Dispatches | February 26, 2007

When our managing editor Richard Sowienski dropped by my office a moment ago, I told him I was writing my blog on “chastity chic.”

“Who’s that?” he asked, perhaps imagining a RuPaul-like drag queen.

“Not who?  What?”  I held up the article I’d torn from the pages of Glamour with the headline that asked, “Would you pledge your virginity to your father?”

“Have you ever heard of such a thing?” 

He had.  So has Leslie, our webmaster.  Speer just shook his head and made a disagreeable face. 

Somehow “purity covenants” and “purity balls,” popular among Evangelical Christians, had slipped my notice.  Of course I knew that in line with the current President’s churchiness, abstinence was being taught in schools.  I just didn’t think anyone was listening.  Evidently, I’m wrong.  While hardly a broad sweeping trend, still thousands of girls are signing such covenants and slipping “I promise to wait” rings on their slender little fingers. 

Perhaps the logic is that if you make it public, you make it real.  And everyone’s business. If a young girl gives into temptation in the back seat of her boyfriend’s car she not only disappoints her parents, she also disappoints her community.  (Of course one might ask, where and when do the boys contractually agree to keep it in their pants?)  

Based on the pictures and their quotes in the article, for the little girls the balls seem a way to play princess for a day.  They dress in tiaras, floor-length gowns, long white gloves while their fathers get one last stab at Prince Charming.  I can sympathize with the desire to dress like royalty.  As a kid, I envied my stepsister when she got to wear a similarly virginal-looking outfit for her holy confirmation. 

On the surface purity balls are a bizarre yet fairly benign celebration of father-daughter bonding.  Yet take a little time, think about it, possibly even imagine making such a vow to your own father.  You might find yourself sliding downward into a Freudian nightmare. 

Fortunately, I had both a father and stepfather whose temperament on sexual matters is akin to mine.  Perhaps they even set the tone-light, positive, up-beat, even playful.  They took an appropriate amount of interest in my relationships with boys — no more, no less.  In their own lives, neither one was bashful on the subject.  Once during the 70s, in Chicago, when Hefner’s Playboy clubs still existed, my father opened the heavy red leather doors so I could peek inside at the bunny-tailed women all standing around a horse-shoe bar backed by a wall of mirrors.  It was a moment I still cherish, quaint though it now seems.