Posts Tagged ‘wedding night’

Ten Problems With Purity Balls

August 25, 2014

Purity Balls are more popular than ever. That’s the religious ceremony in which a girl (usually about 12) pledges her “purity” to her father and to God until she marries. Balls are like group weddings: dozens of dads wear tuxedos, girls wear (typically white) ball gowns, dads put gold bands on their daughters’ wedding finger, and then the couple has a First Dance together.

The average age of first marriage in America is now over 27. That would make the non-sexual Purity Zone (from pledge to marriage) some 15 years long. If we adjust the figure for the demographics of highly religious communities, a typical age of marriage would still be 20. That would make the Danger Zone—um, I mean Purity Zone—eight years long, still plenty of time to develop massive guilt or shame about the sexual feelings and even mild experimentation that’s almost inevitable in such a situation.

And just to make the Purity Challenge even more interesting, Purity means no kissing. Not just no genital sex—no anything. Compared to this standard, “Lie back and think of England” was a coke-fueled Vegas orgy.

If you’re not completely creeped-out yet, here are ten problems that this medieval arrangement invites:

* It places all the emphasis on female virginity and none on male virginity.
* It puts one’s future marriage at unnecessary risk by preventing any inquiry about sexual compatibility—or even about whether people like each other’s smell.
* Because very few people actually keep virginity pledges until marriage, guilt or shame for breaking this promise is almost guaranteed.
* It supposedly precludes the need for proper sex education, and so teens go through puberty completely unprepared. Instruction about contraception is not just unnecessary, it’s offensive to God, which increases the chance of unintended pregnancy.
* It eroticizes the father-daughter relationship without allowing any balance from dating or a boyfriend. And it privileges the father-daughter relationship without a comparable mother-daughter relationship.
* It sees virginity as the crucial measure of a female’s worth.
* It sees sex as impure and immoral, something to be avoided at all cost for many years.
* It creates unrealistic expectations of marriage: that the husband will somehow create an ideal sexual relationship for the couple, and that he’ll feel thrilled that his new wife is sexually ignorant (and often quite frightened).
* It creates unrealistic expectations about how adolescents and young women will deal with their urges to kiss, be touched, masturbate, or feel like a couple: pray the urges away.
* It forces most young women to eventually choose between satisfying their own desires or their father’s, and between denying their own desires and disappointing God.

According to a study in the Journal of Public Health, fully half of 14,000 adolescents who took virginity pledges broke them. Another study revealed that almost 2/3 of undergraduates broke their virginity pledges—and that a significant number of the self-identified abstainers had oral sex.

At the Purity Ball’s climax, father and daughter sign a Covenant: that as High Priest of the household, he will now protect her virginity. The ceremony’s wording is explicit: “Keep this ring on your finger. You are now married to the Lord, and your father is your boyfriend.”

Pity The Virgins: Wedding Night Blues

October 31, 2012

Say there are 50 million weddings a year around the globe. I figure about 85% of those wedding couples contain at least one virgin. At least half of them have two virgins.

I saw one of those couples today in therapy. Mr. A and Ms. B have been married twenty years; when they wed she was a virgin, while he had had intercourse a few brief times with someone else. Their wedding night was an unconsummated mess, resulting in tears and confusion. Several days later, on their honeymoon, they tried again—“and we failed again,” Mr. A recalled. Her vagina didn’t get wet enough, he couldn’t get his penis in, and he soon lost his erection. They each took turns blaming themselves; the next morning they took turns blaming each other.

For years, sex was an infrequent, discouraging hassle. Now they can’t remember the last time they did it.

They revealed a variety of reasons besides the wedding night disaster. Years ago she refused to let his friend’s son stay in their home during semester break; he was distant and cold during her subsequent miscarriage; she was bitter rather than supportive when he lost his job; his new job required travelling to India, and he started to get massages there with “happy endings.” She was crushed when she found out, and brought them to my office.

But no matter what we talked about, it seemed we periodically returned to their unhappy wedding night. “I didn’t know what to do,” Ms. B acknowledged. “I expected him to lead, to guide, to explain. When he couldn’t, I felt abandoned.” “Yes, replied Mr. A, “all the pressure was on me, and when things went wrong, you made it clear it was my problem to figure out. And I couldn’t.” Neither of them has forgiven the other. I don’t think they’ve forgiven themselves, either.

It’s too easy to say they got off to a bad start and never recovered, although it’s true. Their personalities weren’t a very good match, and their sexual visions were mismatched, too. She imagined a gentle, kind, knowledgeable but wholesome man; he imagined a sexy, enthusiastic, curious but wholesome woman. What their bedroom needed was an extra pair of gentle hands—and wise eyes, a confident smile, and an extra heart—but of course none came their way.

I won’t say their marriage was doomed by virginity or sexual inexperience. But it certainly wasn’t helped. Her virginity provided no reassurance for him, no spiritual haven for her. His inexperience made the wedding night nerve-racking rather than “special.”

People do NOT need to be sexually experienced before marriage to enjoy sex after it. But “love” and “commitment” generally aren’t enough to ensure a happily-ever-after. People who don’t have intercourse need sex education as much as those who do. Everyone needs words for their body parts; information to combat common myths (masturbation is dangerous, men don’t like to hug, etc.); good decision-making skills; and a sense of empowerment about their sexuality.

When people have good information, feel comfortable with their bodies, can communicate with a partner, and believe that sex is lovely, their virginity is not an obstacle on the wedding night. But too often virgin-until-marriage also means enforced ignorance, unfamiliarity with the other gender, discomfort with one’s body, and a pile of taboos so high that people can barely see each other in bed.

I feel bad for Mr. A and Ms. B, who didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, they followed all the social rules with which they were raised—and paid the common price.

Here’s what I propose: in all cultures that emphasize pre-marital virginity, redefine the wedding night as the start of a couple’s sexual life together. That means the first night should just be looking; the second, talking; the third, touching; the fourth, kissing; etc.. If it took God a week to create the world out of nothing, couples need at least that much time to create a sexual connection out of nothing.

You’ll also remember that God said “Let there be light.” So to enable couples to see each others’ naked bodies on the wedding night, let’s start a new tradition. How about making it the maternal aunt’s honor to give the new couple a bedroom lamp—turned on during sex?


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