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Religion

V-Card Diaries: Molly "My Christian ethics class taught me that virginity was more valuable than my weight in gold"

Today we're highlighting Molly who was told losing her v-card would be like losing her soul, but she doesn't feel bad or different.  If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

So, I'm 19, almost 20. I live in the prairies, (800 people in town and 4 active churches) I grew up going to church, sunday school, opting for the Christian ethics class instead of sex ed in high school. I always was taught that virginity was more valuable than your weight in gold, that if you have sex outside of marriage "you're not special anymore" "its a sin." I agree to a point but it was kind of brainwashing.

How I define virginity:

I don't know how I would define it. I started dating a boy and just had sex there was none of that "technical virgin" stuff. The act of sex has got more... cluttered for some people

Here's my story:

I guess what I really wanted to share was how its affected my identity. My v card story is I met a boy I really liked and trusted and respected and had sex with him, and he respected me by being considerate to me and not going too hard or fast and hurting me, and it was a good night. But all my life I thought that whether a person was a virgin or not had a hold on who they are. I've listened to countless hours of youth pastors conference speakers an alike. For a long time I thought that losing your v-card was like losing a piece of your soul and telling kids that is wrong. I am not a different person, I'm not a bad person. I'm a person without a hymen.

V-Card Diaries: Janelle "The first time I masturbated, I had no idea what I'd just done (which was orgasm)"

*Trigger warning for sexual assault*Today we're highlighting Janelle who overcame her confusion and fear by educating herself 'of the sexual realms.' If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

Hi! I'm Janelle and I fair from Pennsylvania. Currently, I am 22 years old and preparing to graduate college as a graphic designer! Yay!

How I define virginity:

As I look back at my life, I see my virginity as levels. Not so much as something I shouldn't lose, but something I haven't experienced yet hoped to achieve. Unfortunately, a lot of my virginity losses were negative, though I like to think they give me strength and wiser views.

Here's my story:

I started to lose my virginity at a young age. My first sexual thoughts were when I was exposed to my father's porn magazines when I was five years old. The first time I had been sexually touched was two years later when I was attacked by my neighbor (fortunately, the guy only got to "second base" and my friend caught him in the act before he could steal third). It was a year later, when I was in 3rd grade, that I was first penetrated by a 5th grade girl who forced me to allow her to finger me on the school bus ride home.

The first time I masturbated, I was 13 years old, had no idea what I'd just done (which was orgasm) and became terrified something was wrong with me (though I never told anyone). My high school SCREAMED abstinence, so I had no idea of my own body. I was 17 when I had my first (and current) boyfriend, which spurred me to educate myself of the sexual realms. Less than a year later, we had sex for the first time and it was the first time I truly enjoyed being sexual.

V-Card Diaries: Stephanie "Abstinence-only sex ed made me feel worthless and used up, but when I initiated sex with my (now) husband, I felt like I had claimed my sexuality."

*Trigger warning for sexual assault* Today we're highlighting Stephanie in upstate New York, who never felt like she'd had a chance to have a virginity. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

26, Female, Married, Upstate NY

How I define virginity:

The church I went to defined it as any sexual contact. I don't like the term. I prefer sexual awakening, more spiritual than physical.

Here's my story:

I was digitally penetrated as a very young child and raped at age 13. I felt like I never had a virginity. The church and abstinence-only sex ed. made me feel worthless and used up. I never had a chance. I grudgingly gave into sex at 16 with a boyfriend, but it wasn't until a few years later when I initiated sex with my best friend (now husband) that I felt like I had claimed my sexuality.

V-Card Diaries: Sally "In Lebanon, people raise their girls on the idea that they can not be sexual beings the way boys are."

Today we're highlighting Sally in Lebanon, who gets a reaction like a 'you're a hooker' if she talks about sex in front of boys. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

Hello, my name is Sally. I'm from Lebanon, in the Middle East. I am a 19-year-old female.

How I define virginity:

Virginity is overrated. Especially for girls, people raise their girls on the idea that they can not be sexual beings the way boys are. Virginity for me is meaningless. I still didn't have sex though but I will soon, but I look at other older females that have sexual desires they can't obtain because of the whole traditions and religious crap.

Here's my story:

I 'm an atheist but I come from a Muslim background. My country is well known for it's diversity ( we have around 18 sects). And apparently all of them still think Virginity is a sacred thing, including the new generation. Even masturbation. I doubt if more than 20% of the population knows about it. When I talk about sex in front of boys they tend to give me some sort of you're a hooker or why are you so reckless with your life, they TRY to make me believe that Virginity is like doing drugs or even worse.

Middle eastern man tends to believe that his wife MUST be a virgin (even though he sleeps with tons) and if he really loves a woman but she's not a virgin, he won't marry her! Or if he wanted to, his parents ( which play a big role in a typical Arab man's life) will hammer his head till they force him to dump her. Not to mention that some tend to kill the female who loses her Virginity because her virginity represents the whole family (yep those still exists which really annoys me). So why an innocent soul who just wanted to discover herself would be murdered because of a f*cking hymen ?!!

