Yet even the language Christians and feminists use to talk about sex is different. While being "countercultural" in the 60s might have involved orgies and free love, in the evangelical world, it means preserving one's emotional and sexual purity despite the mores of "mainstream" culture. For that matter, "the way we talk about intimacy is less about physical intimacy—it's about emotional intimacy," Anderson said. "When people talk about affairs [in secular culture], they usually mean the physical relationship, but in evangelical culture, there's a discussion of the emotional affair, the emotional giving-away-of-yourself." Growing up, Anderson's youth-group leaders would warn against the temptation of sexual "petting," and they cautioned against "solo sex"—"Christianese for masturbation," Anderson writes.
These differences in language, values, and philosophical orientation are non-trivial, but they can also be misleading, because neither feminism nor Christianity are totally (or even mostly) political movements. In their own ways, both are orientations toward the world that provide people with guidance on how to be human, and how to treat other humans. Both are framed around a set of texts that require interpretation; according to Anderson, those texts actually overlap significantly. "I believe that God did create us with our gender identities, including trans and non-binary identities—having those different perspectives is important for creating a world full of diverse understandings," she said. She considers the parts of the Bible that don't quite jibe with this—like Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy that women should be submissive, and will be saved through childbearing—to be "culturally bound, and they do not apply now.”
Although her book is all about sex and sexuality, Anderson maintains that a single-minded focus is counter-productive. "Sexual purity—rather than a relationship with Jesus, caring for the poor, or loving one's neighbor—has become the marker of a good Christian," she writes. Conversely, at times, "sex becomes the god we worship, and we will go to any length to obtain it." The solution, she writes, is to recognize that "sexuality is not the center of a person's life, faith, or health."
"I’ve always found that kind of funny that my first book ended up being all about sex, when part of my thing is that sex doesn’t determine who you are as a person," she said. It's an odd way to put it: Anderson claims she has developed a whole new way of thinking about Christian sexual ethics, yet she refers to this casually as her "thing." The personal quality of her argument doesn't necessarily make it more persuasive; it would take more than 200 pages and a quick skip through history to reconcile two ideologies that have been defined almost wholly in opposition to one another.
But it is probably more honest. Anderson really wrote Damaged Goods because, as she puts it, "I felt like a freak because I was a feminist, a Christian, and a virgin." For the next generation, this might be a useful framework for engaging with both Christianity and feminism, and one that will probably resonate: understanding the work of Jesus and the identities of women not in abstract political terms, but as glimpses of truth people use in shaping their own lives.