A few months ago, my friend Susie re-alerted me to the concept of purity dances and virginity balls (as all good friends really should do). Apparently these are formal dances attended by fathers and their tween and teen daughters, during which the girl promises her father she'll remain "pure" by not having sex until marriage. Here’s a quote from a story in the Chicago Tribune.
While abstinence has long been promoted as a practical if controversial way of preventing teenage pregnancy, it has been reconstituted as part of a so-called modesty movement sweeping the country. Girls as young as 10 are being asked to take a stand against teen sex and also to counter the negative images they are bombarded with in the media. That means trashing CDs with sexually explicit language, turning off MTV and throwing away low-rider jeans and navel rings.
It’s sort of a nice thought, isn’t it, that promises 10-year-old girls make can be kept?
In case there’s anyone in the world left who hasn’t heard about Jamie-Lynn Spears’ pregnancy, even good, promise-making, church-going girls can get pregnant. Yes, Virginia, there is premarital sex.
I have to say, for some reason this purity ball thing really bothers me. I myself had a love-hate relationship with premarital sex as a teen and early twenty-something. Raised in a deeply religious household, I worried a LOT about mortal sin, especially sin of the sexual variety. For some reason, I thought the sexual sort of sin was maybe worse than, say, lying about curfew or coveting my neighbor’s cow. (For the record, after years of study, I now think all sins are pretty much sins. You may disagree with me if you like.) Despite my desire to do the right thing, I still had premarital sex, and unfortunately at a pretty young age. My parents begged me to practice abstinence. I remember my mother coaching me constantly, “DO NOT BRING HOME A BABY.” The message “don’t have sex” was pretty loud, but the message to for God’s sake be careful if you did was even louder. I took heed.
I think it was my mother’s strong opinion that I SHOULD NOT BRING HOME A BABY that saved me from the fate of more than five of my college girlfriends – unexpected pregnancy. Some kept the babies and more than a few had abortions. I remember feeling guilty and jubilant all at the same time to realize I would not be experiencing that choice because I was so, so, so careful. I took the Pill and used condoms. I would’ve used five or six other types of birth control on top of that if I thought I wouldn’t be ostracized. I don’t regret that decision. Would it have been better if I’d been abstinent? Oh, absolutely, I think. But I was young and hormone-ridden and IN LOVE (or so I thought), and in the heat of those moments, even the best-schooled young ladies can give in. Abstinence is a good message, but I’m sorry, not pragmatic. Not realistic. No ball is going to save you if you don’t have a condom when you have sex because you really, seriously, no SERIOUSLY never intended to have sex in the first place. Oops.
Jodi at Webloggin disagrees.
The bottom line for me is that I am glad that fathers are taking an active role in wanting their daughters to grow up to be moral individuals who also want to save themselves for marriage. I do not view this as a bad thing, but rather a renewed view from the past that needs to be present again.
That’s a good point. Being involved in your daughter’s life is always a good thing. Making your values known to your children is smart. I’m sure my beloved will be standing at the front door holding a baseball bat and a stopwatch when the little angel’s prom date shows up on a spring night 13 years from now. I shudder at the thought.
Still, my mind wanders to the wonderful father I and all my friends have. Every single friend who ended up making that painful decision whether or not to keep an unwanted pregnancy had a good dad – dads whom I knew, dads who I knew had protected them in the best way they knew how. And I’m not trying to vilify those girls who got pregnant: Every single one of us who had sex before marriage spun that wheel. Some of us were either protected or lucky, and some of us were not. I personally think I was lucky that my parents scared me into practicing safe sex, both with their religion and with their DO NOT BRING HOME A BABY speeches. For me, DO NOT BRING HOME A BABY didn’t mean “have an abortion,” it meant DON’T GET PREGNANT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. DON’T GET PREGNANT also meant DON’T CATCH DISEASES, and usually, taking care of one took care of the other, too.
While I usually try to link to women, this post seemed to demand a male viewpoint. Here’s Matt from Sustainability, Equity, Development:
Abstinence until marriage and biology had little conflict when people got married at seventeen. Waiting until thirty or later has become common. The abstinence until marriage conversation is obsolete, and pressuring these young girls with events like this ball and telling them they are "ruined" and "devoured" if they have sex before wedding someone is repugnant and unhealthy.
Ximena at She Has Decided made me realize why I’m creeped out by these balls:
And if abstinence until marriage is the way to go then where’s the Mother-Son Purity Ball? If daughters must pledge their virginity to their fathers why shouldn’t boys have to pledge their virginity to their mothers? Boys lose their virginity just like girls so why does this double standard exist? It is because throughout history we have been socially constructed to believe that a woman’s virginity is sacred. It is something we have been taught that we should hold on to and protect to maintain a sense of purity to be respected and valued by those around us. The same, however, cannot be said for boys. I’ve never heard the word purity being used to describe a boy. I’ve also never heard a boy, or anyone else for that matter, describe the virginity of a man as something that is sacred, as something they should protect and honor. Have you?
Why is this whole sex thing always put on the female of the species? Why is all the pressure on us to just say no? I get that the female has to bear the brunt of the grunt, so to say, but with modern contraception, it should really be an equal game. These purity balls seem like one big pressure tactic to me in a world of mixed messages.
Just say no. First one’s free.
Don’t have sex before marriage. Whatcha gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?
Don’t drink. Always a good decision.
Love your body. America’s Top Model.
You can do anything if you try. American Idol.
In a world of mixed messages, I think we need to be more frank with our kids. If you want your child to stay a virgin, then by all means, tell her that. If you want her to abstain from drugs and alcohol, make that known. But also tell your daughters and sons that if they do make mistakes, you will still love them. This purity ball/vow of abstinence thing to me sounds like a big spotlight to shine on budding bodies. A lot of pressure to put on young women, in particular, who are already trying to figure out their place amongst their peers. I’m not saying we should shower our daughters with condoms and birth-control patches, flitting around the living room like Aphrodite and encouraging them to go forth and reproduce. I do think a little conversation about which birth-control methods are the most effective might be in order, just as I plan to tell the little angel which drugs hurt you the most and exactly how they hurt you, how much alcohol you can drink without incurring alcohol poisoning and how credit card companies make their money…just in case. Just in case she ever finds herself in a situation when she’s tempted to go too far. I want her to understand all the ramifications of her decisions before she makes them. I want her to understand how very, very fertile she will be at 15, how easily a 100-pound body is overwhelmed by alcohol on an empty stomach, how nitrous oxide works on a brain and how long it takes to pay off $10,000 at 17% interest.
I want to give her the tools to make good decisions, not take away her decisions by making her hand my husband the key to her body.
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