USA: Documentary address 'purity pledges' in America

Channel 4
According to The Virgin Daughters, one in six American girls now takes a "purity pledge", vowing to abstain from all sexual activity until they are married.
One-in-six American girls now pledges to remain a virgin – and some even to save their first kiss – until their wedding day. But is this their decision, or their fathers?
Providing a fascinating insight into America's heartland, award-winning documentary maker Jane Treays follows a group of fathers and daughters as they prepare to attend a Purity Ball in Colorado Springs.

The father-daughter relationship

"It sounds unrealistic in our day and age, it's not the exact path I went down personally, but if it can work, how cool would it be to say I've been kissed by one man in my life? How special, how cherished, how set apart? Why not shoot for the fairytale?" Ken, father of 11-year-old Hannah.

Randy Wilson and his wife started the Purity Ball in Colorado Springs ten years ago, considered the most grandiose and theatrical of the many taking place across the country. Their aim is to create a "spectacular" event imbued with "elegance and romance".

A close relationship with your father is at the heart of the purity movement. Girls attend the balls with their fathers to ask for help in achieving their aim of remaining pure and virginal until their wedding day, when they will wed the man their father has helped choose for them.

One of Randy's core convictions is that all young women need to know the answer to the question "Am I beautiful, am I worthy of being pursued?" He believes that if girls get assurance about their beauty from their father they won't need to go outside the home to find out from other men. The father, he is convinced, is everything to a young girl.

The 2008 ball will be the fifth for Hannah. Girls as young as five are encouraged to attend to soak up the atmosphere. "I think it's very important for girls to have a relationship with their father, it mirrors how the heavenly father cares about us," she says. "Those who aren't close to their father will often turn to other males and that will often end in heartbreak and anguish."

The Purity Ball

All of the girls are excited about the ball and eagerly show off the dresses they have selected. A lot of effort and planning goes into how they will look on the day and many mention wanting to feel like a 'princess'.

On the day of the ball, 17-year-old Rachel and her 13-year-old sister Clare get ready together and, as they apply their make-up, Rachel explains that she's never dated. She wants to wait for her first kiss until her wedding day. Her father and high school counsellor, Kevin, doesn't want his daughter to follow the same path he did. As a young man he was "going out and having a good time" and ended up a single parent for 10 years. He feels our culture is 'sick' and wants more for his girls than "someone messing up their minds for the rest of their lives, getting cervical cancer, divorce, VD."

Randy and his wife Lisa have seven children, all of whom have been home-schooled, and each week gather together to be blessed by their father. The eldest, Lauren, got married last year at 22 to the first man she'd dated. She was not his first girlfriend but they didn't kiss or hold hands until their wedding day. She had only known him for 8 weeks before their engagement which lasted six months and for five of those months he was away with the military.

A shattering experience

For some, however, being part of the purity movement has been a shattering experience. Jessica was brought up according to the purity principles in Colorado Springs. She remembers her childhood as happy but closeted - her family, the church and church friends were her whole world. Boys were a taboo subject but she was finally given permission to date when she was 19. Despite the guilt they both felt, she and her boyfriend embarked on a sexual relationship and she became pregnant. Her parents were distraught. She feels her mother still holds it over her. "Ever since then she treats me as a lesser person" says Jessica.

Although she has remained living in Colorado Springs, Jessica has distanced herself from her old life and now lives with Steve, her partner of 18 months. Her parents are furious that they are co-habiting and want nothing to do with him. But Jessica has no regrets. "Giving my purity to my father is very weird to me. I am so glad I didn't marry that guy my parents picked for me when I was 21. I am happy I was able to start my own business and I went back to college. I am glad I have a great career now and man in my life who is my best friend".

But for Lisa Wilson the purity movement protects children from "one of the most sexually chaotic generations ever" and it seems that an increasing number of American parents share her view.