Monday, January 28, 2013

Why was it so hard for me to leave?

In my previous post, I explained my reasons for deciding to leave the purity culture, and told how monumental this decision felt to me. I truly did fear the consequences of my decision, or rather, of my future intentions of living out my decision. And it felt like the biggest shift I'd ever made in religious doctrine. But why was it that big of a deal? I've certainly known many Christians who didn't take it as seriously as I. Sometimes I'm made to feel immature for taking so long to realize my own independence. When I was recounting all my reasons to quit my belief in purity last week, objectively it looked so simple and clear. But it didn't feel that way to me at the time. So I'm going to explore why.

My personality lended itself well to this kind of discipline. I'm a perfectionist. I'm a logical thinker. I get passionate about the things I believe in. I care that my actions are consistent with my beliefs, and I hate hypocrisy. I've never been the type of person who has to learn from their own mistakes; I can learn and take advice from others unquestioningly (for good or for bad). So when I am convinced a certain belief system is right, like the purity movement, I'm going to go all the way. I am going to live it, and not question it. I won't even be tempted to live another way if I believe it's right. Living purity was not hard for me, overall, at least in the areas where it seemed to matter.

The purity movement gave me the protection and excuses I craved. As an introvert, I never wanted to go to high school dances, college mixers, or awkward dates. Purity culture gave me validation for those desires. God would bring the right one to me at the right time, so I didn't need to put myself out there. I could run away from boys rather than try to develop maturity in relationships.

I thought my own self-worth was directly tied up with my sex life. This was something I didn't realize was true until afterward, when I read and watched Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. If my sex life was pure and good, I was pure and good. The thought of having premarital sex would be like turning me into another person, regardless of how I thought, acted and believed in every other area of my life. It was a huge part of my identity, and I'm sad to say it influenced how I saw other women, too. A bad reputation was terrifying to me.

I was taught that God punishes his children. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this idea that God disciplines believers more than unbelievers, because they are his children and he loves them and wants them to grow correctly. I interpreted this to mean that if I messed up, I would be more likely to suffer the negative consequences than the average girl would. Whereas she was playing with normal odds, I had the odds stacked against me. I assumed that if I had premarital sex, my odds of getting pregnant or an STD were really high. So sex scared me.

I was taught that there would be rewards for waiting, and conversely, punishments for not waiting. This is a topic I want to write a separate blog post on in the near future, because this idea we were sold that saving ourselves would reap amazing benefits was such a bold-faced lie yet swallowed so easily that married people continued to believe it even after experiencing the reality. I wanted the reward. I expected it. I wanted the fairytale, magical sex life that was promised to me if I waited so bad that I didn't want to have it tainted in any way. I feared that any deviation from purity was going to be totalled up and subtracted from the happiness of my future married sex life.

The people I respected for their faith had all waited. At least, that's what they said. If they had not waited, they expressed regret and a belief that they should have. All my friends at bible college who were marrying young were waiting. It seemed that the only people who weren't were outsiders or people who weren't serious about their faith. And I wanted to be in good company. The social pressure felt strong to me. I knew how my friends would view me if I chose a different path than they did.

If I left now, I would be behind. I knew most people who were not a part of the purity culture were dating around, gaining experience, growing up in ways I wasn't. The older I got, the scarier the thought of leaving was, because I would have so much catching up to do in the world of relationships. I was afraid anyone I dated would think I was a freak for being so sheltered and inexperienced.

I hope that helps explain the uphill battle I faced when trying to free myself from purity culture thinking. Now, they do not bother me, though I still find myself worrying about how I am perceived by friends and family who would disapprove of my choices. I would love to hear from anyone else what difficulties they had to overcome in this area.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My decision to leave purity behind

I was 26 going on 27, the age where one could definitely say I was past my marrying prime according to conservative Christian standards. This realization is probably what made me finally think about purity in a different way. Because when you're young and you expect to get married in a short time frame, saving yourself for marriage doesn't look so daunting. You expect you will fall into place with the majority of everyone else while leaving the older singles to worry about their life. You can easily write them off as a rare select group of people that God has special plans for. Or they're just unlucky, and it will make you feel more lucky in comparison. But when it happens to you and you are suddenly in the minority among all these young married couples, it may feel like time to self-evaluate. At least it did for me.

