On Purity Pledges


Earlier today, Withteeth pointed out a post written by a man who said he’d never teach his daughter about safe sex. This got me thinking about the purity culture among certain religious groups.

We’re constantly hearing about abstinence only sex education, and little girls making purity pledges, and courting instead of dating. We hear arguments like “there’s no such thing as safe sex,” “teaching kids about sex will cause them to want to have sex,” “waiting until marriage makes it that much more special,” “you should save yourself for your future husband,” and so forth. But there are so many problems with these arguments.

“There’s no such thing as safe sex.” So it’s better to leave kids unaware of how to protect themselves so that when they have sex they get into trouble? Even if you don’t want your kid having sex, don’t you at least want them to be able to protect themselves if they do? Are you also going to avoid teaching them how to drive because they might get into an accident? Yes, sex can lead to negative consequences, but those consequences are easier to avoid when you know what they are. And what about the future? You expect people to grow up, get married, and have children but never actually tell them what to expect when it comes to having children. There have been cases where doctors have had to explain intercourse to people because neither partner realized that the man had to put his penis in the woman’s vagina in order for her to conceive. In other cases, the couple was having sex in the woman’s urethra because they didn’t know that there are two holes. I new a girl who didn’t realize that you didn’t have to remove your tampon to go to the bathroom during your period. All of these mistakes have nothing to do with premarital sex, and they can all be avoided with comprehensive sex education.

“Teaching kids about sex will make them want to have sex.” Yeah, and teaching them about food will make them want to eat. See, there’s this thing called puberty, and it makes this point mute because it makes it so that kids don’t need to be taught about it to want it. And if you don’t teach them about it, they’ll get their information elsewhere while you’re not around. Porn is usually where they’ll turn. Would you prefer that your children learn from porn? Because those certainly aren’t the lessons I want my future offspring to get. And what’s so wrong with wanting sex anyway? It’s how we all got here after all.

“Waiting until marriage makes it that much more special.” The people who say this have either not had sex or must not remember it. Sex isn’t special. It’s slimy, and smelly, and it looks funny. It’s weird. But it feels wonderful. At least, it does if you do it right. How many first timers do it right? Do you really want that on your wedding night? I’d much rather remember good sex with the person I love than fumbling and embarrassment. Then again, if you’ve never learned what good sex is, how will you know what to expect? How can you have good sex if you don’t know how to make the sex good?

“You should save yourself for your future husband.” Will he do the same for me? These expectations lie a lot more heavily on girls than they do on boys. Take purity balls for example, they teach prepubescent girls that their desires are bad and they should suppress them. But how often do you hear about purity balls for boys? Sure, many are told that masturbation is sinful and sex is for married people, but they aren’t told that they need to suppress their desires. They aren’t told that they have to control their actions and the actions of others. This is a huge burden to put on a child who doesn’t even fully grasp what’s going on. What if the girl doesn’t want to get married? What if the girl has a high sex drive? What if she gets into a relationship that turns out to be bad because she entered it thinking she had to? What if her husband beats her? What if they don’t know how to communicate and their relationship ends up being nothing but fighting? What if they divorce? What kind of pressure is this girl going to feel in those circumstances? Will she know how to deal with them? She’d be a lot more prepared if she had other relationships to build from. And, of course, if she’d actually been educated in what to expect.

I’ve heard a lot about how my relationship will never last because my partner and I live together without being married. But the whole point of moving in together was to see if we could make it. How would we know what to expect from each other if we didn’t live together? I’d rather find out that we can’t stand living together before we had a legally binding contract making it more difficult for us to leave each other. We know how we’ll deal with tough times, we know how to communicate before we start to fight, we know how to navigate things like cooking and cleaning and errands together. And we know how to navigate sex with one another. We’ve been together for a few years, and we’ve been living together for just short of a year. We still love each other and we are now more committed than ever to spend our lives together, and to have children. We haven’t destroyed our relationship, we’ve strengthened it. That’s not to say that everybody is the same as us. People will respond differently. But, if you break up because you moved in together, I highly doubt a wedding would have changed anything.

