Even purity-minded Christians can oppose purity balls

It’s a mistake to think that every Christian, or even every Christian who believes in abstinence until marriage, thinks purity balls are a good thing. The reality is that there are purity-minded Christians who absolutely oppose purity balls and purity pledges, and they have their reasons. I think this is great, because let’s face it, someone who is into things like purity balls and purity pledges would be way more likely to listen to critiques from a fellow Christian than from a heathen like me.

On this note, I just found this fascinating post on the blog Biblical Personhood. The post offers a critique of purity balls by a self-described believer in maintaining virginity until marriage. She starts as follows:

Just to make sure you understand me right, I will tell more of myself than I usually find necessary. I am a few years past 30, and a virgin. I find it wrong in God’s eyes to sleep with a man who is not my spouse. Someone like me should probably be the heartiest endorser of purity balls, right?


The author then quotes the text of the purity pledges commonly used at purity balls:

For Fathers:

I (Daughter’s Name)’s Father, choose before to God to war for my daughter’s purity. I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter’s virginity, and pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity – as the High Priest of my home.

For Virgins:

I (Name) pledge my purity to my father, my future/husband and my Creator. I recognize that virginity is my most precious gift to offer to my future husband. I will not engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage but will keep my thought and my body pure as a very special present for the one I marry.

For Secondary Virgins (those who have engaged in promiscuous behavior and wish to recommit themselves to lives of purity):

I (Name) re–pledge my purity to my father, my future/husband and my Creator. I now recognize that virginity is my most precious gift to offer my future husband. I deeply regret and will never again engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage but will keep my thought and my body pure as a very special present for the one I marry.

The author next offers a list of thirteen critiques of purity balls, abbreviated as follows:

1) Purity balls worsen what they try to solve:

The message of purity balls is: You will be appreciated for your outward appearance, but for now, enjoy these compliments only from daddy and no other males. Your worth lies in how men perceive you, and for now, ask dad what he will perceive as good, and no other guys.  Your hymen is the most important thing you can give a man. For now, don’t give it. But the reason you shouldn’t give it is so you can give it (to the man you marry).

If, instead, you showed the girl that her value does not lie in what men think of her, but in a God that designed her in His image, with gifts and talents to use, she could focus on developing everything that God wants her to be.

2) Purity balls do not focus on character:

It is relatively easy to keep a girl a virgin until adulthood. It could be done by the simple act of locking her in a tower. Or keeping her at home, schooling her at home, and not leaving her out of your sight, which is a more publically acceptable equivalent. But … character can only be developed in a world of free will, where girls and boys are taught what is right, and why it is right.

3) Purity balls are man-ian, not Christ-ian:

Incidentally, God’s desire for all Christians – male and female – to lead a sexually pure life, and men’s desire for a pure/ faithful wife, overlaps here. Therefore, the man-centered fathers could take their daughters to a ball where man’s desire for a pure wife God’s desire for her life will be celebrated.

If this was really about God’s will, purity events for boys would have been just as popular. God’s desire is pure men and women, and these events do not celebrate that.

4) Purity pledges are unbiblical

Jas 5:12  But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Pledging things before God? How anti-Christian!

5) Purity balls promote ideas like “a daughter’s heart belongs to her father until she gets a husband”:

Do I even need to comment on that? Eeeeeewwww.

6) The purity ball topic is inappropriate for little girls

In today’s sex-saturated world, it is essential to teach your children early to handle sexual topics. But it is not an appropriate thing to dwell on with a six- or nine- year old girl. It seems, to my mind, inappropriate to take little girls to events celebrating a topic they hardly could fathom.

7) The fairytale message of purity balls is a lie.

Marriages are imperfect institutions because two imperfect humans enter into it. Girls who learn that by keeping pure/ being submissive / whatever, she will have a fairytale marriage, are being lied to. Even princess Diana, who married an actual crown prince as an alleged virgin, had no fairytale marriage.

8 ) Purity pledges put fathers and husbands above God

Look at the girl’s pledge wording again: Fathers first, husbands second, Creator last. Then it is the future husband again for two sentences: Her virginity is his sealed gift. Take two words (“before God”) from the father’s pledge, and three from the virgin’s (“and my Creator”) and God is not part of it at all. (This is why I call it God-on-the-back-seat religion.)

9) Self-respect is not mentioned once in the purity pledge.

If I told a girl to wait I would certainly focus on the girl herself as much as on other humans. After all, she is the one who live in that body 24/7.

