View Full Version : Pure bliss at the virgins’ ball

11-25-2007, 01:10 PM
In the US, young Christians are being urged to abstain from sex until marriage, write Marvin Jacobs and Siska Mulder.

At a ‘Purity Ball’ in Arizona, girls — some as young as 10 years old — promise their fathers to remain virgins till their wedding day.

The lights are low. A slow number is playing over the speakers, and an endless parade of silk ball-gowns is gliding over the ballroom floor. The men are dressed in respectable suits with their dance partners glued to their sides. Who are their dates? Their daughters.

These fathers and daughters, 250 in total, are taking part in the Father/Daughter Purity ball in Tucson , a city of half a million people in Arizona . It is the fifth anniversary of the ball. The minimum age for participating daughters is 10, but there are even younger girls present.

During this annual event, fathers and daughters sign a purity covenant. He promises to watch over her purity (a euphemism for virginity) and she promises to remain pure until she marries.

According to estimates, there are around 1300 of these events organised by Christian groups all over the US each year .

Since the Republicans have been in office, abstinence has been strongly promoted in the US. There is also an initiative called the Silver Ring Thing. Young people can demonstrate their vow of virginity by wearing a ring. Many of the girls at the ball are wearing theirs .

On the afternoon of the ball, Ashley Ellingson, who is co-ordinating the event, walks along the hotel corridors, giving her colleagues instructions on how to decorate the hall . A co-worker passes by, lugging a gigantic wooden cross.

“The ball is getting bigger every year,” says Ellingson. “What we didn’t expect was that the girls would keep coming back. They’ve already pledged their oath, but the ball keeps them on track.”

She says girls who have had sex can take their oath again — although she would never use the word “sex”. She prefers “not staying pure”.

Ellingson remained a virgin until her marriage. “There wasn’t a specific moment when I decided to stay pure,” she says .

She married three years ago, when she was 19.

“I already met the one guy that I wanted to spend the rest of my live with.”

The Purity Ball begins with a gala dinner, starting with grace. For some of the younger girls it’s the first time that they’ve eaten out. Distrustfully they inspect their plates and begin to pick at their food.

The daughters drink ice tea, and the fathers abstain from alcohol.

The air conditioning is so strong the girls get goose bumps, quickly solved by draping dad’s jackets over their bare shoulders.

It’s hard to stay quietly at the table. As soon as they get the chance, the girls race with their friends to the toilets to reapply their lip gloss and giggle . They wobble unpractised on high heels, their pimples masked by a thick layer of foundation.

Their appearance seems to interest them more than the evening’s message. A few of the older, more experienced girls have probably talked about more than just maintaining their purity in the washroom. “Sssh, Purity Ball,” whispers one of them as she enters the ballroom again, and her friends burst into gales of laughter. They smile knowingly at each other before they put on a brave face and join their tables.

The former Miss Arizona 2006, Hilary Griffith, is telling the room of her experience of remaining a virgin until marriage.

“Alas, it is not usual to focus on purity in our society. I’ve always refused to compromise and have stayed firm in my resolve to stay pure until the day I marry. My belief in God is so important to me. I am convinced that He wants me to wait. But it is very difficult and there are many obstacles on the way.”

The beauty queen had a relationship with a boy who pushed her into having sex, while she wanted to wait. After God spoke to her, she knew what to do — break up with him.

“The world says that staying a virgin till marriage isn’t a big deal, but the world is wrong. It is a big deal!”

Her speech has a happy ending. She announces that she now has a boyfriend who shares her desire to stay “pure” until the wedding. She doesn’t know that much yet about her fiancé as they’ve never lived together, but soon they are to marry. The room applauds.

In the US, about 10% of boys and 16% of girls have taken the virginity pledge. It’s little wonder this is so popular — organisations that promote sexual abstinence get substantial funding from the government.

While other countries emphasise birth control and the use of condoms to counteract teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, in the US, abstinence is seen as the solution.

The effectiveness of the virginity pledge has been extensively researched.

