The Purity Culture’s Guinea Pigs: Its Daughters

A reader named Carol left the following comment on one of my posts regarding purity balls, purity rings, and the like:

These moms and dads obviously were not raised this way, did not start believing in this claptrap until they had daughters, they have absolutely zero proof that staying pure, I mean, not even holding hands? until marriage ensures a successful marriage. I won’t even say happy because that seems beside the point. And apparently, their marriages are successful anyhow, in spite of their pasts, at least some of them. These girls are locked up in their towers because the dads are trying a “do as I say not as I did” experiment on them.

This is so true. My parents weren’t raised on purity balls, purity rings, and the like. They weren’t taught to save their first kiss for the altar, and they had never heard of such a thing as a parent guided courtship. They dated in high school, and in college without parental supervision of any kind. And you know what? With the exception of trying to force themselves into gender roles that frequently don’t fit very well, they have to all appearances a pretty good marriage. And since they still kiss in the kitchen, their love life seems fine as well.

I’m willing to bet that the same is true of the vast, vast majority of parents now trying so conscientiously to raise their daughters in the purity culture. They talk about helping their daughters avoid the “mistakes” they themselves made, but they have no proof that the sort of extreme purity they push, both physical and emotional, will actually lead to healthy marital relationships. Their daughters are essentially guinea pigs in a grand experiment.

And I was one of those guinea pigs.

Imagine my surprise when I found, after marrying, that I regret not having dated. Or that I regret not having sexual experience. Imagine my surprise when I found that the purity culture resulted in me struggling with sexual dysfunction. Or when I realized that my husband and I have sexual compatibility issues. Or when I found that fostering a good marital relationship required so much more than coming into marriage as a virgin.

I was told that the purity culture would save me from pain and put me on the path to the most perfect, glorious fairy tale marriage I could imagine. That if I wore my purity ring, curbed every sexual thought, and refrained from kissing until the alter I would live happily ever after. But these promises aren’t based on data or experience. What I didn’t realize growing up was that I was in the middle of an experiment, an experiment fraught with problems and laced with pitfalls, an experiment that would leave me disillusioned and confused.

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