"Guys out there are about themselves," Randy says. "They're not about the girl. They're out only to get what they want from the girl, that pleasure. There's an incredible risk of abuse. A guy I know—his sister-in-law, at 18, in a bad relationship, unmarried, was pushed out of a car and killed."
Judy Kuriansky, PhD, an adjunct associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College and a board member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, has worked with a number of women who've made purity pledges. "Certain aspects of purity balls are highly appropriate and laudable," she says. "You want better family relationships, you want kids to make wise choices. Dynamite." But Kuriansky finds some aspects of the ball troubling. "It's controlling—it's overinvolved," she says of fathers promising to be their daughters' "authority and protection in the area of purity." She wonders, "Whose needs are really being met by making such a pledge?"
That's a question Jessica Decker (not her real name), 23, wished her mother and father had asked themselves. At their behest, she began taking purity pledges in kindergarten at her south Florida Baptist school.
"You got a purity ring when you got your period," Decker recalls. "I got mine when I was 9 years old."
At the beginning of every school year, she renewed her purity pledge, even after she began having sex with her boyfriend when she was 15. "I wanted to save myself for marriage because it was what I had been taught," Decker remembers. "But in the heat of the moment I was thinking, 'I'm 15 and I'm horny, and my boyfriend is 18 and he's hot.' I didn't use a condom because I didn't know what a condom was. No one ever told me. If we told our school counselor we were sexually active, she would tell our parents and we would be expelled. There was no place for me to get information. My parents were like, 'You are never allowed to let a boy touch you there!'"
Decker believes many of her classmates were sexually active, but says, "You just didn't talk about it." Not even when Decker was certain one of her friends was in the middle of miscarrying. "I'm not sure if it was self-inflicted. I was at her house, and she was sitting on her toilet and blood was pouring out of her, and I was thinking, Hmm, this can't be good. We ended up never telling anybody."
When Decker was 17 years old, her mother took her for a gynecological exam. "I was like, 'Please don't tell my mother I had sex!' The doctor told me I had HPV. I thought I was going to die, because I didn't know what it was. I couldn't tell my friends, because they were all going to think I was a slut."
The physician agreed to tell Decker's mother she had an "abnormal Pap smear," and her mother asked no further questions. The physician himself didn't counsel Decker to use condoms if she was going to continue to be sexually active. It wasn't until a few years later in college, when she enrolled in a women's studies course, that Decker learned that most types of HPV are harmless. Today Decker works as a community educator for Planned Parenthood.