was raped at 15 until years later.”

This is the same sentiment that kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart expressed recently when she said that after being kidnapped and abused it was “easy…to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value.” Smart directly related this feeling to the purity teachings she had imbibed, that taught her that her purity — her holiness before God — was linked to “virginity” — namely, an intact hymen.

We desperately need to stop these messages. We need to rethink purity and rethink how we teach purity. What Brelyn Bowman and Pastor Mike Freeman are communicating (likely unintentionally) to sexual assault survivors is nothing short of cruel. It can keep victims from coming forward about their abuse. It can keep victims stuck in abusive relationships. It can exacerbate depression or suicidal ideation.

These messages seriously need to stop. And they need to stop right here, right now, among conservative Christians like the Freemans. They need to stop right here, right now, in our Christian homeschooling communities.

We need to stop speaking guilt and shame into survivors’ lives; we should be speaking freedom and healing, instead.

Family was my Everything: Alida’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alida” is a pseudonym.

Moving from Homeschool to College was a lot tougher than I expected. I’m currently in my final year of undergrad, and I think I’m still adjusting.

I was one of those homeschool kids that took college classes in high school, which made me assume I’d have college totally figured out. Of course I was wrong.

Seven years after my first college course, I’m still struggling to find where I make sense and figure out the process of growing up.

Freshman year, I went to a private Christian university, along with a handful of kids from my homeschool, speech-and-debate social circle. I hardly grew as a person at all that year.

Sometimes I can look back at experiences and point out something that started a trend in my life, or a particular moment that was eye-opening in a way that isn’t identifiable until I link it to other events that happened later. There are only two instances like that from freshman year I can look back at.

The first is when I chose not to sit next to these two students in math class. In all honestly, it was because I thought they both looked weird. Those two ended up becoming my best friends at that school. We’re still in touch, and one of them I still consider my best friend.

The second is when I made friends with a person who identified as lesbian at the time. I remember deliberately trying to integrate into a different friend group so I would have an excuse not to hang out with them. As The Bible had been paraphrased to me so many times, “you become like the people you surround yourself with.” The gay agenda was very evil and very real to me at the time. We somehow ended up staying friends, which I attribute wholly to their kindness, tolerance and understanding, not mine.

During this time, I also was suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

When I was growing up, modesty culture influenced nearly everything around me.

I remember all the rules about how I was supposed to dress, talk, behave, and have friends. My shorts had to be at least a certain length. No clothes could be too snug. I shouldn’t speak so loudly now that I was a young lady. I was always to keep a “pleasant countenance” by smiling. Once I turned 13, it was no longer appropriate to have boys as friends.

My mom and dad told me all of these rules were very important because “men function differently than women,” and I might “cause them to stumble by my conduct” if I wasn’t careful enough. I never had a sex ed, but I attended a purity class, went to one of those father-daughter dances where you sign a paper about staying pure, the whole shebang.

For sophomore year, I had to move home and go to Community College for a while. I lived at my parents’ house. Again, I didn’t see myself changing much. I couldn’t see it from there.

And aside from what some covert internet searches had told me, I still didn’t know what sex was, even as a second-year college student.

This was also the first time I joined a sport since Tee-ball.

One day I was stretching with my teammates before a race, and I asked to trade places in the circle with someone else so I could move to the opposite side. When the girls asked me why, I explained that my back had been facing the men’s team, and “I didn’t want them lusting after my body” as we bent over to stretch our hamstrings. All the girls laughed at me. The girl who switched places with me laughed too and said something about how the boys could lust all they wanted- her booty was on fire!

I remember going quiet as my face turned red; I had never been in a situation before where saying something like that was weird or abnormal. But I also remember feeling self-righteous, thinking about how much holier I was than them, how much better of a person I was. I wasn’t the same kind of girl they were, I told myself. I was saving my body in every way for the man it would one day belong to.

Being around those girls was good for me. I slowly recovered from my eating disorders. Looking back, I’ve been able to identify the reasons I developed them in the first place.

All the modesty and purity-related messages I heard for so many years had internalized into the theme that my body was something wrong, something negative, something to be covered, something to be ashamed of.

Something to be hated.

As I started to get more involved in the sport, I started to see my body as something amazing. I lifted weights for the first time, and my body was something strong, something capable. My team started winning races, and my body was something useful, something functional. My body, to me, was no longer something exclusively sexual and therefore inherently sinful. My body was now something I could command to be strong, to accomplish a task, to fight for my teammates every day during practice and during races. I had motivation now to take care of my body, to be the best athlete I could be.

I said I would only ever date Christian men.

Over the years, I had been told many times that it was wrong to be in any kind of emotional relationship with someone who wasn’t also a believer, whether it be romantic or just a friendship.

So I dated a Christian guy from my social circle. After a little while, my parents forbade me from socializing with him, pointing out his “flaws” and “undesirable character traits,” saying we weren’t a good enough match. At the time, I experienced sadness but still firmly believed that as an unmarried woman living under her father’s roof, it was my duty to obey him. It was “scriptural” that I allow him to be my authority, they said.

Looking back on the situation, I see three things. The first is that my parents ended up being right about this guy. The second is that my they felt the need to exercise absolute control over my relationship. The third is that even though they were right about him, they should not have controlled my relationship the way they did.

But at the time, I didn’t know any better.

The next year, I started dating a good friend from my academic program. Tyler was the first man I fell in love with. I knew that he wasn’t religious, so we went to great lengths to see each other at times when my parents wouldn’t find out about our relationship. I made up lies about having to stay late at work or lead a study group at the library. We kissed a lot but never had sex, even though he wanted to. I remember being very proud of myself for that.

The entire time though, I experienced crippling guilt, especially when my mom and dad started to ask questions.

I eventually told them the truth, and on the same day, amidst tears, promised I would break up with him.

But I didn’t break up with him. We talked about getting married one day. As an “informed agnostic,” as Tyler called himself, it was difficult for him to understand the emotional and psychological toll that deceiving my family had on me. He didn’t have 21 years of homeschooled Christian culture and expectations weighing down on him. Family was my everything.

That summer, I fought with my mom more than I could ever remember. Multiple times, she threatened to kick me out of the house. Finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was him or my family. I chose my family and prayed it would be worth it. My brother went into my phone and Facebook, blocking Tyler on both. Even though I knew how to disable the block settings, I didn’t. I told myself that abiding by my family’s wishes would help me.

For my fourth year of college, I earned an athletic scholarship and was able to transfer to the university I currently attend.

I moved to the opposite coast, and it was my first time not living under my parents’ roof.

