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.

I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part Three

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

< Part Two

Part Three

His mother didn’t like me, I had a free-spirit locked inside a 40 year old woman. Every now and then my free spirit would come out and I would do things that are a little crazy (like jump in a pool at a new years party with some of the other girls — and yes, we were clothed). All of my family were late bloomers and didn’t hit puberty until 16-18 but, once we did, we all ended up having the body of swimsuit models.

Being tall, small-boned, with D+-cups and a nice butt and legs, is the worst thing that can happen to a homeschool girl.

No matter what you wear, if the wind hits right, or if the shirts too baggy can make you “immodest.”

We were on a thrift store budget and most shorts and dresses that look good on other girls look like daisy dukes and mini-dresses on us. Anyways, his mother hated my clothes, she felt I dressed too provocatively (I mean a t-shirt and fingertip length or longer shorts, or dresses). I had a figure and she hated it. I also was passionate and intelligent. I was starting to gain a little independence and her family was huge into the umbrella concept. She ran the house and hated that her son liked me and would look down her nose at me every time she saw me.

I had never been alone with anyone, and one night when we were alone, we started kissing and before the night was over we were pretty much naked. I felt so bad and so guilty, even though we hadn’t physically had sex. I felt as if I had sinned so much that there was no going back and I had to marry him. Not soon after, I lost my virginity to him. He proposed shortly after, largely due to how much pressure I was placing on him. I had grown up believing my body was my husband’s and that I should never deny him sex if he wanted it.

When we are told that, sex is your gift for your husband and you are only worth your virginity. Once you lose it, you place all your future on that person. You feel as if you have to marry him or no other man will want you. But, we finally broke it off after he told me that he thought a women was supposed to do exactly what her authority figure said, even if there was a bible verse that contradicted it.

I went through a very severe bout of depression after that. I ended up telling my mother what had happened and my mother ate it up. She loved having her little baby back. Anytime I tried to gain any sort of independence she would always bring up how much sin I had gotten in on my own. I had lost any ability to feel by this time. I started trying to date again, I was so numb and wary then, it made life difficult. Unbeknownst to me, my mother signed me up for a Christian dating website and reached out to a couple of the men on their without my knowledge eventually gifting me the website as a “present.” I tried to date one of them, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right with him and ended up breaking it off before I was invested at all.

After that, I just really didn’t care anymore.

I thought ‘if the “good, Christian boy” hadn’t treasured me at all, why don’t I find someone on the opposite end of the spectrum?’ I also started to reason that if guys were just after sex, I would just give my body away and anyone who stayed after that might be worth getting to know. For me, I had already given away my precious jewel, so what did I have to lose just letting everyone else have it? At least then, I didn’t have to spend the time, energy, and trust vetting them out. I had started MMA and absolutely loved it, but met one of the guys from there who had little ambition in his life, smoked/dealt weed all day long, was not attractive, and had no job. So I went home with him one night, I was so numb. I remember, I just couldn’t take it and it began to hurt because I wasn’t into it so I made him stop and went home crying. I snuck into the house and didn’t tell a soul for the longest time.

A couple of months after, I met a guy at work, he worked insurance and we had been put together one day. I talked back and forth with him and he had a good personality — it was easy to talk to him and he could make me laugh. Later that week he made me a flower out of a post-it note and a paperclip and asked me on a date. He had been the first guy to ask me on a date ever without me having to manipulate them into asking. I decided I had had enough with courting and trying to find the man I was going to marry and decided to just have fun. When he picked me up, his car had the faint smell of smoke in it and I wondered if he was a smoker. He took me ice-skating, then to dinner which he ordered for me and bought the most expensive item (my first filet), and then to his house for a movie. We lay down together and started kissing, but I left before anything else happened.

I wasn’t physically attracted to him, I just was desperate to feel something — anything.

He was fun. He didn’t ask about me and he didn’t condemn any of my choices. I could just be with him, without having to divulge anything. He didn’t pressure me for sex either.

Our next date I ended up staying the night and I was always the one who initiated, I wanted to see what would happen if he could have it anytime, how he would treat me once he had gotten “ what he wanted.” On our third date he told me that he wanted to marry me, and my heart started racing, I had never had to go slower than the guy in the relationship. He had told me he had been into drugs and alcohol as a kid but had been clean for several years.

I had finally found the good medium between a “good, Christian boy” and a bad-boy — a reformed bad boy.

