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Sexual Purity 16 April 2006

Posted by Todd in Christianity, Cultural Critique, Gender, Islam, Political Commentary, Politics, Religion, Sexuality.

On PBS's NOW this week they covered the abortion ban in South Dakota. Much of what I saw wasn't news to me and most of the rantings from the Alpha Group (an anti-abortion counseling service in Sioux Falls) were par for the course. I have heard of the "chastity pledges" that are sweeping the nation, as teenagers take vows of celibacy until marriage; but I wasn't prepared for the "Purity Ball" sponsored by the Abstinence Clearinghouse (no, that's not a joke) in Sioux Falls.

We believe and think that it's important for fathers to be the first ones to look into their daughters' eyes and tell them that her purity is special and that it's okay to wait until marriage.
—Leslie Unruh, President of Abstinence Clearinghouse

The Purity Ball perpetuates that good ol' conflation of purity with virginity, an idea which is just baffling to me. Haven't we gotten over this crazy notion that sexual acts per se sully, taint, soil, besmirch or otherwise filthify the body and soul of an individual? But as if that weren't bad enough, young women as young as 12 years old come to a formal affair with their fathers to pledge to him their chastity. At the end of the Ball, the dad puts a ring on his daughter's finger as she says these words:

I make a promise before my dad, myself and my family [voice over interrupts for a few seconds] that I will remain sexually pure until the day that I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. I know that god requires this of me, that he loves me, and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

It's like these people want to prove Freud was right, or something, with this whole daddy-daughter "purity" pledge. Besides being sick, this is old school patriarchy, where the body of the daughter belongs to her father until marriage. But instead of it just being social convention, these young women pledge it in public and then get all mushy and weepy about it, being all terribly moved by ceding their autonomy and brains to their fathers. Just in case you didn't get it, she then pledges to "give herself as a wedding gift"? I'm embarassed that I live in a society where we are even having this conversation.

Maybe we should just forego the expense and pretense of a formal ball and just legalize honor killings in South Dakota. No family should have to bear the burden of an impure woman.


If you have the money and/or time, please support Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States in their fight against these anti-sex, anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-sex-ed, anti-contraception wingnuts around the country.



1. Mysticusque - 17 April 2006

The Economist interviewed a lady from the Abstinence Clearinghouse several months ago. The Abstinence Clearinghouse lady said that studies had shown that married people are healthier, so therefore the Abstinence Clearinghouse recommends that sex take place within the healthy confines of marriage. They asked, if it were true that marriage makes people healthier, then shouldn’t they be encouraging gay people to marry as well, instead of having sex outside of marriage? The spokeswoman smilingly but starchily repeated, “The Abstinence Clearinghouse recommends that sex take place within the healthy confines of marriage.”

2. J. Todd Ormsbee - 17 April 2006

That’s really the most irritating thing about these anti-sex crusaders is their moral smugness. Of course both sides of America’s dual party system (don’t get me started on that little absurdity) are capable of and guilty of moralizing, but the Christian right seems particularly good at moralizing from irrational, intractable and unsubstantiated positions.

Beware of anyone making a moral or a value position who cannot articulate it clearly, give reasons why we should adopt it, and present evidence to support it. Moral clarity is for me among the most dangerous features of both the Christian and secular (i.e., libertarian) right.

3. J. Todd Ormsbee - 17 April 2006

Incidentally, moral clarity on the left (which can be equally irritating) is usually accompanied by a lot of handwringing over one’s uncertainty, which makes it far less dangerous overall.

4. Phoebe - 18 April 2006

Vowing they won’t do it doesn’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of an evolutionary proclivity to go ahead and do it anyway. These religious righters have only increased the girls’ sense of shame when they succumb to hormonal bombardment. Let’s see, they’ve disappointed daddy, God, church, country and worst of all — themselves.

Just great.

5. Randy - 20 April 2006

I’ve got nothing against kids not having sex, or even against kids voluntarily pledging to not do it, if that’s what they want. It’s the patriarchal and borderline incestuous elements of this chastity ball that creep me out. Ewww!

6. diana s. - 20 April 2006

Thanks for posting this, Todd.

7. Hope - 23 April 2006

That Chastity ball – and the name of the event is HILARIOUS to me – is really creepy.

It is taking me a long time to sort out my feelings about sexuality post-Mormonism. I am sure I no longer believe it is a “sin” to have sexual relationships outside of marriage. Stories like this remind me of what horrible brainwashing methods are used to enforce guilt and paranoia about normal sexual feelings.

8. More on “Sexual Purity” « Todd’s Hammer - 11 November 2006

[…] A few months ago, I mentioned this growing evangelical phenomenon of “Purity Balls“, where daughters and daddies make creepy abstinence bonds to each other. Here’s a promotional video from Care Network for the 2006 Purity Ball program. I’m stupefied by the horrifying sexism, infantalism, paternalism, and bald wingnuttery of the whole thing: […]

9. Sister Mary Lisa - 1 December 2006

Eeeew. All I could do was imagine going to such an event with my dad and having to say those awful words.

I agree with you that “I vow to save myself as a wedding gift to my husband” is just plain wrong. And getting a ring from your dad? What kind of thoughts must such an event bring to the minds of these fathers as they look deep into their daughters’ eyes while slipping a ring on their finger? And their wives are at home?

Just wrong.

10. anonymous - 6 November 2007

Just reading these comments makes me sad. First of all, if it was a Christian stating such offensive comments towards those who agree with abortion or homosexuality it would be considered discriminatory. I’m not religious at all but if you want “Christians” to treat you with respect, you need to respect them as well.