One day, about a month into the semester, I was messaging a classmate on Facebook about studying for a quiz together. We decided that he would come over to my dorm to study and then watch the Avengers. A few minutes later, I got a call from my mom. When I answered, she started asking me how the day was going, if I had any plans, etc. So I told her about my day, and said that “I was actually about to study for a quiz, so I can’t really talk for long.” I wanted to end the call so I could go let my friend in.

Mom kept pressing me for details. “Are you sure there’s not anything else you want to tell me?” Nope, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t identify why I didn’t want to tell her that I had a boy coming over. We weren’t planning to do anything ‘bad,’ but for some reason I still felt very uncomfortable. Facebook dinged again. He was waiting outside the building. I felt annoyed with both mom and myself that I had to rush her off the phone.

The next day, mom called me again. “I know that you were hanging out with a boy yesterday, and that you didn’t tell me about it when I asked you point-blank,” she said. She had the password to my Facebook? I’d changed it multiple times through the years since I made it when I was 16.

Even from 3,000 miles away, she still had to control my interpersonal interactions.

She told me that I had sinned by omission and that by hiding important details, had caused her to doubt my spiritual health. I didn’t know what to say. Half an hour later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably to my roommate, not understanding why I felt the way I did, feeling embarrassed that a situation that felt so stupid had evoked such strong emotions. My roommate told me that I had a right to privacy and that it was ok to keep some things to myself. No one had ever told me that before. I changed my password later that day, hating that I had to do it.

Lies Purity Culture Taught Me: Sam’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: All names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

My lightbulb moment occurred in my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old when I woke up half naked in my debate partner’s twin-sized bed with an astounding lack of regret. Using the word whirlwind to describe a romance is probably clichéd, but it definitely captures those first few months of that spring semester. Despite telling him that I was a firm believer in “waiting until marriage” and that “I wasn’t one of those girls who found loopholes – no sex, of any variety,” and despite him saying he would respect that belief, within a few days we were cuddling on his couch, toeing the line to second base. A few weeks in, I had come to campus on a Saturday – in popular homeschool fashion, I lived at home for the first few years of college – to do some homework. I had begun texting back and forth with Mark*, and he told me to get home before snow hit. I blew it off and went back to finishing up my paper. When I got to the parking lot, it had iced so badly my car started skidding before it even made it to the road. I tried calling a few girlfriends, but they had all gone back home for the weekend. I anxiously texted Mark, and he politely offered his couch. We spent the weekend in his dorm, and I lied to my mother saying I was at one of the out-of-town-girlfriends’ apartments.

I did not sleep on the couch once that weekend.

We did not have sex that weekend. However, we came close enough that I should have been racked with guilt. I wasn’t though. I was only worried about what consequences would come from me sleeping with (literally) Mark.

In the following weeks, Mark treated me the same as he always had – with respect, kindness and that playful banter people get when they’ve hung out for a while. This is not to say that we pretended the previous weekend hadn’t happened; we continued to have impromptu sleepovers.

You see, when I say that my now-boyfriend treated me the same way that he always had, I mean that in that moment I realized that the purity teachings my mother had drilled into me were wrong.

Purity culture obsesses over keeping your virginity until marriage. I won’t delve into the religious aspects of it, because keeping yourself pure for God, if you so choose to, is not something I like to denounce. However, purity culture has a number of almost “secular” reasons to exist. One of these is that if you remain pure before marriage, you won’t experience pain and heartbreak. (Because apparently, you can only have your heart broken if you’ve had sex with a person.)

Another secular reason to stay pure is that men supposedly don’t respect women who put out. I remember reading countless comments from teenage boys on the Rebelution Modesty Survey that said something to the effect that they had more respect for the girls who were saving themselves, for the girls who were modest. That girls who dressed immodestly and behaved indecently disgusted them. This was even said to be true for boys who weren’t Christian. (Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper had a little anecdote in it about how these two guys had a goal to sleep with a different girl every night, and yet these two guys still wanted “a different kind of girl” to settle down with.) So in my head, this atheist man who I was sharing a bed with was supposed to see me as less. All he was doing though, was seeking more of my company, asking my opinion on things, and letting me decide whether or not to initiate physical contact between ourselves. In a few words – respecting me. I even tearfully asked him one afternoon if he thought I was damaged goods, for I’d read many articles that day condemning what I was doing. His response was somewhere along the lines of “what the hell are you talking about?”

It was then that I realized that perhaps the things that I had been taught were not all-encompassing truths that could explain the universe.

And true, while before I had gotten involved with Mark, I was slowly warming up to the idea that homeschool teachings weren’t entirely true. I still operated under the framework of conservative Christian homeschooling – when arguing with my parents about letting me do certain things, I still used Biblical evidence, I still used homeschool teachings to finagle what I wanted from them. I was reading articles online, trying to find someone saying that you could be Christian and engage in premarital sex without losing some part of yourself. Forcing myself to adhere to this framework made me intensely unhappy – which was ironic to me, because my parents told me that in the end, I’d be happier for following these beliefs. It was only when I had my lightbulb moment, half-naked in Mark’s bed that I let myself build a new worldview for myself that was not based on what my parents had drilled into my head. It was then that I was free, and able to think for myself and create a new framework in my head that led to true happiness.

Sexual Purity and the Pool Battle Plan

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Georges Marchand.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 30, 2015.

A recent article by Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, got me thinking about the way purity culture harms men. The article was titled Pursuing Purity at the Pool and aimed at preparing men for going to the beach or pool this summer. Take a look at this paragraph, for instance:

During this time of year many show up to swim wearing very immodest swimming gear.  Such immodesty creates a struggle for many seeking sexual purity.  We may choose to decry immodest swimming apparel, but the reality is that outside of our own homes and families there is not much we can do about it.  That means that we will have to take responsibility for our own eyes and hearts as we venture out to  swim this summer.  Here are five suggestions to help us stay pure while many are wearing provocative attire near the water.

In order to understand what the author, Heath Lambert, is getting at, you have to understand that evangelicals and fundamentalists who enforce strict modesty standards and subscribe to what I call “purity culture” believe that even thinking about sex is sinful. To be more precise, thinking about sex with someone you are not married to is held to be sinful. But what this really boils down to is seeing sexual attraction as sinful.

When Heath talks about the difficulty of staying “pure” at the pool, he is not talking about how difficult it is to avoid having sex with sexually attractive women in swimming attire, he’s talking about how difficult it is to avoid having feelings of sexual attraction for attractive women in swimming attire.