Check out our new trailer on Upworthy, then watch the film On Demand

Despite the fact that we love making fun of Upworthy, we also appreciate it when they post important things–like our new trailer! If you haven't seen it yet, check it out, and then go stream our film On Demand (available for a very limited time)

"Jane The Virgin" is coming this Fall

[Update: The show premieres Oct 13th, 2014 on the CW]

The new comedy series Jane The Virgin, based on a Venezuelan telenovela  Juana la Virgen, is debuting on the CW. I've never seen the orginal, but from the clips on the site, it seems to be the story of a teenage girl who is accidentally artificially inseminated, and hilarity and slut-shaming ensue.

The vibe is very Ugly Betty, another telenovela remake that I really liked*, so that's promising. Bonus points for the clip above, in which they seem to be making fun of the offensive abstinence parlor games that equate dirty pieces of tape, chewed up gum and dirty toothbrushes with a young lady's destroyed virtue (even though, weirdly, the actress who plays the grandmother does not seem to be in on the joke). Here's hoping they bust a bunch of virginity myths and it's not all just one long virgin/whore joke.

h/t to virginspotter Myra Batchelder

*What's the amazing America Ferrara up to these days? I loved her in one of my favorite films Real Women Have Curves, which has hilarious and awesome virginity loss and body image story lines.

V-Card Diaries: OwlShroomGirly "My boyfriend would annoy me until I agreed to have sex with him."

*Trigger Warning for sexual assault*Today we're highlighting OwlShroomGirly in Florida, who knows she deserves someone who loves her for who she is, regardless of her past. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I am 20 years old. I have a Pentecostal/Baptist background, thoughIi see myself as spiritual. I am currently in college (a Florida university). Being only 5'2'' I don't really stand out. I consider myself multi-ethnic (I have a medium brown pigmentation). I have a boyfriend who is multi-ethnic, though he is caucasian in complexion.

How I define virginity:

I honestly believe that the idea of virginity depends on the individual. There can even be spiritual virginities, if you want to go that far. I do.

Here's my story:

My first time was with a friend of mine. I was curious on my sexual orientation so, we experimented. It ended with both of us just wanting to be friends. That was my first consenting sexual experience. I had been sexually abused my a family member when I was a little girl and it still has a tendency to haunt me even with me being 20 years old. I had a boyfriend(first boyfriend), it was a terrible experience, he was forceful and would annoy me until I agreed to have sex with him. It took me years to figure out that I deserve someone who loves me just for me, regardless of what happened in my past. My current boyfriend has been understanding and accepting of all my past. I am confident in own life and what makes me, me is not my virginity but my personality and my principles.

Some depressing thoughts about evangelical men and purity pledges:

"The church, and the men that I interviewed, don’t believe that women would need a space to talk through these issues. They believe that men are highly sexual beings and they have "natural urges" that need to be controlled, but they don’t believe that women have that natural desire to be sexually active. Women are the providers of sexual activity for their husbands."

From "What Happens When Evangelical Virgin Men Get Married? This Secular Female Sociologist Found Out," and interview with sociologist Sarah Diefendorf at The New Republic.

While some evangelical churches encourage a pleasurable sex life for both partners, this one apparently does not. What a sad way to start a marriage, thinking your wife's duty is to become a sexual vessel to satisfy you and keep your beastly urges in check. Equally sad, Diefendorf reports that while the men have support groups of peers to deal with issues around masturbation, porn and masculinity prior to marriage, this support stops dead on their wedding day.

V-Card Diaries: Megan "Sex is precious. My body is precious. It is only for THE one other person that will earn my trust."

Today we're highlighting Megan in Texas, whose Catholicism impacts how she things about sex and relationships. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 26-year-old female from Texas. I was born Catholic and still practice Catholicism. Naturally, this has a huge impact on how I was raised and how I see sex and relationships. But I also agree that people have different views, none of which I condone. I stick to my values, and I respect those who have different values and stick to them just as tightly. It's what makes them who they are.

How I define virginity:

I have my own personal definition of virginity: It simply means not being sexually intimate (all forms of sex; if it has the word "sex" behind it, it is indeed considered "sex" in my book; even being naked with a potential sex partner is close to the edge. But I'm a very private person anyway). Many people have different definitions of virginity, so it is my belief that they should stick to their morals when it comes to deciding whether or not they've lost "it." The term has become so muddled, it's impossible to come to a consensus on a definition.

Here's my story:

I'm single, and still a virgin at 26. I have felt shame at times, especially when I was younger, but as I have grown up and matured, I feel at peace with my decision to remain celibate until marriage. None of my friends care and none have asked me if I've ever "lost it", and I have never asked them. I feel that is out of respect for each other, and because it really doesn't matter in our friendships. Sex is a private matter, between two individuals who care deeply for each other. I've discovered a great deal about myself since leaving high school 8 years ago, and I know that I will be ready to let someone into my life when the time comes.

