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Joshua Harris in a TEDx talk from 2017, in which he talks about getting it wrong with "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." (Credit: TEDx Talks/YouTube)

Author of 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' tells publisher to stop printing it

"I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself," he said to his readers.

By Emma Prestwich

The author of a seminal evangelical Christian book on dating doesn't want to see it on shelves anymore.

Joshua Harris wrote in a statement on his website that he no longer agrees with the central premise of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" — that Christians shouldn’t date unless they’re ready for marriage — and apologized to those who found it harmful. 

"I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God," he wrote.

"I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner."

He said the book’s publisher has agreed to stop reprinting it, along with two other related books, after the copies in its inventory are gone. 

Harris, who is also a pastor, revealed in 2016 that his thoughts on dating had changed since he wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” nearly two decades beforehand, when he was 21. He said he was listening to critics, many who have said it made them feel ashamed of their bodies and sexual desires.  

Since then, he's done several more interviews, delivered a TEDx talk and written a free e-book, all exploring his change of heart. He also stars in a documentary on the topic that will be streamed online next year.

While some on Twitter applauded Harris for being so openly critical of his past work, others didn't think he'd expressed enough regret or were upset that he was being dubbed "brave."

 In the book, he uses the analogy of a man's previous girlfriends joining him and his soon-to-be-bride at the altar to demonstrate how past relationships can come to haunt you in marriage.

"...by avoiding romantic, one-on-one relationships before God tells me I'm ready, I can better serve girls as a friend, and I can remain free to keep my focus on the Lord," he wrote.

The 1997 bestseller was widely read in evangelical Christian communities and was a staple of "purity culture," which stressed the importance of keeping not just one's body, but heart new and pure for your future spouse. 

Stevie Barnes, a 28-year-old from Austin, Texas, studied the book at church when she was growing up and said it left her with deep emotional scars.

"It warped my teenage years, leaving me ashamed of my growing attraction to boys and determined to be the 'good Christian girl' and follow all of the rules," she wrote in an exchange on Facebook.

As a teen, she would frequently end relationships either because she didn't want to marry the person, or because she was attracted to them and feared she would end up holding their hands or kissing them. 

When she did became physically intimate with men, she felt like damaged goods. Her lack of self-esteem led her to marry a man she said she didn't love. 

"'I Kissed Dating Good-bye' had put the seed of thought that any form of intimacy outside of your marriage was essentially adultery," she wrote.

"Because I had kissed and given someone a hand job, I assumed I had already started down that path. When I allowed myself to give into my ex's pressuring to have sex, I assumed I had to marry him."  

Harris is now willing to admit that some of the recommendations in the book aren't biblical. 

"In an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible," he wrote in his statement. "In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some — fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken." 

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