Over in America there are these frankly bizarre things called Purity Balls, no, it’s not a cleanser for testicles but an event in which young girls pledge to their fathers that they won’t have sex before marriage. Within the conservative christian movement, these purity balls are spreading and now happen in 48 states across the USA with daughters committing to “live pure lives before God” to their fathers.
The images of these balls show young girls dressed in white, like mini brides, standing by their fathers, wearing suits akin to a groom. The ceremonies have a similar structure to a traditional wedding with vows, dinners and speeches with the average age of the girls being 12 – 13, the kind of age where puberty is becoming more apparent.
The Christian Centre, which holds purity balls in Illinois states on their website; “We hope you will join us as we encourage young women to commit to moral purity” claiming it “holds high the banner of purity in the midst of a culture that destroys it.”
I have issues with this. LOTS OF ISSUES.
Where are the purity balls for young boys to pledge their virginities to their mothers? Or is it just the thought of women as sexual beings that appalls society? Why is it not as important to these folk that their sons stay ‘pure’ till marriage?
Let’s think about that word ‘pure’, the opposite being what? Purity with regards to sexuality assumes that sex is an impure act. That being in a sexual relationship before marriage means you are not perfect. What a load of shit! Sex is not dirty or wrong, sex is sometimes a beautiful act between people who love and trust one another, it is sometimes a physical act of pleasure and nothing more, and yes, sometimes it can be about violence, power or ignorance.
Let’s teach our children about the joy of sex and what a wonderfully, deliciously perfect thing it can be in the right circumstances. I don’t want my daughter to pledge us her virginity, I want her to pledge to us that she will come to us if she needs advice or support. I want her to pledge that she will accept education around pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I want her to pledge to us that she understands that sex within a relationship of trust, care and love is bloody wonderful. I want her to pledge to us that she enjoys her sexuality and knows that any choices about her body belong soley to her and that she should never let others shame her.
We talk a lot in our home, we openly discuss things that in my youth would never have been spoken about. We tell our children that even if something feels embarrassing, that we will answer their questions and always tell the truth. The idea of forcing them to swear to us that they won’t have sex before marriage seems crazy!
I can’t help but think that a child that pledges this at 12 has no idea of how she will feel at 16, 17 or into her 30’s and 40’s! Many women now choose either to marry later in life or not at all. For this generation of women, marriage is not the be all and end all it was in the past and the idea that women must ‘save themselves’ is outdated, sexist and upsetting. ‘Must’ being the operative word there, if women CHOOSE not to have sex before marriage then that is up to them, but it should be their choice and theirs alone.
I can’t help but think that girls who are pushed into making this pledge will face problems as they get older and have the natural sexual urges that we all do. Sex then becomes a thing of guilt, shame and fear. If at 16 or older (the legal age limit in the UK) they choose to have sex, they could feel a sense of guilt, an inability to speak to their parents, a fear of accessing sexual health clinics. I fear it will result in a higher rate of teenage pregnancies and STD’s as well as a disconnect from their families.
It also completely denies the idea that these girls may be gay, trans or any form of sexual identity other than heterosexual
Sexual education is key to raising children into happy, well rounded and confident adults. My education doesn’t differ that much between my sons and daughter. They all get the same advice, we talk about the physical act of sex, the biology of it all. But far more importantly, we talk about the emotional and social aspects of sex, about respect, trust, pleasure and love.
I was raised in a Catholic family and so shame and guilt were par the course! But I want my children to be raised knowing the joy of sex, the pleasure gained from sharing a deeply personal act of love. I want them to know it is special, but that they have to make their own choices once they are 16, (and I do stress the age thing, not just because of the legal side, but because of the emotional maturity needed to deal with a sexual relationship).
I want my daughter to know that any slut shaming she faces is not ok. That her body belongs to her, that I hope she makes good, healthy decisions and looks after her body, and any negativity she faces for expressing her sexuality is not ok, but unfortunately ingrained into some sectors of society and says more about them than her.
I want my boys to know the same values, but I feel I have to push harder against the shitty parts of life where women are taken for granted and so I hope they will grow into men who know that every relationship should be nurtured, that sex is about trust, pleasure and joy not power or violence. That their gender doesn’t allow them a carte blanche to treat others badly.
I want them all to know that whatever their sexual orientation, that we will love and accept them and though I sometimes casually use the word ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’, what I mean is ‘partner’ and as long as they are happy, then we will be happy.
Above all, I want them all to know that they can speak to me or their dad and that we will try our best to accept, guide and support them in any questions or difficulties they face. I don’t want a pledge of virginity, I want a mutual respect and love between us that means they can come to me if they need me.
These purity balls seem an outdated and irresponsible idea, let’s stop shaming our young adults into an inability to express their sexuality and help guide them through the minefield of emotions surrounding sex, feelings and relationships.
Image by David Magnusson