He started coming to church and loved the attention from our one elder. He stopped smoking and started reading the Bible. We were still spending many nights together, but I just kept that our secret. My mother would grow suspicious, but I would talk her out of those saying that I had had to work that night — she heard what she wanted to and it wasn’t hard to convince her.

After three months of dating, we went to the justice of the peace and got married, alone. I was afraid that after much more time, the church was going to find something wrong with him and forbid my dating him. By this time, the church had dwindled down to one family and 2 men and me. One of them was a single father, the other was a father of a big family who had separated from the church. They were particularly hard on men and felt that if they showed anyone the “truth” any truth and they didn’t immediately convert, they were in sin.

I went ahead and got married so that I could be under the authority of someone who didn’t try to control me – someone I could manipulate. I had gotten rather good at underhanded and submissive manipulation. My great aunt had a finished basement, complete with kitchen, so we moved in there. After being interrupted a couple of times, we decided we had to move out. He had told me he wanted a bunch of kids before we were married, but, after I miscarried our first, he changed his mind.

They sent me home with some narcotic pain medicine for the miscarriage, but I didn’t like it and only took a couple. A couple of months later, I had a migraine headache and went looking for the medication, only to find out it was completely empty. My husband made an excuse about his neck hurting and that he had had to take. Before we were married, he had told me that he had had an addiction to this same medication in the past and I questioned him about it, but he told me that I had misheard him and that hadn’t been the case. Pretty soon, he was going to several different doctors about his back and neck pain until they finally started prescribing him narcotics. Over the next couple of years, they escalated the dose until he could barely keep his eyes open, but all he said is that it wasn’t enough.

I had grown up very sheltered — I hadn’t been around an addict or drunk before.

Unless they had a bottle in their hand, I had to be told when someone was drunk. I didn’t know what a bong was, I didn’t know what a pipe was. Nursing school and the internet had taught me what sex was and I used urban dictionary to pick look up references my friends or patients made.

Soon after the heavy narcotic use, my husband lost his job and one of our cars broke down. He stayed home all day, and wouldn’t let me use the car for anything (one that had been bought with my pre-marriage savings) he would drive me places, but he would fall asleep at the wheel while driving me to work and I would have to wake him up while we were driving. I would tell him to text me when he got home, so that I would know that he had made it home alive and that he hadn’t crashed into someone else.

I would discuss my fears with a nurse I worked with who was a former addict and one day he made a joke that you know how addicted someone is if you flush their medicine down the toilet. This was brilliant, I had wanted to take all his medicines for a while, but didn’t know where to hide them were he couldn’t find them. I thought that if I could just get him sober he would see what he had done and want to stop. I flushed half of his pills down the toilet and hid the rest of them in a tampon wrapper.

When he woke up, he flew into a rage.

He started yelling at me, throwing my stuff on the floor, taking all of my credit cards and IDs, he picked me up and threw me on the bed. He sat on top me yelling “You stupid bitch! Why would you do that?” He raised his hand as if to hit me and I looked into his eyes and told him that if he was “going to hit/kill me to go ahead.” I really thought I was facing my death and I didn’t want to leave earth without him seeing the defiance in my eyes.

I wanted that image to haunt him as long as he lived.

Part Four >

When Home Is Worse Than Rape: Cora’s Story

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HA note: The title of this piece is the title chosen by the author. The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cora” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: abusive parenting, rape.

My first memories are from when I was 3 or 4. We were living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember every detail about that house. We had a cocker spaniel named Lacey. She was the only person/animal that I was ever emotionally attached to for many, many years.

My memories from that time are very vague. I remember the place, and then flashes of ghosts uttering words and phrases. Feelings. Small snippets of events. I had a clown for my birthday party. I was locked in my room screaming for hours. I rode my tricycle outside. My mother yelled at my father for not hitting me enough. I became a master at hiding. Under the bed. In the top shelf of a closet. Behind a bush. I would stay in my spot for what seemed like hours. My feelings were a constant mix of fear, anger, frustration, and a strong desire to leave. From the very beginning, I wanted to be nowhere near her.

It was my fault, I was told. I was a “difficult child”. Or maybe just a child. Still, it must have been my fault just for being there, right? The grown up has “authority” so it couldn’t possibly be them, right?

We moved to New Zealand. My next memory is being chased around the living room of our house with a switch because I wasn’t cleaning up fast enough. I was 4 or 5. I screamed and picked things up and it seemed like it never stopped. I would sit in my room for hours alone, and lose myself in my own made up world. This world was misery every day. I would make up a different world.

Something fabulous happened in New Zealand though. I was allowed to go to school. I remember how happy I was to leave home every morning. I had friends who would cry and miss their parents when they were gone. I could never understand why. The good memories of my childhood were all away from home.

I don’t remember much of my father from that time. He was a ghost in the background. Not saying much. I remember calling him “Daddy-doo” and trying to spend time with him when she wasn’t around.

I was a “rebellious” child.

I was spanked constantly. My memories of early childhood are essentially a long sequence of being hit, with intermittent memories of other people. All of whom knew something was wrong. All of whom would talk about my crazy mother behind her back. None of whom did anything. I learned early that my father wouldn’t stand up for me.

I remember having to re-write school assignments for hours until they were approved. I remember all of my “infractions” being counted throughout the day to determine the number of hits I would get every night. I remember some of the sessions feeling as though it must have lasted at least an hour. I remember hearing everyday how bad I was. I believed her. And so I never tried to be “good”. I knew it would be useless anyway. The rules always changed. She was always mad. She was always yelling. Always. I never imagined that I had any power to change anything based on my behavior. So I didn’t try. I just found my hiding spots and made up my own stories.

We returned to the US for a while, before going back. I asked about Lacey. I had been thinking about her and missing her the entire time we were gone. The only time I experienced the sensation of missing someone until much later in life. My dad told me that they family who had been watching her decided they didn’t want to give her back, so he said they could keep her. I felt again, that he wouldn’t stand up for me.

In our second house in New Zealand I would climb down the hill behind the house and be gone for hours. No one ever noticed. Not until I took my brother with me one day. I was a nuisance, so the only way to avoid punishment was to disappear.

When we came back to the US things got worse. In the US you had to be vaccinated to go to school. You also had to be surrounded by ungodliness. So I was homeschooled. I was at home. All day. With her. They also suddenly became even more religiously conservative. I was no longer allowed to go anywhere with friends. For a while our neighbors could come over to play, until one of the boys kissed me. After that it was just me and my siblings. At home. With her.

We all got assigned the household work. I had the kitchen, the dusting, the mopping, my room and bathroom, my laundry, and occasionally her room and laundry. My brother had the vacuuming, feeding the pets, and his room and laundry. My little sister had her room and laundry. But we were all so lazy. She would nap, drive us to homeschool events, go to the store, and “organize”. We were the lazy ones. We were bad. We were lazy. We were rebellious. It was all our fault.

I started getting grounded from the few things I was allowed to do. Watch G rated movies, talk on the phone, go to church events. Didn’t lift your blinds this morning? Grounded for a month. Didn’t wash the dishes in time? Another month. And another. I just assumed it was a permanent situation, so again, I never tried. I did try speaking up though. My dad would always tell me, “your mother does so much for you, why don’t you appreciate her?” I remember writing my dad a letter describing the situation. I could tell it shook him. He said he would talk to her. She yelled at him. That was the end of it. I continued to learn that he wouldn’t stand up for me.

I told a relative when I was around ten years old that I wished she would leave and never come back.

No mother at all is better than a whirling mass of violence and anger impenetrable to reason.

In a strange turn of events she started comparing my siblings to me as they got older. Your sister got these grades and your sister wasn’t as bad as you, etc. I can only imagine how the must have felt being told that they were worse that their bad, rebellious, lazy sister.

The fear of the outside world grew. Daring to have a friend that didn’t attend our 100 person church was out of the question. Dating was out of the question. Even our relatives of the same religion weren’t conservative enough and were therefore suspect. We were warned about them. We were warned about everyone. Everything and anything happening outside of the bubble was to be feared. So we stayed at home.

By some miracle I made a friend at the age of 16 or 17. She went to church with me. Then another girl moved into town and starting going to our church. I was finally allowed to go somewhere with someone outside of the home. I started secretly dating the second girl’s cousin. 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 suitor 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 don’t remember how, but I pushed him off of me and ran to the other room. Bleeding. 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. She has grown up now, and we are both different. She is still my friend. I can’t blame her, because I hadn’t learned yet either. I would have said the same.

I never told anyone else for a long, long time. I knew my parents would also tell me that it was my fault. Dating. Being alone with a boy. Kissing a boy. Growing boobs. And I would be locked up, at home, for good. To me, the threat of being forced to be home was worse than rape. And the threat of losing what little freedom I had gained was worse to me than letting a rapist go free.

What they didn’t know and what I didn’t realize then was that rape isn’t caused by dating, or being alone with a boy, or wearing tight jeans, or any of those things.

Rape flourishes when a girl is told marriage is how she obtains worth, and virginity is how she gets married. When her virginity is stolen, she will never tell. Rape flourishes when women are told that they are at fault, and face dire consequences if they reveal their rapist. Rape flourishes when women aren’t taught about their bodies, told that they aren’t able to make their own choices, and how to identify predatory behavior or even that it is wrong. Rape flourishes when it’s always a woman’s fault when a man has desire. Rape flourishes when you teach your boys that they own and control women.

I moved out of state when I turned 18. I hit a breaking point when I realized that it wasn’t just my parents and the people at my church who were this way. I went to a small Christian college, and realized that these attitudes were the norm. This time I bucked against it all that I could.

To this day I cannot enter a church building without intense feelings of anger and mistrust. I will never allow myself to be held down again. I started talking about it little by little. With each memory another surfaced. Sometimes they hit me in waves. It’s too much, and I get physically ill. Some memories I still can’t bear to relive. So I push them back every time they come up. Someday, maybe. But not yet. I have found a man who loves me, and cares deeply for my well-being. They told me I was “brainwashed”. She told me I was “addicted to him”. I suppose, if you define unconditional love and acceptance as addiction. If you define peace, comfort, and trust as being brainwashed.

They have never accepted any personal responsibility. I have tried to bring up many of these instances. I’m told it was my fault. I was a difficult child. That an adult, who intrinsically has the power and knowledge, would physically and emotionally abuse a four year old and then blame the four year old is sick.

They have told me my departure is “heartbreaking”. I wouldn’t know.

My heart was broken by the very first memory.

My Body, My Temple: Beth’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. “Beth” is a pseudonym.


My first experience with sexual education was that American Girl book, “The Care and Keeping of You.”

My mom stapled together the pages that showed how to put in a tampon, because the illustration shows a girl’s vulva. I was maybe ten years old and very excited to go bra-shopping, so I didn’t really care.

Next, she gave us a cartoonishly-illustrated book that was ostensibly about sexuality but really spent the first three quarters explaining why Darwin was wrong and abortion was murder. Our world was irrevocably broken and we must pray. The last chapter put it into perspective: men and women were crafted to “fit together,” and anything beyond that was sinfully deviant, in league with graffiti and secular science textbooks.

And that was it. I first realized that penises could enter vaginas when I read a Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy X-rated fanfiction at the age of 16. My parents, bless their hearts, were trusting in their daughters and did not bother to block the internet; I think it never occurred to them the depraved depths we were capable of sinking. I had to google how to masturbate. I was 17.

You must understand: my parents were pretty liberal. They let us read Harry Potter.

We watched PG-13 rated movies, even R-rated ones so long as the R was for violence. We went to museums and saw naked Greek statues all the time. They did not block our internet access, and by the time I was 15, I was allowed to buy one-size-too-big jeans from the juniors department. I was allowed to speak to boys- although this point was moot; I knew maybe three families total with teenage boys in them. I still managed to crush on one. The heart is so desperately wicked.

No, I think that to my parents, the idea of conceptualizing their daughters as sexual beings was as outlandish as suggesting we were pod people. It was irrelevant and pointedly ignored, until I turned 18 and my mom mentioned that I could, if I wanted, find a boyfriend. You know that story about the elephant that is tied to a fence post, and so long as the string is there, even without a post, the big creature will just stand there meekly and wait? That was my sexuality. I had to fantasize about rape because I felt too sinful when I imagined initiating the sex act.

I was also mortally afraid of pregnancy. I had a grasp of biology just sufficient to terrify me; I would stare in the mirror, willing myself not to get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat. I went to Disney World at 14 and worried for weeks about going in the hot tub. What if, I thought, I got pregnant from the swimming pool or from a rape, and I had to go to church all pregnant? I’d have to put a placard around my neck or on my back reminding people that I was a victim and not a whore. So they would not be cruel to me, or whisper behind my back.

Teenage girls are basically walking, exposed nerves, at least in middle-class America. I was more exposed, more raw, because I thought of sex as a Thing men did to you, and unless you were married (I doubted I’d find a husband, I was too plain) a terrible tragedy. I knew three girls in our small group who were raped by their boyfriends even though they were trying to save sex as a present for their husbands. I was afraid and suspicious of men, but I also wished someone would catcall me or assault me so I knew I was worthy of violation.

