First: Some facts about me.
1. I grew up in a Christian home in rural Pennsylvania. It’s still Christian there, my siblings and parents are Protestant a la Baptist (some more absolutist than others), and I am solidly agnostic. Sometimes I attend church when I visit them, I do this because I know it makes them happy and gives them hope, but I find it to be incredibly uncomfortable. Like how I feel in nursing homes: a little sick inside and powerless to help the people there’s illnesses.
2. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was given a “promise ring” by my parents. It was very expensive and pretty, and it was a symbol of my promise to “remain pure” till marriage. I was totally on board. I am, now, a little ashamed by my then-zealotry.
3. I was a virgin until I was in my 20s.
4. I have a daughter who is six who does not know her biological father.
5. I think sex is great.
That’s the stuff I thought about when I first heard of Purity Balls.
My friend who keeps me up-to-speed on absurd pop culture stuff asked me the other week if I’d heard of these things called, “Purity Balls.”
“Ha!” I said. “Sounds Oxymoronic!”
She laughed and said, “Oh my. It’s horrible. I’ll send you some links.”
So thanks, Brooke, for the research.
Another Unreasonable Thing from the Christians
Purity Balls are silly and creepy, and–more than anything else–another way for young Christian girls to be tutored in their inequality. Taking a girl’s power over her own sexuality away is another way of saying “you are not to be trusted with this body, you are not to be trusted with this self. Here, let daddy fix it up for you.”
Having some kind of commitment ceremony, signing some kind of compact on fancy paper with her dad is NOT going to stop a young woman from, eventually, wanting to have sex. And a person should, absolutely, in her late teens and twenties want to have sex. It’s a biological imperative. Plus, it’s fun, good exercise, and important to practice. It gets to be more fun the more one practices.
Dads’ jobs are to
1) Make sure their daughters are informed.
2) Make sure their daughters feel loved.
3) Answer their daughters’ questions without judgement (which has to be incredibly hard, but can be done b/c I’ve seen it).
4) Acknowledge that children, even girl children, become grownups with all the hangups, pleasures, responsibilities of adulthood, and to prepare them for it.
5)Accept Dad’s own fallibility.
Same goes for moms. And for moms, I add affirming that a woman’s power is nothing to be feared or abhorred by demonstrating assertive, self-actualized womanhood.
About the promisor.
Asking a girl to make a promise to her father to “be pure” before she’s really able to understand the full implications of such a promise sends the message that her purity, and–by extension–her choices are not her own. Worse, that they belong to men: first a father, and then a husband. What?!
Plus, it opens Pandora’s Box of utterly odd expectations for young women (daddies have been cooking a while, they’re typically better at life than fresh-out-of-the-box, young, horny boys), potential family crisis when the promising young person realizes that sex is way more fun than pleasing daddy, and an unnatural amount of authority for daddy over whom daughter will be allowed to date and marry.
I won’t dwell here, but it is not a drastic leap between daddy being surrogate and actual boyfriend.
Daddies, though well-intentioned, and huge assets (if they are good), are not always right. They need to let their daughters make mistakes. But if they’ve done their jobs as outlined above, their daughters will make mistakes everybody can live through.
A Journalist from Glamour went to a purity ball, and said that a lot of the young women there are home schooled, and after school, often enter family business. She said that the girls pledging range in age from 4. Four! Seriously?! Some four-year-olds are still in diapers!
And The Promisee.
These moms and dads and daughters think ONLY in the construct of Fundamentalist Christian Philosophy. Some of them call themselves “thinking people” because they allege to have psychic abilities with “right and wrong” and are able to see the world in “black and white,” thanks to their good buddies the father, son, and holy spirit.
But what they mean is, “I’ve been indoctrinated to believe that my views are marginal and I therefore have to stick up for myself against ‘the world’ which is out to turn me into a ‘pagan/heathen/sinner’ because they don’t know Jesus, which is the only way to a righteous life and/or heaven.”
I’m not going to call this view of the world delusional, but I can’t come up with a better adjective, so this is me not saying that being paranoid about the world around you while talking to Jesus your imaginary friend about how hard your life is, is delusional.
Daddies can’t have too much say.
