Sadly, chastity is making a comeback, and getting tons of mainstream attention.
A few months ago at the MTV Music Video awards, singer Jordin Sparks defended the so-called purity ring after host Russell Brand dissed the Jonas Brothers for wearing the symbols of chastity. Currently college student Natalie Dylan is set to make a killing by auctioning off her virginity. Top it off with the underlying celebration of chastity in the teen vampire flick Twilight.
First the purity rings. These are given to girls - sometimes as young as five years-old - by their fathers in return for a promise that the girls will stay away from sex until marriage. To get a sense of what's behind the concept - sex is evil and filthy, no matter when it's practiced - consider this quote from the website purityrings.com.
"What's the value of such a promise? Answer: Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete purity because we fear God."
These young girls also fear their fathers. It's the dads who bestow upon their daughters this gift of jewelry - often via elaborate cotillion-like dances and ceremonies that are variations on a debutante ball - and it's the dads who are promised by their daughters that the girls will be chaste til they walk down the aisle.
Note too that in some fundamentalist situations, young girls not only promise Daddy that they'll keep their undies on, they also look to daddy for protection and even allow daddy to choose their husbands. Can you say, "Ick?"
Where's mum in all this? While some of us might assume that the mothers are too busy regretting that hubby was the first sex partner they ever had, it's more likely that in this quasi-Christian trend, the women don't matter enough to be factored in. It's all about male control.
Normally I'd just let the fundamentalist freaks go about their business - as long as they stay out of mine - but I'm noticing the value of chastity sneaking into the mainstream. Usually when I'm watching the MTV Music Video Awards, I go the other way - I'm bummed by the oversexualization of everybody and everything involved. But Jordin Sparks, with her cheerleading for purity rings, got me worried.
Then I got wind of Natalie Dylan's plan [video] to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder - anything to pay off her college bills. At first this sounds like the opposite of chastity values - turning sexuality into a consumer product. But actually this publicity stunt has the effect of fetishizing virginity, making it look like something of value. True, guys do get off on the idea of busting a cherry, but for women first-time sex is almost always disappointing. Saving yourselves for what,? is the operative question.
I'm not the first to notice the underlying theme in Twilight - that only abstinance will keep you from ruin. Here the undead Edward resists Belle's passion because he's afraid if he loses control he'll suck the blood right out of her. You can imagine how swoon-sational this would feel to a teen audience - a guy making his desires secondary to the safety of his loved one. Whoop de doo. And later on in the series, Edward won't be able to restrain himself, leaving Belle bruised, battered and, you guessed it, pregnant. Have that pre-marital sex, the film seems to say, and the wrath of god will be upon you.
Like most feminists, I'm wary of chastity vows. Chastity is dangerous to women's health - and to young men's. Kids who take chastity vows tend to keep away from the sexual information they need to be safe once they finally do give up their virginity.
And really, this is one thing that the 60s generation got right. Pre-marital sex helps you get to know yourself, what you need, what you like and whether a particular partner is sexually compatible. Going into a marriage without having had an authentic sexual connection means you're going into the most important relationship of your life totally unprepared.
I say, resist chastity and fight for sex education.