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VMA Host Russell Brand

VMA Host’s Jibe Puts Promise Rings, Abstinence-Only Education in Spotlight

September 12, 2008 05:22 PM
by Shannon Firth
Comedian Russell Brand made fun of the Jonas Brothers’ vow of abstinence until marriage, fueling the currently popular topic of teen sex and pregnancy.

Little Silver Rings Cause Big Controversy

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At the MTV Video Music Awards that aired Sept. 7, the show’s host, British comic Russell Brand, amidst a slew of other brash remarks, teased the band The Jonas Brothers for wearing promise rings, which represent their decision to remain abstinent until marriage. Brand joked, “Are the Jonas Brothers quite what they seem? Cause if they are, how come I’ve got this little ring now.” He said, toying with the ring in his hand.

The comment inspired lasting discussion, as well as reactions from several celebrities who attended the show. American Idol Jordin Sparks fired back, “I just have one thing to say about promise rings. It’s not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody—guy or girl—wants to be a slut.” The Jonas Brothers took a more polite tack. According to entertainment Web site AceShowBiz, Nick Jonas told the BBC, “For us it’s cool to see that he recognises we are gentlemen.” He also commented that Brand “did a good job” hosting, and the boys said they enjoyed the show.

Ann Powers, a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, writes that the issue of sex, specifically “youthful pregnancy,” was evident at the awards before Brand’s crack. At a glance, there was a hugely pregnant Ashlee Simpson, then Jamie Lynn Spears, whom Powers dubbed “America’s favorite teen mom” next to Bristol Palin, and of course Britney Spears herself, “whose struggles with motherhood have been a constant source of debate.”

Some saw the remark at the VMAs as a window into the debate over abstinence-only education. The issue has been especially popular as of late with the revelation that Bristol Palin, the unmarried 17-year-old daughter of GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is pregnant.

Related Topic: Abstinence-only education

According to MTV.com, Brand’s remarks were an unexpected blessing for Denny Pattyn, a minister who founded The Silver Ring Thing, a group that promotes the message of abstinence. Pattyn told MTV that, following the awards several media organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom expressed interest in discussing the subject of abstinence with him. Another fortunate event for Pattyn was his run-in with Ariz. Sen. John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, backstage at “The Today Show.” They talked about a potential meeting with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who supports abstinence-only education, and Pattyn gave Meghan a ring to pass onto Bristol Palin. Pattyn said he sent the ring “to let [Bristol] know we’re supporting her and praying for her.”

Despite this boost in attention, abstinence-only-education, according to most analysts, is failing. According to Texas newspaper the Austin Statesman, in 2005 Buzz Pruitt, and other researchers at Texas A&M University, ran a study to measure the effects of abstinence instruction in Texas, notable for having one of the highest teenage birth rates in the nation. Pruitt found that abstinence-only-education did not delay sexual activity until marriage.

In April 2007, The Washington Post reported that a longitudinal study of over 2,000 children found “abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.”

Furthermore, in 2003, Advocates for Youth, a Washington D.C.-based group dedicated to reproductive and sexual health education, gathered evaluations of government-sponsored abstinence education programs from 11 different states. Five of these 11 studies assessed the programs’ long-term effects: “No evaluation demonstrated any impact on reducing teen’s sexual behavior at follow-up, three to 17 months after the program ended.”

Still, many advocates of abstinence-only education, and abstinence until marriage, promote their beliefs publicly. In Colorado Springs this May, college and high school students and girls as young as four years old offered up their virginity into their father’s protection until their wedding day. The formal father-daughter dance known as the Father-Daughter Purity Ball, co-founded by Randy Wilson and his daughter in 1998, is meant to reinforce fathers’ responsibilities as role models and protectors. Yet the ball has no shortage of critics.

Opinion & Analysis: Reactions to Jordin Sparks

Cable television channel BET praised Jordin Sparks for standing up for her beliefs in a blog post but added, “I have to get on my girl for implying that anyone who doesn’t wear the ring is a slut … just because someone doesn’t wear the ring, or is sexually active, doesn’t make him or her a slut.”

Marybeth Hicks, a columnist for the Washington Times, wished the Jonas Brothers had been defended in a more respectful way. She said did not watch the VMAs but gleaned enough information and footage from the Internet to take a stance which she summarizes as follows: “It’s come to this. America’s leading lady of bizarre and immoral behavior [Britney Spears] is the big winner on Sunday night, while three talented brothers who happen to be outspoken Christians and take a public stand for virtue must endure an evening of taunts and teases from a “former sex addict,” and the one person who comes to their defense does so by cussing."

Video: Denny Pattyn on the 'Today Show'

Reference: The Silver Ring Thing

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