Michael Miller: Fathers protecting daughters' purity

Michael Miller

The pressure on teenagers to have sex is "huge," Peoria dad Don Bowen said recently, but the Christian Center's annual Purity Ball tries to relieve it by bringing fathers to the rescue.

"This is a great time," said Bowen, who with his daughters will emcee the event from 5 to 10 p.m. Nov. 3 at Holiday Inn City Centre.

Girls get dressed up in formals, dads in tuxes or nice suits. A dinner. Pictures. Dancing. A guest speaker.

But the conversation isn't geared toward small talk. It's about a dad's commitment to protect his daughter's purity, Bowen said.

The marketer, who appeared with his daughters on "Good Morning, America" after last year's Purity Ball, has been to two of the events - the first time with Megan, now 20, and Amy, 17, and the second time with Kelly, 15; 12-year-old Lauren won't go for another year or two.

Bowen hopes his daughters know that he's looking out for them.

"If a guy wants to date my daughter while she's under my roof, they have to go through me," he said. "It's not to embarrass my daughter. It's so the young man knows what I expect. The good thing is my daughters now understand this isn't a terrible thing."

One of those daughters, Megan, lives at Bradley University now and engages in "casual dating," but if she meets a man who might be "the one," she said she's going to take him home to dad.

Bowen even has a set of questions he asks his daughters' suitors before they can go out on a date.

A father being that involved isn't an unwarranted invasion of his daughter's private life, said Dannah Gresh, this year's Purity Ball featured speaker. Instead, it's vital.

"Dads are so pivotal in a young woman's walk," said Gresh, author of the book "And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity" and founder of a ministry called Pure Freedom.

Fathers like those who bring their daughters to the Purity Ball are "striving to be connectors," she said. "The key is doing that consistently. Dads need to draw their kids close, because they have the ability to protect these little ladies' hearts."

Gresh knows firsthand what happens when those hearts aren't protected.

"I was sexually active when I was 15 years old," she said. "It wasn't premeditated or planned, it was a passion-of-the-moment kind of thing. Nothing good ever happened out of that relationship except for depression and a lot of hurt."

The mother of a boy and two daughters tells girls that they have a choice and should choose abstinence.

"They just need somebody to come in and help it make sense," she said. "What we try to teach them in our (Pure Freedom) ministry is, what are the benefits? We teach them there are physical blessings."

She said she bases her teachings on the Bible, including discussing the two Hebrew words used for sex in the Old Testament: yah-da, which implies knowing in an intimate way; and sakab, an exchange of body fluids.

"Girls hear that and they're like, 'I totally get that,' " Gresh said. "That's why it's not satisfying."

What about women who became sexually active before they're married and are still struggling with it?

"They really need to tell someone," Gresh said. "The tendency for women, because of the way their brain is crafted, is to feel the hurt of those decisions for a long time."

It's also important for teenage girls to have someone to talk to in addition to their parents.

"The second biggest factor we see reducing the risk is having a mentor," she said. "That's somebody that's a little older and a little wiser that you can be totally forthright with and say, 'These are the temptations in my life; can you talk me through them and hold me accountable?' "

Of course, it takes two to tango. That's why when Pure Freedom team members talk to boys, they talk in terms of "mental virginity."

"Many times guys are losing the battle mentally," Gresh said. "Especially with pornography on the rise, these young boys today are feeling overwhelmed with shame and guilt. If they're Christians, we talk about what God says about responsibility to protect their Christian sister."

Michael Miller covers religion for the Peoria Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, or send e-mail to mmiller@pjstar.com. Comments may be published.