In a world inundated with blatant sexuality, some teenagers are opting for purity. Twenty middle and high school age girls attended the "Pure Joy Lock-In" at St. Anne's Episcopal Church last weekend, a nondenominational event designed to encourage sexual abstinence. Fifteen of the teens ended the weekend by vowing to God that they would remain chaste until marriage. Three others had made that pledge at previous abstinence events.
Caitlin Sullivan, 15, made the decision to wait until she is married to enjoy sex.
"I took the vow and received a ring," Sullivan said. "I think it's all choices. It hasn't been hard for me (to remain a virgin), but I know from friends and talk around the school that it is hard for some. I know some people don't have enough courage to say no these days and they give in real easy."
Sullivan said she learned a lot of new information at the lock-in. She thinks the information should be made available to more teens and hopes there will be a countywide abstinence seminar in the future.
"I learned the truth about what's really out there," Sullivan said. "The procedures about the abortions hit me. It made me really think of the consequences about having premarital sex. I brought a friend that was having some trouble and starting to go down the wrong path and it got her, too. She was like, "Wow, I never knew.' At this lock-in we learned what every one of the STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) do and what all of them are. I really do think that the girls out there should have a chance to know exactly what an abortion is because I bet most of them don't."
Sullivan's experience was exactly what the event's organizer was hoping to achieve. Cynthia Griffin, wife of the pastor at St. Anne's and a registered medical technologist, conceived the idea for the abstinence weekend while volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center.
"The director of the center asked me to look at some programs for abstinence and try to develop something for the center, and that's how I first got interested," Mrs. Griffin said. "I realized that girls were coming in about age 14 and we really needed to get to them before that point with this message. It was shocking to me at first to realize how young these girls were when they were becoming sexually active. Basically they were, to me, little girls.
"I started looking through some programs and I liked little pieces of various programs," Mrs. Griffin explained. "But I started praying about it and sort of saw the programs divided into physical effects, emotional effects and then spiritual effects. I think many people think about the physical. They don't want their children to have a sexually transmitted disease. They don't want them to become pregnant out of wedlock and all that, but I don't think so much is thought about in terms of the emotional and the spiritual.
"I started getting a team together, each one of which offered a piece of it. I gathered people who had expertise in those areas."
Last weekend was the fourth such event since 1999 organized by Griffin and her team. The first one was co-ed. Though she felt it was successful, Griffin decided to deal with boys and girls separately. Currently the weekends are just for girls. (Griffin hopes to soon be able to offer the instruction to boys. Male volunteers will be needed to make that possible, she said.)
Friday's session focused on the physical. It began with a pizza party and included skits and games.
"The first thing we do is dispel the myth that we're basically animals," Griffin said before the event. "We do that with a skit that teaches the girls that we're created in the image and likeness of God and we are filled with the spirit, God has put his spirit in us, so we are different than animals.
"Then (Christian counselor) Barb (Martin) starts talking about the gift of sexuality and marriage. She has a gift that's beautifully decorated and gives it to somebody to open. They have to try to put the gift back together the way it looked before. It's like our gift of sexuality and when it's torn apart, they can see it can't be put back together. So we do object lessons like that, that they can see."
Throughout the weekend the girls participate in small group sessions where they talk about what they have learned.
"One of the things we start talking about is to ask, what are your goals for your life? What do you want to do five or 10 years from now? Then we hold on to those goals and play some other games," Mrs. Griffin said.
In one game, the girls learn about STDs by using Hershey's Kisses.
"At the bottom we put in what percentage in that size group would get a sexually transmitted disease. They pick a Hershey Kiss and then we play the game You Thought You Were Alone. Everybody that you've had sex with winds up behind you. Like if this boy and girl decide they're going to have sex, you're not just alone because everybody that this girl and this boy had sex with is lined up behind them, because you're exposed to everything they had. And then they open their Hershey Kiss and whatever we have written underneath, like a sexually transmitted disease, everybody down the line got it."
Dama Jackson, a registered nurse with a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, talked to the girls about STDs and abortion procedures. Karen Johnson, a local beauty consultant who attends Gulf to Lake Baptist Church, shared her testimony of having had an abortion at age 21 at the insistence of her father and the effect it had on her life.
On Saturday the emphasis was on the emotional and spiritual aspects of sexuality.
"Our Christian counselor, Barb Martin, talks about the emotional aspect," Mrs. Griffin said. "What happens every time you have a broken relationship? What happens to you emotionally? What are the scars that aren't as apparent as the physical things but they're still there? How does that affect you and your emotions? How does that affect your ability to have a successful marriage in the future when you've had a bunch of broken relationships?"
The spiritual teaching was given by Margie Sipes, Aglow International Southeast Regional Teen Resources chairwoman.
"Margie does a drama based on her testimony," Mrs. Griffin said. "Then she invites any girls who don't know the Lord if they want to do that, they can. Because that's really where it's at anyway, is a relationship with Jesus. And secondary virginity, we address that. Margie talks about the fact that in Christ we're new creations and you can make a decision today. It's not too late, it's never too late. So we offer that, too. You can be washed clean and that's what the Lord is offering you."
A game called Guarding Your Heart deals with protecting emotions.
"There's other ways of getting emotionally tied to somebody without even having sex," Mrs. Griffin said. "Boys and girls shouldn't be having these long drawn-out emotional ties with each other even if it's not sexual because you're being more intimate than you should be at that stage. And that can also bind you together even if it's not physical. We play a game where they have a big heart around their neck and every time they have a broken relationship a piece of their heart's torn off and stuck to another heart. So your heart becomes torn every time you have a broken relationship."
Mrs. Griffin talked with the girls about uniting their bodies spiritually with another.
"The Bible says when you unite your body with someone, the two become one flesh. I started looking up the Greek and it says that you exchange natures with each other. So in the spirit realm, when you're having a bunch of sexual partners, you are exchanging spiritually what that other person is involved in. Sex was meant to give you a soul tie to your husband or wife. That was one of God's purposes for sex, to bind that couple together so that they would have a soul-tie. They would stay together, bonded together physically, emotionally and spiritually."
One of Saturday's highlights was a song called The Bridal Song, about being the bride of Christ, which was illustrated with a dance by Tina Clemens. The dance was part of the time when the girls would decide whether they wanted to remain sexually pure until marriage. The girls who came forward to make that vow were given a veil, a sterling silver ring engraved with the words "Love Is Patient" and a certificate.
"We present them to God and they can sign their certificate," Mrs. Griffin said. "The ring symbolizes the vow that they made, something that they can look at and remember in those times that are difficult."
The weekend ended with a bridal banquet.
"We will have a bridal cake and things," Mrs. Griffin said before the event, "so we end on a high note. We start out with the icky stuff, STDs and abortion, and we end on the spiritual. I'm hoping that there will be lives changed, that the truth will set them free."
To learn more
If you are interested in counseling for a pregnancy or are interested in information on sexual abstinence, call Cynthia Griffin at 563-5922.
Tina Clemens leads the girls in a dance to illustrate being the bride of Christ on Oct. 24 at the "Pure Joy Lock-In" in Crystal River. A medical technologist and pastor's wife, Cynthia Griffin, conceived the idea for the abstinence weekends while volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center. She hopes to host boys, too.