Illinois action blog

Friday, June 13, 2008

Protecting Her Purity

In Judith Warner's opinion column for the New York Times yesterday, she draws parallels between recent headlines in the news and begs the question:

"In a world where women’s status has risen so much in recent decades, why does the patriarchy still have the last word on chastity?"

In this excellent column, Warner discusses a previous New York Times article on the Father-Daughter Purity Ball in Colorado Springs. The annual event, held last May, stresses the importance of abstinence until marriage on young girls and the obligation of their fathers to take an active role in protecting their purity.

The notion of abstinence is not necessarily what I take issue with here. Abstinence should be part of a comprehensive approach to sex education that includes information on how young people can protect themselves from sexually-transmitted infections - when and if they choose to have sex. Although this particular purity ball does not include a signed pledge, many similar events do.

A distressing study found that 88 percent of students who pledged virginity in middle school and high school still engage in premarital sex. The students who break this pledge are less likely to use contraception at first intercourse, and they have similar rates of sexually transmitted infections as non-pledgers (Bearman and Brueckner, 2001; Walters, 2005).

Getting back to Warner's point, I find the overarching message of the purity ball to be quite disturbing and dangerous. Rather than arming young girls with age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health information, and empowering them to take responsibility for their own bodies and their own health, these events reinforce old-fashioned, patriarchal sentiments. Young girls are taught that they need male "protection" from evil outside forces and protection from themselves. Some groups even go as far as saying that girls are more emotional than boys, and therefore more susceptible to harm from premarital sex.

Last time I checked it was 2008, quite far from the Middle Ages.

Technorati tags: tagname, planned parenthood, abstinence-only


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