Have you ever tried not thinking about something? It’s really hard, isn’t it? An ordinary guy is going to go to the pool and think “mmm, sexy” from time to time, and that’s about it. A guy who believes sexual thoughts are sinful is instead going to spend the entire time obsessing over sex in an attempt not to think about it. How sad is that?

(As a side note, while Heath does say that men should take responsibility for their own eyes, he also describes women’s swimwear as “provocative,” which generally implies an intention to provoke. I for one do not evaluate my swimming attire based on whether or not it will cause the men around me to think sexual thoughts.)

Heath offers several suggestions to help men avoid feelings of sexual attraction to women at the pool or beach.

1.  Don’t Go

One suggestion is not to go to the pool, lake, or beach where others will be dressed immodestly.  For some, the temptation to lust will be too overpowering and should be avoided.  The suggestion to avoid such temptation may sound ridiculous to some.  What is summer without the water?  The beach?  But this suggestion is not mine.  Jesus thought of it long before I did.  If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matt 18:9).  Jesus’ words here are very candid instruction indicating that it is better to be pure than to be by the pool.

And there it is—”the temptation to lust.” Evangelical author Josh Harris defines lust as “craving sexually what God has forbidden.” Evangelical theologian John Piper defines lust as “the realm of thought, imagination, and desire that leads to sexual misconduct,” and makes it very clear that he any sexual thought can lead to sexual misconduct and all of it is counts as lust.

2.  Pray

Many will not have to take such radical measures.  Such people will find it possible to be near the scantily-clad bodies of people near the water, but they will need to get ready before they do it.  This will at least mean that we need to pray.  Prayer should be part of our preparation of heading to the lake every bit as much as buying sunscreen.  We should pray for a heart of purity before we head out and we should be ready to depend on God in prayer while there.  The immediacy of prayer means that we can call out to God in the moment of temptation and receive his help right when we need it (Heb 4:16).

3.  Memorize and Meditate

In addition to prayer we can also prepare our hearts for the pool by memorizing and meditating on Scripture—I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Pss 119:11).  The passages you select might be focused on purity, For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3).  Or the passage may be focused on some other glorious truth of Scripture that redirects your heart towards the things of God, Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible (Col 1:15-16).  It really doesn’t matter as long as you are taking your thoughts captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5).

Most people can get ready to head for the pool without creating a spiritual battle plan. And perhaps, to me, that is what is most sad here. Articles like this, with their conflation of sexual attraction with sin, make visits to the pool a Huge Freaking Deal and in doing so create elevated levels of sexual tension.

If Heath and other guys like him would stop trying so very hard not to think about sex, they might actually find themselves thinking about it less. Ironic, isn’t it?

4.  Stay Focused

While you’re out swimming stay focused.  For me, I never have an occasion to be swimming without my wife and children, and so staying focused means two things.  First, I keep my gaze fixed on my family.  I look at my wife or my kids.  I work to avoid looking around at other people.  Second, I stay focused on my work as a husband and father and work to serve my family.  I focus on trying to play with my kids, talk with my wife, keep everyone safe, and do what I can to help everyone enjoy their time.  I find this helps keeps my eyes and heart focused where they should be.

I’m a parent of young children myself, and I’m trying to think of the last time I had the time to think “mmm, sexy” while at the pool. Ordinarily I spend the bulk of my time trying to make sure my children don’t, you know, drown. My older child is transitioning to swimming without a floaties, which is freaking me out, and while my younger child still wears a flotation device, he doesn’t always stay as close to me as I would like. If I switch off with my husband and take a break from the kids, I usually go to the hot tub, close my eyes, and enjoy a moment of relaxation.

I guess what I’m getting at is that most people spend the bulk of their time at the pool focused on themselves or their friends or family members, not checking out sexy people. But because of Heath’s conflation of sexual attraction with sin, and because of his obsession with not thinking about sex, what is ordinarily normal becomes difficult and a challenging and part of a battle plan.

5.  Sing

When all else fails . . . sing.  So many people I know find that when they are really tempted they can break the back of sin and temptation by singing songs that redirect their attention to the Lord.  In God’s world he causes music to be one of the main ways we treasure Christ and the Word (Col 3:16).  Songs like Turn Your Eyes Upon JesusIt Is Well with My Soul, and Before the Throne of God Above are all songs that I sing to help orient my heart to Jesus.  You don’t have to be live in concert in front of everyone at the beach. You can sing silently and it will still work.

If someone wants to maintain an internal soundtrack, that’s fine by me, but again I would point out that this wouldn’t be such an issue without Heath’s obsessive focus on not thinking about sex. How is it not obvious that trying not to think about something is only going to make one think about it more?

I am praying for you this summer.  My prayer is that in God’s kindness you would spend as much energy this summer fighting for purity as you do having a blast by the water.  I pray that these suggestions help you do that very thing.

So basically, going to the pool is one part fighting lust and one part having fun in the water. That does not sound so fun. I mean, there’s the whole battle plan aspect of it—you have to be always on your guard, on the alert, etc. How can you actually relax?

Purity culture doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts men, too. I honestly and truly feel sorry for Heath. He is obsessing over sex to the point that he can’t simply enjoy a trip to the pool—and yet he thinks that in doing so he is being virtuous and honorable and that it is everyone else who is obsessed with sex.

Rethinking Purity

CC image courtesy of Flickr, MadisonElizabethx.

The following is an excerpt from R.L. Stollar’s “Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling,” originally prepared for the 2014 Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California. You can read the presentation in full here.

When we consider modesty and purity as a dialogue and not simply a monologue, we will realize what has often been communicated to homeschool children about modesty and purity has tied directly to abuse they have experienced and mental illness they struggle with. So, in fact, the dominant monologue about modesty and purity is a great example of how everything I’ve been talking about is all inter-connected. There’s this vast web of issues and no one issue is itself the “problem.”

If you follow homeschool news, you’ve probably heard a lot of homeschool “problems” as of late. Maybe those problems involved specific people, like Doug Phillips or Bill Gothard. Or maybe those problems involved specific ideas, like “Patriarchy” or “Legalism.” Over the last year, for example, homeschool debate coach Chris Jeub declared that “Patriarchy Has Got To Go,”[i] Presbyterian pastor Shawn Mathis claimed one of the “root problems” in homeschooling circles is Legalism,[ii] and HSLDA’s Michael Farris drew “A Line in the Sand,” denouncing both Patriarchy and Legalism as “damaging” and “threatening” to homeschool freedoms.[iii]

While I do think both Patriarchy and Legalism as systems of thought need to be called out, I want to point out that you are more than two-thirds of the way through this paper about issues homeschooling communities desperately need to address and this is the first time I have mentioned Patriarchy and Legalism. And I only mentioned them in the context of what homeschool leaders have called out thus far.