It was suddenly very clear that all the purity teachings were based on the assumption that I would be married in my early 20s. Since I no longer fit in that category, should all those rules apply to me? What kind of system can be considered good if it neglects to incorporate all the people within that system? Is it really that inflexible? Is God that inflexible? I began to see the purity movement as a well-intentioned system with unrealistic expectations and lack of consideration for non-mainstream individuals. The purity movement that I knew never talked about the widowed or divorced, but according to the logic they were using to promote abstinence before marriage, it would certainly also apply to people who had been married in the past. Should we really expect them, too, to return to an asexual nature where you cannot act on a single sexual impulse, not even think about sex?

Because that's what purity culture ultimately expects people to be outside of marriage: asexual. Putting down all natural desires both in mind and body. I realized I couldn't possibly believe God created us to be that way. Anyone who successfully put to death their natural sexual desires would have a very difficult time bringing them back to life in the marriage bed. The fact that Christian couples proclaim to have great sex lives right off the bat means they had to have failed at total purity leading up to the marriage. If success is dependent upon failing the system, then the system is clearly broken, is it not?

Then there was the issue of how it affected people: their behavior and decisions. Young Christians rush into marriages so they can have sex sooner. A society that assumes every unmarried person has never experienced sex and every married person has a great sex life is a setup for division, jealousy, arrogance and suffering. I had seen countless young worship leaders, musicians and youth ministers brag to a room of young people about the beautiful wife God gave them and hint at how fun sex was. And even more commonly I had seen the jealousy of unmarried men and women towards their married friends. I had known men who were "ready for marriage" who proposed to the first girl who would let them. I had seen female friends of mine pine away and mourn their singleness, letting it occupy their every thought. Single people were clearly pitied while married people were celebrated and accepted. This worldview hurts people. It breeds inequality, competition and dissatisfaction. This can't be the right way.

But what of the bible? Isn't that why we're all doing this? Doesn't it say something about no sex outside of marriage? Come to think of it, I didn't know of any one passage that stated that. There was plenty of talk of sexual immorality but what did that include? Does the bible specify or are we imposing our preconceived ideas on the text? This is a whole other discussion for a later time, but suffice it to say, I realized the biblical defense of purity was too weak for me. I even began to question what marriage was. Because if purity hinged everything on a marriage date, what was the criteria? The legal document, the ceremony, or the commitment to each other? If it's that fuzzy, how can the rules be so strict?

With all of these thoughts swirling through my head, it dawned on me that I no longer believed in the purity movement. And that I no longer believed that sex outside of marriage was a sin. And that if I became involved in a serious relationship in the future, I probably would not wait to have sex. I wish I could convey how big this felt to me. And how scary. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I would be severely punished by God if I was wrong. But I also felt truly independent. And also as if I had made a transition from a girl into a woman.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My single years after college, part 3

During this time of questioning, another college girlfriend got married. They had started dating in college, but when he got a job on the East coast, she stayed in Minneapolis, and their relationship became long distance for the next three years. She didn't move out to be with him until he proposed. The long dating process was rare in those circles. I remember discussing it once over brunch with her, and she said she had told him she was ready to get engaged whenever he was ready, but in reference to sex (and perhaps a ploy to get him to propose sooner), she added, "I can wait, but can you?" This was another very clear case of the expected gender roles in regard to female sexuality that I discussed here. Apparently she had little desire to have sex with him, but assumed he couldn't control his desire for her.

When she announced her engagement to our small group of friends over a Facebook message, one of the other girls, who was already married, wrote her a silly limerick that joked about the bride-to-be hoping that her fiance would be good in bed. She responded to it by saying, "It reminded me that I'm going to Do It with a boy which kind of freaks me out!!" Maybe she was only saying that to appear modest, but it seemed strange to me at the time (and still does) that she wouldn't feel completely comfortable with the idea of having sex with the man she supposedly loved and was going to marry.

By the time of her wedding, I was already a fairly harsh critic of evangelical Christian culture, so I had little patience for seeing what risque or helpful gifts she was going to be given at the private shower/bachelorette party the weekend of her wedding. In fact, I think I met up with my cousins and went to an Oktoberfest party instead. But my one friend, the one who's wedding I talked about here, told me she got her a "honeymoon starter kit" that included lube, among other things. Apparently, this is not uncommon in Christian circles. "You probably think that's gross," she said, referring to my unmarried virgin naivete.