10) The pledge is an uninformed and forced promise

Many of these girls do not understand what they promise, and the possible consequences. Even the older girls are often home-schooled and so isolated that they have no idea what normal relationships work like in the 21 century. Moreover, she often has hardly any choice in the matter. Everyone in the worlds of some of these girls pressures her to make this pledge, would treat her as a slut if she does not, and would later blame her if she does not keep it.

11) Fathers are not High Priests of homes

Unlike what the pledge claim, fathers are not High Priests (capital letters in the pledge, not mine!) of their homes. Neither the Old nor the New Testament call the man the High Priest of the home. In fact, the New Testament acknowledges only one high priest in Christianity – Jesus Christ, who made reconciliation for our sins (Heb 2:17). Do the men who pledge to be High Priest for their family say Jesus is not good enough?

12) Pledges promotes guilt

Some studies showed very little, if any, difference between purity pledged teens and other teens in terms of sexual behavior. A girl who breaks a pledge before God may feel very much guilty about it. Guilt about that which is against God’s will is acceptable (and should be sorted out in prayer with a forgiving God). Guilty feeling before God for breaking a pledge her father made her take – against what the Bible say of pledges  -  is not.

13) Purity balls promotes control by another

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control – making wise choices, not driven by your own passions but by the spirit, for yourself and your Christian walk. The message of the purity balls are man-control: Do as your father say until you start doing as your husband say. It replaces, not just in sexual choices but in everything, the control by the self, and indirectly by God’s spirit, into human hands. The father at the purity ball say that he cannot trust God with his daughter’s life, but has to make choices for her himself. Christ is not a sufficient high priest – he needs to step in.

Interestingly, while I am a sex-positive feminist atheist and the author of this piece is a Christian who believes in virginity until marriage, I would make all the same critiques with only minor adjustments. Of course, I would add at least one critique to this list: that there is nothing wrong with sex before marriage.

It’s not that I have a problem with someone personally choosing to remain a virgin until marriage – their bodies, their choice – but rather that I am adamant that it should be that person’s choice, not something forced upon him or her by the purity culture, a father, or a church. And in many ways, that’s what the post quoted from above points out, along with pointing out the blatant patriarchy going on in a ritual like a father/daughter purity ball.

I’m not going to add anything on the topic here, but I thought I’d offer my readers links to previous pieces I have written about purity balls and the purity culture:

Your Virginity is Yours – Not Your Daddy’s

Purity Balls: They’re Barking Up the Wrong Trees

Frozen Promises; Or, Life is Not a Journey

The Purity Culture and Sexual Dysfunction

Critiquing the Purity Culture

The Perfect Relationship Secret: Virginity?

Bob Jones University Rejects Key Recommendations of the GRACE Report
The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • julian

    I made it to point 9. Any further and I may have bitten my tongue clean off.

  • dianne

    I find it reassuring that there is opposition to the “purity ball” movement within the Christian community.

  • Charles Bartley

    I am probably wierd, but as a former Christian, virgin until I was married, now divorced, sex-positive atheist, I am morally opposed to virginity until marriage. I think that it figuratively fucks people up by putting sex on a pedistle and it distorts relationships between people. It amplified my natural shyness into a positive fear of women and of my lusts. It was part of what broke my faith and ruined my marriage. As you have written, you just can’t turn off that programming when you hit a certain age, marital status etc.

    I totally bought the line that if I waited, then God would have the perfect mate for me, and that sleeping with anyone outside of marriage would harm both me and my partner. It didn’t happen, and I think that those expectations were what were actually harmful to both me and to her. We were harmed by our inexperience, and by jumping into marriage too quickly.

    I am still working out what is right for my life. Trying to deprogrammed the purity garbage, and yet not to swing drastically the other way. My sexual morals now have nothing to do with acts, but everything to do with respect and consent.

    I am madly in love with my fiancè but I would not ever think of getting married to her or anyone else without having had sex first. My relationship with her is not harmed by this, nor by having been married before or by having had other sex partners. Sex is just such an essential part of learning about yourself and about your partners. To learn these lessons after you have made serious commitments is just crazy–for me. Your mileage may vary. I don’t believe on pushing my convictions on anyone. I won’t think worse of someone who waits, and I think they can still be good people. I hope they can have the grace to give me the same consideration. :D

  • Darkling

    Aren’t those features rather than bugs?

    After reading your posts, and others about the Quiverfull movement I’d wonder if the supporters of the purity balls would actually identify those as criticisms? The wording might not be what they would use, but they’re not very far removed from regarding woman as chattel.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Sex is one of the most pleasurable things humans do. I firmly believe that most religions are anti-sex because they want people to only feel pleasure in knowing “God loves you.” Sex is a legitimate competition to the religious ecstasy displayed at revivals and pentecostal services. However if there’s no sex then there’s no future members of the church, so limited sex is allowed under certain conditions.