What I hope to communicate in highlighting this fact is that is that there’s no singular problem. While it is convenient to target certain systems of thought like Patriarchy and Legalism (especially since their most outspoken advocates, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, recently came under fire for sexual assault and harassment allegations[iv]), we cannot content ourselves with thinking that as long as we reject those two systems of thought, homeschooling will suddenly be healed. As Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has stated, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

The wheels of abuse and neglect in homeschooling are driven by much more than Patriarchy and Legalism; those systems are but a few of the wheel’s parts. All these problems are connected. They involve valuing ideas over children so much that we don’t stop and ask how our children experience those ideas. We neglect dialogue.


Modesty and purity.

I want to make this simple. Let’s talk about a phrase, a phrase that you have probably heard many times. This phrase goes something like this:

The greatest gift a young Christian woman can give her future husband is the gift of her purity.

Now, some of you might hear that phrase and think, “Amen.” Some of you might instead think, “That’s not true.” What I want to focus on is not whether you agree or disagree. I want to focus on interpretation. In other words, I want you to think about how this phrase gets interpreted by children.

Let me tell you how children — and by that, I mean almost every homeschool alumni I have talked to — has interpreted that phrase. That phrase means:

If a woman is no longer a virgin, she’s worth less.

One of the clearest examples of both this teaching as well as how it has been interpreted comes from a book that was wildly popular among homeschoolers when I was a teenager: When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. (In fact, it continues to be popular today, even to the point of being a recommended resource in the context of sexual abuse prevention.[v]) The Ludys’ book, marketed as “The Ultimate Approach to Guy/Girl Relationships,” claims to be “for anyone searching for the beauty of true and lasting love, for romance in its purest form, and is willing to do whatever it takes in order to find it.”[vi] In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled “Too Late?”, Leslie Ludy discusses “sexual sin” and “moral compromise” — in other words, “lost virginity.”

There are two issues I want to highlight from this chapter about lost virginity: The first is the story Leslie tells about a 12-year-old girl named Rebecca. Leslie says that Rebecca — again, a 12-year-old — was lured by a 16-year-old boy from a church youth group into his house one day. Leslie says that Rebecca “left as a used and defiled sex toy” and was “forced from childhood into womanhood.”[vii]

From Leslie’s description alone, Rebecca’s story reads as a straightforward account of a 12-year-old girl being raped. The words “used” and “forced” indicate a lack of consent. Yet Leslie puts Rebecca’s story in the same chapter as stories of willing sexual encounters of individuals who chose to have sex before marriage. All these stories are then discussed as “sexual sin” and “moral compromise.”[viii] At no point does Leslie identify Rebecca’s story as a story of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or rape — and at no point does Leslie then relate it to the importance of children and teenagers learning sexual consent and safety. The message to young women reading this would be and has been clear: you being “forced from childhood into womanhood” is you sexually sinning, even if you were “forced.”

The second issue I want to highlight from Leslie’s chapter on “lost virginity” is how accounts of losing virginity are described. Leslie describes a number of young women’s first sexual encounters in the following ways: Karly, for example, “made the mistake of giving [her boyfriend] her most precious gift—her virginity, but now he was distant and cold towards her. She was full of guilt.”[ix] An unnamed 25-year-old from Australia is described as saying she had “given away the most precious thing I had—my purity. There’s nothing left of my treasure… Now I have nothing to offer my husband.”[x]

While Leslie does state that God can “forgive” each of these women for their sexual impurity and “can give us a ‘second virginity,’ spiritually speaking,”[xi] at no point does she question whether a young woman’s virginity (or “purity”) is “the most precious thing” one has. At no point does she question whether virginity is “the most precious gift” one can give one’s husband. The Ludys, in fact, endorse this idea — hence the importance of God granting a spiritual “second virginity.”

The Ludys are not alone in fixating on a person’s virginity as all-important. Another essential reading on relationships for homeschool teenagers was (and continues to be) Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity. While Elliot’s book is more contemplative than the Ludys and focuses on Elliot’s personal story of her relationship with her late husband Jim Elliot, Elisabeth states upfront that her book “is, to be blunt, a book about virginity.”[xii]

The message that homeschool students and alumni have received from books such as these is pretty clear: that if you are not “pure” (in other words, if you are not a “virgin”), then you no longer have “your most precious gift” that you can give your spouse. I want to take issue with this because I believe that not only is it a damaging message, I also believe that it is an unbiblical message. Marriage is a covenant of love: individuals deciding to commit and give themselves to one another, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And the greatest gift within the context of marriage is not one’s “purity” or “virginity” but one’s self.

In the Book of John, Jesus declares to his disciples that, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And to make clear what it means to love another, Jesus adds that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[xiii] According to traditional Christian theology, Jesus himself demonstrated this greatest act of love when he sacrificed himself on the cross for humanity. And what Jesus sacrificed was not any one part of his body, or his virginity, or his “purity” of heart. Rather, he sacrificed himself — he gave the totality of his being for humanity.

Traditional Christian theology also tells us that marriage is to look like the relationship between Jesus and the Church. One must conclude, therefore, that the greatest act of love, the greatest gift, within the context of marriage is not any one part of one’s body or one’s virginity or one’s “purity” — but rather, in similarity with Jesus’s greatest gift, the giving of one’s self to another. You — not your virginity, but all of who you are, your body, heart, and soul — is your greatest gift to your spouse. This doesn’t mean virginity cannot have value; the problem is the message that it’s the most important thing when it comes to romantic relationships. You are such much more than whether you are a virgin or not. And that you — being an amazing and beautiful individual made in the image of God — want to give your life to share the journey of life with another human being? That is the ultimate gift.

But homeschool students and alumni learned otherwise. They learned that the greatest gift was not their selves but rather their virginity. And it is so important to see how this unbiblical teaching has led to great damage. Because when students and alumni are taught to value their virginity over their selves, their self-worth becomes inherently linked to their “purity.” Hence the idea young women have absorbed — that, If a woman is no longer a virgin, she’s worth less. Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart spoke of this idea last year when she said that after being kidnapped and abused it was “easy…to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value.”[xiv] Smart directly related this feeling to the purity teachings she had imbibed.