Indeed, religion has played a role in my decision, but I also never have felt like I was ready for an intimate relationship. I have to find the right person, and only then will I know I can let him intimately into my life, and we can share an experience that is the practice leading to the creation of new life as husband and wife. Sex is precious, my body is precious. My body is amazing, and it is only for THE one other person that will earn my trust and love me enough to be with me for the rest of my life. And I'm totally okay with our first time being messy and awkward, but that will give us a chance to grow and learn with each other throughout our lives.

Remaining a virgin has led me to realize that I have respected my body AND my emotions, because no one knows me better than me. Of course I've had sexual desires (I am human), and I definitely relish the thought of being intimate with a man. I have had opportunities, but remaining true to myself means more to me than giving myself away before I'm ready.

V-Card Diaries: Imogen "As it turns out, when you post an ad as a 22-year-old redheaded virgin, people get interested really quickly."

Today we're highlighting Imogen in New Zealand. Although she grew up in a conservative home, in her 20s she made a conscious effort to lose her virginity with someone she met on Craigslist. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 23-year-old woman and a biological female who grew up in a very conservative home. I lived in Canada for many years and then moved over to New Zealand.

How I define virginity:

Virginity is a tricky word to define. I would define it loosely as a state of innocence. It is an ignorance towards sexuality and sexual preferences.

Here's my story:

I grew up in an exceedingly conservative home. Sure, we watched mainstream TV and went to public schools, but we were taught at home and at church that sex was a dirty secret meant for marriage. While I never adhered to the 'premarital sex is dirty' mantra, I personally chose not to engage in any partnered sexual activity while I was a teenager. The year I turned 22, I decided I was ready. The only problem was, everyone I knew was super religious, in a relationship, or not at all attractive to me.

I turned to the anonymous classifieds site Craigslist to help get me started. As it turns out, when you post an ad as a 22-year-old redheaded virgin, people get interested really quickly. I received 1800 responses in 3 hours. My criteria became the following:

-Under 30
-Didn't attach explicit photographs
-Wrote in full sentences

This whittled my responses down to just under 20. Of those 20, only a handful wrote back to me a second time. Of that handful, only two were willing to share personal details such as a name, phone number, and photo. I picked one and we made plans to meet.

The actual experience itself seemed fairly natural, although it had been arranged in such a manufactured way. Nothing was too uncomfortable and a lot of the 'what will he think of me' nerves were eliminated; he was a total stranger and his opinion didn't mean as much. He took the lead because he had far more experience, and it was all quite straightforward.

The benefit, I think, of having waited until I was 22 was that I knew my own body well and I had consciously decided I was ready. I had allowed myself space to be partner-less and therefore felt no rush to get anywhere, sexually.

Many people look at my first experience and tell me it was silly or unsafe or risky, and I know it could have been very different. Fortunately, however, I had a very pleasant experience with a friendly partner who was very understanding. It's led me to a very colourful and interesting sex life that I still don't believe is a dirty little secret.

V-Card Diaries: Tom "I'm waiting for the right woman while broadcasting on web cam sex sites."

Today we're highlighting Tom in Michigan, who was told he was still at virgin at 27 because he was too picky. Now he meets women by broadcasting on web cam sex sites. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I am a 27 year old hetero male, and I live in Michigan.

How I define virginity:

Having not had vaginal intercourse with a consenting partner.

Here's my story:

So I am a 27-year-old virgin and I think it is best to break down the reason why into key points of my life.

Upbringing: I was raised by a single unwed mother who had 2 children by a man who was a convicted felon and abandoned us. Then we attended Church religiously, pardon the pun.

Early Teens: I attended Church functions at least 2 times a week, and was unpopular in school due to being poor and having poor social skills. Mother married a wonderful man that adopted me and added needed stability to my life. I went through sex ed in public school, received a basic understanding of sex, and signed a contract with God to remain pure and virtuous at a Youth Group Event at Church.

Late Teens/High school:
I attended a few major Christian Youth Rallies telling me that if I was virtuous and if I waited, I would be rewarded with a bride and a fulfilling love life. I always had at least one major crush on a different girl, all of whom I was close friends with. I assumed they knew how I felt. I refused to actually try dating even after I got my license because I asked myself, "why even try having a girl friend if you cant have sex?" For some reason I thought dating and sex had to go together. Stupid, I know. I signed another contract with God to wait until marriage. All my peers that signed it broke the contract. I was asked by a girl I liked if I ever masturbated, and I told her I didn't know what that was. At 17 I masturbated for the first time after looking up instructions on how to do it online. Seriously.

College: I bought my first pornography to "research" the female form so I wouldn't be to surprised if I got married (basically an excuse to look without as much guilt).  I figured out I can date and not have sex. Still socially awkward. I made advances to a few women I found alluring but was rebuffed and told that I "am a good friend and there is a great girl out there" for me. I then graduated college and started my career.

Early Career 21-24: I was still relatively open about my virginity thinking it was a point of pride. The sense of loneliness and despair that I couldn't find mutual attraction was getting tougher though. In high school I told myself when I graduated I would get a girlfriend. Then it was when I got a college job. Then it was when I graduated college. Now it was when I started my career... Still nothing but false hope, rejection, and some women that wanted me but I didn't want back. I was told to put myself out there or fuck an ugly/fat girl. I still clung to the idea that waiting until marriage would make it all ok. I got uninhibited home internet access at 23 and discovered web camming.

