Two self-described survivors of the True Love Waits phenomenon have produced a series of podcasts exploring faith, sex and life in the wake of the evangelical “purity” movement.
Ryan Clark and Nathan Novero, both Baptists, launched “Touch Podcast Conversations of Spirit and Body” today. They chose Feb. 14, 2018, because it’s both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.
“It was just too great an opportunity … when Americans are thinking about romantic love and Christians are thinking about what they’ll be giving up for the next 40 days,” said Clark, a Cooperative Baptist staff member, former international missionary and co-producer of the series created independently with Novero, a longtime friend.
With the two highly symbolic occasions, Clark said, “There’s wonderful interplay with how we accept or deny our own sexual selves and maybe celebrate or deny our sexual being.”
Clark and Novero delve into the nitty gritty in the first season with interviews and conversations with artists, sexologists, theologians, ethicists, pastors and tantric healers.
Topics range from sexual pleasure and shame to healing and pornography.
The first four episodes deal with True Love Waits, the Southern Baptist program that promoted “purity” through Bible studies, concerts and pledges to avoid sex until marriage. Critics say the program, which hit its stride in the 1980s and 1990s, also shunned sex education and instilled guilt in young people whether or not they adhered to their promise to remain virgins.
Even when pledges were honored, Clark said, it left many couples baffled on their wedding nights.
“When I got married, neither my wife nor I knew what ‘normal’ was,” he said. Both had been involved with purity programs, and both had to work through their issues after their marriage.
“As my wife says, magic fairy dust doesn’t come down from heaven and make negative attitudes [about sexuality] go away.”
In the opening podcast, former Christian pop star Jennifer Knapp shares her involvement in evangelical purity movements and points out that they commercialize virginity through the creation of special Bible studies and music.
The hosts hope the series, and a related documentary due later in the year, will help those struggling with the sexual guilt they may have developed in part from programs like True Love Waits, Novero said.
He attributes the demise of his own marriage to the attitudes and fears about sex learned not only participating in the movement as a youth, but also in being a camp pastor at one time charged with leading and promoting True Love Waits events.
“It did very little sex education and a great job at sex shaming,” said Novero, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and docu-series editor and producer.
The experience, including his divorce, nearly caused him to lose his faith and didn’t begin to improve until he saw that faith and sex were not incompatible.
“I had to learn to put God and sex into one sentence,” he said.
Novero and Clark are both natives of Arkansas and met in college.
“He went to film school and I went to seminary,” Clark said.
A few years later, Novero got wind of a book Clark was writing about sex, love and faith — and about overcoming the conservative church’s harmful teachings on sexuality.
The podcast doesn’t just deal with faith-based hang-ups about sex. It also ventures into the history and psychology of sexual attitudes and practices.
“The conversation broadens out to how evangelicals address sexual practice, and it keeps broadening out even beyond Christianity,” Clark said.
The podcast is currently available at touchpodcast.com, SoundCloud, iTunes and Google Play.