Stockholm-based photographer David Magnusson documents purity balls, in which girls (mostly teenage, some as young as four) vow to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

The father, as "High Priest of their home and family," makes a pledge to protect his daughter's “purity."

Often, they exchange purity rings. It’s a lot like a wedding, except to your dad.

Magnusson first learned about the rituals in a short article in a Swedish magazine, and was fascinated, as Sweden, though a historically Christian country, has a largely secular culture.

Over the course of five months, he traveled to purity balls in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, and each time spent one hour with the father-daughter pair, interviewing and photographing them.

“I want to see your relationship as a father and a daughter,” Magnusson would tell his subjects, “in light of the decisions you have made.”

Magnusson writes in the book’s introduction that he was struck by “how loving and responsible the fathers were. But at the same time, it is clear that the girls--in many cases, young women--are independent, strong, and insightful.”

Ultimately, his “purpose hasn’t been either to belittle or glorify the ceremonies--the interpretation is all up to the eye of the viewer.”

Still, it's hard not to shudder at lines like "you are married to the Lord and your father is your boyfriend," as one father tells his daughter in this Nightline Prime documentary.

The series will be published in Purity, a book out this August from Bokforlaget Max Strom.

Purity Balls: Like A Wedding, Except To Your Dad [Photos]

At Christian purity balls, American virgins promise dads they'll stay pure until they marry (someone else).

It’s a lot like a wedding, except to your dad. At purity balls, a relatively new Christian religious ceremony that's gaining popularity, American girls (some as young as four) vow to their fathers that they'll remain virgins until marriage.

The formal events tend to include dinner, a keynote speech, and ballroom dancing, and the girls get decked out in, um, white gowns. The father, as "High Priest of their home and family," makes a pledge to protect his daughter's "purity" during the affair. Often, they exchange purity rings.

Stockholm-based photographer David Magnusson captures all this in Purity, a book that's out in August by Bokforlaget Max Strom. Magnusson first learned about the rituals in a short article in a Swedish magazine, and was fascinated. (Sweden, although an historically Christian country, has a largely secular culture.)

Over the course of five months, Magnusson traveled to purity balls in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. On each occasion, he spent an hour interviewing and photographing the father-daughter pair. "I want to see your relationship as a father and a daughter," Magnusson told his subjects, "in light of the decisions you have made." The poses were up to the subjects themselves, undirected by Magnusson.

Critics see the ceremonies as anti-feminist and heteronormative. But Magnusson, after spending time with his subjects, found his views evolving. He writes, in the book’s introduction, that he was struck by "how loving and responsible the fathers were. But at the same time, it is clear that the girls—in many cases, young women—are independent, strong, and insightful." Ultimately, he says, his "purpose hasn’t been either to belittle or glorify the ceremonies—the interpretation is all up to the eye of the viewer."

Still, it's hard not to shudder when you hear: "You are married to the Lord and your father is your boyfriend." This is what one dad tells his daughter in this Nightline Prime documentary on the balls.

[h/t Feature Shoot]

[Photos by David Magnusson]

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14 Comments

  • Ginny Fischer

    Sick. Just . . . sick. And how does a 4-year-old have any idea what she's promising?

  • Barry Quinn

    If it is not sexist, then can we see the photos of the young boys who pledge their purity to their mothers??

  • I just wish young women were taught to have a more defined language in talking about sexual assault and abuse, and how to recognize it if its happening to them or someone they know. The purity quest is great I guess, but let's not forget all of the young girls who lose their personal right to be abstinent. Many of whom don't come forward due to the pressure of being good and obedient, but also because they may not be able to describe exactly the assault to the people that can help. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/55-colleges-face-federal-sex-assault-investigation-23556914

  • Iva Kravitz

    Yewww, this is so creepy. It's also a really weird thing to see on FastCoDesign. I get that we all follow interesting cultural trends, but this seems really off base. I think just yick in every way.

  • This is incredibly disturbing. These women are fooling themselves if they think they are strong and independent. They are basically reinforcing the idea that they are property to be passed unsullied from the original owner (their father) to their new owner (their husbands). The entire basis of women's 'purity' is patriarchal control. It places a woman's self worth on the state of their genitals. Sex is a perfectly natural function and there is nothing wrong with enjoying that function whether one is single or married. The idea that it should define a woman's worth is promulgated by men who are insecure in their own ability. The only one who has any reason to keep women pure until marriage are men who are frightened that an experienced woman will realize their shortcomings.

  • Charlene Lancaster Ranghelli

    As a Christian, sex is only permitted in a man/woman marriage. Saying that, I think some of these girls are quite young to be making this type of committment. I think pre-teen is a better age, certainly not 4!

  • It's not about Patriarchal control, it's about authority. In Christian religion, the father is responsible for the family, including the spiritual dimension of it. During the wedding when the father walks besides the bride and passes the bride's hand to the groom, the daughter leaves the authority of her father and accepts the authority of her husband. I know, hard to accept these things in USA.

  • There is a reason that we don't accept these things in the US. We are not Neanderthals. We recognize that women are equals. Men do NOT have authority over us. Our husbands are equal partners in marriage. If you have to have some man sell you his inexperienced daughter and then claim authority over her in order to make yourself feel less INADEQUATE....well...sad day for you.

  • Zach Landes

    This response started out well until you got to the part where you blame male sexual insecurities. Your point about women's 'purity' being a construct of patriarchal control is well-taken and logically supported, however.

    Also: something being 'natural' does not make it good.

  • .... And just because your ancient book of fairy tales - written by Bronze Age goatherds who routinely sold women into slavery and/or "marriage" - says that sex outside of marriage (or slavery) is wrong or a "sin," that doesn't mean that intelligent, enlightened people living in the 21st century need to give any credence to such ridiculous twaddle.

  • Alexsandra Rehlinger

    I'm sure the distortion of such cultural mores would sit even more disturbingly and clearly if the roles were reversed with mothers 'marrying' their sons to keep them from having sex until they marry their wives.