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Research - Silver Ring

US-style teen-abstinence program invades Britain

WAITING: UK teens are being told that donning a silver
ring and taking a vow of chastity are the best ways to
contend with the hormones surging through them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004,Page 7

Worried that their children are bombarded with words,
clothes and pictures that "talk dirty," six mothers are
plotting a revolution against a society seen to be
saturated with sex. The women, two Britons and four
American expats, from Surrey, a wealthy part of London's
commuter belt, will next month launch a very American
solution to the "sexual epidemic" afflicting the nation's
teens -- a silver ring and a vow of chastity.

They were inspired by the success of Silver Ring Thing in
the US, a Christian movement that has encouraged 17,000
young people to take a pledge of abstinence until

Denny Pattyn, the charismatic leader of the US
organization, is visiting Britain this week to help launch
Silver Ring Thing's UK wing. The mothers and their backers
will go to seven cities in Britain and Ireland presenting
a series of free events next month and in July, offering
pledges and selling silver rings.


"It's thumping music, lights, comedy, drama," said Paula
Jacobs, a mother of three teenagers who teamed up with
friends near Walton-on-Thames after being stunned by
rising levels of sexually transmitted infections and the
"deterioration of our youth."

She added: "It's a fun night without any dark dangers or
sex, just a good wholesome evening for kids with the same
atmosphere as you get in a nightclub."

Silver Ring Thing is strongly rooted in Christianity, but
encourages girls and boys of any faith to take the pledge.
Its pragmatic aim is to reduce sexually transmitted
infections. Cases of syphilis rose by 870 percent between
1992 and 2002 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland;
chlamydia rose by 139 percent; and gonorrhoea by 106
percent, according to the Public Health Laboratory
Service. The largest increase was among people under 25.

"We've all been taught safe sex. It's not working," said

"Abstention is the way you stay away from STDs. We are not
here to convert people, we are here to alert them. We want
to help them eradicate this sexual epidemic amongst the
teens. We're not going to be able to tell people what they
do, we simply want to help those who want to change," she

In the US, the 10-year-old True Love Waits movement,
helped by federal government funding of "abstinence
education" to the tune of US$120m, has persuaded more than
2.4 million teenagers to promise to abstain from sex until
marriage. Silver Ring Thing has received US$700,000 from
the administration of US President George W. Bush.

`Slow hand'

Here, the organization is self-funded. "We've not got a
lick of money," said Jacobs.

Loosely based on the step system pioneered by Alcoholics
Anonymous, the program encourages people between 11 and 18
to abstain until marriage. On Silver Ring Thing's US
website, teenagers are asked: "Would you eat a cookie that
already had a bite taken out of it?"

Teenagers taking up the program are supported by an
"accountability partner," a friend with whom they can
share thoughts and any worries. The program emphasizes
that everyone deserves a "second chance" -- wisely, given
that a US study found that almost nine in 10 of those who
signed chastity pledges broke them.

The mothers realize that chastity is a tough promise to
keep in today's sexualized society. Roseanne Walters, a
mother of six from Oxted, Surrey, said: "I've been through
everything. You try to train your children in good choices
but peer pressure should never be underestimated. Kids are
bombarded with sexual images, with songs saying `give me a
man with a slow hand' and `let's spend the night

Peer pressure

"Youngsters need help and this is an avenue where they can
have support from their peers. This is not the sort of
teaching you get in a locker room where someone says `did
you see her breast?' This is positive peer pressure. It's
a support system for what I'm teaching my kids. I say `you
don't think I'm cool but this is cool.'"

Her daughter, Kristina, 16, agrees that teenagers are
under great pressure to be sexually active. "You don't
think TV and advertising makes a difference but it
accumulates and then you realize that it does. A lot of
kids at my school dress exactly how TV and magazines have
decided they should. People are trying to grow up fast."

She supports Silver Ring Thing but is not so sure about
making a public pledge. "It's intimidating when you're in
front of all those people. Maybe people shouldn't make the
decision there and then. They should think about it
seriously." She thinks it could prove popular among
Britain's teenagers. "Sex is a problem for any teenager in
most modern countries."

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