I was incapable of conceiving a world in which I could make decisions about my body with full knowledge and consent.

My parents did not mean to do this to me. They only wanted me to grow up free of gender and sex politics, free of lust and abusive boyfriends, until I was a Grown Woman and ready to find an eligible husband. But it was not only them. It was the ignorance of my friends. It was the churches I grew up in, with youth groups that spoke endlessly about purity rings and pro-life politics. It was the sermons about marriage, Brio and Boundless magazine, Elsie Dinsmore and Vision Forum catalogs and homeschool conferences. I read the stories of abuse on HA and I am hardly surprised; this culture cultivates it, and you’d think it was intentional.

The next part of my story will probably sound flippant and ridiculous to you, because it sounds, well, kind of silly to me when I remember it. But I was watching a performance of All’s Well that Ends Well at the Delacorte Theater, summer 2011. Your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French wither’d pears: it looks ill, it eats drily. In the play, Helena decides she really wants to have a man, so she can do it, and then guess what? She gets herself a man. Get thee a good husband, and use him as he uses thee.

That was all it took.

I asked a boy out- it was a really disgusting first kiss. But I did not let it deter me. I was twenty when I met my current boyfriend, and I will leave it at that. There was a lot of fear on my end when I wanted to stay over at his apartment for a visit. I felt that I was betraying my family. That every person was now privy to my Sex Life because they knew I was going to be sleeping over.

But I wanted to, so I did it anyway.

If I were to have a teen daughter, even if she was in public school, I’d send her to Scarleteen.

I do not think the solution to my teenage terror was a nice sit-down with my mom about the wonders of the yoni! But knowledge was all I needed. I think that very conservative Christians do not necessarily value this perspective, but I feel that my identity as a sexual being does not begin or end with the sex I have. It is my identity, tied up in my womanhood. It is a way of treating my temple the way it should be treated, kindly and with consideration, compassion, and full intent.

Crosspost: Dear Sister, On Your Thirteenth Birthday

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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 October 1, 2013.

I can’t believe you are almost thirteen. 

I remember holding you in my arms when you were a baby. I remember rocking you, smiling at you, cooing to you. I remember your tiny fingers and your dark, soft hair. I remember dressing you, bathing you, cuddling you close. I was always the first to jump up and volunteer to get you up when that sweet plaintive wail came from your cradle.

Thirteen. Wow. You’ve grown so big, so tall and clever. I know what thirteen means. Dad will take you out to dinner and give you a ring. You will put it on your finger and promise him that you will not have sex until the day you marry. I know you will because I did too. And when you say it, you will mean it. I know that. So did I.

But I want you to know something, my sweet little sister. You are worth so much more. Your worth is not defined by what has or has not been in your vagina. Yes I know, hearing that word spoken so openly embarrasses you. I remember. But what I’m saying is important. You have so much to offer the world. You are smart. You have interests. You have talents. Those things matter. In fact, those things matter a whole lot more than the state of your vagina. Yes I know, awkward. But it’s true, and I want you to remember that. You matter.

There’s more, too. It is wrong, what they are telling you. Should you choose not to have sex until your wedding day, your virginity is not the most precious gift you will ever give your husband. In fact, depending on whether or not your husband will come from the same religious and cultural background as you, he may not even see your virginity as a gift at all. And if he doesn’t, don’t hold that against him, okay? The idea that virginity is something of value is “culturally constructed.”

That’s just a fancy way of saying “made up.”

There’s something else I want to tell you as well. You probably think that I didn’t have sex until my wedding night. Well, that’s not true. We almost waited until the wedding, but not quite. Yes I know, telling you that is awkward.

But I want you to know that they are wrong when they saying that having sex before you get married will damage your relationship.

It hasn’t.

I don’t regret doing it, and I don’t think it messed up anything at all. In fact, I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did. I tell you this not to tell you which way of doing things is right and which way is wrong, because that is up to you and is yours to decide, but simply to give you another perspective.

But the most important thing I want you to know, little sister, is that your body is yours

You get to choose what you want to do with it. You will have people telling you what you can and can’t do with your body, when, and how much, and how far. But you don’t have to listen to them. Your body is yours, and don’t let anyone make you forget that. What you do with it is up to you.  It’s your choice. Own that, and don’t let anyone else make your choices for you.

I’m not going to send this letter to you, little sister, because mom and dad wouldn’t like it. Putting it here is the best I can do. Perhaps someday you will find it, and read it, and then you will know how frequently you are on my mind.

I love you, little sister.


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?