To fully appreciate how this idea has manifested for homeschool alumni, let’s look at a few examples of their experiences:

The first is from a young woman named Laura. She wrote,

“I had to go through the True Love Waits program. The ‘activity’ I remember the most was a wrapped present. I held the package and stood at the front of the room. Then, the youth leaders lined up the guys and each of them tore off some of the paper. Then I had to read some paragraph about how virginity is like a gift – no one wants a present that was ‘meant for them’ to have already been opened by someone else. Because of that one activity, I never told anyone I was raped at 15 until years later.”[xv]

The next story is from a young woman named Cora. Cora says,

“Having been told all of my life that my worth was in eventually being someone’s wife, serving him, and having children and that my virginity essential to attracting a husband, I naturally informed my [boyfriend] that I wanted to wait until marriage. He agreed. Then he started pushing. And pushing. Until he held me down in the bathroom one day, and forced himself on me… I told my friend. She told me it was because I was teasing him. I believed her. We both lived in a world that demanded that women be responsible for a man’s desire. The mere fact of existing and causing a man to want you means you should expect to be violated… I never told anyone else for a long, long time. I knew my parents would also tell me that it was my fault.”[xvi]

Another story, from another young woman named Auriel:

“When I was 9 years old, [my mom] told me that having my hair down made me look like a ‘lady of the night.’ Even though I was a shy, modest girl, Mom constantly told me that something I did or wore was sinful, displeasing to God, and might turn on my dad or my brothers. I was so scared that I was going to lead my brothers or dad into sin for lusting after me.”[xvii]

I know these stories are difficult and troubling to hear, so bear with me for just one more. This last one is from a young woman named Christine:

“When my boyfriend [in college] raped me, I felt horrible but thought it was sex. I thought to complain about it to a friend would be to say that sex was wrong… I had not been taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. As a child, I was taught that I must always put my own interests and feelings aside and serve other people, and not argue. My body had never been my own – not when my parents coerced me to hug someone or when they’d told me to pull down my pants so that they could give me more spankings… I was unused to being in touch with what my body told me… So, ironically, the teachings that my parents thought would keep me abstinent and make me a ‘good girl’ actually ended up putting me in unwanted sexual situations.”[xviii]

I think Libby Anne, a formerly homeschooled blogger, summarizes these stories in an importantly precise way. She says,

“Presents, chocolate bars, roses, chewing gum, packing tape—these sorts of metaphors abound in circles where what I call ‘purity culture’ is strongest, and each one is used to illustrate how having sex before marriage will ruin you, rendering you dirty and potentially even unable to bond or form real relationships for the rest of your life. In the effort to keep young people from having sex before saying marriage vows, Christian leaders, pastors, and parents resort to threatening their youth… in the process, these very teachings have led young women…to leave their rapes unreported, remain in abusive relationships, and stay with their abductors. This is not okay.”[xix]

Libby Anne is right. This is not okay. What young women — and young men, too![xx] — heard about modesty and purity is nothing less than cruel.

Now, you might agree with that. When you hear these stories, you might also have a kneejerk reaction like, “But I never said that!” Or, “I would never say that!” Or, “If my children asked me, I would let them know I don’t think that.” All of these reactions bring us back to the importance of dialogue.

See, communication is a two-way street. Though honestly, sometime it’s more like a traffic-jammed freeway in Los Angeles. Through my decade-plus experience with speech and debate, I can confidently tell you that communication is so, so much more than what you say. In fact, communication experts often say that what you say is probably the least important aspect of communication. Far more important than what you say is how you say it, your body language when you say it, the mindset of your audience, and — probably most important for our current discussion — what you don’t say.

All of these factors go into the turbulent mixture of communication. And sometimes? Sometimes you have no control over some of the factors. You can’t mind-read your audience and thus know their mindset. You can’t prepare in advance an entire list of things you are not saying but you unintentionally communicate.

This is directly relevant to the homeschooling conversation — both in general and about the modesty and purity aspect of that conversation in particular.

It’s relevant in general because your lived experiences as homeschool parents are completely different and distinct from the lived experiences of homeschool children. Things that you might take for granted, aren’t taken for granted by your kids. I was struck by this fact when blogger Libby Anne wrote a piece about finding out her mom didn’t actually believe everything in a homeschool magazine that their family regularly received. Here’s an excerpt:

“My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly. The ideas contained within the magazine aligned at least generally with beliefs I heard my mother espouse. When my parents disagreed with a religious leader, they were quick to say so. In fact, I grew up hearing James Dobson described as too wishy-washy and soft. Yet, I never heard my mother call Nancy Campbell or her magazine into question, so I assumed that the messages contained therein were approved, and that it was something I should read, take to heart, and learn from. And read, take to heart, and learn I did… I’ve talked to more than my fair share of homeschool graduates who grew up in this culture and took to heart things they later found out their parents never even realized they were learning…. Parents may not realize the toxic ideologies their children taking in through osmosis from the Christian homeschooling culture around them… ‘You need to tell the girls, mom,’ I said. ‘They read Above Rubies just as I did at their age. You need to tell them you don’t agree with all of it, because if you don’t, they’ll think you do.’”[xxi]

I was blown away when I read this interaction between Libby Anne and her mom because, wow, I can so relate to it. I remember hearing all sorts of messages from my friends, my friends’ parents, from the magazines that were in our home, from the leaders who spoke at conventions — and I, too, just assumed that we were supposed to agree with what they said. I assumed my parents agreed. Years later, after all sorts of fear and anger and fights between my parents and I, we realized that (1) I thought they thought things they didn’t and (2) they had no idea I thought they thought those things. I was living in a shadow of misunderstanding and fear because my parents did not publicly express dissent about certain prevailing ideas and they never bothered to ask me what I was hearing from the homeschool culture around me.

Now take all those observations and apply them directly to the modesty and purity issue. You have a whole life of experiences. For my parents, it was experiences growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and reacting to certain expressions of love and sexuality they found harmful. And in response to those experiences, they came up with — and listened to others come up with — ideas for how to avoid the pain and heartache they experienced. They came up with ideas about modesty and purity and bought Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye and we attended seminars by Reb Bradley about Preparing Your Children for Courtship and Marriage.

But my fellow alumni and I didn’t grow up in the 60’s and 70’s. We grew up in often sheltered and protective homes. So our parents’ expressions of love and sexuality — built in reaction to their culture’s expressions of love and sexuality — mean something entirely different to us than to our parents. They are heard differently, felt differently, and lived differently. So much is lost in translation.

And when modesty and purity get communicated — in our culture with our experiences — with a line like,

The greatest gift a young Christian woman can give her future husband is the gift of her purity.