Columbia University’s Peter Bearman and Yale’s Hannah Brückner have carried out one of the largest studies on teenage sexual behaviour, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. <font color="blue">According to this, 88% of the young people who have pledged to remain virgins until their marriage do have sex earlier. </font color>

It’s these teenagers who run the greatest risk of becoming pregnant or getting venereal disease; they just aren’t prepared for the situation .

<font color="blue">The US’s Guttmacher Institute has discovered through research that the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies occurs in Mississippi, Arizona and Arkansas — the religious states where sexual abstinence is promoted as the only option. </font color>

It seems that teenagers who have taken the virginity pledge have just as much anal and oral sex, as a means of avoiding vaginal sex, as their peers who haven’t taken the oath.

But, to a certain extent the virginity pledge has had the desired effect: on average, the “pledgers” have sex around 18 months later than their peers.

The pledge has the most effect when it is taken between the ages of 15 and 17.

Research shows that the virginity pledge is a way for teenagers to distinguish themselves and belong to a group.

At the ball, it’s time for dancing . The men on the dance floor look straight ahead , while the girls press themselves up against their fathers as they try to remember the steps.

The gowns on the youngest participants start to slip; they don’t yet have the feminine form to hold them up.

Some of the fathers and daughters are wearing matching outfits. One father wears a tie made from the same bright blue fabric as his daughter’s dress.

After this number there’s something a little more upbeat: YMCA from The Village People. The dance floor comes alive, the fathers and daughters sing along loudly, forming the four letters with their bodies as if their lives depend upon it.

“Oh my God!” shout two friends as soon as the cha-cha- cha starts up. This is a popular dance. They run off the floor to kick off their heels and dance in bare feet.

When Alyssa, 10, is asked what the vow she’s just taken means to her, she has to think for a moment. Somewhat chubby, she wears a long white ball- gown, with her hair piled high. “It’s a bit confusing,” she finally says. “I can’t explain.”

Her older sister Megan, 15, dares not say the word “sex”. “I agree with the idea of purity,” she says cryptically. Above all she finds it fun to go out for the evening with her dad .

Sarai, 14, is wearing a floor- length dress of green silk bought specially for the ball.

She tries to describe what the purity pledge means. “You’re then able to ... you’re then special. It’s very precious. I want to be valuable.” Satisfied with this explanation she adds: “When I get married I will be valuable and special.” Her sister Kelsey, 13, is also at the party tonight.

Many studies show that girls with a kind, loving father perform better. They get higher marks, are less depressed, have fewer run-ins with the law, use less drugs, are more social and develop better verbal skills .

One extensive study concludes that girls without a strong father figure experiment earlier with sex and have a much greater chance of getting pregnant as a teenager.

This risk is only increased by the fact that girls without a father develop sexually earlier than those who live with their father.

Because of continued threats, this year the organisation has hired two sheriffs for the evening. It’s their job to prevent antagonists from disturbing the proceedings.

Along with increasing popularity, criticism of the Purity Ball is also swelling.

Mary Zeiss Stange is professor of Women’s Studies and Religion at Skidmore College in upstate New York. She recently wrote that Purity Balls and pledges were a disturbing new phenomenon.

She says that the girls are placing their sexuality in the hands of their fathers.

“She is his little treasure until he hands her over to her husband.”

T-shirts on sale in the US only confirm her opinion: “Notice: no trespassing on this property. My father is watching,” reads one.

Furthermore, says Zeiss Stange, the virginity pledge increases the chance that the girls will catch STDs and have unplanned pregnancies. She says that young women shouldn’t be made to feel guilty towards their parents if they have sex and thus break their promise.

But at the Purity Ball there is no place for dissent and organisers continue to campaign for sexual abstinence.

Three prepubescent girls just passing are curious and come peaking around the corner. “Cool,” says one of them. “What kind of party is this?” They leave with a bundle of informative brochures and Ellingson’s business card.

See you next year. <hr /></blockquote>

web page (http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Article.aspx?id=632458)

11-27-2007, 08:22 PM
I took the pledge,at sixty six,and threw my silver ring away the next day. I understand Kenya is going to have a national virginity pledge week,soon as all the old ladies from England get laid.