    I’m reminded of the Butch Hancock quote:

    Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.

    • Nurse Bee

      Christians (as a whole) are not anti-sex. Unfortunately, sometimes our message comes across that way and sometimes it is taught that way by well-meaning leaders.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      There might be something too that, but control of sexuality and sex-negativity are pretty key features of pretty much all traditional societies, regardless of which religion dominates among them and how big of a role it plays. One of the most extreme examples of this mindset, female genital mutilation, while it has become tied up with religion in some places, is basically a cultural practice independent of religion.

      The exceptions to the rule seem to be societies in which there are no fixed concepts of property. There aren’t too many of those left, but they exist. In traditional societies where there WAS property and therefore inheritance and heirs, you have to worry about paternity and the best way to do that is to control sex and women very carefully. Those attitudes then got codified by religions, since religion was one of the main institutions that maintained the social order.

  • Katy-Anne

    Count me in as a Christian against purity balls!

  • Mr.Kosta

    @’Tis Himself:

    Funny, I was thinking of the exact same quote.

  • karmakin

    I was actually all set to respond to this article, expecting to disagree with the argument made, but I really can’t, because I think the argument is correct :p

    The problem really is the patriarchal male-worship that these things are built around. Just saying that purity balls are bad while leaving around the patriarchal male-worship isn’t really doing anything. But thankfully that’s not what this article said, and it attacked this attitude head on.

    And I’m in the same boat Charles, at least as far as believing that avoiding pre-marital sex is actively bad. I’m not sure that I’d go as far as to call it immoral, but I think that not finding out if you are sexually compatible, as that is obviously important for a lasting relationship, is a dangerous thing. It’s playing with fire.

    • eric

      Me too. It seems as ridculous as saying ‘I won’t walk to my fiance about how to raise children before getting married.’ Or, ‘I won’t share a meal with them before getting married.’ Compatibility is far more than sex, but sex is a part of compatibility.

      I hadn’t thought about the sexist angle to purity balls, but Ms. Biblical Personhood is absolutely right. Just imagine the ruckus and objections that would ensue if, instead, young women pledged to ‘remain as inexperienced as my spouse’ going into a marriage. :) IF these fundies weren’t misogynistic, that would be the exact same pledge as the current one. The extent to which they object is the extent of their double standard.

    • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

      I dunno. I’d say that intensive make-out sessions with my boyfriend have given me a reasonable understanding of our sexual compatibility, even without us having slept together…

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    I was never part of the “Purity” sub-culture, and I find this father-daughter thing downright creepy. Yes, there’s a place for parents to be, um, concerned (can’t find a verb that sounds quite right back there) about their kids’ sex lives, irrespective of their religious and moral views, because sex is a grownup thing that carries grownup responsibilities. But if there’s any promise-giving going on, surely it’s the like-sex parent that’s the more appropriate confidant.

  • wheatdogg

    My first time here. I wandered over from Ed Brayton’s place.

    Purity balls remind me of ancient customs (that are still practiced in many parts of the world) that made daughters the property of their fathers. Like any other piece of property, those daughters had to be “saleable.” That is, if the men of the community only wanted to marry virgins, dad had to make damn sure daughter was a virgin or he’d never get her out of the house. This mindset remains in the still-common practice of the father “giving away” the bride at traditional wedding ceremonies.

    The added layer of implied sexual “ownership” by father of daughter just makes purity balls all the more appalling.

  • http://vitalmis.com Keith Harwood

    These promises are not Christian at all. They read much more as if they came from Ancient Rome, particularly the bit about the father being high priest in his home. The father of the family really was the priest to the household gods. Similarly, the “I belong to my father until I belong to my husband”, straight from Republican Rome.

    • Contrarian

      And also from 90% of other ancient civilizations.

  • kisekileia

    My parents firmly believe in not having sex before marriage, but I nonetheless do not think my father would have ever taken me to a purity ball, even if they had existed in Canada then and I had wanted to go to one. I think he would have been creeped out both by the issues raised in this post and by the incestuous implications.

    Incidentally, the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten on romantic relationships was from my dad. He said, when I was just shy of 13 (the right age!), “If you don’t like where a boy puts his hands, you move them.”

  • amavra

    While I didn’t go to an actual purity ball or sign a pledge, being a virgin was constantly harped upon by my church and family. I believed that my greatest gift to my future husband would be my virginity.

    Unfortunately by the time I had any kind of understanding of any of this, I had been raped by a friend of my dad’s (age 8). And as much as anyone can say that “that doesn’t count in losing your virginity” I knew well that the bible said differently. And if the worry over being a virgin for your husband is about having no negative baggage – well being a rape survivor certainly gave me a hell of a lot more baggage than having consensual sex as a teenager would have.