For all of these reasons, and more, I’m critical of purity culture. I believe that it causes more problems than it solves, and I don’t believe that anyone should be made to feel ashamed of their sexuality.

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20 responses to “On Purity Pledges

  • Jane Catherine Rozek

    Kids used to learn about sex in rural communities by the farmyard behaviour of their livestock. And by small little houses not quite soundproof! Of course sex is natural and fun and good! But if was so much safer then…Thanks for liking my blog and checking it out. Your’s is very impressive and well written ideas throughout!

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  • NovaSaber

    If they don’t learn it in a proper, comprehensive way, they’ll learn it in jumbled bits and pieces and end up getting a big chunk of their information from porn.

    And, well, here’s what one of my characters has to say about that: “learning about sex from porn is like learning to drive from Mario Kart.”

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  • Cassandra Morrilly

    Thank you for this post. One of the reasons that as an atheist I’m able to work at a Catholic university is because last year, I saw a bunch of flyers posted up in all the bathroom around campus that talked about safe sex, down to what sort of lubrications are safe to use with condoms. They had a small blurb about abstinence, but most of the flyer was about using protection, and where to go if you have questions or need any sort of medical attention. I was impressed. There’s no problem with saying, “These are our values and this is what we teach and what we prefer you do, but here’s all of the information you need to have so that you’re safe and healthy no matter what.”

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  • blessed1

    I’m a Christian and understand we all have free will. Although I will encourage my son to stay pure – I certainly understand that he may choose not to. I think it’s okay to educate kids on the basics and ask them to withhold the values they’re raised with. It’s not like I’m shielding him from it, just because I’m of a certain faith based group. My kid knows how it all works so using the your same car scenario … he’ll know how to drive if he chooses to. Hopefully with the values I’ve raised him with, he’ll wait till he has a license. 🙂

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  • ravensmarch

    From my own experience, there’s nothing more likely to put people off sex than a really frank sex-ed course– all the moreso if there’s a completely honest film showing childbirth. If all the kid is getting from the parents is “NO TOUCHING!” then the only other way to learn about it is popular culture and peer mythology. Since the former is largely composed of using tight clothes to sell stuff and the latter offers such gems as “you can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up,” that’s a set up for disaster.

    …and even if you don’t want your kids getting at it until they’re properly married by the rite of your choice, isn’t it fair for them to know what they’ll be getting into when the day arrives?

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  • ryan59479

    I totally agree with you on all these points. I would add that when it comes to “safe sex” the goal isn’t only to avoid STI’s but also to address family planning. Family planning isn’t just for single, unmarried people. Married folk need family planning, too.

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  • caelesti

    Here’s an very revealing series about purity culture from a woman who was raised in it: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/the-purity-culture

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  • caelesti

    I can’t speak for her, but yes of course abstinence is the best way of avoiding STIs/unwanted pregnancy. The best way to avoid STIs is for people to be honest with their partner(s), plenty of STIs are spread by supposedly monogamous people who cheat.

    The problem is what I call “ignorance-only” education. Teens who are given comprehensive education don’t necessarily have sex earlier as result. In fact, teens who have abstinence only education are more likely to end up having unsafe sex, (often anal sex so they can be “technical virgins”) getting pregnant (typically keeping the baby) And of course gay/lesbian/bisexual youth are excluded and in this type of atmosphere more likely to end up feeling isolated, bullied, rejected by peers, family members, depressed, suicidal and often homeless. What’s a bigger sin, homosexual behavior or teenagers being kicked out by their families?
    http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/409-the-truth-about-abstinence-only-programs

    I also think that if people want to promote marriage (or even just stable relationships), the best way they could do that is make it easier for people to get their adult lives started at an earlier age. Young people have to push marriage & kids off later & later because it is so hard to get careers started, etc.

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  • johnspenn

    There are many things I could say about this post but perhaps an article of my own in response would be more appropriate. I do have a couple of questions though.
    1. Would you disagree with the proposition that the most certain way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and or contracting STDs is abstinence?
    2. Would you agree with the proposition that the most sure way to avoid the spread of STDs among sexually active people is for those people to participate in life-long monogamous relationships?

