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'No sex please, we're virgins'
Updated: 2004-05-21 09:34

Thirty American teenagers who claim to be virgins are on their way to Britain next month with a mission to encourage UK youngsters to stop having sex.

They are from U.S.-based organization called the "Silver Ring Thing" that encourages 11 to 18-year-olds to pledge not to have sex.

The group will be speaking to Britain's youth and selling their namesake silver rings designed to act as reminders to abstain during a series of shows and talks. Venues include London, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow as well as Belfast and Dublin.

"If they do decide to take on the pledge, then they buy a ring and they are also given a Silver Ring Thing bible," says the group's Alison Hunt.

"It costs 10 ($18) for that and everything is at cost so it's not a lot of money to spend when you think it's a huge commitment in your life."

Hunt is one of a group of middle class British and American expatriate mothers living in Surrey introducing the campaign in the United Kingdom.

Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe and a sharp increase in sexually transmitted diseases has both the government and parents worried.

According to the Public Health Laboratory Service in Britain from 1992 to 2002 there was an 870 percent increase in cases of syphilis, while instances of clamydia and gonorrhea were up 139 and 106 percent respectively.

Worried parents say it is also tough to protect their kids from advertising that increasingly is using sex and sexual images to sell products or services.

"I've noticed with my daughter, the 11-year-old, that there's just this pervasive stuff going on whereby she, for example, would be buying some of these teenage magazines and you know I would then take a closer look at them and find articles in there that would really bother me that I would think were really not appropriate for an 11-year-old," says Mary Macalister, another of the UK's Silver Ring mothers.

The Silver Ring Thing was founded in 1995 by Pittsburgh pastor Revered Denny Pattyn and according to the group's Web site was "designed to attract the attention of the typical 21st century teenager and offer them protection from the destructive effects of America's sex obsessed culture."

"A decision of this magnitude making an abstinence commitment till marriage requires all the strength you can have," Pattyn said this week while in the United Kingdom to spread the word.

This emphasis on religion resonates with some, including 11-year-old Bianca Bellafiore who will be taking the pledge next month.

"Not all teenagers do this and believe in the Lord and by doing this they're also helping people get more religious they're helping them be healthier and live longer in a way because if they do have sex before they're married something wrong could happen to them," she says.

Whether such an openly religious approach will work in Britain is not clear.

But government sex education advisors say preaching abstinence won't control teenage pregnancy or counter the rise in sexually transmitted diseases.

"Anybody that is either parenting an adolescent or is working with young people knows that if you say no to them they'll go and do it and so it doesn't actually quite make sense," says Gill Frances from the Teenage Pregnancy Unit.

Yet despite the skepticism the Silver Ring Thing mothers have faith their message will get through.

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