    So when my church camp all started taking purity pledges when I was 14, I stood coldly silent. And when I started dating, I felt like there was no way I could be worthy of being loved because I was damaged “goods” (yeah all this purity talk really does make you feel like property). I really don’t know what did me more emotional damage, but I would guess that the obsession with my purity and virginity (my most precious comodity) harmed me more than the actual rape did.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    My denomination (Foursquare) pressured us all into signing purity pledges at camp one year and played up the primacy of girls’ duties to their fathers quite a bit at the same event. (Then someone apologized the next day for being insensitive to those girls without fathers.) I think even most of the youth leadership there would have found this weird and a little creepy.

  • daenyx

    Even raised in a very progressive Christian family (and deciding I was pagan by the time I was a teenager and an atheist by the time I was 20), I absorbed a lot of the concepts of ‘purity’ growing up – I blame being in the Bible Belt. I’m still *angry* that for so long, virginity was this Big, Important Thing that tied up a lot of my ownership of my own sexuality in confusion and shame. (And I suppose I should give blame another place it was due – I read the Mists of Avalon at 14, and even the pagan culture presented in that book that I identified easily with made a big deal out of it.)

    I hate the *word* ‘virgin’ and would like to see it fall out of use. But the quoted/paraphrased article here was encouraging to see, because at least it shows a degree of evidence-based thinking about the institution under discussion.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, I remember that aspect of “Mists of Avalon” annoying me a lot too. She goes out of her way to create this (totally ahistoric but whatever) female-centered, non-patriarchal religion and beats the hell out of Christianity throughout, except everyone is still obsessed with virginity. I remember thinking “Okay I don’t care if Morgaine is being ‘kept virgin for the goddess’ or ‘kept virgin for her husband’” she’s still being ‘kept’ and we’re still talking about fucking virginity!”

      I’m totally with you about hating the term “virgin” too. I’ve been ranting about this for years. I actually wrote a paper as a college freshman called “The Myth of Virginity” about it–and then a few years later, Jessica Valenti writes “The Purity Myth.” Damn you, Jessica, you were spying on me! lol

  • iknklast

    Great post. And I have to agree with the addition that pre-marital sex is not bad. Perhaps if I had more experience as a young woman, I would have recognized my ex and I had a TOTAL sexual incompatibility (in that, he liked men, not women, and it showed in our almost non-existent sex life) instead of thinking sex was just like that, and wondering what all the shouting was about.

    If virginity is so important to a happy marriage, how come the divorce rate is highest among evangelical Christians? Could it be that 10-20 years down the road, they begin to wonder what they missed out on? Just thinkin’.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      The constant drumbeat that seems to come from conservative Christian culture and even mainstream culture (which, at its heart, is really pretty conservative too) is “oh no, the divorce rate is so high, we need to stop being so shallow about the way we choose our mates and start thinking about something besides sexual attraction/chemistry!”

      Bullshit. I think we need to start thinking MORE about sexual chemistry. Our culture, and particularly conservative Christian culture, is so sex-negative that I think a lot of people don’t even feel permitted to allow sexual attraction and compatibility to enter into their decision-making processes, because that would make them “shallow” and sex-crazed. This is true especially of women, because we’re not supposed to like sex that much anyway, right?

      So it’s hardly a shocker that there are a lot of divorces and even more among conservative Christians. Sex is important, as it turns out. It’s hard to be happy in a relationship if you’re not being sexually fulfilled. We need to stop de-valuing the role that sex plays in relationships. I know a lot of women my age (mid-twenties) now that are planning on marrying men that they know full well do not sexually satisfy them but he offers “stability” and all the other things they’re SUPPOSED to want. I have to wonder if that will really sustain them for a life time because it sounds like a recipe for cheating and divorce to me.

      • charlesbartley

        Petticoat Philosopher, you nailed it. The purity programming had run so deep for me. It was so hard for me to even admit to myself that sex was important to me and to my health and well being. It was even harder much to believe that it was OK for it to be that important. It is sometimes still really hard for me to really “believe” that my partner could actually desire me, and could actually desire sex with me. Sure I know that in my head, but those early lessons run deep.

        Susie Bright once said on her podcast something like “everyone around you is a sexual being… that baby, that grandparent, your parent, kids, everyone.” She went on to talk about the compassion that you get for people when you enable yourself to see this about them, and about yourself. This was a revolutionary statement to me. I always felt like I was so filthy and depraved because of how sex-driven I was.

