Are Purity Balls Creepy?

Your answer may depend on your cultural upbringing – and that may make the whole concept even creepier.

Fotografins Rum
brandsvig / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


Lately, this post from Policy Mic has been trending on my Facebook wall:

I first started hearing about purity balls 6 or 7 years ago when they were featured in a Time Magazine article and an article in Oprah magazine, but they were a fairly localized phenomenon. Over the past few years, the concept has gained popularity — and notoriety, though a 2012 NY Times article questioned some of the numbers being thrown around and questioned whether the purity ball explosion   wasn’t largely media-driven. Whether or not there really are 1,400 purity balls around the world each year, though, the founders of the movement, Randy and Lisa Wilson, are certainly getting a lot of publicity for it. His website notes that the Wilsons

have been featured on CNN’s The Glenn Beck Show, NBC Today Show, ABC World News Tonight, Dr. Phil Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, the Tyra Banks Show that was also aired in Egypt, Fox21 News at Nine in depth story, KKTV News in Colorado Springs, CO., Fox16News Little Rock, Arkansas

…as well as

…media print in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Glamour, O Magazine (Oprah), The Economist magazine, USA Today, The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, Citizen Magazine cover story, The Colorado Springs Gazette, Heartlink, Citizenlink, World magazine and Focus on the Family magazine as well as international newspapers and magazines. They have been interviewed on numerous radio programs in the US, Canada, Ireland, and the BBC in London. The Father Daughter Purity Ball has been talked about and discussed on The View, The Tonight Show and other evening news shows.

The Wilsons and the purity ball have also garnered international attention, including a recent Daily Mail UK article with the headline “‘You are married to the Lord and your daddy is your boyfriend’:  Purity balls, in which girls ‘gift their virginity’ to their fathers until marriage, sweeping America

And that is one of the things that puts this squarely in the field of “creepy” — not to mention leaving many of my international friends shaking their heads and wondering what the hell is going on here in the good old US of A. And for the record, the Daily Mail headline uses a direct quote from a father to his younger daughter, who looks to be about 10 or 11.

Yes, “you’re married to the Lord and your daddy is your boyfriend.” Which makes me wonder how many girls wonder if that means they’re cheating on God with their daddies… just saying.

Fotografins Rum
brandsvig / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

And note, the creepiness factor is not being reflected onto the relationship from the outside. Those are the father’s own words. No one put them in his mouth or made it up. No one is inferring that daddy wants to be his little girl’s boyfriend — daddy SAID so.

In fact, the some of the creepiest things said about purity balls come directly from the pens and the mouths of the fathers who are involved. Check out these quotes taken from letters to Wilson from fathers:

“How can you measure the value of your eleven year old looking up into your eyes (as you clumsily learn the fox-trot together) with innocent, uncontainable joy, saying, ‘Daddy, I’m so excited!’

“It is impossible to convey what I have seen in their sweet spirits, their delicate, forming souls, as their daddy takes them out for their first big dance. Their whole being absorbs my loving attention, resulting in a radiant sense of self-worth and identity.”

You don’t even need your mind in the gutter to recognize that these fathers are far more focused on what Daddy gets out of the experience than on what it does for their daughters. And that may be what makes this whole thing cringe-inducing. Despite the over-arching supposed intention to provide a “strong male role model” at a time when young girls need one in their lives, when fathers talk about the experience, they talk about how warm and fuzzy and adored THEY feel.

Want more creepiness in their own words? Here’s what Wilson told Nightline Prime:

“What I hear from these young ladies is that there’s this need for that physical touch, and from a male being. I believe that’s what the father’s role is.”

Absorb that for a moment. Wilson believes that at around the age of 12 or 13, girls have a need for physical touch from a male, and it is his role as a father to provide that physical touch.

Now, I’ll be the first to agree that girls who have a strong, loving father in their lives tend to do better in nearly all areas of their lives — on average. But we part ways on the concept of providing “that physical touch, and from a male being.”

In Wilson’s vision, the onus of protecting a girl’s “purity” — and dodge that however you want, everyone knows we’re talking about sex — is fully on the father, and he’s the one that signs a pledge that he will live a pure and moral life. He goes on to say that “for a daughter to agree to her father, that she will agree to purity – it puts an onus of guilt on the daughter if she ever goes and gets involved in a relationship outside her father’s purview.”

And while it’s clear that Wilson means that the father is the one who makes a promise, not the daughter, there are plenty of young women who remember signing the pledges — and they certainly interpret them as promising to be faithful to daddy. And that’s — yeah, creepy.

Fotografins Rum
brandsvig / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

In the course of researching and reading all I could about purity balls, I ran across something that may be the creepiest indictment of the purity ball phenomenon – a project that very clearly does NOT set out to highlight the creepiness.

The Purity Project was created by Stockholm photographer David Magnusson. In 2011 and 2012, Magnusson photographed father-daughter pairs who attended purity balls in Louisiana, Arizona, Colorado and Texas in environments near their homes, wearing the clothing they’d worn to the ball. He didn’t pose them. Instead, he asked them to pose in a way that reflected their relationship and how they felt about the purity pledge.

“I wanted to create portraits that were beautiful, images that the girls and their fathers would like to see hanging on their walls at home, while someone from another cultural background might experience the very same portraits in an entirely different way.”

The photos are almost surreal in their delicacy and beauty — and they tell the story of purity balls and the culture from which they grew far better than words can.


This entry was posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014 at 5:10 pm and is filed under Religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Comments so far

  1. Barbara Alvarez on March 28, 2014 5:45 pm

    Deb, this is a powerful article! I got that same sense of “ick” from reading news accounts about purity balls. Makes me hope that, when my son and daughter-in-law start having babies, they are boys!

  2. Deb on March 28, 2014 5:56 pm

    Thanks, Barbara. I’ll tell you the truth — I don’t envy parents at all these days. Both boys AND girls get societal messages that diminish them as people nearly every day.

  3. Dina on March 28, 2014 11:32 pm

    I’m sorry, but out of context–you are NOT going to see these pairs as father and daughter, which is the most disturbing part in all of this. And what the hell is wrong with fathers and daughters just having a nice event set up to dance and enjoy, WITHOUT having to promise one another … what even? That daughter will not “fuck anyone but God until some dude puts a ring on it so she can then fuck him instead” and in the meantime her daddy “will be holding a perpetual candle to all her orifices to make sure no unholy dick is stuck in any”? This whole “concept” is just beyond sick.

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