Back home in Denver and in my attempt to reevaluate my beliefs, the first big one I struggled with was homosexuality. I had always been taught it was wrong, that it was sin, that it was against the Bible. But I also believed in love, that it was the greatest commandment of all. And it was too difficult to "hate the sin, not the sinner" without finding a hindrance at loving the sinner. My roommate and I had befriended a lesbian couple next door. One of them sang in a church choir. It made me really happy that they could find a place to worship that allowed them to participate. Why shouldn't they be able to? They were good, normal people. Were their sins any greater than anyone else's? And why--if God made humans male and female with only one sexual identity--were there some people born with two genders? Where did they fit into God's plan, and how were they to identify themselves? Perhaps gender isn't so important. This was how I began to view homosexuality as not sinful. Later I would find Christian arguments that supported that belief, even biblically, which solidified my change in thinking. But it was partly due to this first honest pondering of human sexuality that I was finally able to make the leap to discard purity teachings altogether.

Even though I was able to change my religious views regarding homosexuality, getting rid of the purity doctrine was much harder. Whereas homosexuality seemed to be an endless topic of debate amongst Christians, purity was widely accepted. Where homosexuality didn't affect me on a very personal level, purity was part of my identity, and my beliefs surrounding it would have an impact on my future actions and choices. Where accepting homosexuality felt like love, rejecting purity still felt like...sin. Selfishness. Impatience. Rebellion. Everything I had been led to believe sex before marriage was. It was so ingrained in me for years that waiting for marriage was the only right way, that the thought of turning away from this one right path was frightening. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My single years after college, part 2

Many people begin questioning their beliefs and learning who they are in college. That's when the majority of us become independent, confront different people and different lifestyles, allow ourselves to try new things. Or so I hear. That's not what it was like for me. All that came much later, when I moved away. Bible college wasn't about questioning; it was solidifying beliefs. Gaining sound doctrine. Delving deeper into the faith. It's not that I never got to ponder big's that there were certain limits and boundaries to how big I could allow myself to question things like right and wrong and who God was. I felt such an impetus to have an answer for everything--to figure out where I stood on every religious issue. That is why, with this mindset, it took me a few years past college to even get to the point where I could truly let myself relax a bit, open myself up to new ideas, reevaluate my beliefs, and begin questioning.

When I moved to Denver, the friends I made were not zealous about religion at all. But they were more like me than any friends I had before. I could be myself and do things that I enjoyed doing. I didn't have to feel obligated to believe a certain way to be their friend. They didn't care if I went to church. But I did find a church to attend. I felt rebellious and guilty with the one I picked, because it would not have been approved by my bible school friends or anyone from there, mainly because it was more theologically liberal and the services more liturgical. But I felt more at home there than at any of the Baptist or E-Free churches I attended with friends in college, and that felt really good. My introverted self was allowed to be peaceful and meditative during church, and the community welcomed and accepted me in a way that felt genuine. They weren't trying to increase their membership with me, and they didn't try to convert me to believe a certain way. I had room to breathe. No pressure.

My decision to participate in a year-long bible study at that church is what I look back on now as a big step toward my ability to become capable of leaving the purity mentality. Because it is there where I had discussions with people who opened my mind to other possibilities. I was shocked to find people who considered themselves Christian yet held none of the same things sacred that I did. Virgin birth? Inerrancy of the Bible? Original sin? If they could question the things I held as fundamental to my faith and still keep faith, then maybe my faith could live independent of the things I'd attached to it, too. As I got to know these people, I found them to be very loving, giving, and great friends. They loved God and their church, too.

By the end of that year, I had decided to take a mental step back. I would relieve myself of the pressure to have an answer for everything. I would ask "why" without feeling guilty. I'd stop caring about the approval of others and figure things out for myself. I'd allow my heart and my gut instinct to have a voice. And I would reevaluate many of the tenets of evangelical christian culture that I'd always assumed I had to believe in order to be a Christian.

That was a big deal for me, and it was slightly scary. I wondered if I would lose my faith if I began questioning everything. I never realized how much of my identity was tied up in my beliefs until I began letting them go. In the end, I think it helped me find out who I was apart from the culture I was raised in. It was incredibly freeing to be able to answer a controversial issue with, "I don't know" and be okay with that. I stopped seeing the world in black and white, and found that most things in life needed a balance: an ambiguous line drawn somewhere in the grey.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Discomfort with women's sexuality

As I've been seeing recent talk and discussion about rape culture and purity culture, I've become more aware of the culture's discomfort with female sexuality. I understand now how modesty doctrines equate to shaming a woman's body for being curvy and sexual, a.k.a. normal and natural. It brings back to me memories of teachings I received at bible college and of common jokes told or advice given.

