Under Lock and Key

So I know I’ve already had one post about this topic this week, but thanks to an email I received the other day, I’m back to it again.  After reading the email, I resisted the urge to rip my hair out at the roots.  Instead, here is part of the text, with my comments interspersed:

I have a friend named Paul who told me about the wedding of his daughter.  He said that part of the wedding ceremony was the passing on of a single gold key on a necklace.  When his daughter was a young girl, just entering puberty, Paul gave her a gold key on a chain.  He also bought one for himself.  He told her that he wanted her to wear the gold key around her neck to represent her commitment to sexual purity.  That she would remain a virgin until marriage, guarding herself from any form of sexual expression or experience that would dishonor God and be harmful to herself.  And then He would wear one around his neck as well to reflect his commitment to guard and protect her as her father.

Does anyone else find this kind of…creepy?  I am all for parents protecting their children.  But I do not—NOT—want my daughter to pledge her virginity to her father.  If she chooses to pledge her purity to anyone, it ought to be God.  And while I applaud parents who care about their children, I don’t think this is the way to do show it.  Parents should have open communication with their kids, not superficial pledges based in patriarchal customs.  Not to mention how weird it makes me feel that a father would have this conversation with his prepubescent daughter.

And protect her he did!  They had a rule that before a boy could take her out on a date, he had to meet Paul and ask his permission, which weeded out more than its fair share of suitors.  Those young men willing to meet him were engaged in a conversation that would involve Paul talking to the boy about the key.  He would tell them how precious his daughter was to him, how prized she was in his eyes and in God’s.  And then he would ask the boy point blank:  can I trust you with my daughter?

Again, yay for the parent meeting potential dates.  It’s a good idea to know who your kid spends time with.  Not so yay for the creepy stalker behavior and talking to people you (or your kid) may not know very well about her virginity.

At her wedding, here’s what happened.  She gave him her key back, representing that she had fulfilled her pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.  Because she had.  And then, as part of the ceremony, she publicly thanked him for how he had raised her, because now she was giving the most precious gift she could give to her husband.  Then Paul took the key off of his own neck, and gave it to her husband, saying that now the mantle of protection and integrity was his responsibility.

Aaargh!  Aaargh!  Aaargh!  “Her most precious gift”?????  I really, really hope that young woman had something to bring to her marriage besides her lack of sexual experience.  Because if that’s the best she can give her husband, that marriage is doomed.  And if her husband would have rejected her because of her past, then he has issues, too.  Ugh.  Don’t even get me started on the passing of the key representing how her husband now “owns” her and is responsible for not only protecting her (whatever that’s supposed to mean) but for her integrity.  Last I checked, my integrity rests on my shoulders.

It also occurs to me that the creepy factor has not disappeared at the wedding.  Why, oh why, does this father have anything whatsoever to do with his adult daughter’s state of virginity?  I would hazard a guess that the bride is still fairly young (I honestly can’t see a thirty-five-year-old woman not demanding that key back ages ago).  But I’m sure (well, I’m hoping, anyway) that she’s over eighteen, probably somewhat older.  So what the heck is Dear Old Dad still doing protecting her purity?  I don’t believe that it’s his business anymore.

Of course, I should note that I think this particular story is an urban legend, Christian-style.  I know that people actually do this sort of thing, but this specific story just sounds like the sort of drivel that gets shared in spammy emails, but isn’t factual.  It’s meant to have the same effect as all urban legends: To teach us some moral lesson.  I want to believe that this purity pledge culture means well.  I really do.  Except that it all just comes across as closer to “your cow for my daughter” than helping young people navigate their relationships.  This is a side effect of some of the other things I’ve talked about this week—idolizing virginity, the male gaze, and double standards for men and women.  Is this the message we want to send to our children?

The problem with things like the purity rings or the “sex key” is that they stand as an external measure of someone’s worth.  That daughter only has value as long as she keeps her key on and her legs together.  I know parents want to look out for their kids and want them to make good decisions.  But in this case, should that daughter lose her virginity before she’s married, she loses much more than that.  She loses at least some of her worth before her father.  If you think I’m exaggerating, try again.  I’ve seen it happen.

What’s sad about that is that it isn’t an accurate representation of the way God deals with us.  We never lose worth in God’s eyes.  I may not like some things my kids do.  But I will never, ever extract a promise to “be good” regarding any behavior.  And should either of my children have sex before marriage, I will consider it a) their choice, not mine, and b) not my business, as it’s between them and their partner (and God).

I see no support in the Bible for this purity culture crap.  I have nothing at all against waiting for sex until marriage.  I support it.  I commend it.  But pledging to one’s parent to remain a virgin isn’t in Scripture.  I see no evidence that this is how we should treat our daughters.  (Or our sons, for that matter.  I can’t envision myself exchanging purity rings with mine.)  Instead, we should be helping our children—both boys and girls—make healthy, wise, moral decisions in their lives.  We should be empowering them to trust God and make their commitments to God, not to us.  And that’s something you actually can find in the Bible.

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6 thoughts on “Under Lock and Key

    • Yes. I know this is a response to the cultural pressures kids face, but I don’t think it’s a healthy way to go about it. It bypasses the part of parenting where we help our kids learn, focusing more on the desired result than the process.

  1. Ugh.

    2 thoughts…

    I wore a “purity ring” thoughtout high school and college… and continued wearing it after I gave my virginity (to the man I married 3 months later) so that mom wouldn’t know.

    My step-daughter is 15. I read her blog, and was fairly certain she has become sexually active. And so… I had the “sex talk” part two with her when she was over a week or two ago. I tried my hardest not to be judgmental or condescending in any way… tried to look at sex from a biological/scientific perspective… and when she told me about losing her virginity, I tried to be the opposite of how her mother was (screaming rage, apparently, when she talked to her about sex over the summer).

    And while I’m shocked and appalled at how young she was (is) when she gave it up, there’s no point getting angry. I’m just trying to help her make healthy decisions.

    • That’s what I want for my kids. Would I like them to be adults first? Sure. I’m not sure I care if they (as adults) wait until marriage. But I do hope to help them learn about respect, care, trust, and the biological realities.

      Your stepdaughter is lucky to have you to balance the extreme opposite reaction from her mother.

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