I’m just going to say it: a 10-year-old girl making an abstinence pledge to her dying father on his hospital bed is all kinds of emotionally manipulative.
I thought this YouTube video would be a touching, if extremely sad, occasion for Johnny, a gravely ill father, and his 10-year-old daughter, Nakeol. Gathered by family, they shared an approximation of the little girl’s wedding day that Johnny will not live to see; according to the YouTube description of the video, he is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nakeol felt “sad knowing he would never be there to walk her down the aisle when she gets married one day.” So the family arranged a small ceremony at the father’s hospital bed. Sweet, right? Grab the tissues.
But then it got uncomfortable on multiple levels. Nakeol’s father didn’t just give her away; the 10-year-old Nakeol promised her dying father in his hospital bed that she will won’t have sex until marriage.
The actual abstinence pledge is typical for these types of ceremonies, popularized by groups like Silver Ring Thing and True Love Waits and huge within evangelical Christianity. The mom and dad are by the young daughter’s side as she promises to her father to remain a virgin for her future husband. The father then places a purity ring around her finger as a reminder of her commitment; the father himself makes a promise to be a guardian and keeper of her sexuality. Oftentimes these abstinence pledges happen at events called “purity balls,” which are set up like prom dances for young girls to attend with their dads.
The big glaring problem? They don’t work. A 2008 study found that young people who take abstinence pledges are just as likely to have premarital sex and they’re less likely to use birth control when doing so. While teens who pledge may delay sex, they don’t give up premarital sex entirely. Pledges also are ineffective about spreading STDs and STIs, because young people will oftentimes try oral sex or anal sex instead.
Besides being ineffectual, the purity movement is grossly paternalistic (and heteronormative). It’s more than a little creepy that purity pledges establish fathers as the guardians of their daughter’s sexuality, all under the guise of getting dads more involved in their kids’ lives. (Go toss a ball around in the yard instead!) And let’s not forget how silly for a tween or teen to make “solemn promises” about their sexuality at such a young, impressionable age when they have absolutely no experience with sex yet.
Like other abstinence pledges, a pastor guided Keol and her parents through the ceremony. I feel extremely uncomfortable with the way he speaks to this 10-year-old girl, this child. I quote directly:
“I’m going to ask Keol some questions. Remember, these are solemn promises I want you to make to your dad. All right? Do you promise your dad that you will search until you find a godly man to marry? Do you promise your daddy that you will save yourself until you find a man that loves you as much as your daddy loves you? Do you promise your daddy that you will give yourself in marriage only to the man that your daddy knows is worthy of your love? [Johnny places the ring on Nakeol's finger]“What that ring is is a reminder of these promises you made to your daddy today.”
All of this is extremely emotionally manipulative to do to a child, period, but especially to a child is about to lose a parent. Like most little girls, she probably wants to make her mommy and daddy happy no matter what. With her father dying, she’s especially vulnerable. How could this family be OK with letting child promise to her father on his deathbed that she won’t do something until 15 or 20 years from how? What if, like so many other young people who make abstinence pledges, Nakeol doesn’t actually fulfill that “solemn promise” to her dying father? It robs her of making sexual decisions for herself that aren’t tied to what her father might think. Breaking that commitment the kind of thing that could traumatize a young woman’s beliefs about herself and her sexuality for a long, long time.
The rest of the video is extremely sad and sweet. It’s hard to watch without tearing up. I feel for this family, and as someone whose half-sisters lost their birth mother when they were around her age, I feel for Nakeol. Even though they may have been well-intentioned, I truly wish her hadn’t done this.
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