Feb. 14, 1999
 By COLLEEN M. DORSEY
    coldornpgco.com
    St. Joseph News-Press
     Becky Castle wears a gold ring on the fourth finger of her left hand --  but she isn't married. In fact, the 16-year-old isn't even dating.
    The band instead symbolizes the promise Ms. Castle made to herself to remain a virgin until she marries. On her wedding day, she will take off that ring and replace it with the one her husband will give her.
    The home-schooled St. Joseph teen says she feels it's important -- in her eyes and in the eyes of God -- to keep sex sacred and wait until marriage.
    With ads for condoms everywhere, and TV and movies saturated with erotic images, some worry teens are being tempted into a sexual revolution. Statistics, however, prove otherwise.
    For the first time in more than a decade, a 1997 nationwide survey revealed more than half of high school students surveyed said they were not sexually active, the Associated Press reported.
    "It's an important milestone because students who have not engaged in intercourse can say that they're in the majority," said Dr. Lloyd Kolbe, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    Teens are abstaining for many reasons: fear of contracting a sexually-transmitted disease -- especially AIDS -- worries about teen pregnancy, concerns about getting emotionally trampled, and religious and moral reasons.
    Though local schools do teach sex education in health and gym classes, some say it's not enough.
    True Love Waits, a national abstinence campaign begun in 1993, has been carried out in area churches including Calvary Baptist Church, Patee Park Baptist Church, Carnegie Baptist Church, Caring First Assembly, Savannah Avenue Baptist Church and other St. Joseph churches.
    Though each church's adoption of the program varies slightly, the message is the same: to encourage young people to remain virgins until marriage.
    Teens are invited to participate in a wedding-like ceremony in which parents place a "pledge ring" on their children's fingers. In the ritual, teens commit themselves to abstinence until they have found a partner with whom to share their lives. They then sign a covenant card that binds them to their promise in words.
    "It's not hard to get them to make the commitment," says the Rev. Allen Lane, a minister at Calvary Baptist Church. "It's harder for them to live it out ... They have such a confusion about peer pressure and hormones."
    Brad Nichols, a 16-year-old junior at Central High School, admits how difficult vowing abstinence can be.
    "You feel different. You hear stuff all around you -- especially what other guys say," says Mr. Nichols, who was part of Patee Park Baptist Church's True Love Waits program last June. But, he adds, "I know it'll be worth it once I get married."
    "I'd imagine it would be a lot harder if I were dating," says Ms. Castle, adding she's glad she's committed to abstinence ahead of time so she won't fall into a "last-minute decision."
    Shane Sanderson, director of Southside Youth Outreach, takes the abstinence movement one step further by leading seminars that advocate courtship over dating. By not dating, teens are less likely to be tempted to engage in a physical relationship, he says.
    A recent "Dateline NBC" highlighted courtship, an arrangement whereby young people decide with their parents whom they will marry and when. The young people then are allowed to spend time together only when chaperoned by their families and are not allowed physical contact of any kind. Though he's dated in the past, Jeff Winn has decided to go the way of courtship.
    "Maybe it's not a good choice for everyone," the 19-year-old who graduated from Benton High School in 1998 says. "But for me it sounds better than trying to go out and find the right person in just anyone."