By Edva Kashi
This month’s issue of Glamour magazine features a fascinating article on a phenomenon known as the purity ball—a lavish, expensive affair halfway between a debutante ball and a wedding, in which fathers pledge to protect the chastity of their precious young daughters. The girls are mostly teenagers, though the author mentions that at the ball she attended, at least one was a mere four years old.
Setting aside for a moment the inherent creepiness of thinking of a pre-kindergartener as a sexual being, the story raises an interesting question: does pledging to keep oneself “pure” really do anything?
Statistics seem to say no. According to a 2001 article in Time magazine, quoting a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, teens who make virginity pledges hold out an average of just 18 months longer than teens who don’t. And pledging teens are less likely to use protection, because they are less likely to know about it.
Abstinence-only sex education does not work. Virginity pledges do not work. A person determined to have sex will have sex, especially a teenager or college student. Knowing that, isn’t it better to educate than obfuscate?
But UC Santa Cruz students have many, many opportunities to educate themselves right now. UC Santa Cruz is home of Queer Fashion Show, one of the best amateur Rocky Horror Picture Show casts around, the CantÃº GLBTI Center, and—until this year—the Safer Sexcapades.
The famous (or infamous, depending on who’s talking) Sexcapades was a dance, just as a purity ball is a dance. The difference is that while purity balls whitewash sexuality and encourage teenage girls to be afraid of their bodies, the Sexcapades featured a writhing mass of barely-dressed 20-somethings, 600-strong, expressing every variety of sexual preference imaginable, often all at the same time.
It was also, incidentally, a great fundraiser for HIV prevention programs at UCSC, last year’s show producing $36,000 for Student Health Outreach and Prevention (SHOP).
The Safer Sexcapades was cancelled this year—put “on hiatus” according to SHOP officials—because of unsavory behavior by a small percentage of last year’s participants, and it’s a damn shame. Six people arrested for public drunkenness, and the fun for 600 is ruined. That’s 600 people this year alone who will never discover the joy of exploring different aspects of themselves in a safe, welcoming environment, if only for one night.
The Sexcapades is a dance, just like a purity ball is a dance. The difference is that the one that lets a scared, closeted 18 year-old lesbian come out safely is a relic, and the one that puts a 10 year-old’s sexuality in the hands of her father is thriving.
It was my intention with this column to come up with a solution. I’ve spent three weeks thinking about it. But I don’t go to school anymore, and I’ve reluctantly passed the torch to a new generation of students who will have to decide whether to save the Sexcapades or not. I’m in the Real World, and from where I stand, the kind of acceptance I found in the Sexcapades is a rare gem indeed. It’s up to you, readers.
_Edva Kashi is a former Gender/Sexuality Editor of City on a Hill Press and graduated last year._