The Plight of the Purity Pledge

Comprehensive sex education and religious notions of “purity” are two topics about which I am very passionate. They both have the power to make or break a person’s relationship with sex, and I think we can all agree a healthy, positive relationship is preferred. However, I am entirely dismayed by the way the American Church has distorted teachings on sexuality, so I’m here today to hopefully inform you all about (and hopefully dismantle) why modern practices are so harmful.


Expectations and celebrations of virginity have been an aspect of many cultures for many years. However, a relatively new virginity-related trend has begun to shape the way the American Church approaches sexuality: purity pledges. Purity pledges (AKA virginity pledges, abstinence vows, etc.), in their simplest form, require signing a pledge promising to remain abstinent until marriage. Rituals, certificates, tokens, and family members often accompany them. Pledges may be taken in church, school, or even as a part of extravagant events known as purity balls.

First we saw a push for abstinence teaching in the late 1980s-early 1990s that culminated in the Adolescent Family Life Act, or the “ Chastity Act.” Then, in 1993, an organization called True Love Waits introduced the pledge, followed by the introduction of “purity rings” by The Silver Ring Thing in 1995. The popularity of purity pledges was growing quickly, and by this time, nearly 2.2 million adolescents had signed some form of virginity pledge. Then, in 1996, two events occurred that significantly informed current data and perceptions of the American Christian purity movement. The first of these was the implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which promoted and established abstinence-only sex education in public schools. The second was the founding of Generations of Light, the first organization that used the father-daughter relationship as the key mediator of sexual purity. Since then, abstinence-only sex education programs, which often include purity pledges in the curriculum, have received over 1.3 billion in federal funding. These events marked the point at which abstinence practices spread exponentially in schools and churches, and a growing number of families became ritually involved in purity balls, popularized by Generations of Light. By 2008, nearly 23.8% of adolescents had taken some form of virginity pledge and purity balls reached an annual rate of approximately 4,700.

Unfortunately, pledges have proven an ineffective means of facilitating commitment to abstinent sexual behavior. However, they do have alarming unintended effects on many other aspects of adolescents’ sexuality. The overwhelming ubiquity of purity pledge culture thus requires careful consideration of the implications of these unintended effects. Issues with the practice include health risks, undermined autonomy and intrinsic motivation, perpetuation of patriarchal familial and relational structures, confusing and contradictory messages, and theological inaccuracies, particularly within the practice of father-daughter purity balls. Continue reading “The Plight of the Purity Pledge”

Death Has Personal Space Too

The Death of Ivan Ilyich, written by Leo Tolstoy, 1886.

102377-Leo-Tolstoy-Quote-Ivan-Ilych-s-life-had-been-most-simple-and-mostMuch of life is spent choosing between the outer, physical, material being and the inner, spiritual being. The nature of death serves as an intriguing dichotomy. From the physical perspective, death in and of itself is an unremarkable, inevitable event. Death is the epitome of conforming to the physical world, therefore confining oneself to the limitations of the physical body. However, death is also the pinnacle of relinquishing oneself from the physical and into the spiritual. While everyone must come to death, therefore everyone must ultimately be subject to the more powerful influence of the spiritual over the physical, everyone has the ability to resist spiritual transcendence, and it is in this choice of resisting the spiritual or resisting the physical that the nature of one’s dying process is defined. Tolstoy parallels this dichotomous competition between the two realms, as it pertains to Ivan Ilyich’s dying process, through his representation of time and space.
Continue reading “Death Has Personal Space Too”

Performance, Entrapment, & Princesses in Father-Daughter Purity Balls

PPPThis image, taken by photographer David Magnusson, was captured at a father-daughter purity ball in the US. It’s beautiful photography, but the subject…well, it’s creepy, right? Makes you feel kinda uncomfortable. This image is only the half of it. Father-daughter purity balls are rife with tensions and an eeriness that is difficult to describe…

Emergence of the Father-Daughter Purity Ball

The existence of purity culture as an independent arena of ethical formation, religious teaching, and spiritual testing is nothing new to the American evangelical church. However, the shift to purity-focused events as a sight of public spiritual and behavioral commitment to abstinence occurred only a few short decades ago, in 1993, with the founding of True Love Waits, an organization promoting abstinence education and dedication. With the founding of this organization arose an entirely new method of promoting purity in the form of pledges. Continue reading “Performance, Entrapment, & Princesses in Father-Daughter Purity Balls”

Self Determination Theory: Major Tenets and Practical Applications 

According to 2012 drop-out rates, 20% of high school students will drop out of school or not complete high school in the normal four-year course (Stetser & Stillwell, 2014). With drop-out rates this high, students’ intentions to persist in school are an immediately relevant area of interest. When evaluating this interest, it is important to acknowledge students’ express intentions, as this is a key predictor of behavior (Vallerand, Fortier, & Guay, 1997); students do what they say they will do. A student’s intentions to persist in school are directly related to the level of and extent to which said student’s motivation regarding education is internalized or regulated (Khalkhali, Sharifi, & Nikyar, 2013). Thus it is important for teachers and school administrators to be aware of the student’s form and source of motivation when attempting to guide the student’s intentions.

Motivation, understood as something that causes one to act specifically in regard to the expenditure of effort to accomplish results (Gillet, Berjot, Vallerand, & Amoura, 2012a), can be recognized according to certain behaviors. These include paying attention in class, beginning tasks immediately, completing tasks, volunteering answers, and the appearance of relative happiness, contentment, or eagerness in the classroom (Williams & Williams, 2011). The absence of motivation often leads to frustration or discontentment, and can encumber productivity and wellbeing (Legault, Green-Demers, & Pelletier, 2006). Motivation gradually decreases in the period beginning preschool through high school (Skinner & Belmont, 1993), reaching a steady low at the approximate age of 15. Students then gain the legal ability to choose to drop out at age 16 (Gillet, Vallerand, & Lafrenière, 2012b). This overlap is why it is so crucial to understand students’ motivation and how to influence it. Students who choose to dropout have internalized a motivational orientation that is not self-determined, according to the parameters of Self-Determination Theory (SDT, Vallerand et al., 1997). In this regard, teachers and school administrators need also be aware of whether or not their methods of influencing students’ motivation facilitates self-determined or external motivation. This is indirectly affected in all social contexts in which an individual functions through the fulfillment of certain psychological needs (Sas-Nowosielskil, 2008). According to SDT, these needs are perceived competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Gillet et al., 2012a). Continue reading “Self Determination Theory: Major Tenets and Practical Applications “