One of the new initiatives we beheld in Bim this time around was the Pure Sex Movement which had already organized one full march at the Barbados Community College by the end of our first week. The BCC event was mobilized by a bright-eyed young woman of 19 I will call "Evie" who related to The Barbados Advocate how important it was for a teen to remain pure before entering into marriage. She also made clear that sex performed before one is ready "can't be that good". (Hmmm....hate to break it to her but some would have to disagree!)
She also indicated she was following the agenda from the "Pure Sex Center" operated by Maria Carter and it had many other stipulations to try to get youngsters onto the straight and narrow. For example, even though Pure Sex demanded no intercourse before marriage, it also insisted on no partaking of porn (in any form) or masturbation. "After all, you can't be having pure sex if you are molesting yourself!" Evie made clear.
This, of course, begs the question of what these youngsters (full of raging hormones) can do if they are not to engage in premarital sex OR seek any kind of relief on their own. Again, it appears the norms of provisional morality might serve these kids better than absolutist dictates. By provisional morality (see e.g. Michael Shermer's 'The Science of Good and Evil') a masturbating teen is much less objectionable than one having intercourse without protection and getting an STD, or pregnant.
Energized by the BCC march a subsequent one in Bridgetown saw dozens of "purists" bearing many placards promoting abstinence until marriage and preaching the VIP – Virginity is Possible – message. The group also handed out fliers and placards on their way from Cheapside to Heroes Square. You had to give them props for determination if nothing else, even as they were eyed by many bystanders almost like a contingent of invading Martians.
According to Maria Carter the leader of the march:
"I think a lot of money is put behind condomizing, but the same amount of money, time and effort should be put into teaching the purity message. We need to give them viable options. These children are buckling under peer pressure and we need to help them. There is another way and it has to be said,”
She was referring to the Barbados Family Planning Association Clinic which for decades has been distributing condoms as a way to keep the island's once soaring birth rate under control. Not until Clyde Gollop began BFPA) did the numbers fall under control, and out of wedlock births go down, as well as unwanted births overall. The arrival of the pill and condoms, then, provided a means of choice where the number and quality of births was concerned. Interestingly, as the numbers fell - so did the island's crime rate. (At least until the specter and scourge of drugs arrived in the mid-1980s).
However, with the rise of evangelicalism in the U.S. and its mirrored ascent in Bim (via the 'People's Cathedral with Rev. Holmes Williams in the 70s) the value of sex education diminished as well as the solution to out of wedlock teen births being condoms. In its place, total abstention was offered and the emphasis placed on virginity and even "secondary virginity" - i.e. in the case of those whose spouses left and they hadn't yet found another to marry.
The Catholic Church also helped fuel this meme with assorted articles from different padres advocating abstinence and citing assorted papal encyclicals inveighing against birth control. One of the prime RC voices in the Bajan press was Father Leonard Alfonso, who also condemned Barbados' high abortion rate, warning the island nation of future retribution if it didn't mend its ways. (Never mind that most of the poor, lower class women who aborted had been deserted by boyfriends or husbands and could no more support another mouth to feed than jump over the Moon.)
By this time the climate was ripe for a "Pure Sex" Center to emerge in which "condomizing" would be harshly criticized as giving license to young adults (and even younger kids) to do whatever they wanted. Sex then, as advocated by the purists, was only valued if in a single, committed relationship and no alternative forms of release were allowed - irrespective of the hormonal "load". In addition, "no sex" was promulgated as the only form of safe sex.
Carter, one of the directors of the Pure Sex Center, the organizer of the Bridgetown walk, said their main aim today was to sensitize the public, mainly young people, that no sex was safe sex. She went on to say:
“The walk today is sensitizing the general public. We want society to see that there is an answer besides telling our children to condomize, because we go into schools to talk about purity and we realize that a lot of our children are not told that purity is a possible option.
As opposed to condomizing, we are telling people that it is possible to maintain their virginity and we would say that this is the only [sure] way to prevent HIV/AIDS and other STDs,”
She added that while it was important to preach about condomizing, and there still needed to be a focus on encouraging young people to keep their virginity until marriage.
The jury is still out on whether the Pure Center or Pure Sex Movement has made any difference in the island's birth rate, especially illegitimate births. According to World Bank data the fertility rate for Barbados has been essentially fixed at 1.8 for the past several years. Most rational people attribute this to the BFPA's aggressive family planning policies not to Pure Sex abstinence. Most ratonalists also believe total abstinence (e.g. from all sex, even self-stimulation) is total nonsense, and possibly harmful.
One thing most observers agree upon is that the Pure Sex movement is in Bim to stay, and its virginity message is currently grabbing the interest and commitment of a lot of kids. Whether that continues and actually helps lower the fertility rate remains to be seen.