Understand…these fathers are only trying to protect their daughters from being hurt emotionally. Women are valuable…but society has brought it down to nothing. Men are strong and their job is to fight for women and protect them…but society has made men think that they will never be good enough. God created sex for marriage…between Man and Woman. Even scientific research shows more and more that it is not only a physiological act but also an act full of meaning. Dont comment things if you dont even know the full story and context of what a purity ball is REALLY about. I bet there are alot of you out there who wish your dad had been around to spend time with you, love you, listen to you, and protect you. I know…I’m one of those people. All I can do is make sure my kids dont have to grow up without a father who is a positive role model for them.

11. Todd - 6 November 2007

It’s not discriminatory. It’s a critique and a reaction to an odd (at best) and abusive (at worst) social practice. I don’t doubt that these fathers have their daughters’ best interests at heart. But since when do people’s intentions excuse the consequences of their behavior?

12. Payton - 5 November 2009

I’m a 19-year-old Christian girl and I live my life conservatively. At the same time, I’m an ardent political liberal, as my goal is not to impose my values on everyone else, but simply to follow them myself. I don’t appreciate the fact that the comments on this blog seem to equate the goal of abstinence until marriage with being a mad right-winger.

I live in New York City and attend Columbia University–probably one of the most liberal institutions in the country, both in terms of politics and in terms of student behavior. I’ve spent more nights than I care to remember, holding the hand of one my best girlfriends at the nasty end of a consummated romantic relationship; holding the hair out of her face while she threw up her dinner and tequila, thinking back on all the sexual favors she preformed before he dumped her. We like to think of modern western women as liberated because we have the “freedom” to dress scantily, seduce men openly, have sex however we want, with whomever we want, whenever we want.

To me, this is not freedom. Over the summer, I was reading the Washington Post and came across a story about Sarkozy banning women in “burqinis” from French swimming pools, saying ‘Such clothing imprisons women.’ The idea that bikini-clad women are the most free represents a wildly popular, and incredibly narrow way of thinking. Personally, I dress modestly because I feel more free when straight men I encounter are forced to look to somewhere beyond my surface because the surface is covered up. I feel more confident and less prejudged for my gender when I know I haven’t tempted men to view me as a sexual object.

When I tell men on the third date that I plan on remaining abstinent until marriage, it’s valuable to see who sticks around and who runs in the other direction. When I’m in a relationship with a guy, I know for a fact that he takes me seriously, enjoys my company, and isn’t just in it for the sex. I feel FREE to love (in the emotional sense!) without inhibition because if a guy is staying with me, it’s not for something so fleeting as sexual passion, but for something much deeper.

While women may feel, in this age of post-feminism, that there are no social taboos to govern our sexual decisions, it’s important to consider the pressure our modern culture places on us to have premarital sex, in the same way a previous culture pressured us not to. My father never took me to a Purity Ball, and neither of my parents ever suggested I would be cast into the lake of fire for succumbing to sexual instincts before marriage. I was lucky that they lovingly convinced me to wait at least until I finished high school, and that by then I had matured to the point of making the decision to continue holding out until marriage.

I realized that my hormones are present but controllable. The real pressure was coming, not as a consequence of nature, but of nurture. Most of my best friends have had sex, and we talk about their experiences openly, which makes me curious. The late-night television air waves are all abuzz with the sound of screaming orgasms. No need to check out porn for steamy sex scenes–the R-rated movies I’ve seen in theaters since age 17 should suggest an extra pair of panties in the adverts. I’m overwhelmed by the number of magazines displayed openly in grocery store check-out aisles, that want to show me how to make him hot and how to have the most incredible sexual experience of my life. I figure attribution for my growing sex drive could be divided in the following manner: 20% my hormones, 30% pressure from my rotten ex-boyfriend, and a whopping 50% in cultural suggestion.

Just as women of the 1850s may not have known that sex out of wedlock was an option, today’s young women may not be aware that waiting for marriage is a viable option. It took a lot of soul-searching, a lot of research, and a lot of social experimentation for me to understand that I could wait for sex. The girls attending the Purity Ball are growing up in the USA. Trust me, they can see that the world will not end if they fall short of their pledge. However, everyone’s body and everyone’s heart is different. There are some girls out there who are perfectly capable of holding out for that one special man, and would be more comfortable doing so, but are convinced that that would be abnormal and socially unacceptable, and that sex is the only way to get close enough to a man that he would be willing to marry her. The fact that these girls have their fathers to counter those untruths is a beautiful thing, as is the fact that they don’t have to feel alone in their convictions, as they’re surrounded by other girls making the same pledge.

One last point: I know it sounds kind of weird that the girls intend to give themselves as wedding gifts to their husbands, and that it’s particularly politically incorrect. But can any men on this thread deny that when a woman consents to have sex with you, it’s a gift? If the man loves the woman he’s with and is willing to take his time and ensure that her physical needs are met, isn’t that a gift from him to her? We spend so much time trying to make ourselves desirable to the opposite sex (or same sex if we’re LGBT), and we appreciate their acceptance of us and the pleasurable sensations that ensue. If that gift is saved for marriage, it becomes a wedding gift. Perhaps a little jarring to read, but please don’t paint these people as freaks for terming it the way they did.

13. Payton - 5 November 2009

By the way, pledging to help your daughter guard her virginity has absolutely no incestuous undertones. My father looks into my eyes. He gives me jewelry from time to time. No sexual tension whatsoever. Affection from a father to his daughter is normal and healthy. I’m truly sorry that so many people never had the opportunity to relate to that.

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