Purity Balls promote unrealistic expectations

March 29, 2007 at 1:34 am 17 comments

Father Daughter DancingThere is a new phenomenon that is very disturbing. In fact, this new development even has the Arabic news station Al Jazeera scratching its head since we are suppose to be a leader in gender equality. I am talking about the latest trend called Purity Balls.

A Purity Ball has all the ingredients of any nicely prepared formal ball. There are flowing gowns and black tuxes, practiced dancing to lively music and white candles sparkling throughout the ballroom. This is all very lovely.

Those attending a Purity Ball are young women with their fathers as their dates, and as they swirl about on the dance floor, it is no doubt a sight that would warm even the coldest of hearts. At first glance, it would appear that this event is simply an opportunity for dads to have some quality time with their little girls and perhaps get to know them a little better.

However, it is what happens toward the end of the event that causes me to lose that warm fuzzy feeling. At a predetermined time, each one of the girls reads to her father from a printed card that was placed on the table in front of her seat, at which time she promises her father that she will remain pure by abstaining from sex until she is married. The ages of these girls range from as young as 11 all the way into their twenties.

I have no problem with teaching our children about abstinence as a way to avert them from the pressures and dangers of a sexually active life until they are ready to assume the responsibilities that accompany such a weighty decision.

However, practically speaking, we all know that young men and women will explore those feelings and urges developing during puberty. It is a natural and biologically driven desire that pushes teens to want to see what their quickly developing bodies can do.

Case in point, 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence at these Purity Balls wind up breaking their pledge and having sex before marriage, according to a study by Peter Bearman, the Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Sociology, and Hannah Bruckner of Yale.

Why do I take issue with these Purity Balls? For a few reasons. Firstly, why are there no such balls for the boys? It is so hypocritical and highly unrealistic to expect the young women to remain chaste if the young men are not expected to do the same. This is a perfect example of the double standard set by society for women.

Secondly, this pledge of purity further perpetuates an unhealthy relationship between parents and children concerning sex. When a young woman takes this oath of purity, but changes her mind and decides to have sex, she will feel completely reticent about speaking to her parents about her decision.

Thirdly, while young men are seldom taught sexual restraint during their formative years, young women are taught to feel guilty for their sexual explorations. A broken promise to their father adds additional guilt to a natural experience. Meanwhile, neither the girls nor the guys are being taught how to act responsibly with their sexuality.

Lastly, it seems to me that these Purity Balls, where the girl pledges her purity to her father until she is married and belongs to another man, are simply a contemporary nod to the old patriarchal system that encourages the ideology that men are somehow the ones who decide what is best for a woman.

This sends the wrong message to our daughters when we are trying to teach them to be independent, freethinkers who thrive in today’s world and who can get along fine with or without a man by her side. Every woman should be the master of her own body and the decision about whether to have sex or not should be hers alone – hopefully after her parents have educated her on the weight of such a decision and responsible sexual conduct.

Let’s talk about reality for a minute and leave aside our archaic notions of pre-marital sexual activity. In reality, every single day thousands of teenage girls (and boys) are having sex. To expect an oath of abstinence until marriage from a young woman is as unreasonable as expecting it from a young man.

However, it is not the sexually active young man who gets tagged with unflattering labels. This is another social double standard. With whom do right-thinking parents think these young men are having sex? They are having sex with the young women, of course. The sooner we realise that our teens are having sex, and lots of it, the soon we can start acting like conscientious parents.

As such, would it not be more practical to teach these youngsters about responsible sexual conduct instead of placing unreasonable expectations on them that create feelings of failure and guilt about an action that is biologically natural?

Would it not be socially proper to create an atmosphere at home that is open for teens to talk to their parents about their sexuality instead of leaving their children to explore such an important part of their life as a trial and error experience?

We can be such prudes sometimes with our own sexuality that we shy away from the important task of educating our teens about sex. In the meantime, they are learning about it on the street – the worst place ever. The street does not teach our girls about sexually contracted diseases, what steps to take to prevent pregnancy or how to fend off an unwanted sexual advance.

We do not need a new trend that unrealistically insists on purity until marriage, we need to live in reality and teach our daughters – and our sons – about responsible sexual conduct. If we keep our heads in the clouds and believe teens will remain pure until they are married, we do them and society a terrible injustice.

Entry filed under: feminism, feminist, Stella Ramsaroop, women, women's issues. Tags: , , , , , , .

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. TrudyJ  |  March 29, 2007 at 2:27 am

    Totally agree with you about this — and I come from the kind of evangelical Christian background where Purity Balls would no doubt be seen as A Good Thing (though they don’t seem to have caught on where I live). I’m all for teaching both girls and boys that abstinence is a valid option — but to my mind it has to be connected to a sense of empowerment, of giving the young person the power to make his or her own choices about sexuality. The idea of a girl “giving” her purity to her dad (why dad? why not mom?) until marriage is really patriarchal and icky.

    Also, I find the phrase “Purity Balls” hilarious. Possibly because where I live there’s a large and popular bakery called Purity Factories that sells Purity Cookies, Purity Breads, etc. So … “Do you have Purity Balls?” Maybe that’s what the GUYS need to have in order to keep those girls pure until marriage …

  • 2. Kelly  |  December 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    I don’t see what is so wrong with this. This signifies the importance of the role of the father guiding his daughter in the topics of sexuality. If a girl choses to pledge this to her father, that is her right and NOBODY ELSE’S BUSINESS!