…we are not thinking about Woodstock. We are not thinking about the Free Love Movement. We are thinking about holding hands or the Antebellum Dances or the swing dances so popular in homeschooling circles. We are thinking that if we lose that “gift of purity” (whether by force or willingly), our worth has been diminished.

So you need to stop and ask yourself difficult questions like, what if my child gets assaulted? You probably don’t want to, because that is probably one of the most heart-wrenching and sickening scenarios you could ever imagine. You would probably do everything in your power to stop such a situation from occurring.

But you can’t just wish away the possibility. As a parent, you have to come to terms with what we talked about earlier: that as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood. What are your modesty and purity messages teaching those girls and boys? How will your messages be interpreted after an experience of trauma? Are your messages going to empower them to speak up, or will they silence them into shame, guilt, and secrecy? Into darker moments? Perhaps even longer and more abusive relationships?

What I want to challenge you to do today is to go home and rethink everything for yourself. I want you to put yourself in Laura’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Cora’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Auriel’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Christine’s shoes.

How are they hearing your metaphors? How are they hearing your analogies?

This is why dialogue is so important. This is why we need alumni to keep speaking up and we need to hear from you — you who are parents and leaders of our communities — that you welcome our voices. Because you actually can’t put yourself in our shoes entirely. We need to tell you what roads we walked and what words we heard from you. We’re the ones who can tell when you communicated messages that trapped us in abusive mindsets, abusive relationships, or drove us into depression or suicidal thoughts. And if you will listen, if you will open your arms and hear our words and show us you care, then we can work together to make things better for the next generation.

But we have to do it together. You cannot change this world alone.

Click here to read the rest of “Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling.”


[i] Chris Jeub,, “Patriarchy Has Got To Go,” April 16, 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[ii] Shawn Mathis, Examiner, “Homeschool apostates, homeschoolers and legalism,” December 17, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[iii] Michael Farris, Home School Court Report, “A Line in the Sand,” August 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[iv] Regarding Doug Phillips, see Chelsea Schilling, WorldNetDaily, “Christian Giant Sued For ‘Using Nanny As Sex Object,’” April 15, 2014, link. Regarding Bill Gothard, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service, “Conservative leader Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations,” link.

[v] Lisa and Kalyn Cherry, “Recommended Reading List For Parents and Teens,” Kalyn’s Secret, Word and Spirit Resources, 2009, p. 293. Also see Frontline Family Ministries, “Sexual Abuse: Recommended Reading,” link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[vi] Eric and Leslie Ludy, When God Writes Your Love Story, Loyal Publishing, 1999, p. 13.

[vii] Ibid, p. 202.

[viii] Ibid, p. 203.

[ix] Ibid, p. 203.

[x] Ibid, p. 205.

[xi] Ibid, p. 204.

[xii] Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning To Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control, Baker Book House Company, 1984, p. 11.

[xiii] John 15:12-13, New International Version, Bible Gateway, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xiv] Elizabeth Smart as quoted by Elizabeth Esther, “Elizabeth Smart & the life-threatening danger of shame-based purity culture,” May 8, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xv] Libby Anne, Pathos, “Things Woman Hear In The Church,” May 15, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xvi] Cora, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “When Home Is Worse Than Rape,” May 13, 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xvii] Auriel, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Growing Kids the Abusive Way,” August 13, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xviii] Christine, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Asexuality And Purity Teachings Can Be A Toxic Mix,” May 24, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xix] Libby Anne, Patheos, “Question: What Do Presents, Chocolate Bars, Roses, Chewing Gum, and Packing Tape Have in Common?,” June 6, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xx] An example of how purity teachings have impacted males can be seen in Abel’s story on Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Ticking Time Bombs of Atomic Hormones”: link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xxi] Libby Anne, Patheos, “They Why Didn’t You Tell Us That, Mom?,” September 1, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

A Story about My Mom and Panties: Fidget’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Alex Proimos. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Alex Proimos. Image links to source.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Fidget” is a pseudonym.

How I Learned that My Mom Didn’t Maintain the Belief that She Owned My Body and the Way my Father Thought He Did

When I was fifteen, on a rare trip to Kohl’s with three of my four approved friends (yep, the only four girls I talked to when I was fifteen), I bought myself my first cute panties. Out for the five pairs I bought that day, the most memorable were black and had a butterfly composed of hearts (or a heart composed of butterflies) screen-printed on the back. None of them were thongs, and they weren’t particularly sexy or risqué or anything, they were just cute and feminine and fun, but I was nervous about owning them. Before, all I had ever worn was plain Hanes–  the ugly animal print granny panties with a waistband that cut into your skin no matter how big you bought them– that came in six and eight packs at Walmart, so lace waistbands seemed lavish and taboo to me. It felt like I was putting myself in danger when I bought them, and in reality I probably was on some level.

Like a lot of homeschooled girls I know, all of my clothes had to meet my father’s approval.

There were unspoken rules about how I was allowed to dress, rules that my father applied at random whenever I was about to go out, and that changed at his discretion. I wasn’t allowed to wear padded bras, because they were ‘too slutty’ (yeah, someone explain that one to me), I wasn’t allowed to wear bright red tights no matter how long the shorts or skirt was on top of them, because they ‘drew too much attention to me’. It wasn’t just about modesty, though that was often given as an excuse. My father didn’t want me to look like a ‘freak’: he demanded that the little mosquito bite marks on my legs and arms be covered (point of interest they never scared, they would fade before the summer ended), he wanted me to keep my hair long and naturally colored, my face naked, and my nails were never supposed to be painted black (they almost always were).

He believed that my image was really his image, and therefore his tastes were the only ones that mattered when it came to the way I dressed.

(Another side note: I’m now about the most goth looking girl I know and wear my hair cropped and dyed, and even then I had already chopped my hair for the first time and dipped my toes into the kiddie-pool of ‘emo fashion’, so there goes his image).

Naturally, I kept my new panties secret, wearing them on special days and washing them separately from the rest of the family’s laundry (this is a major perk of being entirely responsible for the whole family’s dirty clothes). They stayed secret until a family trip to a lake house in Virginia. The chore rotation that we followed at home didn’t apply on vacation, so I found myself folding laundry with my mom while my father and all of my brothers played in the lake (I could go on forever about how my four perfectly capable brothers weren’t required to help just because we were on vacation, but whatever). I had miscounted days and not packed enough, so my secret panties were in the pile of clean laundry, and disaster was looming. I was prepared to snatch all of them and shove them into the pockets of my cargo capris (so sexy) before my mom could see, but she beat me to it. She picked up the butterfly-heart-butt pair. I braced for her to run out and report to my father that I was a huge whore (despite only knowing three boys my age and almost never seeing them, and certainly never touching them, and despite not yet knowing the word ‘clitoris’ or even ‘orgasm’ and with the most clinical understanding of sex possible). My heart was in my throat, and I felt tears in my eyes already. I wondered if apologizing and throwing them out would make the shouting and threats that would surely follow any less awful. I seriously doubted it, so I decided I would fight for them, damn the cost.

