The “Purity” Movement

I was not a participant in the “purity” movement and have learned about it only after-the-fact and second-hand. Nevertheless, as the biggest recent movement to revive Traditional Courtship, it deserves close scrutiny. By the accounts of those that participated, it was somewhat troubled and problematic.

As I have mentioned, for the last several years I have been in a long review of the big nineteenth century novels. This has been fruitful in many ways, and one of them is to examine the courtship process of that time “from the inside,” from the standpoint of participants, even if fictional representations. From this I think it has become easier to identify where the modern “purity” movement, and other no-sex-before-marriage strategies, have differed from that successful pre-1920 pattern.

I mentioned earlier the book Courtship in Crisis: The Case for Traditional Dating (2015), by Thomas Umstaddt. Umstaddt was in fact an eager participant in the Purity Movement, and came away disappointed enough that he wrote a book proposing modifications to it.

We also have this recent and insightful post about related topics from Sigma Frame:

2020-01-17: The Sin of Prioritizing Purity Above Marriage

Let us leave aside for now the difficulties with marriage (and divorce) today following the wedding ceremony. We will consider “courtship” to be limited to the process of getting to the wedding day. Basically, both young women and young men, both participants in the Purity Movement and excellent prospective spouses, did not end up getting married to each other.

I will try to summarize some points where things seem to have gone awry. (Those who are more familiar with the matter may correct me.)

Maintaining the Feminist Life Script: In Courtship, in the pre-1920 era, women married young. 18-20 was the prime window, with 16-25 the practical range. Women did not have to do anything besides become wives — essentially, stay-at-home wives (although the division between work and home was not as great in those days). After marrying young, they typically had children quickly, and thus, within a year or two of the wedding, they were up to their neck in childcare duties — big adult responsibilities. More recently, the idea of “no sex before marriage” has been maintained, but this “no sex” period has been extended to the 28-30 period, which bypasses nearly the entirety of a woman’s fertility peak, and also, is far too grueling for any mortal woman to be expected to endure.

To get married at 18, a woman might be generating interest among potential suitors (typically the men in her neighborhood) from the age of 14. Today, any such attraction is assumed to be transient, since the woman is to leave and go to college. Then, any attraction at college is assumed to be transient, since the woman is assumed to be moving on to some sort of career. When a woman is finally “ready” to look for a husband around age 28, she finds herself in an atomized community where the men she meets are most likely complete strangers.

An overemphasis on “purity.” The purpose of courtship was to get married, since women really didn’t have anything else to do but either a) get married; or b) coast along quietly living at her father’s house. Unmarried older women (over 30) often became part of the households of their brothers, or ended up taking care of their parents in their old age. Most women got married, and they did it before age 23. Of course they wanted to maintain “purity” until their wedding day, but it wasn’t that long a time — in fact, many women make it to twenty today without losing their virginity, even when that was not any kind of rational plan. Unfortunately, the focus of the “purity movement” often became to maintain a woman’s “purity,” even to the point of shooing away the attention of high-quality male suitors (the male participants in the Purity Movement).

Fathers marrying their daughters. It seems like there was a tendency for fathers to place a marriage-like claim of ownership upon their daughters. This extended to the point of “purity rings” that were indistiguishable from wedding rings from a distance, and were worn on the same finger (left hand ring finger) as wedding rings. Apparently there were also “purity dances” where fathers danced with their daughters. I think there can be a purpose served by a “purity ring” worn on a different finger (for example right hand) that indicates: “I am following the rules of Courtship, which means No Sex and also I Want To Get Married.” Also, in the pre-1920 Courtship era, fathers really did go to dances with their daughters, but they didn’t dance with them.