  • 3. Marie  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    But is it the choice of the daughter? How can an 11 year old girl stand up to her father and refuse to remain “pure” at one of these functions? Not only is she likely to underestimate her future sexual intentions, but she is also swept up in the peer pressure of the event. It would be a very strong willed child to refuse to tale the oath. This is not a choice. It is a forced agreement.

    This is the 21st century. While I let my children know what is expected, I am also very aware that they are their own persons. I would rather teach them how to be safe than try to force them into an unlikely parental fantasy.

    25% of sexually active women in the US have herpes type 2. 80% of them end up with HPV. Pretending that they will not have sex is only hurting them, by failing to teach them how to have sex safely if they do choose to participate.

  • 4. Judith  |  December 12, 2007 at 2:30 am

    The last thing fundamentalist churches desire is free thinking, independant women and the way to accomplish that is to ONLY curtail the activities of girls. It’s the very same reason conservative churches sponsor boy scouts but not girl scouts.
    Follow the money.

  • 5. Danielle  |  December 12, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    I feel that this is a huge step back for women everywhere. A family is supposed to talk about issues as a group and support eachothers dissusions. This sounds like it’s all about what Dad thinks his daughter should do. Why is there no ball for boys.

  • 6. Mike  |  December 13, 2007 at 3:42 am

    I see nothing wrong with this.
    Yes, Fathers should also teach their sons.

    teenagers may stray but they do need to know right from wrong. It’s wrong to have sex before marriage

  • 7. Kim  |  December 13, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I haven’t heard of any Purity Balls for the boys! I don’t see any teenage boys out there in tuxes dancing with their moms and promising abstinence.
    Purity Balls.
    I got your purity balls hanging right here.

  • 8. Jane  |  December 14, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    You say sex should be abstained from until someone is able to take on such a weighty decision. Then you say teens will have sex anyway because of their beginning biological desires. Shouldn’t we be focused on trying to help teens deal with these desires in a healthy way, rather than dismissing them by assuming that they’ll do it anyway? What’s wrong with trying to support a child in a decision to abstain? Isn’t that the most healthy option; one that holds them until they are ready for the decision? I agree that boys should also be targeted by parents, but to attack these efforts based on the fact that they are only for girls allows us to be comfortable in falling back to the easy way of letting teens do as they please and not forcing us to do the hard work of parenting, teaching, mentoring them.

  • 9. stellar1  |  December 14, 2007 at 3:28 pm


    You must not have read the entire post because the whole point was to say that it was more important to teach teens about having responsible sexual relationships. In my book, that is good parenting.

  • 10. Jane  |  December 14, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Your premise is entirely founded on the idea that it is “unrealistic” for us to put false hope into teens that they will have sexual relations, and that we do a disservice by attempting to teach them to abstain until they are ready for such a decision. Therefore, I agree that the only way you can have good parenting (and mentoring by non-parents!) is for safe sexual instruction. But, I disagree with your initial premise and ask you to remember that there are many teens who do not have sex, and much of this is based on strong adult influences in their lives.

  • 11. Emma  |  December 16, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Vows of abstinence break more easily than condoms.

  • 12. nogodbutdawkins  |  December 23, 2007 at 1:41 am

    If they are all like this – http://generationsoflight.myicontrol.com/generationsoflight/html/PurityBall.html
    then I’m not sure that even this rather good article conveys how sinister they are….

  • 13. Bruna  |  January 22, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    If parents teach their kids about their sexuality and about safe ways of having sex, instead of pressuring them for abstinence, most likely these teens will only have sex when they are ready to -and safely, whether is pre-marital or not. Yes, if a young girl – or boy- has strong religious beliefs and wants to remain “pure” until they are married, it is their choice, but, obviously, it’s only a choice if they are not forced to do so.

    Jane said: “But, I disagree with your initial premise and ask you to remember that there are many teens who do not have sex, and much of this is based on strong adult influences in their lives.”

    Said strong adult influences are those of caring parents who merely guide their kids to a choice, instead of imposing it on them. There is nothing wrong with parental guidance – kids and teenagers need it, since they are still learning who they are. When they don’t need is oppressive parenting that most likely will only lead to destruction.

  • 14. Annette  |  September 25, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I used to work as a teacher in a socially deprived part of Edinburgh, where teen pregnancy was depressingly common. From all that I know about these girls, the main reason for this was that they didn’t have any other ambition in life. Fathers, if you want to “protect” your daughters from teenage pregnancy, I advise that you nurture their desire to go to university!

  • 15. Isa  |  December 2, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Agreed, Annette. Another thing parents must teach their daughters to prevent them from being sexually irresponsible is that THEY ARE WORTH MORE. ,

  • 16. Dale  |  December 31, 2008 at 5:36 am

    You left out the most important reason:

    Fifthly, that’s just plain creepy!

    I’m a dad, btw, my daughter is 20. Her sex life is none of my business as long as she’s responsible about it, which she always has been as far as I know.

  • 17. Ugly American  |  December 31, 2008 at 7:48 am

    1, This is seriously creepy and dysfunctional. Girls & boys both need to develop social skills with their peer groups. Keeping teens locked up at home will make them frustrated & depressed and harm their ability to function as adults – sometimes for their entire lives.

    2, Hormones do not obey any religion or wait for any laws. The best we can do is try to prepare people honesty for the natural urges they will have. That means knowing how babies are made and access to condoms. That means knowing what STDs are are how to recognize them. That also means being able to identify and report predators like guys who want to take their daughters on dates.

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