    I’m not talking about what people actually do, just speaking theoretically. If you have better answers to the dilemmas presented I’d like to hear them.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Yes, STI’s and babies are easily avoided when you aren’t having sex. But safe sex lowers the risk so significantly that your questions are kind of moot. Most of the mistakes related to safe sex are caused because people don’t know how to use them effectively. that means that proper education would eliminate almost all unwanted pregnancies and STI’s contracted while using protection.
      I also don’t think that abstinence is realistic for everyone. Some of us can wait until we’re in our 20’s to have sex, but some of us can’t. And, in either case, it’s like handing someone the keys to a new car without teaching them how to drive.
      Not really. If one partner doesn’t feel comfortable in a monogamous relationship, they may cheat. If they cheat, they are less likely to use protection, which could lead to contracting an STI. Said STI could easily be given to their partner. The best way for anyone who’s sexually active to avoid the spread of STI’s is to practice safe sex.

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      • johnspenn

        You said “Some of us can wait until we’re in our 20’s to have sex, but some of us can’t.” You make it seem as if some people are not physically capable of abstaining from having sex. Is this your position?

        You said “If one partner doesn’t feel comfortable in a monogamous relationship, they may cheat.” Again, can they control whether or not they cheat, or are they physically incapable of doing so? And, if they cheat, they are no longer monogamous. Finally, I said these propositions are hypothetical, not based on what people actually do.

        So going back to the hypothetical, are my statements accurate, in your view?

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        • hessianwithteeth

          I don’t know how much control we really have over our sex drives. Yes, people can and do have high sex drives and abstain from sex. But it can lead to a lot of problem. I think it’s healthier for people to have safe sex, and be honest with their partners about it, than it is to avoid sex because something bad might happen. Bad things can happen because of abstinence too. It’s just not a good reason to avoid doing something.

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          • johnspenn

            “I don’t know how much control we really have over our sex drives. Yes, people can and do have high sex drives and abstain from sex. But it can lead to a lot of problem.” What problems are you referring to? What are some problems that someone may develop because they abstain from having sex?

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          • hessianwithteeth

            Withteeth here,

            So I’m a person with a high sex drive, where Hessian has a very low sex drive. I did not have sex until I was 21 and was I getting frustrated towards the end of the stretch, desperate in fact. I made a great many stupid decision and hurt myself and others (emotionally) trying to get sex. luckily I was able to practice safe sex and I’ve actually only had one partner, however I can say with fair amount of certainty that I wouldn’t not have been worse off for having sex earlier, in fact I would have avoid some very painful experiences and foolish decisions if I hadn’t been so set on getting into a relationship so I could have sex. It’s all worked out, but it would have been better for a few people if I had went out to have some sex to release that building tension. And masturbating, oh I’d be a much less present person to be around if I didn’t masturbate regularly. Trust me on that, I’ve gone quite a while with out a good wank and it is not fun for my over all mental health. I’m more anxious, irritable, and I spend way more time sitting around being horny and unable to do anything but think about sex.

            So ya I can abstain from having sex, but why would I when I can minimize the risks ask much as I can. As well it’s not like I need to have sex all the time, I can go a month or more with out it so long as I can masturbate. Like I’m not sex crazed or anything, but I have a very real need to satisfy my sexual desires and if I don’t it negatively impacts of my social life, and my productivity.
            .

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  • aetherhouse

    “Are you also going to avoid teaching them how to drive because they might get into an accident?”

    This.

    I’m in the boat of people who thinks that erotica isn’t so bad for teens, because….well, I read and wrote lemony fanfic when I was a teenager, and that actually was a pretty good way to deal with all those hormones. It made me not interested in doing it in real life because I already had that “outlet”, you know?

    Overall, teens should be educated. The more they’re exposed to it, the more they might even lose interest. There’s a reason why most kids who became parents at my high school were the super Christian kids. If it’s not some forbidden hushed thing, maybe teens will decide for themselves to wait. *shrug*

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  • Elouise

    Thanks for your candor. Your thoughts about sex ed for children are wonderful. I laughed my way through some of them. Silence is NOT an option. Ignoring WON’T make things either go away or turn out right. I also appreciate your statement about yourself and why you’ve chosen what you’ve chosen. So appreciated.

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