Monday, March 19, 2012

Sexuality: the Elephant in the Room

My mom walked into my bedroom and handed me a heavy biology textbook. "Read chapter 13," she told me, breathless and blushing. Then she rushed out. I opened to the appropriate chapter: "The Reproductive System". That was my entire sex education; I was 17 years old.

I think we can all agree: sex education should probably be done by people who have said the word "sex" out loud at least once in their lives.

My parents' denial of sexuality couldn't stop puberty, and couldn't stop our curiosity about sex. Instead, their attitude clearly showed us kids that we could never go to our parents with any questions or concerns that were related to our sexuality or genitals. For me, I found some answers around age 11 when I looked up "sex" and "puberty" in the encyclopedia. Later, a hidden copy of "What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy" in my parents' closet provided hours of heart-throbbing reading.

Not every homeschooling family is so repressed about sex, but at Reb Bradley's church, my family found a culture of people who were also trying to ignore the elephant in the room. A favorite theme of Reb Bradley was sexual purity and "Biblical courtship". He was fond of referring to 1 Timothy 5:2, which says, "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity." According to his interpretation, all young men were to treat all young women as sisters, absent of sexuality.

Paradoxically, Reb Bradley also taught that these single "siblings in Christ" should not be allowed to mingle freely with each other because of temptation.....wait, what? How are you supposed to treat someone as a brother or sister if you're not allowed to spend time with them? I guess Reb really didn't believe that platonic friendships were possible between the genders after all.  I think even Jesus himself would have gotten disapproving looks like the mingling teens in the back row if he came to Hope Chapel.  After all, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11:5)--if Jesus was close friends with single women even in ancient Jewish culture, then why was it forbidden at Hope Chapel?

So how could an honorable young man find himself a wife in this gender-segregated culture? Ideally, he had to notice a girl from across the room--for her godliness, mind you, not her body--and approach her dad to ask permission to court her. Without knowing much about her, he would have to prove to the dad that he was serious about a relationship with the daughter.

If the dad thought the young man was suitable, he would inform the young man of the physical boundaries of the relationship, such as when/if they could start to hold hands. The dad could also control the frequency of contact, monitor emails and phone calls, and require all interaction happen in the presence of other family members. It was encouraged but not Biblically necessary for the father to ask his daughter for her opinion of the young man, regardless of the age of the daughter.

I saw this courtship process attempted once in Reb Bradley's own family. However, even with his courtship "expertise", Reb's involvement was not able to prevent a lot heartbreak, drama, and broken friendships when the courtship ended.  And even Reb's involvement and teaching couldn't prevent at least three of his six children from having premarital sex, including one unwed pregnancy.  I am not saying this because I think his kids are bad people--they certainly are not.  I'm only saying these things because Reb Bradley is still trying to sell himself as an expert on family relationships and courtship.  His materials give other parents false expectations of the outcome; people who take his advice should not expect better results than the man himself has been able to achieve.

When I started college at age 22, I determined to give male friendship and dating a try.  It was very difficult at first.  Because I was paranoid about flirting or being attractive, I had trouble relaxing and just being myself.  However, I was encouraged to persevere because I could see the benefits right away.  Long conversations with guys helped me see the world differently and let me experience a different style of communication.  Once I could interact freely with guys, I stopped developing crushes on every boy I saw.  I started to gain confidence about myself, and I started to see what type of guys I got along with the best.

Compatibility, not just character and beliefs, is important to consider when selecting a spouse. This is something that the couple can only determine for themselves by spending lots of time together, not only in groups but also alone.  No wonder Reb Bradley tries to downplay compatibility; he wants to keep the father in charge and he wants the father to control the sexual aspect of the relationship as well. That's why he teaches singles that they can make a marriage work with anyone, and it's better for their sanctification to marry someone really different from themselves.

In case anyone cares, even though I dated a few different people in college, I was still a virgin when I married.  However, I was surprised to learn that my virginity wasn't the "gift to my husband" that I was led to believe.  My amazing husband, himself a virgin at marriage, honestly didn't care about whether or not I'd had sex before.  Additionally, we both found that physical closeness helped us maintain emotional closeness and openness with each other throughout our dating relationship.  The process of getting to know each other mentally and emotionally is gradual, so why should getting to know each other physically be so abrupt?  We were both very happy that we allowed some sexual progress in our dating relationship, and we both feel it has helped us to have a healthier sex life in our marriage.

For me, what I've learned is that there is no use in denying that we are sexual beings, and no benefit to fearing it or trying to hide it.  Accept yourself, take responsibility for yourself, and make your own choices.  You'll find that sexuality is not such a scary and powerful monster when you stop treating it like one.


  1. Very insightful blogpost. I'm very much looking forward to reading more. I'm actually a homeschooling mother (my eldest is nearly 16)but I had a radical shift in my thinking around 4 years ago. We started to move away from the conservative circles we were involved in and now we're seen as "worldly". I've loved our life since the change. I love the fact that our homeschooled children have a busy social life but still want to come and watch "The Hunger Games" at the movies with their old parents. They continue to be homeschooled by their own choice, though we have encouraged the older ones to consider going to our local high school.

