Everyday Examples of Christian Rape Culture

The Rape of Tamar, by Eustache Le Sueur (c. 1640), public domain.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Shaney Irene’s blog. It was originally published on October 13, 2015.

Today, a friend shared a post on Facebook from Everyday Feminism, titled 25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture. The author, Shannon Ridgway, discusses what rape culture is before giving a list of examples in everyday culture, from chants allowed at universities to the prevelance of street harassment.

(I recommend you click the link and read the explanation of what rape culture is in that post before you continue.)

I was glad to see a list of clear examples that I could share with my friends, but I found myself running into one problem: most of my friends who deny the existence of rape culture are Christians. They would look at Ridgway’s list and declare the problem to be “the world.” They wouldn’t recognize similar examples of rape culture in their churches, small groups, books, blog posts, etc.

So with the help of some friends who also grew up in conservative Christianity, I’ve put together a list of examples of rape culture within Christian culture. If the church is going to be a safe place for women, for children, for vulnerable populations, for survivors of abuse, we must confront the ways in which Christianity is unsafe, say “enough,” and root out the attitudes and beliefs that lead to rape culture.

1. Christian rape culture is equating education about consent with “risk reduction” while calling abstinence education “risk avoidance.” 

This is a form of blaming the victim, because the underlying assumption is that if one avoids sexual activity, one will avoid the risk of assault, STDs, pregnancy, etc. One may still experience these things whether or not one chooses abstinence.

2. Christian rape culture is refusing to teach about consent because it might encourage kids to have sex. 

This erases consent as a necessary component of sexual morality.

3. Christian rape culture is when wives are told they must always be sexually available to their husbands. 

This not only ignores, but condones marital rape.

4. Christian rape culture is when pregnancies that result from rape are called “God’s will.”

What the victim hears is that their rape was God’s will, too.

5. Christian rape culture is when the false idea that pregnancy rarely happens from rape is perpetuated in Christian circles.

This opens the door for people to accuse people pregnant from rape as “wanting it,” since otherwise they would have been “too stressed out” to become pregnant.

6. Christian rape culture is when churches don’t do background checks on children’s/nursery ministry volunteers because “We know these people and they would never do that.”

Actually, most sexual assault is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victim. Perpetrators are experts at making people like them.

7. The way the church teaches “modesty” is rape culture.

It’s never okay to say that what a person wears determines how someone else will view them. Lust and objectification are choices someone else makes, not something that is caused by what a person wears.

8. Christian rape culture happens when prominent Christians publicly defend abusers.

Doing so sends the message to other survivors that the church will choose abusers over them.

9. Christian rape culture is when pastors and other spiritual leaders are believed over their victims, just because of their position of spiritual leadership.

Pastors are not immune to committing crimes, and statistics show the vast majority of reported sexual assault to be true.

10. Christian rape culture is any teaching that either explicitly or implicitly teaches male superiority.

Teaching that God is male, that men are spiritually stronger than women, that God gave men gifts he did not give women, etc.

11. Christian rape culture is teaching that woman was created to help and serve man.

This positions woman as a servant of man, including sexually.

12. Christian rape culture is when Christians argue for the removal of women from certain spaces (for example, the military) in order to keep sexual assault from happening.

13. Christian rape culture is when children are forced to give hugs or shake hands when they don’t want to

This primes children to assume that adults get access to their body when they want it, instead of teaching them that they have bodily autonomy and adults can’t just touch them because they want to.

14. Christian rape culture is when language like “colonize” and “conquer” are used to describe sex, and then the author of those words continues to be hosted on popular Christian websites. 

15. Christian rape culture is when words like “broken” and “diseased” are used to describe abuse victims. 

16. Christian rape culture is when we suggest that victims might be “at fault” for their abuse.  

The linked article has examples from workbooks from ATI, Bill Gothard’s ministry, which were used by the Duggars and have been used for a long time in homeschooling circles. This is just one extreme example, there are many more subtle examples, like suggesting that what a person was wearing, where they were, who they were friend with, etc. contributed to the abuse.

17. Christian rape culture is when abuse is called a “mistake” and people make excuses for it. 

See: Josh Duggar.

18. Christian rape culture is looking at these examples and blaming it on “those other Christians.” 

If you are a Christian and you are not speaking up when you see this happen, you’re part of the problem. Even if your church doesn’t teach these things, you probably have friends who love to watch the Duggars on TLC, or push modesty culture on their children, or…

You get the point. With stories of sexual abuse in the church coming out again and again, it’s time for all Christians of all stripes to start confronting Christian rape culture.

What examples of Christian rape culture have you seen? What ways have you found effective in confronting it? 

Teaching Abstinence Without Teaching Consent is Dangerous

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Shaney Irene’s blog. It was originally published on October 9, 2015.

Today, Christian magazine WORLD News published an article about California requiring schools to teach consent in sex education classes. Although not stated explicitly, it’s pretty clear the author, Laura Edghill, is not too happy about this. Only one of the four quotes given in the article is positive, and more time is spent discussing the supposed downsides of the bill, rather than talking about why consent is an important topic to teach. It also demonstrates that WORLD has no idea what teaching consent actually means.

