Sunday, December 16, 2012

Being receptive to the purity movement

The concept of not having sex before marriage was not foreign to me growing up. I thought that's what most people did and I assumed that's what I would do when I grew up. Yes, I was a bit sheltered. All I saw were traditional family models. Of course, once I reached junior high, the kids at school were starting to experiment sexually, but not my friends. Only the "bad" kids were having sex, or so I thought. And I still thought kissing was perfectly normal. It wasn't until later that I would begin questioning whether that, too, was wrong.

In junior high, I became active in my church and other youth gatherings. I subscribed to Brio magazine and visited Christian bookstores. It was around this time that I became concerned with whether I was "saved" or not. It wasn't something that was talked about in my ELCA Lutheran church, but my Christian friends from other churches talked about rapture movies they had watched, and it frightened me. The summer after 8th grade I went to a big youth gathering. Sometime during one of the praise and worship songs the first day, I felt very moved and from then I never wondered whether I was saved or not. I just felt assured that I was. I was inspired and excited, and ready to soak up every word a Christian teacher had to say. One of the speakers was a purity promoter: Pam Stenzel. She was funny and engaging. I thought she was the best speaker there. Little did I know she toured, giving the same speeches to teenagers across the country. She made abstinence sound like the smartest decision in the world, and she implied, if not outright stated, that having sex with others gave away pieces of yourself and made you dirty. She talked about a demonstration that she used to do, where she placed a piece of tape to someone's arm, peeled it off and stuck it to each person's arm down the row, showing that it got dirty and wasn't good anymore. She said that's what sex was like. At the time, all of that made perfect sense to me. Only now do I look back and feel saddened by the damaging messages it was sending about personal worth.

In high school, I sought to go further. I was passionate about my faith, and I had the naive belief that all Christians were the same--that they all believed the same basic things and that they were spirit-led in their teachings. I didn't know the deep divides between denominations and doctrines. I didn't know God allowed confusion and misinterpretation. I thought that everything in a Christian bookstore was a safe haven, a trustworthy source of information. So the purity movement and Christian culture had an easy way in. I was primed to follow. That's when I came across I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

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