Friday, May 13, 2011

The Price of "Purity"

Something has come to my attention that I find so creepy and disturbing that I feel I have to write about it. The Rangeline Neighborhood Community Development Corporation is holding a "Purity Ball" on June 25th. Here's the webpage:

Here's the mission: "To instill the principles in our teenage daughters on how important it is to protect their heart and body until she commits to a man on her wedding day. On this day, Fathers make a vow and promise to protect their daughters and guard their virginity. As the fathers are making these vows and promises, they present a purity ring (or other item) to their daughters. These daughters are then under their fathers guard and protection until they are married and replace their purity ring with a wedding ring. The daughters promise their fathers that they will stay pure until a man replaces the purity ring with a wedding wing. This ceremony will be symbolic of an actual wedding."

Okay, in addition to the grammatical errors in this statement (and there are many), this is just beyond creepy. I don't have a daughter, but I am a daughter and I know that parents have a hard time thinking of their children as sexual beings. Many struggle with the knowledge that their little darling is going to have sex someday. But this is the wrong way to go. Fathers who take seriously the exhortation to "protect their daughters and guard their virginity," are going to find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation.  With the average age of first marriage now in the mid to late 20's, that's a long time for fathers to be "guarding" their daughters' virginity. How exactly is a Dad supposed to determine whether his daughter is still a virgin? Fathers often have a hard time talking about sex with daughters anyway. Many fathers describe the discomfort they feel when their daughters begin to develop sexually. Some even worry they will become sexually attracted to their daughters.  For this and other reasons, most fathers leave "the talk" with their daughters to the mothers. If fathers are reluctant to discuss menstruation and the birds and bees with their daughters, how are they ever going to discuss their daughters' first sexual experiences? And wouldn't participating in a simulated wedding with his daughter feel really creepy to most men?

Someday many of these daughters will forget all about this "Purity Ball," or it will seem an unrealistic goal. Making young people take oaths of virginity at an early age is doomed to turn many of them into hypocrites or saddle them with a lifetime of shame and guilt if they don't live up to the expectation of "purity." And let's make it clear--95% of Americans have premarital sex. And purity pledges as a form of birth control are spectacularly ineffective. A recent study of teens who made a public pledge to abstain until marriage questioned the youth again six years after they made the pledge. Researchers found that over 60 percent had broken their vow to remain abstinent until marriage. The study also found that teens who took virginity pledges begin engaging in vaginal intercourse later than non-pledging teens, but that pledgers were more likely to engage in oral or anal sex than non-pledging virgin teens and less likely to use condoms once they become sexually active. The study found that pledgers were much less likely than non-pledgers to use contraception the first time they had sex. So, if this event is aimed at stemming the high teen pregnancy rate in the Frayser area, it may have just the opposite effect.

My other problem with this shindig is the fact that it's so expensive. It's $105 for the father and first daughter and $50 for each additional daughter. That's a lot of money for a family living in Frayser, one of Memphis's poorer suburbs. And what do they get for that? A "boutique" of flowers for the daughter, a "purity" band for the daughter (no doubt made of cheap base metal), a photograph of father and daughter and a "certificate of purity" for the daughter. I think any family would do better putting that money in the bank to fund the daughter's post-secondary education. 

And here's another thing: what about the many families headed by single women? Won't all this "father-daughter" stuff make girls whose fathers are not around feel different and inadequate? Yes, teens need parental support and they need to know they can say "no" to sex. But this kind of fear and guilt-based sex education that reinforces "traditional" gender roles and expectations (boys always want sex and girls need to tell them no), has not been proven to work and may be counter-productive. It's hard enough being a teenage girl without laying on all this purity and "accountability" crap on them. 

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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Cute, fluffy, and not afraid to leave a mess on the sidewalk!