Age 24-present: Porn wasn't cutting it and I felt starved for intimacy. This is when I started getting comments from many people that I am to picky. That I need to just go out with girls I don't like right away to see if they grow on me. I decided to never bring up my sexual history with anyone new I met. Life got better. I got fired from my first career job unfairly and adopted a "fuck the world" attitude. Then I decided that I would keep my options open and the waiting for marriage commitment would subside if I felt like I was with the right girl. In the mean time I started broadcasting on a web cam sex site to get women to mutually masturbate online with me. After much trial and error I found success and met several women of different ages and backgrounds. One in particular I talked to for 3 years and decided to meet. She has a boyfriend. We did not have sex. The chemistry and intimacy we did share (noting sexual besides spooning) was amazing. I have realized that my depression and loneliness wasn't a lack of sex but really just not being with someone. I realized that I am ok being a virgin until I meet someone that accepts me for who I am. All of me. Now I wait. Alone.

I still have never done more than hold hands with a woman. I really believe I am still a virgin now because of my respect for women and desire for a relationship before sex, lack of women in my rural setting that find me attractive and vice versa, and just pure luck. Plus you can add my crippling fear of rejection that I had in my teens to early adult years.

V-Card Diaries: Cheeky Charmer "I thought I had tempted my rapist by showing skin. I was eleven years old."

Today we're highlighting Cheeky Charmer in Pennsylvania. She blamed herself for a rape that happened at a young age based on teachings from a week-long Christian purity seminar. She now knows that her choice to have sex or not does not define her worth. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 22-year-old female from Pennsylvania.

How I define virginity:

 It's a life long journey of finding identity through new experiences.

Here's my story:

I was raped. I don't say that to be pitied; save your flowers and sympathy for someone who needs them.  I say it so that you understand my story. When I was eleven I was innocently lying in bed and someone I trusted and loved dearly took away the part of me that I valued.

The week after it happened I attended a retreat called Pure Freedom; a seminar to help Christian girls seek out God through pledging abstinence. We were given assessments, books, and tests to measure how “modest” we were. The whole weekend was devoted to the new transformative meaning of that word “modesty.” We were informed how our clothing would appear to men. They told us that men cannot help themselves because they have the fight or flight system in their bodies that causes arousal by a woman who bears skin or wears tight clothing. The whole day was spent learning techniques on how to wear modest, God-approved clothing. We took tests on what we watch, what we say to men, and how we dress, and we were given clothing tricks to assist men in their journey to Godliness. We were responsible for men’s relationship with God based on how we carried ourselves.

The speaker stood in front of an audience of five hundred girls and told us that modesty wasn’t just about what you wear but how you carry yourself, how you talk to other men, and what you do with other men. We were told that God wanted us to wait until we were married based on what the Bible said. We were told not to be the “hoe of the universe” by engaging in sex before marriage.

The whole week I couldn’t help but think that I was what caused my rapist to attack me. This Pure Freedom was actually what felt like a prison; guilt swelled like a balloon about to burst. I realized that I had tempted my rapist. I was wearing only a bra and underwear that night and it was my fault. I remember thinking that God was punishing me for showing skin that night.  It was only natural for a man to see my skin and be aroused. The rape was entirely my fault, and God was punishing me for what I had done. I was eleven years old and I was carrying this burden for a decade.

After ten years of believing this myth, I made the conscious effort to take ownership of my sexuality; it never belonged to this organization that brainwashed me into thinking that my value was in my virginity, my clothing, and my future husband. My value does not have a scale that is virgin or slut. God loves me whether I have sex or not. I am not an object: I am a woman with the right to choose when, where, and who I have sex with. My sexuality cannot be bought by people who make young girls feel inadequate to sell a book and a T-shirt. I was raped and that doesn’t define who will love me. My virginity is mine and I define what it means; it does not define my value.

V-Card Diaries: Jen "When a guy said I was cute, I freaked out and couldn't breathe."

Our latest V-Card Diaries comes from Jen in St. Louis, MO, who believes God has a great love out there for her, and she should wait for him. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. We'd love to run it in this blog. A little about myself:

26 years old, Female, St. Louis, MO

How I define virginity:

One who has never had a penis inside of her.

Here's my story:

I'm scared of being in a relationship. When men show interest in me, I get anxious. I went to dinner with a guy who said I was cute. I freaked out, couldn't breathe, couldn't swallow my food. Because of my fears and insecurities, I'm afraid I'll never have a real connection with someone to have sex. I just hope and pray that there is someone out there for me. I think that God has a great love out there for me and I should wait for him, wait for love. Some think I'm naive to feel this way.

You have one more week to celebrate National Masturbation Month!

