Socialist Worker

Pledge is virgin on the ridiculous

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1902

BEWARE. FUNDAMENTALIST fanatics are on the streets of Britain and are coming to a town near you. No, this isn't a front page of the Sun or the Daily Express. These are Christian fanatics from the US and they come with Blair's blessing.

Organisations like Silver Ring Thing (SRT) and True Love Waits are touring Britain trying to convince young people that sex before marriage is wrong. SRT encourages young people to buy a £10 silver ring and make a pledge to remain virgins until they marry. You can also buy T-shirts with slogans like "I'm Waiting" and "Danger-Sex Changes Everything." They claim that over six million teenagers in the US have made the pledge.

It's not just sex before marriage they oppose, but also abortion, single mothers and gay sex. For these guys the Second Coming has a totally different meaning. Silver Ring Thing is funded by the Bush administration to the tune of $120 million and evangelical churches fund True Love Waits to the sum of $720 million.

And surprise, surprise, when Bush says off to war Blair follows, and when Bush says withdraw, well, you know the score. A recent New Labour information campaign encouraged girls to remain chaste and boys to wear a condom. There is nothing like a bit of state hypocrisy!

Teenage pregnancy rates in Britain are high, some 47 per 1,000 women under 18, and in the US it is even higher-83.6 per 1,000. Compare that with 12.2 in Holland and 14 in Sweden. The levels of sexually transmitted diseases are growing.

It's worth shooting down one myth. There is no relation between the amount of sexual activity and the frequency of pregnancy. Young people in Sweden are more sexually active than their US counterparts but teenage pregnancies are four times lower.

But is not having sex a realistic option for teenagers? The girls' magazine 19 conducted a survey of its readers. It found that 90 percent had had sex by the age of 17. So how do SRT plan to keep teenagers on the straight and narrow? "Keep occupied," they suggest. "Hang out in big groups," "Do plenty of sport," and, boys, if little Johnny comes out to play, "Take a cold shower." These pearls of wisdom are supplemented by lies and scare tactics.

A Texas school sex education video says, "Will this condom protect your reputation? Go ahead and use it. You will still be a slut." Bush quotes the so called Medical Institute in Texas, which claims "contraception is worthless". Every independent survey shows that the SRT strategy is a complete failure. One carried out by Columbia University found that nearly 90 percent of people who signed the pledge had sex before they got married.

Yet the evangelists do have an impact on the kids they indoctrinate. These teenagers are 20 percent less likely to use condoms and as a result suffer higher rates of unwanted pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases.

The British Medical Journal argues that abstinence programmes are "associated with an increase in the numbers of pregnancies amongst partners of young male participants". You read that right-telling kids to just say no increases the rate of teenage pregnancies.

In the state of Texas Christian fundamentalist teaching has meant that the state has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in the US.

There is nothing wrong with teenage sex-apart from the risks shared by all sexually active adults. So surely we should be finding ways to minimise these risks and ensure that sex at any age is safe and consensual rather than moralising about perceived loss of innocence.

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Sat 22 May 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1902
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