“But advocates for abstinence education say that while preparing students to protect themselves from sexual assault is important, the “affirmative consent” conversation is based on the flawed assumption that the best we can do for students is teach them risk reduction, rather than risk avoidance.”

WORLD has long been a proponent of abstinence-based sex education, so it’s safe to assume that their readers are going to agree with what the abstinence educators say.

But here’s the thing: Teaching consent is not about “risk reduction” vs. “risk avoidance.” Teaching abstinence without teaching consent actually puts kids MORE at risk for sexual assault. Teaching kids to only have sexual contact within marriage won’t stop predators from attempting sexual assault. But teaching kids consent will enable them to recognize what they’re experiencing as sexual assault or not.

I know too many women who grew up in conservative Christian environments who experienced sexual assault, but did not recognize it as such at the time. Why? Because they were never taught that once they said no, the other person was committing a crime. They were never taught that only yes means yes. So they carried guilt for years, assuming they were complicit in sexual sin (“I must have tempted him in some way,” or, “I must not have protested hard enough,”) until they came across the concept of consent and realized they had been assaulted.

“Sex is like boxing. If both people haven’t consented, one of them is committing a crime.”–John Oliver

The rich part of this is that WORLD has reported extensively on the issue of sexual abuse. But in reporting to their readers that teaching consent is “risk reduction” while teaching abstinence is “risk avoidance,” they’re giving parents false information and exposing children to even more risk of sexual abuse. Not one instance of sexual abuse has been prevented by telling people to only have sex inside of marriage.

Assuming abstinence-based sex education will prevent sexual abuse is as ludicrous as assuming saying, “Don’t drive while under the influence of alcohol,” will prevent someone from getting hit by a drunk driver.

And this is a HUGE problem within the church, as this article from Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal describes. The church today does not understand consent. It assumes that teaching that sexual contact outside of marriage is enough, but it’s not. We must teach our kids that their bodies belong to them, and no one else can touch them without their okay. Without teaching consent, abuse will continue to run rampant.

So WORLD magazine, you are part of the problem. If you want to prevent more sexual abuse within the church, you need to stop acting as if teaching consent is a bad thing. You can start by giving away copies of God Made All of Me, a book written to teach consent to young children, to your readers.

Josh Duggar Blames Porn and Satan in Public Statement

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 20, 2015.

Josh Duggar has now released a public statement.

Statement from Josh Duggar:

I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.

I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.

I brought hurt and a reproach to my family, close friends and the fans of our show with my actions that happened when I was 14-15 years old, and now I have re-broken their trust.

The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, in my heart I had allowed Satan to build a fortress that no one knew about.

As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example.

I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.

Josh Duggar

The idea that porn viewing leads to porn addiction which leads to cheating on one’s spouse is a common one in evangelical circles. It’s also false. But it’s very clearly an idea Josh is leaning on heavily. He’s positioned himself perfectly to travel the evangelical speaking circuit as anti-porn advocate with a powerful testimony.

Also, by putting the mention of his infidelity behind a double mention of porn, he made it easy to miss and effectively minimized it. I already had one person ask me whether the infidelity refers to the porn, not, you know, actual infidelity. Josh may not realize that most people don’t care that he watched porn. Seriously.

It’s the cheating on his wife thing that is an issue here.

Josh says he “allowed Satan to build a fortress.” What that means is that it was Satan who worked this evil in Josh’s life, and Josh’s only mistake was allowing it. This is most definitely a variant of “the devil made me do it.” It’s a way to shift responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that Josh acknowledged that the consequences he is facing are deserved, that he stated that we have the freedom to choose our actions, and that he has admitted that he was a hypocrite. Still, I’m bothered by the way he blames both porn and Satan for what happened, and I can explain why.

First, notice what doesn’t appear in this statement: Any acknowledgment that any of Josh or his parents’ beliefs may be implicated in what happened. Now yes, lots of people cheat. But remember that Josh and his parents have portrayed their rigid beliefs about sex and relationship formation as the key to creating healthy, happy, sound marriages.

Courtship, not having sex until the altar, all of that is supposed to protect you from problems like this one. And it didn’t work.

There is nothing in Josh’s statement admitting that perhaps a highly chaperoned courtship and sexual abstinence before marriage isn’t so foolproof after all. Instead it’s all about porn and Satan. The problem, the statement suggests, is that Josh didn’t follow the rules closely enough, not that the rules themselves may be flawed.

I was raised in a home much like the Duggars’, but I am no longer religious, and my husband isn’t either. In the Duggars’ worldview, that means we have given ourselves over to Satan, because we are no longer protected from sin or temptation by the blood of Jesus. My husband and I began our relationship as a courtship, but switched to just dating when my parents’ started layering on restrictions. We had sex before the wedding. And you know what? We don’t subscribe to that whole no-porn business. And yet, somehow, neither of us has ever been anywhere near cheating.