In honor of National Masturbation Month, we're reposting this essay by our former intern Judy, which originally ran May 21, 2013. And you really can't get too much Egon Schiele in your diet! "Wally in Red Blouse With Raised Knees" by Egon Schiele

Judy P. is an art history student at Brown University who is interested in the intersections of art, politics, race, class, and gender. She is proud to be a woman, though she thinks it’s not always easy to be one. Check out her other posts here.

May is National Masturbation Month!

In celebration, Philadelphia's sex-positive groups, ScrewSmart and GALEI's (The Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative) Pleasure Rush, have been hosting a “Masturbate-A-Thon” all month ending on May 27th. For this fundraising project, participants are asking sponsors to fund every hour spent, ahem, intimately with themselves. The proceeds will go toward ScrewSmart's and Pleasure Rush's efforts to support sex-positive and pleasure-based education and prevention, and to "reduce shame and stigma around sexuality, promote sexual health, [and] create a community dialogue around the importance of pleasure."

I know that this can be an embarrassing or uncomfortable taboo topic, but that's what this event is about. GALEI's executive director Elica Gonzalez says: “We are hoping that by having folks participate in the Masturbate-a-Thon, that they will help to destigmatize the behavior – and reduce stress and get a glowing complexion all the while.”

Masturbation was a touchy (no pun intended) subject growing up. I discovered the sensations of self-pleasure pretty early, I'd say when I was 6 or so. I was surprised to learn that many of my friends started masturbating in early childhood as well, which goes to show that children can be sexual beings.

Coming from a religious background, however, I always felt naughty and guilty every time I did the deed. I'd imagine God looking down on me, shaking his head in disappointment, and crossing my name off of his “Heaven-bound” list. I'd even picture my dead grandparents observing me from above (creepy), and I thought I was somehow letting them down by getting to know the ins and outs of my vagina when I was taught it should be locked up and ignored forever, or at least until I got married and had to make mini-mes.

I asked my friends about their experiences with masturbation, and they shared a few similar initial feelings of shame and guilt:

"I would look at myself in the mirror and cry and then get down and pray."

"I always felt dirty after ejaculation."

Even though uncomfortable thoughts and images plagued my mind, I still continued to masturbate regularly. I guess nothing quite beat the thrill of an orgasm, even if it meant disobeying the Big Bearded Man-in-the-Sky. When I grew out of my religious phase, I would even masturbate openly in the presence of our family's austere, wooden cross in my living room, mostly because it was impossible to avoid (the living room was my favorite spot because that's where we kept our vibrating handheld massager. TMI? Sorry!). I also did it because I had the liberating feeling that I could; I wasn't scared or full of shame and repentance anymore.

Masturbation is the only form of sexual pleasure I have at the moment. I will definitely climax from self-play, whereas partner sex usually yields not much pleasure and no orgasm. Now I know this isn't the case for everyone (partner sex can be amazing! I'm waiting for that day, fingers crossed), but I know many women who don't come from partner sex at all. Many women (and men) don't even know much about the anatomy of the female body, i.e. the treasure den of the clitoris. As a friend of mine put it, “Masturbating teaches you what you like and how you like to be touched. I believe if you can't learn to let go and make yourself come, no one can.” Just take a hint from Betty Dodson, the queen of self-love/ pleasure [video link].

Sometimes, masturbating still makes me feel a little weird, like I'm not ready to announce myself as a sexual adult yet. That's a part of my sexuality too, those religious, social, and cultural influences that have shaped (or stunted) my sexual growth today. It's always going to be a process for me; getting over the complications of sex, feeling comfortable in my body, being okay with feeling sexy, and discovering all the movements/ rhythms that make my body pulsate, twist, and shout.

You still have a little over a week until the end of May to take part in Masturbation Month, so get masturbating! And, of course, the fun doesn't stop there.

So what's your relationship with masturbation, especially for those of you who don't have sex or have never had sex? Do you remember your first time? What are your favorite techniques? How often do you masturbate? How does masturbation play into your sexuality/sex life? What do you think about when you're masturbating? Do you think at all? Why do you masturbate? etc. Share in the “Comments” section below.

 

Want to know what’s really creepy about Purity Balls? (Hint: It’s not the photos)

PurityMagnusson Do an internet search for the words 'creepy photos,' and you’ll likely be directed to Purity, Swedish photographer David Magnusson's haunting photo essay of fathers and daughters all dressed up for their Purity Balls. A Purity Ball, if you don't already know, is sort of a father/daughter prom, with the difference being that the girls pledge their virginity to their fathers for safekeeping, so it can be handed over to their husbands on their wedding day. They happen all over the country, although with a bit less frequency than the constant coverage might indicate.

Still, every time news of these events pop up, in photos, or on a recent episode of Nightline on ABC, the non-Purity-Ball-going readership responds with a collective shudder, most often invoking the word 'incestuous' in headlines and comments. Looking at Magnusson's photos, (or my own film) I can see how people may come to that conclusion, but ask one of the dads in the photo and he'll just tell you that you have a really dirty mind and the Balls are beautiful events. Wherever you stand on this issue, getting all weirded out by the images is just a distraction from the truly creepy aspects of events like this (and the culture behind them):

Purity Balls are an invention of the evangelical Christian movement which believes that men should have control over women's bodies and sexual choices. Girls as young as 7 or 8 ritually invoke their father, their future husband and their God during these ceremonies–three male authorities tasked with policing her sex life.

