Purity: Not an End in Itself

Evangelical Christians had a thing called “purity culture” back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m not an evangelical, so I was never a part of that, but it had to do with spreading word about the dangers of premarital “fornication” and preserving one’s purity for marriage.

A popular book on the subject was titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the author, Joshua Harris, has recently recanted his view that dating in itself is intrinsically bad. I never read the book, but upon hearing the title and reading the synopsis, I wondered how one was supposed to find a spouse if one never dated. You have to know what kind of person you’re looking for, right? And how else can one do that without dating a bunch of different people?

I suppose the author must have advocated, in place of traditional one-on-one dating, group dates or supervised hangouts where young people get to know each other without spending too much time alone, which can lead to a loss of purity. That’s all well and good, but there are certain things that you can only know about a person when you spend time alone with him or her. People tend to behave differently when they are in a group setting. So I can understand why the book has fallen out of favor in even the eyes of its own author.

The “purity culture” made the mistake of having teenagers, especially girls, think that their entire self-worth was based on the status of their virginity. If they were virgins, they were pure and good and righteous. If they were not virgins, they were soiled and damaged and no decent guy would want them.

One can be a virgin and have the filthiest mind on the planet. On the other hand, one can be a non-virgin and be fairly innocent and of course still be an intrinsically good person. A person is more than the sum of his or her sexuality, although in high school, that can sometimes be hard to believe.

The true aim of the “purity culture” should have been on getting teenagers to understand exactly why premarital sex was bad rather than telling them that they will shrivel up and die and go to hell if they have sex. Human beings have intrinsic worth, sex is an incredibly powerful force, and honestly, when you’re in high school or even college, there are very few teenagers who are emotionally mature enough to handle the ramifications of sex.

Obviously, if you have premarital sex, you may not go to hell. St. Augustine was a notorious playboy and kept a mistress, but he eventually had a beautiful conversion experience and became one of the greatest and well-known saints of all time. Salvation is complicated, and purity is complicated. Sins against purity are, at their base, like every other sin. If you choose to continue in your impure ways without seeking or wanting forgiveness and knowing full well that what you’re doing is wrong, then yes, you have a high chance of going to hell. However, if you were once “impure” and even had premarital sex, and you come to an understanding of why that was wrong, and you seek forgiveness and sincerely attempt to turn away from your past behavior, then you have a shot at heaven.

Abstinence or “purity” education needs to be based on not just the fact that premarital sex is wrong, but rather on why it is wrong. St. John Paul II wrote a series of lectures known as Theology of the Body, which explains in detail how valuable we are as human beings, the correct understanding of purity, and much more. That’s the foundation on which we need to be basing abstinence education, so teenagers can get a sense of “why” rather than just a judgmental statement (“premarital sex is wrong and you’re going to hell if you do it”) that only leads to more questions.

One Year, One Month, Handful of Days

Last month was our first anniversary, and I swear I didn’t forget about it! I’ve just been neglecting the blog. So anyway, now that I’ve been married one year, I found that I am suddenly <sarcasm> the Fount of All Wisdom and now have Useful Tips and Profound Musings </sarcasm>.

The main thing I learned is that no matter how painful or annoying or frustrating marriage is, it is better than being single. Having been single and relatively happy about it for many years, I never thought I would hear myself say that, but it’s true. It may not be true for all people, but it has been true for me.

Second thing: I’m wrong a lot! Actually, I’m wrong all the time! And it’s not the end of the world.

Third thing: A common goal helps so much. Whichever anonymous philosopher said that marriage wasn’t staring into each other’s eyes but staring together into the future was right.

Fourth thing: To the people who said the first year is the hardest… I don’t know how I’m supposed to know that until I get to the end of my life and compare the first year to all the other years of marriage.

Fifth thing: What mostly led us into disagreements was the fact that our families are so different. I come from a more introverted family, and his is far more extroverted than I’m used to. To this day, we are still trying to reconcile this. I don’t really have any Useful Tips here except that you need to remember the reason that you liked your significant other’s family in the first place. And there is a reason! You might just be too annoyed to remember it at the moment!

Sixth thing: There really is less room for selfishness. Being married doesn’t cure you of selfishness (duh), but it makes you question your selfishness and gives you a chance to push it aside.

Seventh thing, because the list wouldn’t be complete without seven: Patience. If you don’t have it, you will learn it. If you thought you were patient before, you really weren’t. Patience may also be called “the grace of marriage,” and that is something that comes from somewhere other than my husband or me.

Don’t Apologize

Ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted and several Hollywood actresses have revealed that they, too, have suffered abuse at the hands of Weinstein or other men, the “me too” hashtag became prevalent. A surprising number of women have been abused or harassed or received some form of unwanted attention or advances.

It makes me wonder exactly what is considered “abuse” or “harassment.” I’ve been stared at lewdly before and even catcalled a couple times, but that was back in high school when everyone was immature and stupid. Still, it freaked me out even then. I wouldn’t necessarily call it harassment, though, because there wasn’t true evidence to prove that anything happened, but it still gave me a creepy feeling on the back of my neck. It still made me feel slightly unsafe, and I found myself watching my back a little more closely than I did before. So I guess if you feel icky about it, it doesn’t matter what you call it—it shouldn’t be tolerated.

Yes, it does help to set boundaries for the behavior you will tolerate, but those boundaries do very little good when it’s just some anonymous creepy guy staring at you who doesn’t even know you or care about whatever boundaries you may have. In that case, I guess I’d blame it on culture and male hormones and try to forget about it unless it persists or worsens.

Boundaries are more for relationships. I’ve heard it said before that most women and girls are hard-wired to please people. This may be something cultural that was learned in elementary school or some kind of in-born survival technique. I really don’t know. The urge to please and the need to enforce boundaries conflict with each other often and can even cause great confusion in discerning what is abuse, what is normal, what is “my fault,” what is “his fault,” what I “should do,” what he “should do,” and so on.

I read somewhere that one of the keys is that if you feel something is wrong or if someone does something to you that you don’t like… don’t apologize for telling them that you don’t feel comfortable with it. That is the hardest rule to follow, especially for someone like me, because I apologize without thinking if I do so much as sneeze too loud. Saying “sorry” is a knee-jerk reaction. However, not apologizing can also be incredibly liberating because if you refuse to apologize when you did nothing wrong, you are making the other person consider your feelings more deeply. You’re making ’em squirm and putting them on the spot. The other person is used to hearing “I’m sorry” and using that as a tool to put himself into a dominant position. “I’m sorry” is polite and deferential, but in certain situations, it can be seen as weakness… and the wrong type of person will take advantage of that perceived weakness.

Don’t compromise your boundaries by apologizing for them. Remember that they exist for a reason, to keep you safe, and other people need to respect them. Your boundaries are not unreasonable. Control your knee-jerk reaction and refuse to apologize.