The Duggars promote very specific sex and relationship rules, rules that are supposed to protect young adults from just this heartbreak. I’ve been saying for years that these rules are seriously flawed, and others who grew up in this environment have as well, but the Duggars have continued to promote courtship and abstinence as the foundation for sound marriages. Courtship and abstinence before marriage were supposed to give Josh and Anna the perfect relationship and a fairy tale marriage, but it didn’t. Josh’s infidelity ought to put a dent in their starry-eyed promotion of courtship, at the very least, but given the way this statement is phrased, I don’t see that happening.

The Duggar boys aren’t allowed smartphones for fear they’ll access porn. The Duggar children, including the adult children, are only allowed on the internet with someone else sitting by them watching them, to make sure they don’t access objectionable things like porn. It’s almost like they never stopped to ask themselves whether making such a huge deal about porn might backfire when their sons got out of the house and had control over their own internet.

When you obsess over sex, you shouldn’t be surprised when sex becomes an obsession.

But you know what?

I don’t think any of these questions will be asked, and I don’t think any of these conversations will be had, at least by the Duggars.

And that’s sad.

Gothard’s Sex Rules: Marital Consent? What’s That?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 13, 2014.

My family never attended one of Bill Gothard’s seminars, and we didn’t use Gothard’s curriculum. We children were, instead, raised on the outskirts of Gothardism. We knew people who were followers of Bill Gothard, and we imbibed a few of his teachings (umbrella of authority, anyone?), but that was the extent of it. As things began to snowball over the past months and Gothard was exposed as a sexual predator and ultimately relieved of his leadership position, I wanted to learn more about what Gothard actually taught, in his own words. So I purchased Gothard’s “Advanced Seminar Textbook,” which was published in 1986 and can be found used on Amazon. I’m not going to blog through it page by page, but I do plan to write some posts on various sections. Today I offer my first of these posts.

In his textbook, Gothard covers his rules for periodic abstinence during marriage, which centers on a woman’s menstrual cycle (pages 175—185). Of all of Gothard’s teachings, this may be the one I’m most unfamiliar with, as it is foreign to anything taught in the evangelical church my family attended. In this post, I will cover the first pages of this section and then finish with a letter Gothard received from a follower.

To start out, here are the rules Gothard lays out as “God’s laws on abstinence”:

What Are God’s Guidelines for Times of Abstinence? 

  1. During the menstrual cycle—Ezekiel 18:5-6
  2. Seven days after the menstrual cycle—Leviticus 15:28
  3. 40 days after the birth of a son—Leviticus 12:2-4
  4. 80 days after the birth of a daughter—Leviticus 12:5

Gothard’s critics tend to do two things: they call him a “legalist” and argue that his teachings in this area come from the Old Testament and are therefore invalid, as the Old Testament is superseded by the New Testament. Here, on the first page of this section, Gothard directly counters both of these arguments.

First, Gothard urges his readers to “distinguish between legalism and godly living” and states that: “(1) Legalism is trying to earn salvation; (2) Legalism is trying to live the Christian life with the energy of the soul; and (3) Legalism is following ‘the letter,’ not ‘the spirit.’” Gothard uses Bible verses to back all of this up, focusing especially on II Corinthians 3:6. Gothard argues that he is not teaching legalism but rather godly living.

Second, Gothard pulls up each time the New Testament references “uncleanness” and uses that to claim that the Old Testament teachings regarding a woman’s menstrual uncleanness is still valid. This is a fascinating attempt, but it does not actually work, as it’s pretty clear he’s proof texting and he comes across as being unaware that the New Testament was written in a different language from the Old Testament. Still, that he at least tried is fascinating.

Now I want to turn to the first of the “Benefits of Abstinence” Gothard lays out.

1. It builds self-control.

When sex drives are misused, they become self-consuming and can never be satisfied. Burned-out lusts call for new forms of perversion, which become even greater tyrants of unfulfillment.

Okay, so here’s the thing. If I’m overeating and I know I’m overeating, and it’s making me feel unhealthy, I can fix that by moderating what I eat. I don’t need to spend time fasting to do that. In fact, fasting in order to lose weight can easily lead to binge eating when the fast is over. I guess what I’m saying is that there are better ways to foster a healthy and balanced sex life than abstaining and then (presumably) binging.

But what’s actually going on here becomes more clear with the letter Gothard prints from one of his followers, and it’s not pretty.

How a Commitment to Abstinence Transformed a Marriage

I am writing to report what has happened in our marriage since our decision to follow God’s guidelines for abstinence. To be honest, I was waiting to see if the changes in our lives were short-lived or permanent. Now after a third of a year and five menstrual cycles, I am encouraged that our decision was correct, Biblically-based, and that the Lord is blessing our marriage more than ever before.

Let me start at the beginning. Our dating relationship was based on the physical, not on the spiritual. It ended in pregnancy and then marriage. She was sixteen, I was twenty.

Depending on the state, this might not have been legal.