The basic understanding that I and everyone around me seemed to accept, is that men are sex-obsessed animals, and women are demure creatures who don't have much of a sex drive at all. The fact that most women did have a sex drive was easily hidden, because sex was an uncomfortable enough topic that anyone who could pretend it didn't apply to them did it gladly. Male teens and young men were always lectured about masturbation and porn, because it was widely accepted that they naturally struggled with those things. Those talks were almost never given to girls or women. Even in settings where men and women were equally present and sexual immorality was the topic, the speaker would only call out the men to listen to what he had to say about masturbation. As a woman, I felt relief that I wasn't being put in the hot seat (hence why no women spoke up to clarify that women have natural sex drives, too). At the same time, it made me feel more ashamed. Because I did masturbate and had since puberty. I even enjoyed watching porn sometimes. But apparently that made me an anomaly, because women weren't supposed to be tempted by such things. Sure, every once in a while a pastor or teacher would say, "women can struggle with these things, too, you know," but it was always an afterthought, and it implied it was rare. No woman I knew had ever admitted to it. Seriously. Not even as a prayer request or admittance of sin. Not in a small group of all women. The thought of it was humiliating. Sexuality was not appropriate for women. The only time a woman would confess to sexual sin was when their boyfriend had pressured them into sex. It wasn't as embarrassing to admit to that because it was the man who wanted it, not them.

When it came to male-female relationships, it was common to joke about how men always wanted to be more physical while women put up with it. But the way in which women would talk about their men, it was clear they relished the fact that he wanted her and was attracted to her. Men wanted sex all the time in their marriages, while the women supposedly wondered what was the big deal about sex. That's why there are so many teachings for women to "give their husbands the sex they need." Women are pictured as sacrificial saints in their married sex lives.

Of course it wasn't always this extreme in reality; this is just the underlying impressions we all had being a part of this culture. But my generation was also raised within the new purity movement, where we were told that sex was great (only in marriage) and promised that holding out would reap big rewards in the form of an amazing sex life as soon as the wedding ceremony was over. Because of that, girls would speak of looking forward to sex after marriage. That was acceptable, because we were all supposed to enjoy marital sex--just not as much as our husbands. It was, after all, a blessing we should receive if we were pure, so we all looked forward to it and expected it.

Why did we buy into this story? It allowed men to be MEN and women to be pursued. It allowed the theology of complementarianism to look like it made sense. And let's face it, the secular world wasn't that much different in their discomfort with female sexuality.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My single years after college, part 1

The first couple years out of college were tough. I had no real plan for my career so I moved closer to home and took the first job I could find while I figured things out. It took me two years to decide what I wanted to do and to jump on an opportunity. During those two years, I suffered from depression. My job was stressful, I had left my friends in Minnesota, and I felt no pride or accomplishment with my life, which is something I need to feel fulfilled.

Out of my small group of close friends from college, two of them got married during this period. One, right out of college, and another after a very short dating and engagement. I always knew that she (the latter one) would be very "intentional" about her relationship whenever it happened, but it surprised me to see her get married within one year of their first date. With me living 5 hours away, I barely knew her fiance. They seemed like a good match, but as the wedding date neared I found myself wishing something would cause it to be called off. After the wedding, I cried as I drove myself home, because I felt that I had just lost my best friend. I knew that her serious nature and beliefs about marriage would cause her to change once she got married. And I was right. She stopped confiding in me and sought out married friends from church. When we met up, she was no longer free to do as she wished. Everything had to go through her husband first. She quit her job and never started again, so we no longer had work to relate on. I simply wasn't ready for our relationship to change, at least not so soon.

My own views toward marriage at that point was still the same: waiting for God to bring along the right one, whom I hoped would be as abstinent as I was. I didn't do anything to try meet people. It was too hard with my crippling self esteem and depression. As I watched everyone I knew from high school get married, I grew increasingly self-conscious about my single virgin status, but there was nothing I could do about it as far as I could tell. And I got pretty good at not caring. Over time, perhaps as a defense mechanism, I came to see myself as someone who would never love. Romantic love didn't exist for people like me as far as I was concerned. It made it much easier to be single and enjoy the things I did have. Looking back, I wonder if I simply wasn't ready for an adult relationship. I'm really not sure. Even when I eventually did come out of my depression, I still identified myself so closely with singleness that when I did find love at 28, I was consistently baffled to find myself falling into romantic cliches that I had seen my whole life but never allowed myself to think could be for me.