I was already used to being told off for being rebellious and selfish and spoiled, so who cared if I was going to add whore-in-cute-underwear to the list of things wrong with me.

“Are these yours?” My mom didn’t sound mad, but then again she rarely did until she was shouting.

I nodded, mute with terror.

“They’re cute.” and she folded them and handed them to me.

“You like them?” I was blown away, this didn’t make any sense, I was prepared for a fight, I was prepared for shouting, and all she had to say was that they were cute?

She fished another pair out and smiled at me, “Yes, I think they’re all cute, nice choice.” No condemnation, no anger, no shame, just ‘cute’.

My mom and I almost never talked about clothes, and I can’t recall ever having a conversation with her about my image that was particularly empowering. She never talked about body positivity or treating myself well, and never commented on the way my father treated me about it.

With her approval of my panties, my mom very subtly taught me that she didn’t think she owned my body.

Without meaning to, I’m sure, she gave me approval to start exploring my image and developing a healthy relationship with my clothes and appearance. She didn’t comment on them ever again, but she didn’t need to. That stupid afternoon of extra housework was one of the most import ones all because she didn’t get mad at me. My father never found out and never called me a slut over them (he would have, no doubt). My mom was okay with them, she was okay with me. It was all okay.

As a side note: he did call me a slut over other things. Side-side note: NO UNDERWEAR IS EVER IMMODEST EVER. PERIOD. NO DISCUSSION. It’s UNDERWEAR for fucks sake, no one is going to see it, unless you want them too, and in that case ‘modesty’ is really not much of a concern

Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on March 23rd, 2015. Butterfly photograph by Darcy S., used with permission. 

Four years ago, when I was beginning to process my life story and to critically think through the things I had been taught, believed, and practiced growing up in homeschool culture, I wrote a piece called “How The Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships”. It was just my thoughts on the courtship movement and teachings about emotional purity that had dominated mine and my friends’ teen years. I had no idea it would be my most popular post ever, that it would still be read 4 years later and re-posted by thousands of people. I’m glad it’s helped and given clarity to so many stuck in that system. I never dreamed it would be so popular or that my experience was shared by so many until the comments started rolling in with stories just like mine.

I read back over it today as it popped up yet again in my Facebook feed, remembering where I was when I wrote it. I still agree with some of what I wrote back then, but my journey has been so vast since that time. Covered so much space. I suppose blogging is much like journaling in that respect, only in public where you can all see my thoughts and the evolution of my soul.

In my original post, I argued three negative outcomes that often are the result of the teachings of emotional purity. I spoke from still inside the paradigm of Christianity, using scriptural ideas and assuming Christianity as a framework for my thoughts.

But, like most journeys, you never stay in the same place. You might come back around to it eventually or you might leave never to return. The me of 4 years ago that wrote about how God doesn’t do formulas is not the me of today.

The me of today doesn’t believe I need to use God to justify my choices.

I’ve done that my whole life….used scripture and God and “God’s will” to make decisions and defend them to everyone who thought I was wrong or had an opinion about me. And no matter what the choice was or how well I defended it “from scripture” someone always thought it was wrong. Because they too could defend their belief about my wrongness from scripture. It always turned into a “who has better hermeneutics” war, which I often won, given my upbringing steeped in knowledge of the Bible and Bible interpretation. But what I didn’t realize for so long is that all these mental and scriptural gymnastics were unnecessary. Even from a Christian stand-point, it really wasn’t anyone else’s business telling me what God wanted from me. In that belief system, we were supposed to “hear God for ourselves” and discern His will on our own (unless of course we were of the persuasion that our parents did that for us).

But the most important point and perspective comes now from outside that theoretical framework. From a more humanistic one that says that all people have value and innate human rights. Among those rights are the right to live, to love, to choose, and to not be controlled and manipulated by others; our value is not determined by them and how well we followed the rules. The same rights our parents took for themselves when they chose to go against the rules and the status quo and live their lives their way were denied to us. In the Name of their God. With Biblical justification.

I wrote my courtship story in brief for Homeschoolers Anonymous’ courtship series. My conclusion of that entire fiasco is also my thoughts on what I wrote four years ago on the subject:

“I read my journals and even the story I wrote out 6 years ago, and I am angered. I should not have had to use God to justify my choices. I should not have had to invoke His will for my life, to try to convince my parents that I knew my own mind and could “hear God for myself”. I should not have had to field emotional abuse and manipulation and spiritual control of my mind and heart and body. I should not have had to flee home just to get away from them and find peace. I was an adult, that should have been enough to make my own choices. But in our world, it was not. In the world for which courtship was invented, the ultimate sin was rebellion against God’s order of authority, against what your parents wanted for you, and choosing to walk on your own amid cries of “rebellion”. In this world, men could not be trusted and women were assets to be controlled, and the two could only meet under many layers of rules meant to keep us dependent on our authorities, despising of our own desires, and mistrusting of our own hearts and minds. It has always amazed me how two people who were declared not mature enough to conduct a relationship without supervision and under extreme outside constraint could somehow be mature enough to begin a marriage.

It took me until about 4 years ago to finally stop making spiritual-sounding excuses for why we conducted a secret relationship, why we rejected courtship, why we did everything “wrong” and against my parents’ will; to stop trying to get anyone listening to acknowledge the legitimacy of our choices by invoking God’s will.

To finally simply declare, “Because it was what we wanted and we had that right”.
Such a basic idea yet so foreign to those of us who are refugees from the homeschooling movement. We have that right….the right to love, to choose, to live. To not have our adult choices dictated by another, our autonomy robbed in the name of “because God says so”, coerced by ideologies that left us no real choice because “do this or suffer hell” is not a real choice. It was what we wanted. And that should have been enough.”

Do I still think that these teachings cause “pride, shame, and dysfunction”, as I wrote years ago? Sure. But I think those things are far less important than the idea that our human rights were violated. That we were taught to allow them to be violated from a very young age. That we were assets to be controlled and not people in our own right. That idea, far above all the rest, is far more damaging in my mind these days.