After we married, our sex life became a shambles. My physical drives were impossible for her to satisfy, and even with a daily physical relationship, I became involved in pornography and other impure habits.

If you’re having sex daily and yet you’re not sexually satisfying, it’s probably worth seeing a doctor or a therapist.

After ten years of marriage we attended our first Basic Youth Seminar. When you went over the consequences of defrauding in dating, I suddenly realized my problem and our marriage problem.

And exactly how do we explain all of the couples who had sex before marriage and are currently in healthy, sexually fulfilling relationships?

I asked God to forgive me for defrauding her before marriage, and for the first time in my life, I began exercising self-control.

Also for the first time in ten years of married life, we began to experience true sexual intimacy. Our relationship continued to improve, but my wife still felt forced to submit to me, and she worried daily about whether or not she would have to ‘make love’ that night.

Wait. Wait wait wait. So the whole time this guy was having sex daily, his wife was only participating because she believed her role, as his wife, was to submit to him and be sexually available. You know, the fact that she felt she had to have sex with him whether she wanted to or not might just play some part in why their sexual relationship wasn’t fully satisfying him.

I began having difficulty exercising self-control.

I really want to know what this means. Was he raping her?

Then we attended your Corporate Leaders Seminar and learned about abstinence during the menstrual period and for seven days after the period. I knew immediately that this is what God wanted me to commit to, and it scared me to death! I couldn’t picture myself being committed to anything like that!

However, God gave me the strength and encouragement to talk to my wife. We discussed it and that day, with her permission, I made a commitment to follow that principle.

Now he’s concerned about getting his wife’s permission?

The relief within my wife was almost visible. The “fear” is gone from our marriage.

Well of course her relief was almost visible! His poor wife knew she would have have two weeks of blessed relief from her husband’s constant (and unreciprocated) sexual demands!

We now have a freedom we never experienced before. We are blessed to the point that we almost feel guilty when we are around our Christian friends who are completely loaded down with problems. Our lives have been transformed by applying this and other principles from God’s Word.

You replaced consent with biblically-mandated periodic abstinence, you asshole.

A Confirming Report from the Wife

I cannot tell you how much the material on abstinence has meant to me and our marriage. I have never experienced what has been happening in our marriage since we began following the principle of abstinence.

It is indeed a miracle!!!! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, my husband has exercised real self-control in the area of our sex life. I feel so loved, cherished, and protected! I have been able to respond to him as seldom before. The difference in our relationship is difficult to describe, but very wonderful to experience. Thank you again for motivating us to choose God’s best.

Someone tell this poor wife about consent and marital rape.

I didn’t expect to be this frustrated when I opened the volume to these pages, but I am. I am really, really frustrated. It appears that Gothard is using abstinence during the period and for seven days after the period as a replacement for consent within marriage. With these teachings, women who find themselves forced to submit to sex they do not want—forced by their believe that that is the wife’s biblical role—can find relief in two solid weeks of freedom from those demands.

This is sick.

True Love Waits?: Lilith’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

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


I had the bare minimum sex education growing up—my mom gave me one brief, frank talk about sex, I read some Christian children and teen books on the subject, and I went to a  teen dating class at my church that emphasized, of course, abstinence. In high school, I dated the pastor’s kid for a year, and he waited patiently until my 16th birthday to give me my first kiss (my mom’s mandate). My boyfriend and I only alluded to sex once the whole time we dated.

It wasn’t until college that I began to truly understand the mechanics of sex and sexual anatomy.

At age 18, a psychology textbook introduced me to the word clitoris, and I immediately proceeded to look for mine. At 21, I discovered I had been using tampons incorrectly for nine years (no wonder they were so uncomfortable and didn’t always work!). Shortly after, one of my male friends asked me if I had ever had an orgasm, to which I replied “I don’t know.” I was even more embarrassed when one of my male classmates commented abruptly over lunch, “You’re a virgin, aren’t you?” I finally started looking for answers to my sex questions through Google so I wouldn’t feel so ignorant.

Through these searches I realized that my notions of sex positions and the “motions” of sex – for lack of a better word – were utterly wrong.

At age 22, I started dating my future husband, Matt (HA note: name changed). Even though we were both Christians who valued abstinence, we talked about sex openly. Other guys had humiliated me by pointing out my ignorance, but Matt never made me feel stupid – perhaps because he was a virgin, too. As Christians, we were always told that having sex before marriage would ruin our sex lives once we got married. So, when Matt and I finally gave in to our sexual urges three years later, we felt immense guilt. Before this incident, we had already talked about getting married, but now we wanted to bump up the date so we wouldn’t be “sinning.” We confessed our sexual sins to our pastor and told him our idea of getting married soon, and he told us that was a viable option.

My parents, however, were resistant to the idea, because they wanted me to finish my master’s degree first.

I was confused and angry, because they seemed to be contradicting what they had always taught me: by telling me to postpone marriage, it was as if they were telling me that my education was more important than my morality. (To be fair to my parents, this is how I was feeling, and not necessarily what they believed.)