Picture this: 19-year-old daughter meets a boy wherever, introduces to daddy who’s guardian of daughter’s purity, announces the pending courtship, what does daddy do?
1. Shoot the bastard.
2. Tell daughter she is not allowed to date said boy.
3. Welcome boy with open arms, but menace boy with framed purity contract.
4. Buy daughter stainless steel locking chastity belt.
5. Act like a regular person and smile suspiciously and go have “holy cow, my kid’s growing up” moments in private.
Except for in the last option, I can see no potentially positive outcome for any of that.
Look, I’m not saying that parents can’t and shouldn’t weigh in. I’m just saying the bigger the weigh in, the less likely the teenager/young adult is to listen. We all remember being there, don’t we? Hell, my parents were pretty sane and reasonable, and I ran out of their house the earliest moment possible because I felt like they were trying to control me. I may be particularly willful, but I know plenty of people with similar stories.
And teenagers/young adults who follow all their parents’ advice, allow their parents to pick their spouse, will probably end up one of the following ways:
1. Divorced anyhow (one of the stated benefits of the Purity Ball is that it diminishes the divorce rate, which is bullshit, b/c when people don’t have full access to their frontal lobes–people don’t fully develop this way until into their 20s–they will do something foolhardy like get hitched so they can have sex).
Just a quick little thing from The Dana Foundation: A central tenet of neuroscience, for example, is that the brain continues to develop its “wiring diagram” at least well into a person’s 20s. The frontal lobes, regions critical to high-level cognitive skills such as judgment, executive control, and emotional regulation, are the last to fully develop.
2. Full of bitterness and regret at like 30.
3. Parents to 10 children before age 30, and at 50–when said children are reared–lost, alone, confused, stymied, broke, and ill-equipped to handle the world around them.
4. Going totally wild and wooly but without any smarts about how to do so safely, and winding up a single parent, dead, infected, addicted, or a prostitute.
5. Sort of normal, but overly devout & dangerously absolutist. Think Unabomber.
6. Totally ending their relationship with their parents in order to lead a normal, independent life.
Look, I’m not advocating for total freedom for teenagers. But I’m advocating for parents–especially Christian parents–to understand that even if God is the way they choose to have impulse control, their teenager may not agree, and their teenager should not be forced to.
I am advocating for parents to respect themselves and their children–who will eventually be adults, and who will need the tools to live their own lives–enough to try to find a place in the middle. And I’m advocating for people to be real about sex. There’s no reason to make it taboo or try to control it via indoctrination or fear.
The best way to help your kids about about sex is to give them all the facts, to explain their options to them in clear language, and to encourage them to talk to you about it if they decide to have sex when they’re teenagers. Which is likely. The sex part, probably not the talking part. But I bet if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to tell. You’ll have to acknowledge that your kid’s sexy parts have developed though, in order to stave off denial. I’m not saying this is going to be easy, people.
Also, if you have sons, please–for the love of all that is holy–teach them how to use a condom. I leave you with this advice: pinch the tip, and use a banana.
And About Marriage?
Really. Why bother? All right, all right. I know. Pledging in front of god and man, blah blah. Accountability, snore. (Sorry, Smellen).
But here’s the thing: aside from that there isn’t a serious economic imperative to have a marriage anymore–sure, it’s easier with two people, but it’s totally not impossible with one–there’s not a social one either. Marriage–even monogamy–is no longer as much the norm, according to this piece in The Daily Beast. Read all the linked articles there that provide a less permissive view of monogamy.
For me? Marriage seems like a pretty crass, complicated bet. I feel really young. After all, culturally, 30 is the new 20, according to AARP. I’m growing and changing still.
And if I think of the me at 25, she’s as different from the me at 20 as the me at 30. I’m different now, at 31, than I will be next year this time. The world is going at warp speed, and it’s unreasonable to expect that there won’t be irreconcilable differences in any relationship I choose for myself at some point along the way. Why invite the expense and complication of divorce? Why not just have a messy, sad, difficult, but far cheaper, breakup instead?
So to me, it seems like it’d be a lot more practical for the fundamentalists to invest their time, money, and energy from these Chastity Galas into self-improvement books, college funds, and educational materials about sex, pregnancy, STDs, and monogamy.
And for Christ’s sake, just let your daughter grow up.