    One question I have for you concerns Reb Bradley. I don't know anything about him other than an article regarding homeschooling that he wrote. I really appreciated his admission that he did many things wrong and his attempt to warn others. Have you read it? What do you think based on your personal knowledge of him? You have me quite intrigued.

    1. Hi Rachael, thank you for commenting. I had to smile about your "worldly" reputation; it's unfortunate that it takes so little to get that label in many conservative homeschooling circles.

      It sounds like homeschooling is working for your family, and that's great. I think sometimes it can be a very good choice, if you are aware of and try to compensate for the weaknesses. I hope you don't mind me you know why your kids don't want to try public school? It seems common for kids to pick up negative attitudes toward public school from overhearing homeschooling parents, and then they imagine it to be a more terrible place than it is. Also, as a teen I was terrified at the thought of going to public school because I didn't know how to fit in and was very afraid of rejection. I hope that isn't the case with your kids, but it definitely was for me.

      Regarding Reb Bradley's blind spots article, I read it awhile ago, but I just re-read it to refresh my thoughts. I do think that it's a tiny step in the right direction, but it's far from enough. It seems to me that his article is only barely admitting something that most parents take for granted: your children are not robots. And his reason for admitting that is far from noble: it's to lessen his guilt that his children didn't turn into mini Rebs in adulthood.

      The article was written about six years ago, and is focusing on his failures with his older three kids. He always said that his younger three kids would turn out better because he started "correct parenting" with them from the beginning. (Please don't misunderstand...personally, I think all six of his children are quality people.) However, it's not turning out that way at all; in fact, the unwed pregnancy I mentioned is one of his youngest three kids.

      Additionally, Reb Bradley has never taken responsibility for a lot of damaging advice that he gave to families during the time I was at Hope Chapel. He told kids to be more submissive to their alcoholic parents who were beating them. He told a wife that she needed to be more submissive to her husband who was sleeping with prostitutes. He told a family that therapy wasn't necessary to deal with a brother-sister molestation. I don't know any teens from my time at Hope Chapel who have any respect for Reb Bradley.

      I wish I didn't have to say any of this. He's actually a very kind man, and it's a shame that he's still persisting in trying to sell his damaging advice.

    2. Just thought I'd weigh in on why one home schooled teen did not want to go to public school. I always expected my son to go to public school when he hit 9th grade. We live 1/4 mile from the school, he is an outgoing person, and all of his neighborhood friends went to school there. So I was actually quite surprised when he chose to home school.

      His reason? All his friends did was bitch about school all year long. Though every once in a while they would encourage him to join them, most of the time they told him how lucky he was that he got to study a certain class or read a certain author just because he was interested.

      Also, most of his friends are people of color, and they would share stories of how they were constantly under surveillance by the administration and not allowed "to congregate". His best friend had his guitar confiscated because he was playing classical tunes at lunch at too many students gathered to listen. He was playing classical guitar! That's hardly subversive.

      So, everything isn't always what it seems.

    3. Hi, I'm so sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your question. Life kind of happened and then I couldn't find my way back here. I've safely added this page to my favourites and I'm really appreciating your posts. Thank you also for the updated information on Reb Badley. As I said, the only thing I know about him is that rather famous article he wrote and it was good to get your perspective on it.

      So why don't my children want to go to public school?

      Well I think I have to admit that there must be an element of fear of the unknown. My eldest daughter is quite shy and reserved and it would be quite a leap of faith for her to change at this late stage. However with my 2nd daughter, like Shadowspring, I was surprised as she's really outgoing and loves being with people. But she sees homeschooling as getting the best of both worlds. She talks with her public school friends and feels sorry for them, particularly with the lack of flexibility regarding their education. Both my husband and I are academically minded and we have very much encouraged an academic environment in our home. So I think the girls feel they are getting a pretty good education without the drama of school (they both HATE the idea of the amount of time wasted there as well as all the other stuff that goes on). They have very busy social lives with both homeschool and public school children (we really encouraged this as I didn't want them growing up in a homeschool bubble). They both love to act and are involved in a community drama/singing group as well as Irish dancing lessons etc etc. Basically they feel they have a busy, balanced life that they would lose if they went to school as it would take twice as long to achieve school work as it does now (that's just the nature of the beast when you're in a big classroom, moving between classes etc as compared to having a private tutor and being able to use your time as efficiently as you desire). Another factor is that we love to travel. I've taken both girls separately to England and we've twice taken a 6 week touring trip, during school term, to wonderful places such as New Zealand. We couldn't do this if we weren't home educating. So to conclude this very long-winded reply, I think my children prefer to stay home because of the lifestyle we can have when we are free from a school's timetable.

