I’ve been on a reading spree recently… and so as someone in my mid-twenties, I recently read Dannah Gresh’s What are you waiting for? The one thing no one ever tells you about sex, because I was curious to see what Gresh, a noted Christian abstinence-and-purity speaker, is telling teens about sex.
I resonated with her discussion of the Hebrew word yada, which she describes as meaning “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected” (17). Gresh suggests that committed relationships can affirm our souls in this way, while using others is chatta, or missing the central goal of sexuality:
“Hear me on this: porn lures its victims away from yada. It drags a man—or a woman—into isolation, severing the ability to know and be known” (84).
For abstinent young folk whose sexuality has been formed by fantasy rather than real people, I’d say that’s right on.
But I also wonder how much this book can effectively walk young people to adulthood. Gresh ultimately suggests that focusing on Jesus and a beautiful sexual future will make everything right. But does this do better than the erotic fantasies she’s telling us to forgo?
When I shared my review copy of this book with a single friend, Anne told me she couldn’t finish it. She said it seemed ridiculous, given what she’s heard from married friends. Stories circulate among Christian youth about the effects of waiting–that sometimes, “it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” One of Anne’s friends was in an informal support group for brides who found sex to be hard, painful, or unwanted. Another admitted to Anne that this was all so challenging that “I could never work through this outside of marriage.”
Anne, who also waits, argues that Gresh is wayyy too idealistic.
So I took another look at this book, and found it more trite than before. Gresh affirms people who already buy into what she’s saying, but doesn’t provide anything real for a skeptical young woman.
And in fact, I think Gresh is asking us to buy into the religious romance model.
You know this one, in popular books like The Sacred Romance or Captivating. God becomes a warm and loving rescuer of individual hearts and dreams; a personal romance with Jesus is Everyman’s solution. Like those bestselling Christian books, Gresh sells us a story in which Jesus rescues the Christian girl from Satan, protecting her as she waits for her prince to come. Yet this fairy-tale story turns us passive, a Rapunzel dreaming of fulfillment to come in a marriage.
But is that what God does, or what the Christian life is about? The story we tell women (of relationship with God as a substitute for men) is in strong contrast to Pilgrim’s Progress and Wild at Heart, books which place the (male) Christian hero in an active role, adventuring, exploring, and working alongside of God.
Yet for those men and women who wrestle with America’s long-term singleness, I wonder, is the princess vision enough? Anne and I talk about Gresh as we weed her garden, and reach a consensus that it doesn’t ring true in our post-teenage lives:
“I feel like it’s harmful and not helpful to young women,” Anne concludes.