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Vowing to wait to have sex

BERT LANE photos/For The Patriot Ledger

Tori Rovito, 13, and Steven Foley, 13, slip on the nsilver rings that signify their vows to abstain from sex until marriage. They took the pledge during the Silver Ring Thing event at Weymouth High School.

EAGER TO WAIT

Local youths join growing trend of teenagers pledging to abstain until marriage

WEYMOUTH

In an age of barely-there clothes, racy teen television shows and increasingly cavalier attitudes about sex, hundreds of students crammed into Weymouth High School during the weekend and made what might seem an unlikely vow: They pledged to practice abstinence.

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends who have no respect for themselves,” said Kristin Gray, a Scituate High School freshman. “They’re miserable, and a lot of it is because they didn’t respect themselves and they had sex. In this society, sex is taken so lightly, and that’s why you have so many girls who do sleep around.”

Gray has made a promise not to go down the same path, and she is not alone.

She and some 700 other teens from the South Shore and across Massachusetts attended a Saturday night event sponsored by The Silver Ring Thing, a national faith-based organization that advocates abstinence. About 300 of the teens slid silver bands onto their left ring fingers and vowed to remain chaste until marriage.

Even as teenagers across the country engage in increasingly risky behavior at increasingly younger ages, Gray and the others are part of what some see as a growing group bucking that trend. For reasons that range from health to religion to self-respect, they are pledging to practice abstinence.

The 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which questioned slightly more than 4,000 students in grades 9 to 12, determined that 44 percent of Massachusetts high school students have had sex. That’s down from a high of 48 percent in 1993.

Nationally, the percentage of high school students who have had intercourse fell from 54.1 percent in 1991 to 45.6 in 2001, according to an analysis released in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The push to bring the Silver Ring program to the South Shore was led by Lynne Payne, an Easton parent who worked with other parents and teens in the area.

The silver ring signifies a young person's pledge not to have premarital sex.

Discussions about why it makes sense to wait were interlaced with videos, popular music, prayer and high-tech light displays.

In one video clip, a girl and boy talk about how their decision to have sex complicated their relationship.

“I don’t know what to do now,” the girl laments. “Everything is different.”

Teens were told about sexually transmitted diseases that cannot only be spread through intercourse, but through oral sex as well.

About one-fourth of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases nationwide involve teenagers, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And condoms can’t guarantee protection.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the fastest growing sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers, and condoms only sometimes stop its spread, the CDC has found. The disease is linked to genital warts and can cause cervical cancer.

Marissa Ellis, a freshman at Braintree High School, didn’t hesitate when asked why she attended the event.

“My mom made me,” she said.

So Ellis, in turn, dragged along a group of about a dozen friends. The girls said they weren’t sure what to expect, and didn’t know if they would take the abstinence pledge at the end of the night. But after listening to the program, most wore the silver rings.

Ellis said she was struck by all of the sexually transmitted diseases teens are at risk for.

“It had a good point that you could get all of those diseases from regular sex the same as oral sex,” she said.

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Jessica Shakr, another Braintree High freshman, said her reason for choosing abstinence was simple: “I have a goal to achieve.”

As teens heard from their peers in one room, Meg Meeker, a Michigan doctor who practices pediatric and adolescent medicine, talked to parents in another room. The author of “Epidemic: Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids” said preaching condom use will not stop the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases. She said parents have to push abstinence.

“The answer lies in us,” Meeker said. “Believe it or not your teenager wants you to raise the bar for them, to expect that they stay away from sexual activity, just as you expect them to stay away from drugs, alcohol and smoking.”

Kathy Monahan, the nursing supervisor for Randolph Public Schools, attended with her 13-year-old son. She said not enough parents know the risks their teens are facing. Advocating abstinence, she said, will help teens understand that they are not outcasts for waiting.

It is a message her son, Sean, has heard. He slipped a silver ring on at the event.

“Some of my friends might wonder why I would do that. They’ll think it will be impossible,” said Sean, who lives in Randolph and attends Thayer Academy in Braintree.

His response: “I have faith in God and I want to do this, abstain from sex, now that I know about the risks.”

Reach Karen Eschbacher at keschbacher@ledger.com.

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