This book was beloved by evangelical Christians and abstinence-only educators — but the author now says it's harmful bunk

The anti-sex puritanism of the religious right has done serious harm to a generation.

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If the road to hell really is paved with the finest of intentions, one of the best examples is the right-wing anti-sex chastity movement—which has gone hand in hand with abstinence-only sex education in the Bible Belt. The data clearly shows that sexually liberal countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway actually have much lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies than the U.S. Regardless, Joshua Harris’ 1997 anti-sex book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” was a favorite in right-wing evangelical circles. But in a new Washington Post op-ed, Christine Emba explains how badly debunked the book has been in recent years—so debunked that even Harris is now distancing himself from it.

“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was a major hit in far-right Christian fundamentalist circles when it came out 21 years ago. Harris was a young Gen-X-er at the time, and his book was hailed as a manifesto of chastity by evangelical X-ers who swore off dating and premarital sex.

But in the last few years, Emba notes, Harris’ late 1990s readers have reconsidered the chastity movement and now sees its flaws. These days, Emba notes, Harris’ old admirers realize that his book “stunted their relationships, skewed their views of marriage and sexuality or otherwise changed their lives for the worse.”

Harris himself has become critical of his book. On his website, the author officially stated, “While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past 20 years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided….  In light of the flaws I now see in ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye,’ I think it’s best to discontinue its publication.”

Emba, in her op-ed, views “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” as exemplary of so many things that are flawed in right-wing dogma. Emba asserts, “Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mindset doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.”

Emba concludes, “Let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.” 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.