Question in e-mail today asking me what I thought of “Purity Balls,” the odd fundamentalist Christian ritual in which daddies take their young daughters to a sort of mini-prom and at the end of it the daughters pledge to remain sexually pure and the daddies pledge to defend that purity. Basically, the reason for the dance is the pledging, which strikes me similarly to Mark Twain’s definition of golf: “A long walk, spoiled.”
My own thought about these purity balls is that they’re really icky — we could go on all day about what’s wrong about dads making their very small daughters think about sex, or indoctrinating them into thinking their sexuality should be contingent on the dictates of the men in their lives — but given the high holy terror with which fundamentalists regard human sexuality in general and female sexuality in particular, I don’t find these mechanisms of control and indoctrination particularly surprising. I feel sorry for the little girls that their quality time with daddy comes at the price of pledging to submit their will to daddy’s whims until such time as they equally surrender to their husband’s will, but I guess that since they get to wear such pretty dresses, it’s a fair trade. So that’s all right.
Speaking as a father — and one of a girl just about the right age to take to a “purity ball” at that — I’m not going to criticize one of the underlying desires of the purity ball, which is a father’s desire to express his commitment to care for and protect his child. I happen to have the same desire. I will note, however, that the expression of that desire can take on rather substantially different forms. These “Purity Ball” fathers think it’s best expressed through control; I think it’s best expressed through knowledge. I don’t want my daughter to pledge her “purity” to me, as if having a sexual experience is some sort of karmic besmirching; I want to inform my daughter so that when she has sex, she knows what she’s doing and she has it on her terms, and she comes away from the experience satisfied (as much as anyone comes away from their first experience in such a state) and able to integrate it into her life in a positive way.
Which is not to say I want her having sex, oh, anytime before she can vote; indeed, you can believe me when I say to you that among the discussions we’ll have will be the ones where I suggest that abstinence really is the best policy through high school, for many very good and practical reasons (hey, it worked for me). I mean, I suppose I could just say “You shouldn’t have sex because I’ve told you not to, and that’s the end of it,” and demand she respect my authority. However, if Athena is anything like me as a kid (and it’s becoming rather abundantly clear that she is), any attempt at parental rule by fiat is likely to be politely but deeply ignored, and she’s going to do what’s she going to do.
That being the case, rationally outling the consequences is going to work rather better than trying to ram a pledge down her adorable little throat. Indeed, I doubt I could do that, even now — she’s already remarkably resistant to me pulling the “because I said so” act, because she’s already internalized the idea that things should happen for a reason. And of course, I feel immensely proud about that, even if it does make getting her to clean up her room a real pain in the ass sometimes.
Also, not to put too fine a point on it, I think not having pre-marital sex is pretty idiotic. This is a separate issue from promiscuity — I’m not a big fan of totally indiscriminate appendage insertion or acceptance — but if you’re serious enough about someone that you’re contemplating marriage, you damn well better know what your own sexual playing field is, and you damn well better know if you’re sexually compatible with your presumed marital partner. Waiting until you’re married to find out if you’re sexually compatible with your spouse is like waiting until you’re married to find out if you actually speak the same language as your spouse. Yes, you probably could make a marriage work without actually being able to speak to your spouse, but that’s not really a good marriage, is it. I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone I know.
All of which signals to you that I have a rather different view of sexuality in general than your average “Purity Ball” father. Which is, of course, all right by me. As I said, I can’t fault what I see as the root impulse for the purity balls, but I’m glad that my expression of the desire to keep my daughter safe is not that one. Because if you really want to fetishize sex for a little girl, I really can’t think of a more effective way to do it than something like a purity ball. And you know what? Fetishizing sex for little girls is so very much not what I want to be doing with my time.