Virginity Pledges Can Work for Some

For Keith Dorscht, escorting his daughters to the annual "purity ball" is about chivalry, not chastity. For his five girls -- ages 10 years to 9 months -- it's a fairy tale night filled with ball gowns, swirling ballerinas and dancing past midnight.

This year, it's 6-year-old Glori's turn to walk down the aisle with her father at the famous Broadmore Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. He dressed like a prince, and she, in a flowing white dress, his princess.

At this highly ritualized event, Dorscht walks through an arch of swords, as she lays a rose -- the symbol of purity -- on a Christian cross and he signs a covenant pledging to serve as her protector.

"We don't even go close to the topic of virginity," the Canadian-born counselor told "It's just a father-daughter ball, and they are thinking 'Cinderella.'"

"At a later age, we will bring up sexuality," said Dorscht. "But this is something that leaves a prescription of love and commitment and invests in their lives. It helps me get into their hearts when they are young."

Dorscht and other evangelical parents view the purity ball as a "fatherhood event," which helps their daughters build self-esteem and inner beauty . The girls do not sign the covenant right away, but many will later make "purity pledges" vowing to refrain from sex before marriage.

One of them was Laura Black, whose father, Randy Wilson, founded the Colorado Springs Purity Ball in 1998 and who made a commitment when she was only 13 not to have sex -- or even kiss -- until marriage.

Today, she is 23 and happily married, and both her sisters, Khrystian, 21, and Jordan, 19, are doing the same. "When you make a choice to remain pure on your wedding day, it's forever, there are no regrets," Black told

Are Girls Naive or Empowered?

Against the backdrop of a sex-infused American culture, pledges like these seem naive and anachronistic to many. But teens in the program say a purity pledge makes them feel empowered, and experts -- both religious and secular -- say these ritual promises can play a role in keeping teens from engaging in risky sex or early pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy rates have steadily declined since the 1990s but the United States still ranks higher than any of the industrialized countries. Last year, 48 percent of high school students reported they had engaged in sexual intercourse; 15 percent said they had four or more sex partners during their life.

Most recent studies suggest those chastity programs aren't deterring young people from having sex. In 2005, teen pregnancy rates jumped for the first time since 1991, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

Some reports show as many as one in six American girls between the ages of 12 and 18 take some kind of purity pledge, part of a growing movement that has been buoyed by evangelical fervor and wholesome music idols like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, who fuel the notion that teens can be both cool and celibate.

The Internet is filled with offers for customized rings to symbolize that commitment to chastity, as are purity pledge forms for fathers, virgins and even for "secondary virgins" -- those who have engaged in "promiscuous behavior" but recommit to purity.

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