In an exciting decision, I moved out to Denver with a friend, where we were both planning to attend grad school. This move made all the difference in my life. I was 24. I had a fresh start with a new job I actually liked, a plan for my future, new friends, and a new church--one that was quite different from the conservative churches I'd attended my whole life. Within a couple months, my depression was gone. Moving that far away from my family, church and college friends would prove to be the distance I needed to find out who I was, what I really wanted out of life, and gave me room to question my beliefs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Article on purity culture

There's an article in The American Prospect, "Purity Culture Is Rape Culture," that links the brutal rapes in India to purity culture. Some quotes:

“Rape culture,” as young feminists now call this, isn’t limited to India. It lives anywhere that has a “traditional” vision of women’s sexuality. A culture in which women are expected to remain virgins until marriage is a rape culture. In that vision, women’s bodies are for use primarily for procreation or male pleasure. They must be kept pure. While cultural conservatives would disagree, this attitude gives men license to patrol—in some cases with violence—women's hopes for controlling their lives and bodies.

In other words, only virgins can be raped—sweetly white-gloved, white-skinned virgins. Any woman who ever wanted sex—yes, that includes married women who unconditionally give permission when they put on that ring—deserves what she gets. 

Connecting the dots between rape culture and purity culture is a recent thing for me, and something I would have scoffed at 5 years ago. Most people within purity culture have never thought these things through to their ultimate implications. They don't realize that the underlying belief system that promotes purity also promotes a very discriminatory view of women. And as long as the women in these cultures follow along, rare few will ever have to face the ugly truth. It's not until women begin questioning and taking control of their own lives and their own sexuality that the backlash against them will come out. And the anger and disgust you will see will reveal their true feelings towards women.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bible college, part 2

It always felt like the sole voice of reason regarding purity came from the faculty, who were more loosely aligned with the school's beliefs. Northwestern was consistent with picking like-minded staff, but professors were harder to come by, and let's face it: they're thinkers. One day after a chapel session where a guest speaker claimed dating was faulty, the professor in my next class ranted about how silly that was. He said that people needed to have a way to get to know each other without their parents looking over their shoulder. He said he feared the purity approach created daughters who still clung to their mothers and weren't ready for marriage. I changed my mind a couple times that day, but I was and still am grateful that someone stood up to challenge a purity idea in that setting. Too often in any Christian setting, people are afraid of voicing dissent to a righteous living ideal, for fear of being viewed as more sinful or worldly.

Years later, the same professor brought up the purity ideology to say that he didn't like how it had an all or nothing approach. If a person committed one slip-up, one mistake, they were no longer pure, and never could be again. There is no room for error, and it paints humans as nearly equally tarnished whether you were 99% good or 50%. Sure, people who change their ways or vow to be perfect going forward are respected, but they are still considered different from the rest of us "truly pure" folk. At the time, purity was still so ingrained in my belief system that I didn't know what to do with that criticism. I sympathized a little with the harshness of purity's standards, but at the same time I suspected that people were just trying to get away with more leniency, and I didn't like that because I wanted my future husband to be as pure as me. It was easy for me to be judgmental because I wasn't in a relationship where I had to figure out where the lines were or be tempted to push boundaries.

My theology professor junior year told us stories from his more conservative past. He attended Pensacola Christian College and spoke of how many misguided young marriages he witnessed. The purity culture there was so extreme that couples rarely touched or spent unchaparoned time together. As a result, they rushed into marriage as soon as graduation was over, and it horrified him to see people making such big mistakes. He almost went down that same path after listening to a preacher talk of respecting women by not touching them at all before marriage. He excitedly told his mother that he had decided never to even hold the hand of the woman he was going to marry. His mother responded, "That's a horrible idea! Why would you cruelly withhold affection from the woman you love? If you respected her, you would show her you love her."

