Betsy Hart

Years ago a dear young friend of mine married and at the reception her mother-in-law commented to me how thrilled she was to have learned that her new son's new bride was a virgin.

I remember making a note to myself: Never get or share information about the "history" of my children's' betrothed.

Recently I wrote about "experts" who essentially applauded even very young girls "dressing provocatively, dancing seductively and posting salacious photos on social networking (Web) sites" because, in doing so, the girls were showing their "confidence." I commented that these folks were more than a little out of touch with reality, and I bemoaned the hyper-sexualization of our youth.

Fast forward again. Glamour Magazine this month reports on the growing popularity among some evangelical Christians of so-called "purity balls," apparently now the cutting edge of the teen abstinence movement. These are elaborate parties which young women and girls attend, gowns and all, with their dads. The theme is the girls' sexual purity, and the big moment comes when the dads sign a formal pledge stating, "I choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity... ." The girls themselves pledge to stay "pure" until marriage.

At the particular ball Glamour attended the young ladies piled flowers under a "V" formed with swords. (At least one dad recounted how he presented his adolescent daughter with a tiny lock. The key he will give to her husband on her wedding day.)

But just like my friend's mother-in-law commenting on the new bride's virginity, while this is surely well meant, I find it more than a little unsettling.

Look, I'm an evangelical Christian who knows the incredible and positive value of the relationship between a dad and daughter and who firmly believes that sex should be reserved for marriage.

But I just can't imagine going about it this way with any of my four kids, son or daughters.

For starters, something like a "purity ball" essentially minimizes a young woman's very humanity. It seems that in this context a girl's sexuality is first her father's (a little odd) then her husband's. But, of course, if we value her we know that her sexuality and the choices she makes about it as an adult are hers.

Besides, I can't help but wonder if a single-minded focus on virginity is an ironic, and unintended way, of sexualizing youth in a different way.

In any event, what bothers me most is that these dads and daughters may be falling for the misperception that "the sin is in the thing" instead of the heart, or conversely, that some sort of righteousness is inherent in the status of virgin, or any outward appearance of propriety.

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.