What I just described is an unfortunate dilemma that I imagine many young Christian adults and their parents face. Because of the demands of college, parents and their children rationalize that marriage should occur after college. At the same time, delaying marriage means delaying sex. Although many young Christian adults earnestly want to wait, their biological urges make it very difficult for them to do so. Our bodies are not designed to postpone sex until we are in our mid- to late-twenties.

Because of my parent’s wishes, Matt and I delayed our wedding until after graduation. In the meantime, we continued to have sex, though we no longer confessed this to our pastor nor our parents. Eventually, we lost feelings of guilt and began to question how ‘sinful’ our actions really were. Matt and I truly loved each other, and we were figuring out sex together. Months later, when we finally got married, our wedding night wasn’t any less special because we had already had sex. In fact, it was satisfying because we knew what we were doing. That same year, for many reasons, we left the church and are no longer Christians.

In closing, I was poorly informed about sex while growing up. This didn’t hurt me much when I was a teenager, because I was homeschooled and not around many other teens or “temptations” anyway. Once I started college, though, I was ridiculed for my ignorance and unknowingly put myself in risky situations. Early on, I should have been taught not only about sexual organs, STDs and contraceptives, but also about the risks of sexual predators and date rape – which, fortunately, I never experienced but could easily have.

I have conflicting feelings about the “True Love Waits” doctrine that homeschooled Christian teens are taught.

On one hand, I’m glad that it encouraged Matt and I to postpone sex for as long as we did –  we were both mature enough to experience it safely and thoughtfully, and we couldn’t judge each other because neither of us had “done it” before. However, in some ways the abstinence doctrine did do some emotional damage: when Matt and I were expressing love to each other before we were married, our Christian consciences were telling us that we were doing something bad and harmful. Because of these convictions, we were really hard on ourselves and experienced a lot of unnecessary guilt – so much so that we broke up for a few months in order not to “sin.”

Ironically, the guilt and the breakup were actually more harmful to our relationship than the premarital sex was.

Like Voldemort To Wizards: R.L. Stollar’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

HA note: This piece was originally written for Secular Woman’s “Sex Ed Conversations” series. It was published on their website on October 20, 2013 and is reprinted here with permission.


I learned about sex because of a Boy Scout merit badge.

My older brother and I were on the way to a Boy Scouts meeting. My dad was nervous the whole time, seeming to stall until the last moment. I am not sure if this conversation would have ever happened naturally. But it did happen, if it only happened because it had to.

My brother and I were working to get our Family Life merit badge in Boy Scouts. Part of earning that badge was learning about sex. Someone had to give us “The Talk,” and — since our Boy Scout troop was a primarily Christian homeschool troop — that responsibility fell on our father. To learn about sex from anyone other than one’s parents was a cardinal sin in my Christian homeschool culture.

Most of the drive was awkward, because we knew we were about to get The Talk. I do not think The Talk necessarily has to be awkward, but it was for our dad. You could feel it in the air. As a result, The Talk really materialized on the 15-minute drive. Never, that is, until we pulled into the parking lot of the rundown Baptist church where our troop met. Then it was do or die time, and my dad gave us a quick summary of lovemarriagepenisvaginababy. Boom.

That was the extent of my Christian homeschool sex education growing up. It lasted less than five minutes.

I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

In that universe, “abstinence only” was not an abstract concept but a concrete reality. I never learned about condoms, or how to use them. I never learned about STDs. As a male, I never learned about menstruation. That was a taboo topic; my parents referred to it as “that time of month” and all I knew was that it was something embarrassing and icky that only women talk about and men just need to know to avoid women during that time.

When I hear people arguing for abstinence-only education these days I cringe. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “You don’t really want that!” I know what that education looks like because that is the education I received. It was a sham to even call it “education.” It was rather an absence of education. The so-called “abstinence” was an abstinence of knowledge about biology and empowerment about consent.

It did not help me in even a single way.

It did not discourage me from eventually having premarital sex. All it did was make me utterly ignorant of the reality of sex. It did not keep me from so-called sexual immorality. It made me incapable of acknowledging and processing my own experience of sexual abuse as a child.

As I have grown older, and both shared my story as well as heard other stories of former homeschool kids, there are so many similarities between our experiences. Sex felt like something dirty and secretive and repressed up until one’s wedding day, and then magically it was supposed transform into something holy and beautiful and celebrated. Sex was something only men wanted, that was given by women in exchange for love. (I am aware now, too, that this harmful stereotype transcends Christianity and homeschooling.) Men were incapable of controlling their physical desires, always on the brink of the sexual sin of lust. So much so, that women had to carefully don the most modest of clothing to avoid causing men to “stumble.” Men were also only attracted to women and women to men, thereby precluding any conversation about the existence of LGBT* individuals.

And foremost of all: sex education, that insidious tool of the evil secularists and humanists, was a weapon of Satan. It was described in classic misogynistic terms: a “temptress,” a “whore of Babylon,” hired by the Prince of Darkness to lead public schoolers astray. Us homeschoolers, God bless us, we were spared that temptation, as our parents took it upon themselves to raise us righteously, without sex education and its spurious ways.

