I just watched the trailer for Daddy I Do—a documentary about purity balls. What’s a purity ball, you ask? It’s basically a wedding-like ceremony where teen daughters pledge to their fathers that they will remain a virgin until they are married. There are so many things about this that get me riled up, like haven’t we moved past the idea that girls belong to their fathers until they can be married off?
In the trailer, some of the men talk about how they of course wouldn’t tell their daughters how to have safe sex, because they shouldn’t be having sex at all! It’s this way of thinking that is driving support for abstinence-only sex education. But we know abstinence-only sex education is not very effective at lowering teen pregnancy and STI rates.
When I was growing up in the South, this kind of thing was happening. I remember one day in homeroom, we all had a little slip of paper on our desks with the purity pledge on it. The teacher didn’t make us sign it, but she did ask that we take it home, talk with our parents about it, and seriously consider signing it. I was creeped out by it, but at least it wasn’t a substitute for the small amount of medically accurate sex education that we got in school.
These purity balls and pledges send messages that girls shouldn’t have sex (boys will be boys), girls bear the burden of this responsibility (because, boys will be boys), and girls’ virginity is more important than boys’.
But an even bigger problem is that it leaves a gaping hole in the conversations we should be having with our kids about healthy relationships. As much as we might want to stick our fingers in our ears and sing lalalala, the teens in our lives are (probably) making their way around the bases with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Let’s give them accurate and complete info about sex. And I’m not just talking contraceptives and STIs here. Let’s tell them that sex is about pleasure. Let’s tell them that there’s no shame in feeling what they are feeling (whether they’re wanting to have sex or not). Let’s talk about the things you should look for in a healthy relationship like love, respect, and trust and how that should apply to the sex part too. Let’s talk about how powerful they are that they get to make smart, informed choices about their bodies. Let’s talk about that.