Let’s talk about “losing” your virginity. What are we implying by using the term ‘to lose your virginity’? The implication is one of passivity. A statement that reinforces the notion of girls and women as powerless. Society continues to render young women powerless by denying them accurate sex education and promoting abstinence.
All the talk of virgin pledges and purity parties blows my mind and really irritates me. This seems to be purely about controlling female sexuality. What about purity balls for boys? Are they posing with moms who are protecting them? OF COURSE NOT. Because we encourage boys to go out and ‘be boys’.
I found this article about David Magnusson and his work as I searched for information on ‘losing your virginity’. Magnusson’s book Purity is about young girls who have made a pledge to keep their virginity until marriage and their fathers who pledge to help protect them during their journeys.
“Magnusson admits he had a strong reaction when he first learned of the purity balls. He thought mostly of gun-wielding fathers trying to protect their daughters. He began to explore the idea of the balls further, reading everything he could find, and reaching out to various balls to see about photographing the fathers and daughters.”
There’s something creepy about these photos of girls in formal dresses posing with their fathers’ hands wrapped around their bodies. In some of the photos they have their eyes closed in a semi-rapturous pose.
First off, are these father-daughter rituals designed to subtly brainwash girls into feeling so powerless that they choose to turn their virginity over to daddy? Are they restricting girls until the right man comes along to marry her, replacing daddy? Is it simply fatherly love and devotion or an attempt to control her sexuality?
Second, isn’t there something just a little odd about the sexual implications of this movement? That’s one of my first thoughts as I look at the portraits photographed by Magnusson. Are these young, impressionable girls being turned into semi-sex slaves, in the guise of virgins, to their fathers? Feels rather Oedipal to me.
I am totally in favor of young women delaying sex until they find a partner who respects them, their body, and their wishes. Young women should be given the tools to help them make decisions about when having sex feels right. Most young men and women below the age of 15 are viewed as too young to possess the emotional maturity for emotionally sound, mutually satisfying sex. Chances are that a too-young woman is either responding to pressure from a guy, peer influences, or because she feels sexual desire and isn’t sure how to deal with it.
Wouldn’t all of those reasons be best dealt with by offering quality sex education and open communication about sex? Having daddy lock her up in a figurative chastity belt and convincing/manipulating her to wait until marriage is soooo not a good idea! And researchers agree with me. Columbia University’s Peter Bearman co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality. He says, “Sex education doesn’t cause all these negative outcomes. What causes these negative outcomes is kids who are having sex and aren’t protecting themselves.”
“The downside is that, when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex,” says Bearman. “So all of the benefit of the delay in terms of pregnancy-risk and in terms of STD acquisition — poof — it just disappears because they’re so much less likely to use a condom at first sex.” (CBS News, 2005)
Based on those interviews with more than 20,000 young people who took virginity pledges, Bearman found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage. Sadly, 9 years later we’re still denying our youth full access to sex education. And we’re now promoting Purity Balls, keeping alive the notion that virginity is our salvation as women.
Magnusson had a change of heart after he started interviewing the fathers and daughters. “He learned that many of the young women were independent thinkers and their fathers were simply trying to protect their loved ones the best way they knew how. Magnusson sent portraits to everyone who participated in the project and said they were all very happy with the results.”
I’m not convinced.
If I could go back to my teenage years, or offer words of advice to my granddaughters when they grow up, it would be to delay intercourse and other sexual acts like oral and anal sex (rising in popularity as they’re not viewed as ‘real sex’). Acknowledge and play with your sexual desires–get to know your body and how you respond to touch. Learn to cherish your body and treat it as a thing of beauty. Then as you go forward with a possible partner think about how you want your body to be viewed and touched. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person really interested in me?
- Is he just looking to have sex and move on?
- Does he respect my wishes if you ask to slow down?
- Are the two of us comfortably talking about sex? If you can’t talk about what you want then chances are you’re not going to get the sexual experience you deserve.
- Will he wait until I feel ready?
- Are we talking about contraception and sexually transmitted infections?
These are questions we should all be asking of potential partners at any age. But, when teens aren’t given the right information, thanks to abstinence education, and don’t have the self-esteem or comfort in their own bodies, they’re susceptible to boys who don’t really care about them. They are likely to lose their virginity instead of making a conscious choice to give up their virgin status. There is a big difference.
There is much to lose when we disempower young women around their bodies. They become easy targets for predators–sexual abusers and boyfriends who don’t respect girls.
If you have a daughter and you want her to wait before having sex–talk to her! Don’t shut her down, don’t take away her voice, don’t deny her education. Information is the best tool for making careful, fully informed decisions. Sheltering girls and turning them into daddy’s little chaste princesses isn’t the best solution.
But then, these men and the women who support this crap already know this don’t they? They don’t want empowered girls. They don’t want women to own their sexuality. They want women to get out of the board room, stay at home, raise the kids and be the good wife.
I want to say this is a sad case of parental involvement gone awry, but I think it’s more insidious than that.