But dreams run red lights and crash into the curbs of reality awfully hard.

As I hear more and more from former homeschoolers, I hear the same things I myself experienced: that what we were “spared from,” what we were “blessed” to avoid, could have really helped us. No matter how hard our parents tried to keep us unstained from “the world,” the world happened. We grew up. We made mistakes, got drunk, did drugs, made out, had sex; some of us were sexually abused and raped — all the things that happen outside of Christian homeschooling, too. The only difference is we had zero tools to process those things.

It is because of my very experience as a Christian homeschool kid that I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education.

I believe in comprehensive sex education because all people have the right to be empowered. I believe in comprehensive sex education because it is vitally important to know your body, respect your body and other people’s bodies, and understand how to stand up against those people who both want you ignorant of your body and aim to disrespect your body.

Depriving children of that knowledge, for whatever ridiculous religious reasons, is nothing less than educational abuse. It is not pleasing to God or god or anything that is allegedly holy. Ignorance is a unholy prison. Forced ignorance is one of the most soul-crushing experiences one can have.

Children need to be educated about their bodies because that is how children learn how to respect and love them and each other’s.

Children need to be educated about sexuality because sexuality is a fundamentally important part of being human.

Children need to be educated about consent because rape and sexual abuse happen in every community and every culture and you are living in a daydream if you think it will not happen in yours.

The more I learn about the universality of body-shaming, rape culture, and abuse, and the more I hear about how these things happen every day in Christian churches and conservative homeschooling communities, the more I see why sex ed is an absolute must. When we are afraid of sexuality, when we are afraid to talk bluntly and honestly and openly about our bodies and our emotions, we are giving power to those who want to take advantage of our ignorance and our silence. When we are blinded by our ideologies and unwilling to see every human being as worthy of respect and safety, we are giving power to those people advancing shame and bigotry. When we are afraid to name That Which Shall Not Be Named and speak about it plainly, we are only adding to the power of those in our communities — homeschooling, Christian, secular, and otherwise — who will abuse it.

I wish I knew about sex from something other than abuse. But my parents and my homeschooling community could not have changed that, no matter how much they wish they could.

Yet I also wish I knew how to talk about sex from something other than a Boy Scout merit badge. And that is something that my parents and my community could have done differently.

I have spent the last decade catching up on what I missed, on the lessons I never learned. It can be an awfully embarrassing process, but it is a necessary one.

The Styrofoam Cup: Sam Neely’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Author note: Sam Neely blogs at Yes We Sam!


It was just a Styrofoam cup. But the man said to examine it, so I did.

I was fifteen years old, and was sitting in a classroom at the church building where my homeschool umbrella met. I passed the cup to the next guy in the line. I don’t remember who it was, but we had been segregated, boys and girls, so I know it was a guy.

I don’t remember who this teacher was either. He was an older gentleman, bearded, husky. He wasn’t the parent of one of my friends, like most of my teachers were… he was a guest.

The Styrofoam cup had made its way down the line, and the instructor held it up to us again.

“It looks normal, right?” he asked. We agreed, yes it did. Then he poured water from a pitcher into the cup. The water leaked out the bottoms and sides of the cup.

“Just because something appears sturdy,” he said, “doesn’t mean that it is.”

The message was clear: condoms have holes in them. Never mind that the difference in material between Styrofoam and latex makes the analogy useless. Never mind that the only reason the cup he used in his example only had holes because he put them there and intentionally made them undetectable. No, the point of the illustration was that protection doesn’t exist.

Another illustration used by this lecturer involved a gun. He brought a printout of a handgun as an illustration of “A good thing that can sometimes be used for bad”. Like sex, he said.

But why did his illustration have to be a gun? This was less than a month after the shootings at Columbine High School. (I remember this, because he said that was why he only brought a picture of a gun, instead of the real thing).

After his presentation, we traded places with the girls, and they presumably sat through the same collection of demonstrations. We had another lecturer, I believe she was a former nurse, show us a slide show of graphic STD photographs.

The message was clear: Don’t have sex.


So why does this bother me? I got this message all the time — at home, at church, even in a series of public service announcements on television. Why did it bother me here?

Because this was science class.

The biology class at my homeschool co-op divided the A Beka textbook into the systems of the human body, focusing on one at a time, but the course did not cover the chapter on the reproductive system. Instead, we had an optional (parental permission required) course called “Crossroads” where we were supposed to learn about sex. I signed up for it, assuming it would be the science that was left out of the curriculum.

But it wasn’t…

It was just the “don’t do it” lectures, with scare tactics and manipulation.


I’ve spent the last five days trying to expand this story into a deeper post. I’ve tried to tell stories of my sexual history, and how it was painted by certain experiences, how many of them come from purity culture, and how many simply come from my own bad luck, but the thoughts are too jumbled, and everything is too complicated. Instead, I’m left only with this anecdote.

