Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Virgin Daughters

How do you feel about Purity Balls?  Since first running into the purity movement in college and seeing first hand the kind of damage it can do to people I've been telling anyone who would listen just how terrible it is.  However I just watched a really good documentary on the purity movement and it left me with a lot more sympathy for the people in it than I expected.  Don't get me wrong, I still disagree with it strongly, but I think I understand the motivations behind it all a little better now.  It's called "The Virgin Daughters" which makes it sounds like a saucy sex comedy, I know, but it's pretty much the exact opposite of that.  Still, it's very enlightening.  If you have 47 minutes to spare and you feel like learning more about this Christian subculture you can watch the whole thing on Youtube:

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and purity movement illustrates this exceptionally well. At it's core, it has some wholesome ideas and good intentions.  However all goodness in the purity culture quickly gets eclipsed by its extreme overreactions and hyperbolic insanity. 

Fathers making their daughters feel loved and cherished is a good thing.  Fathers supporting and validating their daughters is a very good thing.  But these purity balls take that too far!  Here you have fathers basically acting like they are supposed to be surrogate boyfriends/husbands to their daughters.  That just seems creepy and weird.  It's also seems like emotional incest to me.  

Look, I get that all these parents are doing this because they want the best for their kids.  Again that part I can understand and agree with.  What parent wouldn't want to spare their child as much heartache as possible?  But I don't think that's actually possible.  Pain and disappointment is an inevitable part of life.  It doesn't matter how good you are, at some point everyone makes mistakes.  Purity culture is presented as a way to avoid all the pain and pitfalls that come with romance and intimacy but it is no solution.  All it offers to parents is the illusion of control over things that fundamentally cannot be controlled.  It's completely disconnected from reality.  Wouldn't it be better for these parents to talk to their kids, share their own experiences and try to prepare them as best they can?  Instead they isolate their kids (I'm willing to bet there is a significant overlap between people in the purity movement and homeschoolers) and try to insulate them from any possible heartbreak and bad choice.  Instead of preparing their daughters for reality they are telling them that as long as they never date or experience any kind of premarital intimacy everything will be perfect.  Compatibility doesn't matter, communication doesn't matter, the only thing you need to have a perfect marriage is virginity.  Their intentions may be good but they are setting their kids up for failure.  Worst part is that they are betting it all on an untested system.  All these parents managed to have good, happy, Christian marriages without the help of the purity movement.  Yet somehow they are willing to abandon their own experience in favour of something completely out of touch with reality.

Likewise I can understand parents wanting their children's first intimate experiences to good ones.  Your first time (at anything really) can be pretty weird and awkward, but with the right person it can also be exhilarating and wonderful.  Whether we are talking about kissing, dating or sex, ideally you want the person you have that experience with to make you feel safe and cared for, not used and judged inadequate.  The right partner makes all the difference in the world, for better or for worse.  So yes, I can fully understand a parent wanting their children's first times to be fond memories, not horrible experiences they spend their lives trying to forget.  That makes sense.  This kind of extreme abstinence on the other hand makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Insisting that your kids save not only sex but also kissing and hand holding for marriage is not the solution.  Neither is insisting that they never date anyone except the person they intend to marry.  Convincing your children that kissing someone other than their spouse is the same as adultery is messed up!  That's a great way to fill your children with tons of guilt and shame for something that's totally innocent, not to mention completely natural.  Telling your kids that dating more than one person in your lifetime means you're "giving away pieces of your heart", thereby robbing your eventual spouse by handing them a defective, incomplete heart, is nothing short of obscene.  A human being is not born with a finite amount of love they can give.  Loving one person won't cause you to eventually run out of available love for someone else!

Now I'm sure you will find purity proponents that would tell you it all works as advertised and they are extremely happy for having made this life choice.  Good for them.  As much as I disagree with the premise here, if this resonates with someone and they really want to approach their relationships this way then that should be their choice.  But it doesn't seem to be a choice these kids are making, their parents are making that choice for them.  A lot of these kids are going to find that everything doesn't always work as advertised.  Virginity doesn't guarantee happy marriage.  "Saving yourself" and "staying pure" will not prevent sexual dysfunction.  Even if you only gave your body and heart to one person in your entire life, it will not prevent sexual incompatibility from becoming a problem.  Even if you do everything "right" you can still end up unhappy and heartbroken.  There is no magical cure for reality.

For more on purity culture and its effects, check out Libby Anne's blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" (her key posts on purity culture here).  In fact, you should probably be reading her blog anyway, it's fantastic.  She grew up homeschooled in a Quiverfull family and lived to tell the tale.  It's brave and honest and sometimes horrifying to read but I recommend it strongly.


Ali said...

Ugh, the idea of fathers being keepers of their daughters' sexuality is downright creepy.

I couldn't watch the video. I have way too much baggage about the church and abstinence, and I'm only just starting to realise how much it traumatised me. :/

Eugene said...

I don't blame you! It was pretty hard to watch, especially when you've been in that culture and now look at it from the outside. I'm a guy so I didn't get the full effect even (though this purity movement messes up guys too, in its own terrible way) but it gets to you to watch girls as young as 5 parrot the propaganda lines.

Eugene said...

But I think you really will enjoy Libby Anne's blog since she had to deal with a lot of the same baggage. Reading it has helped me process a lot of stuff so far

Anonymous said...

forgive them dude...they know not what they do. Its awful. No blanket answer works for any situation. Moderation people. Extremism is just never a good thing. Most of those girls are miserable.

Jackie the journalist said...

I saw an awful lot of handing over your power to the man in your life. Dad had to approve. The women would shop for the dress then dad would ok it. I was uncomfortable with it. Like you, I think I can see where they were coming from, but there was no preparation for real life at all.