Ridiculous standards for suitors. Related to all the above, fathers often had “standards” for suitors that tended to exclude nearly all potential real-life suitors. This was probably related to “fathers marrying their daughters,” and also, the “feminist life script” in the sense that, for a young man to marry his daughter at an inappropriate time, and to thus deviate from the feminist life script — to get married while in college for example — he had to be extra special. Also, it seems there was a sense that a suitor should be the sort of man who might be an ideal suitor when a woman was at the standard “feminist life script” age for marriage, around 28-30: in other words, a successful man of 30-35. If a woman was 20, and a man was 23, this 23-year-old man was expected to have the accomplishments of a 33-year old man. At the same time, an actual 33-year-old man would be considered uncomfortably old for a 20-year-old woman, thus disqualifying everybody. Lastly, it seems that fathers’ ambition in courtship is a longstanding theme: in Don Quixote Book II, Sancho Panza wants to marry his daughter (a commoner) to a nobleman, which is nice but not very likely. Panza’s wife argues that “you should just take the boy next door, wipe his nose, and have your daughter marry him.”

Lack of social infrastructure: Women probably met their future husbands just because they lived in the same town, and, in those days, you knew all the people in your town, and not many outside your town. Nobody was a stranger. Today, where people might be near-strangers, we have a need for “warmup” stages, corresponding to “let’s have coffee together.” Also, people did things in those days — visiting girls at their fathers’ house, and social dances — which we do not do today, and have no ready substitute for.

Girls who really wanted to be sluts: Unfortunately, most teenagers want to be like all the other teenagers, and most teenagers these days are slutty. Many girls probably did not really want to take part in the purity movement — and not surprisingly, since it apparently amounted to crossing the Sahara Desert of sex, a marathon of abstinence from ages 15-28. Related to this are those girls who may have actually avoided vaginal penetration, but did every other imaginable thing. In the pre-1920 period of Courtship, nineteen-year-old girls and their husbands were being fruitful and multiplying, which means: fucking like weasels, without contraception. Courtship and marriage in those days was a path to getting sex, not avoiding it.

Uncomfortable relationship with “dating”: There is “dating,” which is: premarital sex in serial monogamy; and there is dating, which is: going on dates. Since going on dates is one of the primary ways that women and men interact — in the absence of “visiting,” social dancing, and also, daily interaction arising from a close-knit community — by avoiding “dating” and its customs (going on dates), people often were left with no method of courting at all. This gave rise to the interest in “Traditional Dating.”

Women living alone: If there is anything more trying and difficult than remaining celibate throughout nearly the entirety of a woman’s natural period of childbearing, it is doing so not while living under supervision at her father’s house, but living as a single woman in a sex-addled society. That is too much temptation for anyone to be expected to bear.

We should respect all those who participated in the Purity Movement, who had the guts to make the world anew, and who gambled with their lives to do it. It is not easy to be a pioneer. We today build upon what they accomplished.

Published by proprietor

Happily married, with children.

7 thoughts on “The “Purity” Movement

  1. Great analysis!
    When you say “a father wants to marry his daughter…”, I think you mean to say, “a father wants to marry off his daughter…”. Another interpretation of this phrase is the emotional bonding between father and daughter that was likely overemphasized in the Purity Movement. In this case, I would put quotes around the word “marry” with a short explanation.
    The biblical idea behind the father’s involvement was to reconstruct the feudal-like authority of the father in “giving his daughter in marriage”. But no one caught on to that nuance because of the absence of a feudal social structure in American society.


    1. I meant “fathers marrying their daughters” in the sense, for example, of a “purity ring” indicating that the young woman was effectively “off limits” or “married,” to her father. I picked up this tendency from reading some accounts of the Purity Movement, but perhaps I am exaggerating it.


      1. Just adding another comment, I never saw that happen where fathers were giving their daughters rings. My dad would have definitely not felt comfortable, “marrying,” me or even giving an allusion that was what was oging on. He simply bought me some books and expected me to read them and consider them. They’d already taught me their take on why it was important to save sex for marriage, but my dad did like Joshua Harris’ book, as well as the Ludys’.


  2. You are right that (in many cases) the Purity Movement emphasized a daughter’s sense of loyalty to her father. But for a marriage to happen, the daughter needs to “leave her parents and cleave to her new husband. The problem here in effect, was that for many of the reasons you outlined above, the loyalty to the father took precedence over the leaving and cleaving. Fathers wanted to marry off their daughters, but were too exacting in their expectations for both their daughters and any prospective suitor.


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