The pressure to find a husband in college was intense. "Ring by spring" and "MRS degree" were common jokes. I myself saw some very short engagements and young married couples struggling to get by. I saw the jealousy of singles over those in relationships, and I saw the arrogance in married couples who bragged of finding a beautiful spouse and of having a sex life. I saw the pity we had for single people in their late 20s, and the belief we had that we would never have to wait that long. I never found my husband in college like I thought I would. And the next few years of my life would be confusing as a result.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bible college, part 1

After high school, I went to a bible college for 4 years. I chose it because I wanted to find friends who were as passionate about their faith as I was at the time, I wanted to study the bible and theology more, and the one I picked had a beautiful campus, nice dorms, and a location in a city that was just far enough away from home to feel like I had moved on to bigger and better things. The school was Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Certainly not the most conservative ones out there, but enough to be a culture shock for me. Orientation week was like a summer bible camp, girls were informed what consisted of modest clothing (no spaghetti straps, no bare stomachs, no short shorts), we weren't allowed televisions in our dorm rooms, we had co-ed visiting hours. Drinking and smoking were not allowed on or off campus (honor system), and even dancing and tattoos were disapproved of. I thought the rules were harmless when I first heard they existed. But when you get a bunch of new passionate students who see the world in black and white, these rules became a major pain. People took it upon themselves to watch and report what others were doing, and anyone who dismissed the rules were guilted by fellow students who held it over their head that "you signed a lifestyle statement and therefore you are a dishonorable liar if you break any of the rules." The whole "Jesus knows" thing was used a lot. By senior year, most people had mellowed out, but those first couple of years were strange. The rare person who confessed to drinking to the dean of student life would get punished, which seemed completely unfair since they were one of the few who were honestly trying to follow the rules.

I learned very quickly not to share much of my religious background. Since I didn't grow up in a Baptist or Evangelical or Calvinistic church, I would be labeled by the students around me as someone who needed to change their doctrine and most likely be re-baptized. I was hurt and offended by this elitist attitude. One thing I did fit in with was their views on purity. I'd bet that 99.9% of the student body and staff believed that saving sex for marriage was the only right way. I had two roommates, one of whom shared my excitement over the idea of saving a first kiss for the wedding day. My other roommate had a boyfriend and was more skeptical of the courtship/purity model. It shocked me at the time and I think I looked down on her a little for it. Now I know that is an extremely common thing for people in the purity movement to feel towards people who live another way.

One thing I find funny now, but that I thought was disgusting at the time, was the way that students would blur the lines of appropriate physical touch. In the student center and lounges, it was extremely common to see members of the opposite sex giving each other back rubs. Like, suspiciously common. It was so clear that it was a way for people to flirt and show affection, but it was the one thing that could be justified as platonic and pure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Regretting what might have been

Over the holidays, I watched a documentary on purity culture called Daddy I Do. One thing I noticed is that nearly all the parents who are interviewed, not just in this film but in others like it, admit to not having waited until marriage themselves. Yet they all believe (some firmly, some hopefully) that waiting for marriage is the best choice for their daughters. It makes me wonder how they view their own lives. Do they truly regret not waiting because of some effect it has had on their marriage or sex life? Or are they simply convinced that waiting would have bestowed some magical, blessed element upon their marriage? My suspicion is the latter. It is easy and appealing to think how great your life could have been if only you had made choice A instead of B. And when you have children, you have the chance to live vicariously through them and have them make the choices you didn't. But ultimately, these parents don't know what kind of life they are raising their children for. They have never personally experienced the supposed benefits or negatives of saving all sexual activity for marriage.

Any of us who have been a part of this culture will have heard testimonies from young married Christians who say that waiting was the best thing they ever did, or that their wedding night was magical. They say everything was so much better because they waited. Well, they didn't get to experience the other side so how can they compare? Sure, sometimes one of them will be a "reclaimed" virgin who has had sexual partners in the past. Usually they bemoan their promiscuous past or tell of their abusive relationships. Rarely, if ever, have I heard one of those reclaimed virgins speak of having a past loving, committed relationship with a healthy sex life. My guess is they hadn't found it outside of purity culture and decided to look for it inside. Once you've made your choice, it's comforting to convince yourself that good healthy relationships don't exist outside of your culture.

Another problem I have with these kinds of testimonies is the problem I have with all Christian testimonies. You only hear of the positive stories. You only hear from those who have conquered a problem. The people who are struggling or dealing with failure are never asked to share their story. And a lot of testimonies are given by people who very recently accomplished something, be it marriage or conquering sin. They are high off something they are proud of and haven't yet had to face the long-term application of their choices. And let's be honest: when you've been taught for most of your life that the results of choice A will be blessings and happiness, won't you be likely to convince yourself and others that you are experiencing those results after you make that choice? And if you are unhappy, you'd first suspect yourself of being in the wrong, since everyone else looks so successful and you believe wholeheartedly in the doctrine.