Sex before marriage is wrong…and here’s a formal event to prove it.

I, (DAUGHTER’S NAME)’S FATHER, CHOOSE BEFORE GOD TO COVER MY DAUGHTER AS HER AUTHORITY AND PROTECTION IN THE AREA OF PURITY. I WILL BE PURE IN MY OWN LIFE AS A MAN, HUSBAND AND FATHER. I WILL BE A MAN OF INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABLITY AS I LEAD, GUIDE AND PRAY OVER MY DAUGHTER AND MY FAMILY AS THE HIGH PRIEST IN MY HOME. THIS COVERING WILL BE USED BY GOD TO INFLUENCE GENERATIONS TO COME.

-The pledge taken at now common Father-Daughter Chastity Balls, wedding-like ceremonies now gaining huge popularity in many American Christian communities.

The purpose; for fathers to vow to protect the girls’ virginity until they marry and for the daughters in turn to promise to “stay pure”.

One website describes the Father Daughter Purity Ball as “a memorable ceremony for fathers to sign commitments to be responsible men of integrity in all areas of purity.

pu·ri·ty –noun

1. the condition or quality of being pure; freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes, etc.: the purity of drinking water.

An article in this month’s Glamour magazine shed new light on the chastity question, as journalist Jennifer Baumgardner investigated the new phenomenon first hand.

Pastor Randy Wilson, host of the event and cofounder of the ball, strides to the front of the room, takes the microphone and asks the men, “Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?”

(source: Would you pledge your virginity to your father? Glamour May 2007, US edition)

This is not an entirely new custom. Dozens of these lavish events are held every year, mainly in the South and Midwest, sponsored by churches, nonprofit groups and crisis pregnancy centers. Thousands of girls, ranging from ages 4 to 25, have already taken purity vows at these events over the past nine years.

The first purity ball was thrown in 1998 by Wilson, now 48, and his wife, Lisa, 47. Lisa’s own father left her family when she was two, and despite a kind stepfather, she says, she grew up not feeling valued or understood. “Looking back, it’s a miracle I remained pure,” she says. “I believe if girls feel beautiful and cherished by their fathers, they don’t go looking for love from random guys.”

Today, South Dakota’s Abstinence Clearinghouse, a major association of the purity movement, sends out about 700 “Purity Ball Planner” booklets a year.

The movement’s latest mission is to make abstinence cool (it’s been called “chastity chic”). Attendees at Christian rock concerts sign pledges, and websites like geocities.com/thevirginclub, and even chastity support blogs (abstinence.net) are being used to further the concept. Roam the Internet further and you’ll find dozens of websites specialising in purity rings and accessories. This 14k “Unblossomed Rose” Purity Ring comes with a chastity pledge card and retails for $179.

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The Purity Promise – This ring’s a special symbol of the promise that I’ve made, With your help, O Lord, I know, its glow will never fade. With your help, Lord, I’ll stand firm, though some may criticize. For whose opinion matters, if I look good in Your eyes? Who can give me anything to take the place of You? Who on earth can justify a love that isn’t true? So, I make my statement with this chastity ring, on my hand and in my heart. I know, one day, I’ll hear You say I chose the better part. The world calls this old fashioned; still, I’ll wait it’s just a while. For Honor, Truth, and Faithfulness are never out of style.

Waitt.org (wanting an individual to trust) also sells a special “Miss Grace” ring, for people who have already been sexually active but want to return to chastity, fitted with 5 stones to symbolise “grace and forgiveness.”

While the abstinence movement itself has become fairly mainstream—about 10 percent of teen boys and 16 percent of girls in the United States have signed virginity pledges at churches, rallies or programs sponsored by groups such as True Love Waits—purity balls represent its more extreme edge.

Randy Wilson’s 19-year-old, Khrystian, is typical: She works at her church, spends most weekends at home with her family and has never danced with a male other than her father or brother.

Emily Smith, an 18-year-old I meet, says that even kissing is out for her. “I made a promise to myself when I was younger,” she says, “to save my first kiss for my wedding day.”

Christy doesn’t want to date. She associates sex outside of marriage as a girl “getting used, betrayed, having guys deceive you, all that kind of thing.”

“This evening is more about spending time with her than her purity at this point,” says one seven-year-old’s dad, a trifle sheepishly. The event is seemingly innocent—not once do I hear “sex” or “virgin” cross anyone’s lips. Still, every one of the girls here, even the four-year-old, will sign that purity covenant.

(source: Glamour)

I can’t condone girls signing contracts whose terms they don’t fully understand. A four-year-old does not know what chastity is. Nor does she know what her nose is for.

My sympathy and concern on this issue lies with the many girls that have failed in their pledge and have to face the guilt of letting their family and community down and, worst of all, the feeling that they have done something very wrong.

These ceremonial balls forge a strong connection between the pledge and the parent-child relationship. The pledge becomes now a personal promise to the father, making it even more hurtful to both parties if and when the promise is broken. According to findings of the American National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, more than half of teens who take virginity pledges go on to have sex within three years. And 88 percent of the pledgers surveyed end up having sex before marriage

Disturbingly, the study also found that STD rates were significantly higher in communities with a high proportion of pledgers. “Pledgers are less likely than nonpledgers to use condoms, so if they do have sex it is less safe,” says Peter Bearman, Ph.D., a Columbia University sociologist who helped design the study. For these teens, he believes, it’s a mind game: If you have condoms, you were planning to have sex. If you don’t, sex wasn’t premeditated, which makes it more OK.”

The study also found that even pledgers who remained virgins were highly likely to have oral and anal sex. This factor, along with the probability that condoms again weren’t used, seems to be neglected within the chastity movement.

Encouraging girls to think carefully about their virginity is, in my opinion, a great thing. As is father-daughter bonding. Telling them it’s wrong to have sex until a given time is an entirely different matter. Putting girls’ virginity on a pedestal seems just plain wrong.

It worries me both that these fathers’ feel the need to control their daughter’s sexuality and that their daughter will never have control over it themselves. The role is clear: Dad is the only man in a girl’s life until her husband arrives.

Girls should be allowed and encouraged to feel responsible for their own bodies and what to do with them. Nobody should be punished for having sex with someone they want to have sex with (emotional connection optional) provided they do it safely. A woman’s humanity should not be equated with her sexuality.

Of course, I can still see the positives of the chastity doctrine. I’ve had American drama groups promote chastity at my secondary school and youth club when I was growing up. But passionate and enthusiastic as they were, even at 14 years old I came away feeling like they’d been trying to manipulate the truth. And they had. One exercise had them bring 7 students on stage and perform a pass-the-parcel type game to illustrate their possibility of getting pregnant. Each participant came away with between 3 and 6 children.

They presented sex in a different way, for sure, and made some thought-provoking points about relationships and fidelity that probably wouldn’t have otherwise crossed my mind. They did make it seem that saving yourself for one person was an amazing thing and I still believe it can be. But sometimes for one relationship to work you need the experience of another. And a relationship of sexual restraint and frustration cannot prepare you for a life-long marriage.

The theory can also be belittling of the emotional element of relationships. I personally would rather my husband to have slept with 50 women than to have been in love with someone else.

Even then, I maintain that everyone has history. And it’s just that…History.

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