        My fiancé and I cuddle each night for 15-30 minutes, and again each morning. We consciously foster physical intimacy, and not just emotional and “spiritual” intimacy. We talk about our desires and struggles. One of my big struggles is a deep fear of sexual famines and of being “stuck” in a relationship where my sexuality is held hostage to someone who can’t/won’t meet my needs. I feel really guilty some times even admitting that fear or that I have “needs.” My divorce almost destroyed me and I do not want to go through anything like that ever again. This is a pretty big deal to me since we are getting married this summer.

        Her compassion and understanding overwhelm me. She quotes Dan Savage at me: “just because we are getting married doesn’t mean that I own your sexuality–you do” and follows up with “Of course you feel that way, that makes sense! you would be crazy not to feel that way. I feel similar things and we will make sure that–together–we meet our own and each other’s needs.” That sort of answer just wasn’t possible for the old Charles in the purity culture to even understand.

        I am a big believer in the freedom of a sex-positive mindset, but I am trying to figure out how to responsibly explore that freedom. Galatians 5 still rings much too strongly in my head (a topic for a whole other blog post). Fortunately, my fiancé is a partner with me on this journey.

      • charlesbartley
      • RickR


        I always felt like I was so filthy and depraved because of how sex-driven I was.

        Believe it or not, this is exactly how it is to be in the closet. Pushing away/ denying/ suppressing your sexual urges often leads to a distorted relationship with them. Every passing sexual thought you have seems enormous and all-consuming because you’re trying so hard to NOT HAVE THEM.

        Coming out as a gay man, I discovered my sexuality to be no more “depraved” than anyone else’s. I wasn’t any more “sex-driven” than anyone else, and as I came to realize my sexuality was actually “human-sized” instead of monstrous and scary, I could examine it, come to grips with it, put it in my back pocket and move on with my life.

        The problem with all this sex-negativity is our culture is it creates a bunch of people with a warped view of themselves and their relationship to a normal, not-really-very-interesting-in-and-of-itself aspect of being human. And a certain number of them will exhibit poor self-control which could lead them to problems, not only with themselves but with others as well. (Larry Craig et. al. ad nauseum)

  • carlie

    14) Boys don’t have to promise anything about their sexual behavior to anybody.

  • Judy L.

    I just don’t believe in virginity at all. It’s a made-up state, completely un-definable and un-falsifiable, unless you reduce it to hymens, and even that doesn’t work. Not all girls are born with hymens that break or stretch, and even those who are can experience alterations to their hymens from non-sexual activity. And what about girls and women whose first experience with vaginal penetration is rape? Only in the screwed-up world of religions and cultures that value female virginity are women deemed damaged goods if they lose their ‘virginity’ through forced sex.

    The fact is, the gift of your body that you give to a sexual partner isn’t made more valuable by the fact that it’s the ‘first time’. Besides, it’s always the first time when you’re first with a new partner (and sometimes the chemistry is great, but usually it’s not as good as the sex you’ll have together after you’ve been with each other a few times and get to know each other’s tastes and rhythyms). It’s arguably a greater gift to a partner when you’re more experienced with your own and other people’s bodies and you can give and take more pleasure from the experience.

    And we so need to stop this mindset that men are the only agents in sexual activity, that sex is something that men do and women only submit to, and that female sexuality is only valuable when in a state of innocence or surrender.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      So true. I’ve had a few “first times” myself and they’ve all been special in their own ways. That’s because it’s the people involved that make it special. The purity mindset doesn’t value people. If I were a sexually inexperienced Christian wife on my wedding night, I’d want to feel like I’M what’s making the sex special, not the thrill of the conquest of my pristine, never-been-touched vagina. You could swap me out with any other sexually experienced woman for that. How romantic.

      • LucrezaBorgia

        Pristine vagina…kind of like new car smell?

    • Anat

      I just don’t believe in virginity at all.

      And I totally detest the term ‘losing one’s virginity’. It sounds like a transition to a lesser state (even if it is done ‘by the book’, in the marriage bed). Yuck! If we want to talk about a transition at all, can’t we use a positive expression? Any suggestions?

      • http://kagerato.net kagerato

        Realizing one’s sexuality? I don’t know. These sorts of phrases always sound like euphemisms to me.

  • jamessweet

    You know, I had heard of purity balls before, but I forgot about them, and for like half of this post I was thinking of the wrong definition of the word “ball”. I just figured it was like the purity rings that kids get, but for some reason it was a ball they kept or something. I was envisioning something like those baoding balls, except only one of them. Heh… I was very confused by all the talk about fathers! “So what, like the dad gives his daughter a baoding ball and in exchange she promises to be pure? Huh…”