I’ve picked up a story in today’s Independent newspaper (UK), about a growing(?) trend for ‘purity balls’ in America, wherein girls (and their father) pledge to maintain a girl’s virginity until her wedding.
I once read that ‘a slut is the woman with the morals of a man’, and there’s certainly something telling about the remark. It appears that a promiscuous male is judged very differently than a promiscuous female. I think we all knew that already.
I’d never heard of these ‘purity balls‘, or of young women taking ‘virginity pledges’ before, so I started to research it a bit to discover that it’s a big thing in America and, as we all know, America is good at ‘exporting’ such concepts (or the rest of the world is good at picking up on the ideas, without much American push).
It seems to me that, for any of us who have read Canary Beck’s survey on attitudes to sex, Becky’s survey is creating ripples in the SL blogosphere where attitudes expressed therein are informing our own blogging. At least, that’s how it is for me and certainly a couple of other bloggers. What Becky’s survey has done, certainly for me, is to focus attentions on how we, other bloggers and SL players, approach SL from a moral or philosophical perspective. And I’m finding the developing, expanding debate fascinating. I note, too, that Becky has blogged on attacks on a writer who views SL negatively, and comes to his defence. Personally, I’m finding that these ‘debates’ (or attacks, or trolling) are becoming more commonplace in the SL related blogosphere, and feel there will be more before there are less as we begin to get to grips with the psychology of SL. Our world is only 12 years old, and I think that it’s only recently that we’ve begun to grasp all of the possibilities and pitfalls of our now built world. Before now, it was a case of building the world. Now, we’re learning how to inhabit and interact with it. It’s only now that the ‘reality’ of SL is settling down. Think I’m wrong? Consider the strides made in the past six years, in terms of how ‘real’ avatars and buildings can look. Consider mesh bodies, mesh heads, mesh clothes…all of which enhanced the ‘reality’. No, I have a sense of us having used the past 12 years to build our world, and the future will be about how we inhabit it on levels we’re simply scratching the surface of so far.
One of the interesting points in Becky’s survey was that, within SL, people are more ‘experimental’ with their sexuality. More partners, more sexual positions, less inhibition, more likely to explore same-sex experiences (although I imagine that that is probably more of a girl-girl thing in SL than a boy-boy thing). Let’s leave aside the ‘more’ experimental aspect of sexuality of people who are already sexually-active in RL, and consider elements of experimentation for people who are, self-evidently, not sexually active.
The story of purity balls arise as a result of a Swedish photographer exhibiting his work of father/daughter images and the Independent’s readership comments on the images, the word ‘creepy’ being a recurring adjective.
The concept appears to be that girls will take this pledge at the onset of puberty, and I’m not certain that girls of 12-13 are really in a position to have a full understanding of their feelings or sexuality to really buy into the whole moral debate that would surround the prized possession of their virginity. As an aside…it’s interesting, is it not, that there does not appear to be events with male equivalence. What’s the message here? That it’s OK for male teenagers to sleep around? The lack of male equivalence does, indeed, reinforce the idea that there is an undercurrent of control of females, by males, for what males want or desire more than anything else.
What do the fathers do when the girls do meet ‘the one’? Question him extensively on his own sexual past to see if this boyfriend is a bit of a ‘stud’ who has had numerous previous sexual partners and, indeed, is possibly liable to ‘wander’ after marriage? The whole idea of these ‘purity balls’ seems, as others have said, creepy and abnormal.
Teenage years are a time of experimentation. Where do ‘purity balls’ stand on the subject of, say, masturbation? Masturbation is healthy. (The link focuses on female masturbation, for the simple reason that it’s females being asked to be ‘pure’…male masturbation is just as normal and healthy). It’s important to have a release of sexual tension and, I think, probably more important in adolescence.
Which brings me back to Becky’s sex survey once more. I quote…’I suggest that our ability to be more sexually liberated about sex in Second Life is one of its killer apps. Second Life is a place where one can live a life with different edges, and sexual experience in Second Life is a manifestation of that fact.’