A loving relationship between two autonomous human beings, on our terms, was what we wanted. And that should have been enough. The teachings of courtship and emotional purity stole that from us and we let them because we had been convinced that “God wants this from you”.

And that remains the biggest problem of all.

Reprogramming: Susan Young’s Story

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Also by Susan Young on HA: Former Employee of David and Teresa Moon at Communicators for Christ Alleges Workplace Abuse, Harassment

As a teenager and into my mid 20s, I was surrounded by courtship doctrine.

Swimming in it. Drowning in it. I not only owned a copy of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, but was also on Joshua Harris’ mailing list to be notified when it was published. I purchased his following book “Boy Meets Girl”. My shelves were also full of titles such as “Passion and Purity” by Elisabeth Elliot, and pretty much everything written by Eric and Leslie Ludy – even the early books that are now out of print. At the age of 22, I would go to a weekend retreat for young women hosted by the Ludys.

Until the age of 13, I had it in my head that I would wait on dating until I had reached 16. Anything younger than that was too young. I had heard things like “don’t kiss on the first date” and waiting until marriage for sex was pretty well solidified in my mind. The big mystery to me why people acted like waiting was so hard. Then again, my reaction to “The Talk” was pretty much nausea and contemplating a life of celibacy. I had never heard of anything so gross.

At 13 years old and just months after I was clued in to the workings of a marriage bedroom encounter, I attended one of Josh Harris’ early conferences with my mom and a group of homeschool friends. This is where I first heard the concept of courtship in modern times even before the publication of Harris’ first book.

My heart was presented to me as a fragile piece of china that could be damaged and would never be worth as much once given away.

While I don’t remember this specifically coming up at the conference, it’s not uncommon for girls who have had sex get the degrading comparison that says “no one wants a piece of chewed gum”. My feelings were apparently in just as much, if not more danger of losing their value.

I bought into the whole thing. No kissing until marriage. Guard my heart so I don’t “give away pieces of it I’ll never get back” to men other than my mysterious future husband. I have to admit, my ready adoption of this way of thinking was not so much because I really thought it through, but because I had defined myself from an early age by being the “good girl” that never caused any trouble and made my parents proud. This could put me at a level above most of the other good kids. In short, I was just as arrogant and self absorbed as many other 13 year olds. It just manifested itself differently.

Unfortunately, I had hormones and feelings because I wasn’t a robot. Of course I fell for a couple of guys before I met my husband. I felt like I’d failed because of it. I got older and tried to get away with more form fitting tops, which resulted in bad conflicts with my mom because boys are visually stimulated, unlike me, apparently. Yet, there were cute, physically attractive people around me and I noticed. That made me feel like there was a deviant freak just under the surface of my good girl veneer. I had older female relatives outside of this restricted culture who were definitely checking out Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman’s boyfriend, which did give me a clue that there was maybe something normal about noticing someone physically attractive. They were the worldly ones, though, so it didn’t really count so much.

There was a huge romantic void in my life. My desires and feeling were growing naturally and my circumstances weren’t keeping up. I tried to get into the habit of writing letters to my future husband and telling him how I was praying for him to fill that gap until I met him. I managed a grand total of 3 because it felt so forced. After we got married, I don’t think we decided to keep them. They were a lot more of a disturbing window into what kind of crazy system I’d bought in to than they were remotely sweet or romantic.

I got older and into my 20s my parents were still telling me I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I should work on being ready, which was an odd, vague concept that never got remotely clarified when I asked. My life was in a frustrating loop. My fantasies revolved around a Disney-esque escape thanks to a man who would rescue me from the dead end of my life. That was never going to happen; so then I fantasized about a successful career, leaving home, and adopting a child to raise as a single mother.  That scenario was almost equally likely to come out of my circumstances.

The doctrine fell apart because I was human.

I had wants and needs and feelings. I started dating (yes, real dating) my husband within two weeks of my relationship falling apart with my family. I was out of the house, 24 years old, the expectations were gone, and I had a minor inkling that the relationship methods I’d been taught weren’t quite spot on. What I didn’t know is how long it would take to undo that much programming.

The first time he kissed me, I couldn’t sleep that night and cried the next morning. I was a failure. In truth, I was robbed of the joy of my first kiss by the toxic mentality that placed my value on how shiny and new everything was about me. I wondered if I had ruined our future marriage. The voice of Bill Gothard spoke in my head reminding me that wives who went “too far” with their husbands before marriage ended up resenting them for it. Of course, this is based on the premise that the men were the ones that actually wanted any kind of physical connection.

Fast forward to marriage and a surprising lack of resentment toward him. Yes, we were technically virgins when we said our vows, but we weren’t exactly models of purity culture by that point.

We’d been through the ceremony, but now what happens in the marriage bed after this much fear, indoctrination, and taboo regarding sex? While we had the impression from the culture around us that this was supposed to be fun, for me the concept had only progressed from “gross” to “clinical”. There are pairs of teenagers that have done better on their first attempts. I’ll steer away from the TMI, but we were seriously poised for failure. It takes some time to undo that damage.

What’s worse is what happens when your sexuality has been the property of some mystery man your entire life rather than your own.

When this person does show up, in your mind, it’s all still his. Sex is not something you can say no to when you’re just not into it at the moment when it never belonged to you to begin with. As we re-evaluated our beliefs from the past together, I realized that my body is actually my own: this is something my husband had not realized I wasn’t on the same page about. If anyone doubts that men need feminism, just imagine what it’s like to be a good man who respects his wife to find out she hadn’t been telling him when she didn’t want to be intimate. It’s an incredibly disturbing moment.

For the first few years, I still dressed pretty conservatively. I even checked with my husband when I was worried an outfit might be too revealing because he would possess an insight into a man’s mind that I don’t have. At least, that’s why my dad used to check my outfits. That was incredibly confusing to my husband. If I was happy with it, he didn’t think it really mattered what he thought of it or what any other man might think of it.

Gradually, I learned it wasn’t my job to control what men thought. What that left me with was shame. The reason to cover and hide myself so completely was missing, but the impact it had on what I thought of myself remained. My body was something to be hidden. It was dirty. It was wrong. I’m still working on getting over that.

While there are still some remnants from the past that have to be filtered out of my mind, overall I’m in a much healthier place. This summer will mark my 6 year wedding anniversary to a man that wants me to respect myself and hold my own. My view of my body is getting healthier all the time.

The best part, though, is knowing I’ve taken charge and that I’m not just waiting on the actions or approval of someone else to take the next steps in my life.