Purity Balls are a throwback to when women were property and unmarried daughters without their virginity were damaged goods no one wanted to buy. The idea of a woman's 'most precious gift' comes from the understanding that she is the gift, valuable as long as she's still wrapped in her original packaging.

Purity Balls focus on female sexuality exclusively. There is no male equivalent of purity balls because young men are sent different messages and held to different standards. Integrity Balls, which are relatively rare, are events for mothers and sons, but the prevailing message for young men is that they shouldn't have sex before marriage because they will ruin a girl's value for her future husband.

Purity Balls assume everyone is heterosexual and interested in marriage. The fact that queer people exist, with their own definition of what constitutes sex or virginity, and their own ideas of who they might want to have sex with or marry, is never discussed or even acknowledged.

Purity Balls are intimately tied to Abstinence-Until-Marriage programs which provide no real sex education, but instead teach that sex before marriage will cause physiological and psychological harm, that contraception doesn't work, and that girls are responsible for controlling boys' sexual urges lest they be branded sluts. To stay a 'virgin,' a young women will often engage in far riskier activities like oral or anal sex, fulfilling the letter–if not the spirit–of their pledge. And since their abstinence classes don’t teach safer sex practices, they’re extremely vulnerable to STDs. These programs been proven ineffective by our own government, despite the fact that they are still being funded by our taxpayer dollars, at over $1.5 billion to date.

Purity Ball culture is enmeshed with political forces that oppose reproductive rights, supporting groups that are fighting to deny women birth control (or at the very least not have insurance cover it) as well as any access to safe and legal abortions. In fact, many Purity Balls are hosted by Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive advertising and intake methods to prevent women's access to contraception and abortion. Google recently removed CPC ads that lie about providing abortions because of that deceptive advertising.

Purity Balls have a freak-show quality that distracts us from seeing the very same issues in our own back yards. Policing and controlling women’s bodies is not limited to a bunch of evangelicals, but turn up all over the cultural landscape, from limiting reproductive rights, to telling rape victims they asked for it, to slut-shaming women (but not men) for having too many partners.

Purity Ball reporting often ignores the dilemmas these young women are face. This culture’s core values embody damaging messages about women and sexuality (see above), but there's nothing inherently weird about having a warm relationship with your dad, or looking forward to a dress-up party with your sisters. As photographer Magnusson says:“it is clear that the girls—in many cases, young women—are independent, strong, and insightful,” but when you're in the middle of this environment, it's may be very hard to step out of it and call bullshit, even if you find it confusing or unfair. As one woman recently said to me:

“Some of those girls are too young to even realize what they are doing. I made a vow like this when I was only 12 and it didn't quite go as planned. I was guilt-tripped and got really close to being hit when I broke that vow. Virginity doesn't define your worth and I absolutely hate how many girls buy into the lie that once you've lost it, you're basically used goods. I bought into it and went through some terrible times of anxiety and depression.”

At a recent university screening of my film, another young woman who grew up in this culture shared her story. She’s finally starting to get over feeling dirty and worthless because of sex, and the fact that she was ever made to feel this way is the creepiest thing of all.

V-Card Diaries: Mari "Intercourse triggered what I would later come to understand as a serious gender dysphoria episode."

Today we're highlighting Mari in Michigan, a queer trans woman who thinks virginity is an 'absolute bullshit notion' steeped in misogyny. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

I'm a 31, and a queer trans woman from Michigan.

How I define virginity:

I think virginity is an absolute bullshit notion steeped in misogynist notions of female purity and the Christian Right's fear and hatred of the notion of women enjoying sex and having control of their sexuality.

Here's my story:

The first time I had penetrative intercourse was at 17. I wasn't terribly interested in the idea, but I adored my girlfriend of the time, and she was really pressing for it. Eventually, a few weeks before the start of senior year, I gave in- afraid she'd break up with me if I didn't. Like so many teenage sexual experiences, it was clandestine: at her house, in a hurried hour while her parents and sisters were out.

It was over almost before I realized what was happening, and it triggered what I would later come to understand as a serious gender dysphoria episode. I went home and threw-up, then spent hours crying while my best friend held me. It took me years to understand why it felt so wrong.

How I went from Purity Pledger to Queer Radical Feminist, thanks to two years of 'Cotillion' Classes

Note: This interview first ran on on the blog on June 26, 2013 (as did this image from the 'Purity' photo series). The photos have received a lot of attention lately, and we thought we should repost this fabulous interview as well. The subject of the photos is NOT the subject of the interviews. It's just for illustration purposes.

Olivia seems to have burned all the photos from her Cotillion, so enjoy this father-daughter portrait from photographer David Magnusson's series  Purity  instead.

Olivia seems to have burned all the photos from her Cotillion, so enjoy this father-daughter portrait from photographer David Magnusson's series Purity instead.

