A queer woman’s exposure to purity culture in her childhood — especially from the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris — led to an anxiety disorder as an adult.
Writing at the Huffington Post, Hannah Brashers talks about how the book and purity culture in general contributed to a problem that she only later realized many others were also suffering from.
As the Republican rhetoric coming from the pulpit ramped up in the months before the 2016 presidential election, I no longer felt comfortable in the church’s pews and decided to leave. Leaving a church that regularly compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia felt like escaping a dark thought prison, and just three months after my escape, I discovered I was queer. Having come to terms with both my agnosticism and my queerness, I felt ready to date.
But every time Brashers attempted to meet a woman for a date, her body betrayed her, and she would end up in the bathroom vomiting. After multiple incidents of this, she learned that emotional trauma can have disastrous physical consequences:
I didn’t just grow up surrounded by the ideologies of purity culture — I believed the narrative with every fiber of my teenage being. When I left the oppressive church of my childhood, I naively assumed that I could easily shed the principles of purity culture. The anxiety disorder that sprung up when I attempted to enter the dating world proved that, instead, they had been violently hammered into my psyche.
Dating and sex had felt dangerous and sinful for so long — not to mention the biblical implications of dating a woman. I had trained myself to shut down all bodily desires and now that my desire had awakened, a fight or flight response had been activated. I couldn’t seem to convince my body that dating was safe. I realized that while I’d been convinced during my youth that I was making the choice to not date or have sex, I had actually been stripped of bodily agency. The fundamentalism of my upbringing had terrified me into submission.
Completely unable to function, I started therapy.
Of course, Joshua Harris alone is not responsible for my anxiety disorder, but his book illustrates how lasting the damages of purity ideology can be. Although I haven’t read the book in decades, my body still harbors the trauma of its teachings. As a lesbian, I’m also unlearning the homophobia I’ve internalized. I am not sick and my desires are not evil.
Gay, straight, or bisexual, it seems that no one of any orientation has been able to escape the consequences of purity culture. I’ve heard stories of straight couples who couldn’t have sex on their wedding night because they discovered that “flipping the switch,” so to speak, and suddenly thinking of sex as a thing to be celebrated wasn’t so easy after years of being told it was sinful and wrong.
Today, while Brashers still has panic attacks, she is able to eat and date without throwing up. She shares her story so people with similar experiences can feel seen.
(Image via Shutterstock)