It says nothing, and it says everything.

It is one of the funniest stories I tell.

It is also one of the saddest.

My Body, Foreign Territory: Richard’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.


My body, foreign territory

At one point in my life I was convinced that I had two assholes.

I won’t disclose my age when I held this belief, but it was certainly in the double digits. I’m not sure how I came to believe in this extra anatomy, but I was completely and absolutely sure of its existence. When I discovered the truth – for any young homeschoolers reading this, human beings have one anus – it was an uncomfortable collision between a grounded belief and new information: certainly one collision among many.

I can’t remember my imagined purpose for a second anus, but most likely it was something about sex, and was a byproduct of a complete ignorance of my own body and the shaming of new information.

I didn’t know anything about sex, and I certainly was afraid to ask. I lived under an umbrella of religion where a ban on sex extended to thoughts of questions about basic anatomy. Information was taboo. Curiosity was not a neutral disposition: curiosity exposed was met with animosity and speeches, and was immediately parceled with shame. To ask about sex is to engage in it. Sin is a mystic frontier that should not be visited, seen, or talked about. Ignorance in sex is strength.

Sex by wireless transmission

I should have counseled the Internet, but we didn’t have it. Instead, I turned to an older medium for my sex education: radio. Between the hours of ten and midnight, a local radio station broadcasted a show called Loveline, a call-in program about relationships, sex, and medical issues. It counterbalanced an informative doctor with a disparaging comedian and radio host. A typical call-in would go like this:

Adam: It says here you had a threesome with two girls?

Caller: Yeah.

Adam: No. No. Too squirrelly. First off, nobody named “Oliver” gets a threesome at fifteen years old.

Guest Everlast: [Laughing.] You’re wrong, dude.

Adam: Naw, no one named Oliver! Maybe Oliver Stone or Oliver Twist.

Caller: Dude, Oliver’s a tight name.

Adam: Yeah… It’s… I don’t know… It’s not the kind of name that gets a guy laid. Not at fifteen. Not in a threesome! You did not have a threesome.

Caller: Well, it was oral.

Drew: All right, well, that’s not a threesome.

Adam: Oral threesome?

Caller: Yeah.

Adam: I might count that.

Jokes were made, advice then dispensed. The format was undoubtedly devised to hook in teenagers with dirty humor, and give them practical advice about sex and diseases, and dispel free-range myths teenagers enjoy cultivating. Like two anuses. The show was brilliant.

I would listen in at ten o’clock, with my radio on a bookcase at the head of my bed, headphones plugging in, with the cord running incognito under my pillow and into my ear. Most nights I would stay up until the show ended, and some mornings I would be waken up by the radio buzzing in my ears, having fallen asleep with it on. It wasn’t just entertainment, it was my sex education. I had no idea what a condom or a menstrual cycle was, so they informed me. My curiosity was finally being addressed, rather than suppressed.

Rituals: talking about it

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Africa, I found a common perception of sex that was very familiar: the communities identified overwhelmingly as Christian and there was a conversational taboo around sex. Parents never talked about it with their children, and teachers avoided the topic as well. It was difficult to pierce the veil of silence about sex in order to talk about HIV/AIDS, a subject already colored by Bush era programming of abstinence, marriage, and fidelity.

However, there were two particular moments within the culture, when the sex conversation was allowed to bloom. The first occurs during coming of age rituals, for girls or boys, where advice is offered freely and traditions about sex and everything else were passed down. The second happens at “kitchen parties,” where married women share thoughts about marriage, children, and sex with soon-to-be brides.

Perhaps the homeschool or conservative religious community needs these kind of rituals where a taboo subject can be spoken about in an open, constructive, and safe environment. Clearly a philosophy of “not talking about it” doesn’t work – states populated with the conservative religious have the highest teen birth rates by being “more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself.” So-called comprehensive sex education has shown to reduce pregnancy, compared to abstinence education, which doesn’t even reduce teenage sex.

Perhaps rituals would involve actually participating in sex education in the home, church, or school. I know this is highly contentious terrain as long as knowledge about sex is still considered tainted by sin and a dangerous prerequisite to the act itself. Information is power, and it can be tempered with the guidance and kind instruction Christians often claim to offer yet rarely practice, particularly when it comes to sex.

While the idea of twin assholes is comical and suits the purpose of this essay, but it’s clearly the least dangerous misconception about sex teens can have when they’re not educated.

Abstinence from sex can work, but certainly abstinence from information has failed many communities.

Pulling the Victoria’s Secret Dance

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 27, 2013.

Fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christianity is weird.

Women are taught to dress modestly in public, to stay away from pornography or premarital sex, etc. Prostitutes and strippers are derided, along with everyone who dresses “like a whore” (i.e. less modestly than they’re supposed to). But in private, within marriage? Women are expected to perform.

They have to somehow go from reserved modesty to being, well, a man’s personal supermodel.