 

Judy P. is an art history student at Brown University who is interested in the intersections of art, politics, race, class, and gender. Check out her other posts here.

Looking at my friend Olivia, with her piercings and pixie cut, you would never guess she was a purity-pledger in her pre-pubescent years. I was surprised when I first found out about her conservative roots and religious background, because now she's a queer, die-hard feminist. It took me a second to realize that I had a similar history as well: Traditional household, religious upbringing, Catholic/ boarding school, and my own purity-pledge ceremony at church as a kid! Here's my conversation with Olivia:

JUDY: So what exactly is a "Cotillion" anyways? I'm imagining dainty French girls in ball gowns descending a grand staircase.

OLIVIA: Cotillion, in my experience anyway, was a weekly class in 5th and 6th grade, where we were taught how to be proper "ladies and gentlemen." We learned how to use silverware and sit properly. We also learned how to dance together, men leading, women following. We occasionally split into gendered groups where only the girls would learn how to be "pure" in the eyes of God. Which, of course, means no sex before marriage, no masturbation, no fantasizing, not having a sexuality until you want to have babies. In the end we girls had a purity ceremony where we pledged our purity in front of our father and pastor. The boys didn't learn about purity, and they had a party with their moms, but no purity ceremony.

What happened during this purity ceremony?

Ironically, they called it a “coming-out” ceremony. It was at the end of 6th grade, which was the end of the weekly classes in a ballroom in town. All of the girls lined up at the top of the stairs with their dads, and you would come down one by one. And you'd be passed from your dad to your pastor. Pretty much everyone was Presbyterian or Catholic, so we all had some kind of religious leader. Then you danced with your father, and there was food and just a little party. And then anyone who wanted to do a performance took the stage. And then you got a little certificate and a ring.

A performance? Like a talent show?

Yeah, kind of like a talent show. A lot of people had dropped out by the end of Cotillion, so I think that final talent portion was their way of bribing us to stay in Cotillion until the end, so you could do your little performance. I was in a tap-dancing class with some other girls in our grade, and we were really excited to do our tap-dancing routine.

You mentioned that it's supposed to be a father-daughter bonding experience, right? How exactly? What do you think it said about father-daughter relationships (or male-female relationships in general)?

It was a tradition that fathers were supposed to guide their daughters to purity or whatever, to oversee the process and make sure we were becoming proper ladies in the eyes of God. But really the only role they played was at the end they had the power to say that you had received sufficient training to not fuck up and be a slut. Honestly, the father-daughter dynamic always felt really sickly romantic to me. It's just these creepy fathers watching these mid-pubescent girls "develop into women" and then make them promise to remain pure for them. It all was kind of gross and sexual in a weird way, and it definitely created a very weird vibe between me and my dad.

How did your dad feel about all this?

Well, it was never really his idea. It was definitely more of my mom's idea. She always wanted our lives to look very fancy and presentable and conservative. And I think my dad went along with it because he wanted religion to be a part of our lives, and this was the only way my mom would allow it to. She was never attached to her Judaism, but she also didn't want Catholicism in our lives either. She saw Cotillion as more of a social statement than a religious one.

My dad was always awkward with me while I was going through puberty, like never really got close to me or hugged me. So I think this whole topic of sex, especially when I was in 6th grade, really freaked him out. He just really wanted to ignore that whole aspect of it and we've never really talked about it since then.

So what happened if someone broke their pledge? Would it all be hush hush or did they make a big deal about it?

There were confessional “ceremonies.” They weren't something I ever had to do but other girls in my class did. Basically if you "break your purity" then you have to confess in front of your pastor and your father in order to "revitalize your purity." So you sit there with these two creepy old men and stand up and say "last night I gave Jesse a blowjob and I apologize to my father and to God." Then the pastor asks you details (i.e how did it happen/ how did it make you feel) to which the girl replies, to her father and pastor, that she got drunk and sucked a dick and felt like a whore. And then you are given your purity back.

So this whole Cotillion thing was highly religious, then? This sounds like the confessionals in Catholic church.

It was offered through my private school and some people connected to their church through it, but it was non-denominational. The pastor was only involved if you were a part of a religious group. It was Connecticut and everyone was Presbyterian so that's why the pastor was there.

Who do you think has the authority here to "give" a girl her purity back?

I don't even know. I guess God and her father. I think they want you to really fight for it and learn from your mistakes. It's about recognizing what you did as wrong and scaring you into never doing it again.

From a 5th-6th grade girl's point-of-view, how did it shape how you perceived yourself at the time?

I definitely started to develop more radical feelings about sex. Even though I wasn't really having sex, I kind of was. That was the time when I started sending out naked pictures to boys in my school and pulling my thong above my skirt during class. My sexuality didn't necessarily derive from being touched as much as it did from being wanted. It makes sense to me now that this began while I was being forced to train myself as a particular kind of sexual agent. I think I had such a strong desire to deviate from this person they were trying to brainwash me to become that I actually felt empowered in a way that now I feel would oppress me.

Looking back at the ceremony, what is it all about to present-day you?