      PS We're not rich. I just realized it sounded that way from all the travelling I described! I just have a passion for travelling, an understanding husband and an ability to live on little when my eye is on the prize - such as a trip to Europe! I also have 6 children which is why I take occasional trips one-on-one. It's more affordable and it helps me to deepen my relationship with that child.

  2. Considering all you have been through, you sound great. Any society in which young people are sheltered until they finally just leave legally is
    bound to fail. Good luck to you

    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

  3. Spot on! I've been out of the fundy-evangelical loop long enough to have NO IDEA who Reb Bradley is, but scars from similar leaders are still with me.

  4. If my husband and I had both been virgins when we were together the first time, we'd have been in serious trouble! Both having been victims of childhood sexual abuse, his far more severe than mine, we both had a lot of issues. I was woefully ignorant, despite learning about sex at 17 from a seedy novel, which made me hate God for a while because I thought it was so unfair that I had to let someone do this to me if I wanted babies. It was certainly unhealthy for him that he was promiscuous from a very young age, being taken advantage of by older girls and quick to latch onto younger, sympathetic girls who provided the mother his own had failed to be. He was terribly neglected, I was terribly sheltered. But at least one of us knew how the process worked...

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. *I went to edit my previous post and saw that I couldn't so I just deleted the whole thing to start fresh!*

      I really enjoyed reading your post, and for the most part, agreed with much of what you wrote. I'll take exception with this one part:

      "I saw this courtship process attempted once in Reb Bradley's own family. However, even Reb's involvement was not able to prevent his own beautiful daughter's heartbreak when the young man dramatically ended the courtship and started courting her best friend instead."

      As a someone who has first hand knowledge of this situation, it bothers me to no end that not one single person has taken the initiative to get the other side to this story. In the 12 years since this incident has occurred not a single question has been asked of me to tell what really happened. And I think the reason it really bothers me is that most of the people who just decided that the one side was good enough were people I had counted as very close friends. I suppose it was good enough information if it made it's way around the homeschool gossip chain and no form of clarification was needed. Oh well. In the future, if you wish to include something in your posts that have to do with the 'best friend and young man' mentioned above, I would be happy to discuss all of the details with you. Oh, and for the record...there was no courtship between the young man and the best friend. Just so you know.

      As for your comments concerning HC and Reb Bradley, I am in near perfect agreement. I feel that many who came out of the church/cult have their own issues/baggage/scars that they are dealing with. I know I do. And it has taken many years to come out of that fog and to find my true value and worth.

      I appreciate your journey and once again, thank you for your honesty. I am truly excited that you have reached a happy place in your life and I wish you the very best.

    2. Sarah,
      Thank you so much for your graciousness. I am SO sorry that no one ever asked you for your side of the story in all this time O_O, and I can only imagine how upsetting it would be to discover inaccurate information about yourself on a random blog years later. I definitely don't want to spread false information, so I'll be contacting you today to see how I should edit that section of my post.

      My intention is for my blog to show my personal journey, and to leave other people out of it as much as possible out of respect for their privacy (with the exception of Reb Bradley, but only because he's still trying to promote and sell his damaging ideas about marriage, parenting, and relationships). I'm sorry for bringing up this unpleasantness for you again after so long, but I'm happy at least to know that you've been able to sort through the HC baggage and that you are doing so well now.

    3. I've editing the offending section to this: "I saw this courtship process attempted once in Reb Bradley's own family. However, even with his courtship "expertise", Reb's involvement was not able to prevent a lot heartbreak, drama, and broken friendships when the courtship ended."

      If anyone else from Hope Chapel finds my blog and notices anything inaccurate or offensive about what I have written, please comment or contact me. My email is pasttensepresentprogressive [at]

  6. For me, realizing the my virginity would be a "gift" to my husband did not come for years and years into my marriage.

    I was not a virgin.. was rather promiscous at one point actually, and had a long term serious relationship with another man before my husband came along that was fully physical and intimate.

    Furthermore, my husband (not a virgin either) and I did not wait until the wedding night.

    However, now, 12 years into marriage, I can see where the benefit to waiting might have been. It would have been very neat (that's an understatement) to go through all of that fumbling and exploration WITH my husband instead of with somebody else. I do kind of feel like we cheated each other and that it would have been better to wait.

    I wouldn't go crazy though and say that I wish I had saved my first kiss for my wedding day-though I don't think there is anything wrong with people who do do that.

    Anyhow, years from now, you may very much appreciate that you waited and that your husband was your one and only. There really is just something special about that.

    1. Good points Emily. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I'm not wishing that we had had other sexual partners. But I'm realizing that you are trading the possible baggage from having other sexual partners for the baggage of the purity culture....ignorance and prudishness about sex, plus years of inner turmoil, guilt, shame, and denial of sexuality. In the end, it doesn't seem worth the struggle to save sex for marriage, especially when your partner honestly says to you, "It wouldn't bother me if you weren't a virgin."