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Waiting for marriage: Silver Ring Thing promotes abstinence

It's not the norm, and she knows that. But Jesse Eckenrod said she will nonetheless stay true to herself and wait.

The issue is sexual abstinence. And everything from movies to magazines, from peer pressure to parents, is, and has been, confusing teens such as Jesse about the matter.

Jesse, 14, of Tarentum, will be one of what organizers hope are about 1,000 teens attending a Saturday event at Valley High School promoting a different kind of thinking.

What is called the Silver Ring Thing -- a national movement -- will be a mixture of talks, skits and music put together to show middle and high school students that not having sex before marriage is one of the best decisions they can make.

At the end of the event, the students will have the chance to pledge to staying chaste until their wedding night. As a symbol of that commitment, they will be given a silver ring inscribed with a biblical reference warning against sexual sin.

Granted, not everybody, including parents, adheres to Christian thinking or thinks of premarital sex as sin. The debate about abstinence is hotly contested, especially among groups who say teens should know how to protect themselves.

But the Silver Ring Thing is not focused on religious beliefs as much as it is on mature decision making.

Newsweek reported in December that abstinence, which is taught most visibly by conservative and evangelical Christians, is a growing trend among teens. According to the article, reports from the Centers for Disease Control show that the number of teens who said they haven't had sex rose about 10 percent between 1991 and 2001.

Statistics from the John Guest Team, which promotes the Silver Ring Thing, show that teens who pledge to stay abstinent until marriage are 35 percent less likely to have sex before that time than those who don't.

Abstinence promoters say that statistic is important in light of other statistics: According to the John Guest Team, on an average day in America, 1,106 teenage girls have an abortion and another 1,295 give birth. Moreover, 623 teens will contract syphilis or gonorrhea on an average day.

Those are the reasons why Val Yajko, sexual integrity program coordinator for Tri-City Life in Lower Burrell, said Valley needs a program like the Silver Ring Thing.

"I think it (the message about abstinence) needs to be said more," she said Monday. "We really felt that this needed to be brought to the Valley."

Yajko said students from middle schools and high schools across the Valley have been invited.

"The goal is to saturate the Valley with the abstinence message," she said.

The goal also is to provide ongoing support for teens and their parents. Yajko said Tri-City Life wants to set up a hot line as a resource for parents and teens who just need to talk about the issue.

The Silver Ring Thing already has made a difference in at least one life in the Valley. Maygon Renee Guhl, 19, of New Kensington, took the pledge about two years ago and said it helped add closure to an issue she'd been dealing with for years.

"I'd already decided I wasn't going to have sex anymore," she said. "This was just like confirmation for me."

Jesse Eckenrod said she's already seen enough around her to keep her from having sex before getting married.

"It's a decision I made a long time ago," she said, listing her faith and the fear of pregnancy as big parts of that decision.

Jesse also listed "the marriage factor" as a reason for staying chaste.

"I think (your spouse) would respect you more," she said. Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: The Silver Ring Thing

What: An event promoting sexual abstinence before marriage

When: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m Saturday; registration begins at 5:15 p.m.

Where: Valley High School, 701 Stevenson Boulevard

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