It's all about approval from men. Fuck it's really all about approval from men! They were training us to be submissive and scared and oppressed!

My feminism definitely started to take shape when I became aware of both the power these systems could have over me and how fucked up they were. This was the time when I started questioning patriarchy and being mad and trying so hard to fight it. I liked being sexual because it meant that I wasn't being sucked into this scary-ass viewpoint where people just hate and judge and try to define your identity for you.

I was fighting against this feeling that I was becoming a robot, a domestic, submissive, oppressed robot. And it's so fucking scary because looking back, so many girls turned out that way. You know, in Therese's film I Was A Teenage Feminist she interviews this guy who says, "I think we are all born feminists and we just get talked out of it." I think this is beyond true. I feel so lucky that I was able to escape that world and challenge the system because they'll fucking get you!

V-Card Diaries: Miss Wrong "He continuously texted me saying if I was pregnant, I would be ruining his life."

Today we're highlighting Miss Wrong in Jerome, Idaho, who regrets that she had sex for the first time with a guy who turned out to be a horrible jerk. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

Hello, I'm a female. Currently 16 almost, 17. From Jerome, Idaho.

How I define virginity:

A virgin is a young woman characterized by absence of sexual experience.

Here's my story:

My parents have always told me and my brothers that virginity is like a treasure. Boys will do whatever they can to get to the treasure. My mom always said to take very good care of it. Because once it's gone, it's gone. And there won't be a way to go back. She tells us to wait till marriage because that's how God wants it. I always understood and wanted to save my v-card till marriage.

Until I met a guy named Miguel. He came into my life so suddenly. Within months I was in love with him. We went on dates, and he was so respectful. Let's just say, he was perfect! I wanted him to be my first. I remember saying "He's the one, I know it." Little did I know I was so wrong. He did end up being my first. But he was a complete jerk to me right after that had happened. He texted me the morning after saying he didn't want anything to do with me anymore. My heart was shattered! I cried for days, then months. Nothing could give me back my treasure! I hated myself for being so stupid. How could I have been so dumb, I thought.

A month later I realized I had missed my period. I decided to text him. Another wrong decision on my part. I told him about my missed period, and said I could be pregnant. He started texting me the worst, telling me he didn't love me, and that he didn't want me to be the mother of his kids. It made me feel even more worse. A week later he texted me asking if I had received my period, and nothing. He then decided to buy the morning after pill, or plan B pill. I denied to take it. But he continuously texted me saying if I was pregnant and continued to be I would be ruining his life. After so many texts I was done. I told him to bring it to me. I took it and it was all over.

Until this day I regret not listening to my mom. I wish I would've waited till marriage. I now have a boyfriend and he knows about my past and we do not have sex. I'm waiting till marriage. I think I should've the first time. I just want to let all you other young girls know that it may seem right at the moment, but afterwards it's the worst feeling ever. Don't get pressured by all those girls having sex. Save the v-card till marriage! Be that unicorn in this world! I promise you won't regret it!

V-Card Diaries: Dru "Losing your virginity in the Bible Belt is a huge deal, something girls instantly regret afterwards"

Today we're highlighting Dru in North Texas, who thought the inaccurate advice she got in Sex Ed was appalling and disgusting. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

A little about myself:

I am 21 years old, a woman, and I live in North Texas.

How I define virginity:

The first sexual act between me and the partner of my choice.

Here's my story:

I may be the only 21 year old woman in my small town that has yet to lose her virginity. Losing your virginity in the Bible Belt is a huge deal. It is something that girls instantly regret afterwards, and guys revel in. The girls go to school the next day and tell their friends, not with a big smile on their face, but with a face full of regret and sadness. And the guys get to go to school with a smile and twinkle in their eye, and when telling their friends, the get high-fives and hugs. I never wanted to regret it, and I never wanted to be the reason some asshole got a high-five.

Everybody around me told me that having sex before I was married was a shameful thing to do and that my virginity was so precious that if I gave it away to just anybody that I was trash in the eyes of god. The only sex education that I received was that if you had sex with multiple partners that you would most definitely receive an STD. They showed us pictures of genital warts and told us exactly how they were "removed." It scared the shit out of me.

They taught us that condoms didn't work, and that birth control wasn't healthy for girl's bodies. Now that I look back on the sex ed that I received, I am appalled. They taught us that when we got older, the man that we would marry most definitely wanted a "new product" and not a "used one." That if we had pre-martial sex, then we would be taking something away from our husbands that "belonged" to them. It was disgusting. And the even more disgusting thing was that I completely believed them. I completely believed the lies that they jammed into our brains.

And now, I am a proud feminist and a proud atheist. I no longer believe that my virginity is "god-given", and that it "belongs" to my future husband. I no longer believe that I will most definitely get a STD if I have sex with multiple partners. I acknowledge the fact that I could receive some kind of STD, but that if I use condoms and speak up about getting tested, then the probability of me receiving one is lowered. I believe that my body belongs to me and when I do decide to have my first sexual encounter with a man that I trust, then nothing inside me will change and I will still be Dru.