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.”