Take this blog comment, for instance:

I understand that the woman who are not in favor of woman as homemakers mainly had a history of sexual abuse or neglect or have a lack of suffering and salvation with Christ of some sort. This is a fallen world and even if [a] woman is married to a man who is fallen . . . we woman [sic] may have to pull the Victora’s [sic] Secret dance for our husband to keep him in line.

I’m not even sure how a woman who has remained abstinent and has shunned any hint of or look at immorality is supposed to know how to “pull the Victoria’s Secret dance” for her potentially cheating husband.

There’s an enormous amount of pressure on a wife to perform sexually.

Many fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals would place at least some blame on a woman if her husband cheats. Was she putting out? Had she let herself go? Was she giving him the fulfilling sex life he needed as a man? Sure, they would say the fault ultimately lays with the husband, but they would also scrutinize whether his wife was doing her proper job keeping him fulfilled.

In fundamentalist and conservative evangelical circles, a woman is to keep her husband sexually satisfied. It’s part of her job description as wife. In fact, not a few leaders would go so far as to tell women that one way to cure a cheating husband is to put out more, and better, to become a porn star in the bedroom so that their husbands are no longer tempted to cheat.

Except, it doesn’t work like that, and the pressure—and guilt—created is enormous.

Now I do want to be fair. An increasing number of evangelical leaders do place an emphasis on female sexual pleasure, and some have been doing so for decades. However, there is still generally this idea that sex is more necessary for men, and less necessary for women. Because “Women spell romance R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P. Men spell romance S-E-X.” Amirite? This shouldn’t be surprising, as this idea is also widespread in culture at large, but the increased emphasis on female sexual pleasure in evangelical circles does occur within this context.

My second concern has to do with the amount of baggage surrounding sex that so many young women who grew up in fundamentalist or conservative evangelical homes find themselves with. Switching from zero to one hundred overnight can be a problem for many of these women. Without any experience or knowledge, they’re expected to become a man’s personal Victoria’s Secret model and perform well in bed.

Of course, to be fair, it’s generally accepted that there will be a learning curve. Still, going from seeing sexual urges as sinful to seeing them as good, and then going beyond that to sexually perform in an effort to keep a husband uninterested in other women, all without outside experience even knowledge or information? Ugh.

In the last decades many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have been doing more to preach the goodness of marital sex, and in some cases are writing guides.

I still can’t help but feel like at least some of these read like “how to perform for your husband” manuals, rather than “how to have mutually-fulling sex with another individual” manuals (to be clear, I haven’t read them all, and will check back with you on some of this if at some point I do).

I guess I can’t get over the feeling that many fundamentalists and evangelicals don’t see a woman performing sexually for a man as in and of itself bad. It’s only bad if that man is a paying client rather than a husband you’re trying to keep from cheating.

Let’s Talk About Christian Culture and Consent


Note from R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator: The following post does not mention “homeschooling” in any way. It is more about the Christian culture in which many of our homeschooling experiences occurred. But since many of our particular homeschooling experiences occurred within this culture, this post is very relevant. After reading Kathryn’s thoughts, I, too, tried to remember when any of the modesty or purity teachings I received about relationships — in both my church and homeschooling environments — included any discussion about consent. Like Kathryn, I was at a loss. In retrospect, I find this omission rather disturbing.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on August 1, 2013.


Let’s Talk About Christian Culture and Consent

A friend made a comment on one of my Facebook posts today that got me thinking.

The comment was about how a lot of people in the Church don’t have any kind of sexual ethic, just a bunch rules that they follow. I think that’s a good description of how it is that people buy into slippery slope arguments—the old, “if we allow people to gay marry, then what’s to stop them from toaster marrying?” logic.

If you’ve got a sexual ethic based on consent, then the answer is obvious: because toasters are incapable of consent.

If you are just operating by rules, then it makes sense that you’d think that if one of your rules gets tossed then what’s to stop all your rules from going out the window.

The comment on my Facebook post made me realize that in all of the years of growing up in the Church, of getting lectures about abstinence in Sunday school and youth group and True Love Waits, I cannot remember a single mention of consent. I remember Dawson McAllister coming to town to a True Love Waits event and telling us that anal sex was still sex and not a way to remain a virgin (which is not a bad piece of information, incidentally, though really rather stupid if the only reason you’re telling them is to make sure they remain more than just technical virgins), but for all of the talk about what you couldn’t do, the only talk about saying “no” was about not sinning.

I’ve racked my brain trying to remember even a single time that I’ve ever heard consent mentioned in a church-related setting growing up and I can’t remember a single one. 

By not teaching about consent, you produce girls who don’t know that they can refuse consent for any other reason than “it’s a sin,” and you produce boys who have never been taught that no means no. That’s a recipe for disaster. Is conservative abstinence education turning boys into accidental rapists and girls into easy victims because neither one has been educated about consent being an inviolable element in a sexual encounter?

I put this question out there on Facebook and Twitter and I’ll ask it here as well. For those of you who grew up in the church and were lectured about abstinence in youth group/Sunday school/True Love Waits/etc.:

Do any of you remember being taught about consent?