Pointing and laughing at wacky Christians is a favorite liberal pastime, and in the case of things like the Creation Museum or shitty textbooks, deservedly so. Another Christian peculiarity, the Purity Ball, has come back around the cultural radar thanks to a photography exhibit by Sweden's David Magnusson, and self-satisfied liberals everywhere are invited to gawk at the portraits of young girls fake-marrying their fathers. It's obvious what these Christians get out of this, but what about us?
Mockery of Purity Balls comes around every few years, spurred by the odd blog post, documentary, or news segment. The underlying premise isn't all that novel. To the degree that you believe in the effectiveness of abstinence, it's just a symbolic attempt to enforce it, but the ceremonial trappings make some people uncomfortable. Here's how newly-minted Wonkette, Jr. editor Sara Benincasa describes them:
What is a purity ball, you ask? Oh, just a formal ceremony where a daughter pledges not to experience natural, healthy sexual pleasure in any way, shape, or form until she’s married, of course. She makes the promise to God, but since he’s busy being invisible in the sky, her dad stands in. This makes sense when you consider the aggressively patriarchal nature of conservative Christianity. It also makes sense when you consider that some fathers are not happy nice time people but are instead creepy, overprotective hymencopter dads, who totally look like they want to fuck their daughters.
What? We’re just saying.
Liberals. Always turning something pure and good into something weird and sexual with their own projections. Okay, maybe the photos are a little bit creepy, but maybe the photographer was like "Okay, for this one, pretend you've just been given heroin by Jesus," so he could make them look bad. Just because the girls wear white and the dads sport formalwear while they exchange vows about sex, and seal the whole deal with a ring, doesn't mean there isn't a clear delineation between this symbolism and the very different implications of matrimony.
Well, creepy is in the eye of the beholder, but Benincasa's point about the inherent misogyny in this practice (my phrase, not hers) stands. There don't appear to be any Purity Balls to maintain the purity of people with balls (or Testostero-Americans).
Too often, though, ridicule of Christian Purity Balls and abstinence is accompanied by an overly-dismissive attitude about the desire of parents to have their kids avoid the risks of underage sex. Abstinence may not be the only answer, but surely, it can be an ask. I have three sons and one daughter, and I understand the protective instinct, so if I have a critique of abstinence (aside from its sole focus on girls), it's that it is almost always accompanied by shaming of masturbation. That's like trying to prevent drowning by throwing away all of the life preservers.
As uncomfortable as Purity Balls are, though, Purity Ball porn is also kinda skeevy. Benincasa's irreverent critique aside, what is delivered to the reader of, say, this Buzzfeed piece, or this slideshow, or HuffPo's jumbo spread, the purpose of which all seem to be to simply exploit this phenomenon for voyeuristic kicks. You can deliver a thoughtful piece of commentary without making the reader click through every. single. photo.
Can you also do the same without including a pun about balls in the headline? Fair enough.