Daddy I Do is an independent documentary from debut filmmaker 23-year-old Cassie Jaye. As its provocative title suggests, it explores the “purity” movement and the consequences of abstinence-only policies in America. Jaye speaks with abstinence advocates and scientists who support comprehensive sex education, and without much editorializing offers us all the available statistics about the effectiveness of one versus the other. Jaye particularly seems to relish hanging out with the “purity ball” and “purity ring” set, exposing us to a culture in which girls pledge their virginity to their fathers and the word “gift” is used over and over again to refer to virginity.
One family Jaye visits, the McCalls, with (adorable) girls all under the age of eight, are already heading out to purity balls. Their dad didn’t manage to stay abstinent until marriage, but he assures Jaye that he’s “learned from his mistakes.” And there’s no getting around it, as one woman later says in the documentary: The purity movement, particularly the father-daughter aspects of it, has a major “creep factor,” which is one of the reason that many in America’s mainstream turn away from the idea of abstinence.
But what to do with the fact that, as Daddy I Do reminds us, one in six girls actually do pledge purity in America, and 90 percent break that vow? And that 95 percent of American teens, regardless of religion, will have sex before marriage? One of the questions Jaye lets us ponder is whether these vow-breakers are armed with the knowledge they need when statistics bear out and they do start “sinning”? And furthermore, she asks whether the moral and ideological standards of one group has the right to determine, even intrude, on the educational standards of the entire population.
What happens after marriage?
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In one of the film's most striking scenes, the mother of abstinence advocate Amy Catherine Flynn--who has brought her daughter up to believe in saving herself for marriage--expresses her own doubt in the Cinderella myth that girls are sold and that abstinent women often believe in. It’s the idea that once marriage occurs, the woman will be with her Prince Charming and they will live happily ever after--and have a great time in the sack to boot.
“These special men that women set themselves up for, are setting us up for emotional crashes,” the mother, who spoke from offscreen, told Jaye. She herself was a veteran of two marriages that went south. “When she wakes up one day and he’s not special...what happens to those women? She says, okay, I did all that for what? There’s still spousal abuse and child abuse and drug-abuse going on in these abstinent, save-yourself marriages,” she added.
This sobering moment of spontaneity was compounded by another interview with Matthew Paul Turner, a Christian sex educator, who said he worried that when people who were obsessed with the abstinence ideal actually did get married, they’d still feel guilty and repressed about their sex lives which obviously would present a barrier to intimacy and satisfaction within the relationship.
“Anything they would feel sexually, even in the context of a committed relationship, they feel guilty,” he says.
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Fact Vs. Fiction
Jaye lingers for a long time with the folks at The Silver Ring Thing, a Christian abstinence movement which came into public schools and preached abstinence for many years during the Bush administration, even receiving federal funding, even though its founder says ““the ultimate goal is for teenagers to find Christ and end up in heaven.”
Only after exposing her viewers to a heaping dose of their pageantry and their pledges and their parent meetings does Jaye reveal that the ACLU successfully sued to get the program’s funding axed due to its clear violation of church and state boundaries. The program’s founder Denny Pattyn repeatedly insists that condoms don’t work and are faulty, and his followers don’t have their facts straight either.
One man interviewed by Jaye insists that his wife, who wasn’t a virgin, actually bled on their wedding night because they had prayed for healing. He sees this as a gift from God, a born-again virginity kind of thing. But most viewers will likely see it some sort of health problem that’s being glossed over as a miracle (or a lack of understanding about the woman’s first sexual encounter).
Jaye juxtaposes Pattyn’s words with those of re searcher on sex education Dr. Doug Kirby, who says he doesn’t oppose an abstinence agenda, but does oppose abstinence-only curricula on the basis that it doesn’t work. And he has the data to prove it.
“The evidence regarding comprehensive sex education is very clear and compelling,” he says. Of all the programs he’s studied, “none of them hasten the initiation of sex. They also do not increase the number of partners or the frequency of sex.”
Women’s Choices Thwarted
Mixed in with Daddy, I Do’s averred interest in sex education policy is a documentary about Americans and our twisted, tortured relationship to sex that encompasses and goes beyond the "creep factor" of Purity Balls. And throughout Jaye’s up-close cross-country road trip (including obligatory musical and Western scenery montages as she drives from place to place) in which she makes stops to talk to everyone from a pole-dancing expert to a number of chastity advocates, to women contemplating their ill-informed reproductive choices, to scientists and professors, and even to our own Amanda Marcotte, it becomes clear just how deeply troubling that relationship is.
We meet a young woman with four or five children describing a history of violent sexual assault and childhood molestation, another woman describing being wheedled into pregnancy and then wheedled into abortion by the same man, and a third woman who was homeless when she was pregnant, living in her car. One thing the three subjects share is a lack of comprehensive sex education in their youth and also a lack of, to use a cliched phrase, sexual empowerment.
“If I had understood it, I wouldn’t have been as experimental [meaning risk-taking],” one says. Another said she didn’t use birth control because ““I didn’t trust it... I didn’t know enough about it, about anything really.”
The troubled women in the film, whose backgrounds and circumstances differed, all shared at some point a reliance on relationships with men to boost low self-esteem, characteristics that the film only very implicitly connects to those well-meaning dads driving their little girls to the purity balls. Its an overarching theme that whether women are getting used for their bodies or told their bodies are sacred, these women are defined by men and don’t have control over their own sexuality--which leads to a lack of control over their own identities. As Trixie Lovett, a professional pole-dancing teacher in Vegas, (who proves to be one of the film’s most surprisingly wise voices) says, “I think we need to understand our bodies and the chemical makeup that we have and the urges--- and be mature and adult and not be controlled by men under the vise and under the cover and cloak of a higher power.”
This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice