I actually finished reading this a week or so ago, but wanted to take some time before I wrote the review. Honestly, I feel like this is a story about me rather than a review of a book. When I wrote the review for Rethinking Sexuality I didn’t go into much detail about why I believed the book to be so important. I initially planned to do one post with the review of Pure and another discussing how closely it mirrors my own upbringing. I found things worked better if I incorporated my story with that of the book. So it’s rather long.
If you just want to know if you should read the book or not, you should.
The cover of this book says it all, “Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free.” Linda Kay Klein grew up in the evangelical church during the height of the purity movement. She spent 12 years interviewing friends, and strangers, who grew up in the same environment. During this time she was able to confirm her belief that she wasn’t alone in, to be over-simplistic, sexual shame. Klein presents a group of individuals who all struggled with aspects of their sexuality and its relationship with their ideas of themselves, Christianity, and God.
Initially I was surprised by Klein’s inclusion of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris in her research. That book hasn’t crossed my mind in more than a decade, when an audio version was given to me a guy in church I liked as a way of ending our relationship. IKDG wasn’t pushed in my church like it was in Klein’s and some of her interviewees’ churches, but it had a lasting effect. And not a positive one. It was eye-opening that so many had been damaged and broken by people using this book as some sort of all-encompassing rule book.
SIDE BAR: I didn’t realize Harris was only 21 when he wrote that book. It pisses me off now to think of how influential that damn book was. He was 21! What does a 21 year old know about “kissing dating goodbye?” Ugh, that’s a whole ‘nother story, and I’m not re-reading it to do a review. I give it a 0 out of…whatever. Don’t read it. You’ll never get those hours back. Hours you could spend just breathing oxygen. In addition, Joshua Harris has begun listening to the voice of those damaged by his book. This NPR article and this one from Christianity Today provide additional information. END SIDE BAR.
True Love Waits is the movement/culture/program I remember most vividly. Not only do I remember, I bought myself a TLW ring to wear after one overly devastating breakup in my late teens, early twenties (at least as devastating as it could be for a 19-20 year old). I was all “I’m married to Jesus now, y’all,” as I held my left hand up like I had some fancy engagement ring.
SIDE BAR 2: Besides “true love waits,” I couldn’t remember the different purity movements that my church pushed on me, so I Googled “christian purity movement.” I was both surprised, and not so surprised, by how many links were presented about how the purity movement damaged women’s response to sexuality. END SIDE BAR 2.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the concept of TLW, or of all aspects of IKDG, but there incorporation with Christianity only increased the negative aspects of sexuality preached in the church. My church taught that all sin was seen as equal in the eyes of God, little sin and big sin. They also taught there isn’t a day goes by that we, as fallen humans, don’t sin. In fact, every decision a person made had a right answer and a sinful answer. Should I have a Coke or Pepsi? Should I go left at the first light, or try to avoid the stop signs by turning left at the third light? One decision was what God wanted for me, and the other was the way of the devil. So I spent a lot of time feeling guilty about everything, because I didn’t know what was right or wrong with most of the decisions I made. However, the church differentiates between regular sin and sexual sin. Regular sin is something we do that is wrong, sexual sin is something we do that makes us wrong. The first causes guilt (“I did something bad”), the second causes shame (“I am bad”). By the time a Christian female is allowed to have sex (as she is now married…to a man), her brain has been rewired to view sex and shame as the same thing. Klein discusses this concept with one of her interviewees, Jo, who is quoted as saying, “Somehow you have to be a lamb – chaste and pure as the driven snow until you’re married. And then you have to be a tigress in the bed. The vows make that instant transformation somehow.” She goes on to say, “…if you don’t satisfy him, he will have an affair, or he has a right to chastise you for not being amazing in bed…because you are responsible for his sexual satisfaction and whether his eyes wander.” I could go on, but I want you to read the book, I want you to see what’s wrong and strive to change.
What I struggled with after finishing Rethinking Sexuality and Pure was that while both books provided unquestionable evidence of how the church’s views, teachings, etc., have long-term, negative effects on women, they didn’t provide specific ways to change the dynamic. They both agree the church needs to speak more about sexuality from the pulpit, and treat it in a way that doesn’t cause shame. I don’t disagree with them, and it is important to recognize a problem, I would, however, liked to have specific ways to incorporate and encourage this change.
Overall, I chose to give this book a 4/5 because of writing style – not because of subject matter. It read more like a dissertation than a standard book. The introduction was too long for my taste – though I enjoyed the subject matter. Klein’s use of dialogue and magazine-esq interview surrounding descriptions often pulled me away from the content, rather than keeping me focused. I changed from reader to writer in these circumstances, using my imaginary purple pen (cause red is so blah) to strike through unnecessary and distracting text.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, about 2 months before it came out (pub. date 9/4). Having said that, I will own a physical copy of this book in the near future, same with Rethinking Sexuality.