Duggar Courtship & Trauma
What comes up for survivors with SA in the news
Dear fellow purity culture survivor,
Yesterday I watched a behavior analysis of Josh and Anna Duggar. It was by Body Language reader, Logan Portenier, on YouTube and is a breakdown the action/response of Josh ambushing Anna for her birthday and marriage proposal. Watching her recoil brought up old pain I knew I needed to write out.
Here are a few of the take-aways from the story within the story. If the surface is Josh and Anna’s body language, the underlying truth is what happens when two purity culture kids court and get married. And that’s without one of them being a known child predator.
🔵 Purity culture obsessively seeks to shut down healthy sexual development.
🔵 Ironically, sex talk can loom in a suppressive atmosphere MORE than if development is handled normally.
🔵 Consent without understanding is impossible. Sex education is usually forbidden in purity culture homes, as is ordinary knowledge of one’s own body.
🔵 the ability to feel feelings (like desire) doesn’t return when a veil is flipped.
🔵 trauma responses related to sex are common for Christian women—but it’s hard for them to understand why.
🔵 Jim Bob knew Josh’s background when he gave Josh the (very performative) sex Ed materials the day before the wedding. He knew what would happen to Anna.
Jim Bob knew about Josh
In the video, which you can watch here, Anna and her parents are at a restaurant for her 20th birthday. Josh has planned a surprise with Anna’s dad and hidden cameras filming the event.
Josh shows up with balloons: Anna is speechless. There’s nervous giggling and an obvious attempt to perform and behave. Her shoulders curl inward; she backs up from Josh when he sits down. Her parents then get up to leave.
Josh stands; Anna backs up further. Josh commands, “come here.” She obeys with more nervous, shallow giggles. He takes her hand, removes her purity ring, and replaces it with an engagement ring. They side hug. The parents return. They’re allowed to hold hands now, so there’s a lot of awkward finger stroking involved.
Flash-forward. The day before the wedding. Josh cockily explains that it’s time for his dad to teach him about the birds and the bees. So they duck into a preschool classroom where Jim Bob gives Josh some Christian sex education material so he can (wink, wink) listen with Anna on the way to the honeymoon.
I froze the frame on Jim Bob’s, and then Josh’s, face. Smiling, maniacal lies.
Flash-forward again. Anna and Josh are older, a few kids in, and Anna is reflecting back to this wedding scene, where Jim Bob helped them understand the “mechanical parts” of marriage. It’s clear that she’s clear on the duty of her role.
Young Anna Keller was fed to the Duggar wolves.
Anna, like a lot of purity culture wives, was in shock and her fight/flight/freeze/fawn trauma response is evident.
The Kellers, like the Duggars, belong to the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) religious group, led by Bill Gothard. Women are not allowed to tell their husbands no. Girls are groomed from infancy to be submissive, suppressed, and to serve with a smile. She’s to be in helper in all ways, in whatever ways, without question.
Purity culture takes a hard right far beyond more mainstream modesty or abstinence teaching:
Girls vow their purity to their fathers. They sign covenants and wear rings promising purity until their father transfers his authority to her husband. Touch is pretty much not allowed.
Side hugs for friends,
holding hands if engaged,
Kisses for the wedding day.
Gothard Girls are the property of their fathers until they become the property of their husbands.
It is, “akin to human trafficking,” as Duggar son-in-law (estranged-from-Jim Bob) Derrick Dillard said.
Of course, it’s all sweetly spoken and smiled about, especially for the TV cameras. TLC did a great job scrubbing extremist realities of the Duggar lifestyle. Jim Bob was selling and evangelizing America, and as long as everyone was smiling, everything was a-ok.
Marital rape and forced, “dutiful” sex are a hallmark of fundamentalist homes.
Watching, I cringed for Anna. What I know from my own experience, and from listening to other survivors for years, is that:
Suppression isn’t healed overnight.
Consent without understanding is impossible.
Nervous systems need time to adapt. For example, moving from "every touch is forbidden" to "he will now penetrate my body" can trigger shock.
Fight/flight/fawn/freeze is a common part of purity culture relationships. These are trauma responses.
Before the big proposal, Anna barely knew Josh. She’d never been alone with him. Other than chaperoned side hugs, she’d never touched him. (Watching Jim Bob monitor touch in so many Duggar clips is creepy beyond the pale. So gross.) On her wedding day, she’d be kissed in front of an audience. And then that night, this virtual stranger would be inside her body.
If she was like me and nearly every other purity culture/Gothard survivor I’ve talked to, she didn’t fully understand how an erect penis can physically enter a woman’s body. She had no ability to tell him to slow down or use lubricant or where to touch or how to touch. She didn’t know the parts of her own body, their names, or how she liked them touched.
Consent? Well, kinda. She knew sex was part of marriage and that she’d have to do it, but purity culture girls don’t fully understand what that means, which makes the issue of consent sticky.
Two months after he sat on the bench saying he loved her, and two months after she pulled away, backed away, and lost her words, they were having sex. Jim Bob got Anna for Josh, to help him control his sexual impulses. (This is also a common fundamentalist teaching. Women are vessels, tools, and utensils. Sex is how they serve.)
Of course, we know now that was never going to work. Josh cheated, was accused of (and settled) violent rape, and last week was convicted of possessing the worst CSAM online. This isn’t Anna’s fault: she was the collateral in a Keller-Duggar exchange so Josh could be courted into marriage. The sexual outlet marriage provided was never going to cure the damage done by whoever formed little Joshua Duggar. And while 13 years of marriage to Josh may make her complicit in many things, it’s young Anna I saw in that video, and I empathize with her pain.
Sitting with it as a survivor.
Purity culture has steep consequences. Thankfully, the internet is providing connections for survivors to share their stories. Trauma is identified. Women are learning there are other explanations for vaginismus, lack of desire, fear, and pain than outdated diagnoses like “frigidity.”
No matter how many years pass, I think I’ll always look back on 19-year-old me, and at 19-year-old Anna, and at so many other young women and want to protect them. Watching 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On always triggered me. I was an IBLP wife once, a Christian-Patriarchy believer. I’ve suffered those steep consequences and I got myself and my children out.
It’s hard to leave abuse when your religion says it’s okay. I think the more survivors talk about it, the easier for other women it will be.
I believe knowledge leads to power leads to understanding leads to consent leads to healing. If purity culture-related trauma and damage from high-control religion is something you struggle with, I recommend @traumaresolutionandrecovery
Watching the YouTube video was actually very freeing for me. I’ve been searching for answers to my upbringing and I think I’m finally connecting the dots. Although my parents didn’t raise us in the ATI program, they went to 19 Bill Gothard seminars before and right after they got married. His teaching shaped our home life and now I’m starting to understand what I’ve been unraveling for the past few years. Thank you for writing. It’s so helpful!
thank you so much for sharing this. your perspective is deeply appreciated.