I’ve often remarked that, while SL naturism is very much a poor equivalent to the real thing, it does have the effect of -on the right sims- replicating a sense of what it’s all about. I don’t see an enormous difference between the real and the virtual in some aspects. Hang about long enough on a naturist sim and you cease to notice that the other avatar(s) are naked; you’re holding ordinary and unusual conversations with other people. Not so very different from real life naturism, and an important lesson to be learned.
I find that the idea of the ‘purity balls’ are, yes indeed, a bit creepy, but equally I acknowledge and accept that perhaps we do need to acknowledge that we maybe live in times where women do need to have a better sense of their own value as people and that promiscuity and a series of one-night stands are sometimes psychologically damaging.
In that, the idea of a ‘purity pledge’ partially works. Ultimately, fewer sexual partners may be an empowering thing for a woman. That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation, getting naked, getting naked with another person, indulging in mutual masturbation with another person. Certainly, there are ‘dangers’ involved in that approach. Mutual libido may lead towards ‘making out’ going further than intended (and often with the added danger of no contraception being used in those circumstances). ‘Just the tip‘, anyone?
Perhaps, then, there’s a place for virtual sex, cybersex, Slex, whatever you want to call it, for younger people. Perhaps it offers a place where one can experiment freely and openly and explore one’s own feelings and morality. Is it possible to take a purity pledge, remain a young virgin in RL while living a wild, sexual existence in a virtual world? Would virtual sexual experience be psychologically or emotionally damaging? I’m not sure. Would I, a teen with no experience of men, used SL as an arena of experimentation had it been available when I was 17-18? I’m not sure, but I suspect I might well have done.
What I am sure of is that, from a naturist perspective, I will regularly meet people who aren’t naturist in RL but who are keen, regular naturists within SL and who come to learn that it is essentially a non-sexual lifestyle, and that it quickly becomes a case of not noticing that others are naked…it’s the words they type that is the main focus of attention, just as it’s the words people say in RL, in a naturist setting, that you focus on. Virtual naturism can be an excellent introduction to the manners, the etiquette, the politics of the real life equivalent. Might SL sexuality be somewhere that people can practice safe sex and learn some of the ‘rules’ of sexual behaviour without any of the inherent dangers of the RL variant? Even for girls taking a ‘purity pledge’, might it be that SL offers a place where sexual education, moral education, full awareness of their sexuality and maybe even sexual release in the form of masturbation? I suspect that I might prefer my daughter to be experimenting in a virtual place, an on/off switch away from getting out of a situation getting out of her control, than I would her at some house party with a spiked drink and a bunch of teen boys full of testosterone. Wouldn’t we all?
As women, we’re very often subjected to ‘body shaming’ or ‘fat shaming’ to the point where we’re insecure about ourselves, that insecurity reinforced by advertising. So if we drop a female avatar with a realistic body shape into an SL naturist sim, naked, at what point will the female in question come to the realisation that ‘he’s speaking to me because of who I am, because of my personality, rather than an implausibly thin body. It’s OK to be something other than size zero!’ Is it a lesson she can carry forward into real life?
These are issues we’re going to be exploring and examining, in a wider SL sense, over the coming years, I think. Could it be that SL can play a role in deconstructing an advertising industry’s unrealistic beauty myths? Perhaps. But, as we’ve blogged before, maybe a sense of making a wider range of ‘aged’ skins, and XXL mesh clothes, is one of the ways forward in that respect.
For me, it seems that it’s important that girls should maybe exercise more restraint and that some form of ‘pledge’ regarding their sexuality may be a good thing, but the ‘purity balls’ are an over the top manifestation of that. It’s important that both boys and girls learn how to behave towards one another (no, fellas, she’s not there just as a sperm receptacle! She’s a human with human feelings and value as a person). It seems, to me, that virtual worlds like SL have an important role they can play regarding sexual education in its wider sense, but that we’re only just beginning to recognise that sexual activity within a virtual world is a perfectly safe environment in which to learn the ‘rules’. That said, girls, stay away from BDSM situations or ‘sub’ roles. Anything that subjugates women is not positive role-play, even in a virtual world. You’re a man’s equal, so act like it.
Apologies for naturism only being peripheral to this post, but SLN continues to develop just as SL does, and there are ‘intellectual’ debates to be had on our interaction with our world, debates that will, in turn, impact on SL naturism just as they do with other aspects of SL life.