No sex, please: we're British (teenagers). It's a Silver Ring Thing

Last night, at a time when many girls her age were already ensconced in dark corners with booze and boys, 16-year-old Brittany Taylor stood up in a Surrey church hall and declared she would not be having sex until she was married.

Brittany was among the first British teenagers to sign up to the Silver Ring Thing, an evangelical American movement which preaches abstinence with a mixture of lectures, lasers and shiny jewellery.

After a three-hour show combining comedy sketches and sermons, adolescent boys and girls are encouraged to pay £10 for a specially designed silver ring and commit themselves to celibacy until their wedding day.

The Silver Ring Thing has arrived in the UK, with a six-date roadshow which kicked off last night at the Holy Trinity Church in Claygate. The Surrey village was chosen for being typical ofmiddle England, as well as for its proximity to the home of Brittany's Canadian mother, Lana, who is one of a group of women living in Britain who raised the funds to bring the programme here.

Brittany is an articulate and mature teenager who is determined to live up to the ethos of her silver ring. "Most of my friends are on the Pill," she says. "There is massive pressure to have sex. Some of them get drunk and don't even remember having it. A lot of them have had the morning-after pill. They get into situations which I think must be really emotionally damaging and I don't want to be like that."

Brittany attends an evangelical church and believes the Silver Ring Thing will catch on in Britain. "I have had heated debates with my friends about it," she says. "Some treat it as a bit of a joke, but others are really interested. A lot of people want to wait, but feel pressured into giving their virginity away. The Silver Ring Thing gives you a reason to wait."

Fifty members of the programme have travelled from the US to preach its message of abstinence over the next month. The group's arrival has provoked debate over whether the "just say no" message could be effective, or is dangerous because it leaves teenagers in ignorance about safe sex.

Silver Ring Thing's founder, Danny Pattyn, claims current policies on sex education have not worked. "People need to understand that young people here are in trouble," he says. "When I hear about a 14-year-old girl being taken for an abortion without her parents' knowledge, I have to ask how far down the line we are going to go before we say enough is enough."

Defying predictions that the event would not attract support in Britain, more than 300 youngsters turned out. The fast-talking American compere Gerrard soon had his audience chanting "Sex is great'' with him adding the quick proviso, "As long as it is in the context of marriage''.

Some of the messages were dubious: repeated claims that condoms do not offer protection against sexually transmitted infection and inferences that most such diseases were untreatable and incurable.

However, the teenagers were soon shrieking and whooping with a fervour that would have impressed most American bible bashers. The girls in the audience seemed far more receptive and enthusiastic about the event than the boys. Eighteen-year-old Susan Jacques had decided that she was going to put a ring on. "I really believe that you shouldn't have sex before marriage,'' she said. "I think the ring will help because it will be a constant reminder of what I believe.''

Her 14-year-old sister Stephanie seemed less sure. "I'm just not sure I could keep the promise. Everyone at school is going out and getting drunk and having sex all the time. I get constantly laughed at because I'm not and because I'm a Christian.''

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