Sunday, May 18, 2008

Purity ball founder opposes virginity pledges as being too all-or-nothing

I didn't notice this in the earlier purity ball coverage, but the founder of the purity ball, a coming-of-age rite for adolescent girls in some evangelical circles, favors abstinence obviously, but opposes virginity pledges.

"We don't do virginity pledges," Lisa Wilson said. "That would be a great consequence, but that's not the point. It's a fatherhood issue of men living in integrity."

Randy Wilson goes so far as to say virginity pledges could be harmful to girls: "It heaps guilt upon them. If they fail, you've made it worse for them," he said. "Who is perfect in this world? One mistake doesn't mean it's all over."

It's fantastic to see diversity within a group portrayed as uniform --- Wilson has worked for the mainstream evangelical organizations, both Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

Also, I think it's smart if this signals a move away from the term "virginity." Many on the left criticize pledges for the same reason that he does, and in addition find the term to be distasteful because it evokes the patriarchy, male control of female sexuality, honor killings in the middle east, differential bride price for virgins, rape of young girls out of a virginity fetish, etc. Plus, all the best parodies latch onto the idea of virginity itself.

Framing the balls as being about an average standard of behavior rather than perfection deflects that aspect. Even if adults do not see perfection as the goal, but rather average behavior, adolescents might expect perfection of themselves. We don't have a great deal of information about the sexual habits of pledgers after broken pledges, other than that they may be less likely to use condoms or other birth control.

We do know that the all-or-nothing mentality is pervasive across all human behavior. It's well known that dieters will say, "if I ate two cookies, I may as well eat 10." Psychologists could hypothesize physiological reasons for that mentality: an insulin spike and/or learned conditioning response to one cookie really might be triggered by a single cookie, thus ruining the run of perfection. And many people quitting tobacco prefer cold turkey to tapering off, and perhaps there are physiological reasons for preferring cold turkey there.

So it's great to know that some don't expect perfection, and also interesting to wonder whether adolescents expect perfection for themselves.

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