Virgins. They aren't just in the Bible anymore.
ENo, they are in the malls, in our high schools, on television and, in Baltimore, they are plastered on billboards.
You may not have met them yet, but you will. Militant virgins. They are in-your-face abstainers of the 1990s. They practice chastity with an attitude. Their slogan could be: Pure and proud.
Now don't get the idea that teen-age virginity has swept the nation like a giant tidal wave of morality. This is a trend that is
oozing its way through the country. Slowly, but apparently deliberately, teen-age virgins are coming out of the closet trying to prove that abstinence is no longer just for nerds.
And they have celebrity virgins as role models. Former L.A. Lakers basketball star A.C. Green, now with the Phoenix Suns, was on the cover of the June issue of the conservative Focus on the Family magazine beneath a headline that said: "Willing to Wait."
In the story, Mr. Green, 29, explains that he is still a virgin, and has a girlfriend who "shares the same values and goals."
On television, characters on programs popular with young people are vocal virgins.
Take, for example, Donna from "Beverly Hills, 90210," played by Tori Spelling. Donna is still a virgin, even though she has entered college and is sharing an apartment with her boyfriend.
And the character of J.T. on the show "Step by Step," played by teen-age hunk Brandon Call, was also a vocal virgin during an episode of the show last season.
Of course, a few real-life teen-age virgins have always been out there. But statistics show that they certainly haven't been in the majority -- by age 19, national health statistics say, 75 percent of young women and 86 percent of young men have had sex.
And, let's face it, being a virgin hasn't exactly been cool among the young since Woodstock, free love and the invention of MTV.
But this is a new generation. To today's young people, Woodstock might as well be a synonym for extra firewood, and free love comes with free deadly diseases such as AIDS.
Nivea Ratcliff ticks off three reasons for remaining a virgin: "My good name. Disease. Pregnancy."
The friendly, 14-year-old Randallstown high school sophomore won't speak for the rest of her crowd, but says she is determined to remain a virgin.
"You hear boys talking . . . they did it with this person, then . . . they did it with someone else. I don't want them to go around saying they did it with me! I want to look out for my name," says Nivea as she sits in front of the Owings Mills Mall.
The attractive Baltimore County teen isn't sure when the right time will be. Her focus right now, she says, is to do well in school and go on to college.
"Five years ago, if you were a virgin, you wouldn't tell anybody, you'd try to play it off like you had done it and all. But now, people at school are openly saying, 'I'm a virgin,' and their friends are saying, 'That's cool,' " says Ivory Khalid, a student at the Lamberton School in Philadelphia's Overbrook Park section.
Ms. Khalid, 17, says she is a virgin. And she's proud of it. She's not particularly conservative, nor is she a religious zealot. She's cool, and popular. And she's had boyfriends.
"They just have to respect my decision," she says of her dates. "I don't want to be used and abused. I'm proud of my choice."
Khalid is one of two dozen teen-age peer educators at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her job, along with the other peer educators, is to come up with ways to carry the message to other teens of the risks of casual sex, AIDS and the social acceptance of virginity.
"People are beginning to see that virginity is important," says Patricia Bason, 21, a high school graduate and one of the oldest peer educators. "[Teens] are keeping their virginity because of diseases and just because people are feeling different these days about having sex so young."
Ms. Bason said she has entered "a secondary virginity," which is a notion that has become popular in the new-virginity movement. Secondary virginity allows people who have had sex to declare themselves once again sexually pure, erasing experience from their carnal slate.
Peer educator Ronald Dukes, 17, a freshman at Community College of Philadelphia, says the idea of saving oneself for marriage is often a hard sell, especially to boys. But, he says, if the peer educators can get boys and girls to at least postpone sexual activity for a few years, they feel the message has been successful.
"Boys don't go for it all the time," says Mr. Dukes, "but after you go over all the consequences of sex, sometimes they say, 'Yeah, maybe I'll wait.' "
But waiting isn't easy. Gail Rodriquez, 17 and a McDonough School senior, says "there are plenty of opportunities out there."
The teen isn't taking a "moralistic attitude" that everyone should wait until marriage before having sex. "I am waiting for the right person and the right time," says Ms. Rodriquez while munching on a snack in the Owings Mills food court.
This teen-age grass-roots movement has some adult help in promoting the "pure is cool" message. The state of Maryland has made sexual abstinence a governmental concern, and has partially funded an ad campaign promoting virginity.
Billboards in Baltimore show the word "virgin" scrawled on a white wall in pink spray paint, with a slogan that says, "Teach your kids it's not a dirty word."
Hal Donofrio is the executive director of Maryland's Campaign for Our Children, and his advertising firm created the billboards.
He says the campaign, which includes TV ads, radio spots and a curriculum for middle-school students, is an attempt to decrease teen pregnancy by reaching young people before they become sexually active.
The campaign is geared toward younger adolescents, Mr. Donofrio says, because statistics show that 80 percent of children 14 and younger have not had intercourse.
"The objective was to extend the period of abstinence," he says.
The campaign has been in full swing for three years, and state health statistics show that births to teen-agers have declined by 5 percent each year of the campaign, Mr. Donofrio says.
Nationwide, the abstinence theme has filtered into many public schools that offer sex education classes. While steering clear of any religious or moral lessons about chastity, many schools have adopted curricula teaching that sexual abstinence is the best option for avoiding pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
"We try to enlighten teens to the fact that a lot of people are misleading them about sexuality," says Robert H. Duckett, the coordinator of community sexuality education programs for Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.
"They get the message that everyone else is sexually active. We tell them that often half of the [teen-agers] who report to them about their sexuality are lying."
The Christian virginity movement enjoyed a surge in popularity recently when the Southern Baptist Convention launched a new campaign called "True Love Waits."
The campaign encourages youngsters to sign a "covenant card" pledging that they will remain sexually pure until marriage, though the pledge doesn't use the words "virgin" or "virginity."
The campaign started in April. "It's been refreshing to see how many young people believe in this," says Jimmy Hester, a campaign coordinator. He says more than 10,000 teens have signed pledge cards, and the Baptists hope to have 500,000 pledges by next summer.
Some adults who work with teen-agers say they haven't seen much evidence of this trend, and question its credibility.
"If it is happening, I don't see that it is any different from what I've seen before," says Robert Selverstone, president of the board for SEICUS, the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S.
Mr. Selverstone teaches sex education to high school students in Connecticut, and says he can't honestly report a big change in attitudes toward abstinence.
Teens say the adults who can't see the budding trend just don't know what's on the cutting edge.
One teen, hanging out at Owings Mills Mall who didn't want her name used because she is not a virgin, says no one looks down on virginity these days. "It's kind of like your own prerogative," she says. "And long-term relationships and the love thing is in right now."