Monday, August 3, 2015
Book Review: Damaged Goods, New Perspectives on Christian Purity
My foray into books at the crossroads of sexuality and Christianity have for the most part been bleak, but Dianna E. Anderson’s Damaged Goods is a ray of cheer on this sex blogger’s docket.
The full title, Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity relays the break the author makes from traditional purity movements. Instead of meeting premarital sex, gender fluidity, and short skirts with STOP IT NOW OR ELSE, Anderson braces sexuality ethics with far-reaching and textured concepts that include individual rights, consent, and a wider range of choices that can coincide with Christian beliefs.
The book’s narration trades off between a memoir-like tone and a more academic slant. There are times where the author brings the audience in with her own experiences growing up in the Christian purity culture, and the impact it had on her experience with virginity and sexual orientation. Other times she explores history and theories from other sociological and theological concepts to dissect the purity movement. Overall the narration was accessible and flowed well.
An early chapter explores the purity movement from the previous Century to where it is now, highlighting various political and social movements that had an impact.
In the chapter that focuses on scripture, Anderson uses scripture to debunk myths she asserts the purity movement treats as fact including the Biblical reasoning behind “One Man, One Woman” and the becoming of “One Flesh” in marriage.
I most appreciated her discussion on modesty and how the modesty movement seems to be targeted at policing a particular type of woman’s sexuality. Women who do not fit the image are left out, in particular women of color, women with disabilities, and women who are not thin. As a visibly disabled person, I appreciated this insight and found the discussion was a fair representation of my experiences. I did wish this section of the book were longer, perhaps a bit more in-depth.
While the book discusses more instances where purity concepts hinder women, the author gives an equal amount of weight to the experiences and circumstances for men within the movement, and I find that very important.
Finally, Anderson discusses concepts like consent, pleasure, and boundaries which are crucial aspects of sexuality that are often left out of purity culture discussions on sex.
I admit, I did not grow up in the purity culture of a church. As a teenager, I moved from a sort of religiously conservative place to an extremely religiously conservative place. The ideals in Christian purity affect most people I know in their views of sex and relationships. These ideals infiltrate political and personal views and the fight between what people do, what they want to do, and what they’re supposed to not do rages on the home front in the lives of many people I care about. Even so, I can’t imagine most of my Christian friends liking this book. The few times I’ve brought up any hint of fluidity in gender, relationships, or sexuality I’ve been shot down, sometimes politely, other times not.
However, I cannot speak for my Christian friends. I do not truly know what is in their hearts or minds and there very well could be things in Anderson’s book they want or need to hear. Even in my home town, I am seeing more and more women and men approaching their 30’s who are stepping out and defying the expectations set forth by their families and their church community. Sadly at times this is after they have already committed to a marriage they entered to make said family or community happy instead of what they really wanted. Obviously, not all Biblical teachings are bad, nor is a Christian take on love and marriage a death sentence – Anderson reveals this in her work. But the strict mores of the purity movement do real damage – Anderson also reveals this and takes the discussion to the next level.
Though my immediate family did not attend church, they still had hang-ups with sex. I see many, many of the concepts perpetuated by purity culture thrive in secular families. Talking about sex, having certain kinds of sex, or wearing certain kinds of clothes was not something polite, normal people did. Not because it was sinful, but because you just weren’t supposed to. I feel sometimes that Christian movements teach people that those who are secular or without a Christian religion are sex crazed maniacs with no morals. But I can tell you that the strict rules of purity were alive and well in my secular, liberal upbringing. Therefore I think the discourse Anderson presents in Damaged Goods can be applied beyond the realm of Christian purity.
I can’t say if I’ll be recommending this book to any of my Christian friends to bridge the gap between their beliefs and my kinky, sexually open life. I hope someday I will. And I thank the author for serving as a catalyst for that very important conversation.
You may view Dianna E. Anderson's website by clicking here.