Russell Brand might be the best thing to ever happen to purity rings.
Though the British comedian was roundly flamed by Jonas Brothers fans for relentlessly mocking the boys' abstinence symbols during Sunday night's VMAs, the ribbing might actually be a blessing in disguise for the movement.
"I've received a good amount of feedback," said Jason Burtt, national director of Silver Ring Thing, a program that asks teens to pledge to remain virgins until marriage. "Nothing negative, but mostly positive support from all over the country from people interested in the program." Burtt's Christian organization, which doesn't sell purity rings, runs more than 70 programs a year for teens in which they spread a message of abstinence until marriage, offering a ring to those who complete the course.
Burtt has gotten more than two dozen such messages since Sunday, and he said the very public commitments from the Jonas Brothers and Jordin Sparks have certainly helped put the issue in the public eye.
Silver Ring Thing founder Denny Pattyn, an evangelical Christian youth minister, appeared on "The Today Show" Tuesday morning (September 9), and he told MTV News that he's been getting quite a few requests from media organizations in the United States and England to discuss the issue. But more important, he ran into John McCain's daughter Meghan backstage at the show, and the two had a talk that he hopes will soon connect him to Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. "We had a long talk about Sarah Palin and her daughter's pregnancy and them maybe getting more involved when they come to Pennsylvania where I live," Pattyn said.
A year after the movie "Juno" and Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy made headlines, the topic of teen pregnancy received renewed attention when it was revealed that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is expecting and that her mother favors abstinence-only sex education in schools at a time when teen-pregnancy rates are on the rise again.
"This is a big, big to-do," Pattyn said of the flap in his community over the Jonas Brothers/ Brand issue. "It's fantastic for an organization like ours, and we think this will open up some major things." Pattyn said he gave Meghan McCain one of his group's rings to give to Governor Palin for her daughter "to let her know we're supporting her and praying for her."
Sales are up overall this summer at PromiseRingsOvernight.com, according to John Cabouch, director of e-commerce operations for the Culver City, California, company, which owns a number of sites that sell the rings. "It's not just what happened on Sunday, but we've seen an uptick in general in the past couple of months," he said. "There seems to be a growing interest in this type of ring, and from what we've gleaned, it's just being talked about more in social circles, especially among young people."
Cabouch speculated that the attention from the VMA dustup can only help sales but that he thinks the kind of unofficial endorsement from celebrities like Sparks and the JoBros will likely validate a belief in the rings and make young people think that it's not so "kooky or geeky" to buy one and make a pledge to abstain from sex.
Sales of purity rings have been through the roof at jeweler James Avery, where spokeswoman Sara Hegener said there has been a "huge swell" over the past few months. "There's a lot of buzz with the Jonas Brothers and these purity rings, and I like to think some of it is tied to that," she said, noting that sales of the company's signature "True Love Waits" ring were up 78 percent in July over last year and up 113 percent in August.
While Sparks clearly took issue with Brand's steady barrage of jokes at the Jonases' expense — sassily telling the audience, "It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut" — the brothers themselves don't seem too put out by the taunting.
On Tuesday, they talked to the BBC, and Nick said, "For us, it's cool to see that he recognizes we are gentlemen," then complimented Brand for his comedic chops, saying he did a "good job" hosting the show. Brother Kevin was equally complimentary, saying the teasing didn't ruin the siblings' night at all. "We had a lot of friends there, and everybody's so nice," he said. "We had a good time."
He did, however, speculate that Brand may have not been in tune with the audience's sense of humor. "I think he focused on certain things and didn't move off of them," Kevin said. "People's attention spans in America need more than that."
A number of studies have shown that teens who take purity pledges tend to delay becoming sexually active for about 18 months longer than teens who don't, but that when they do become active, they are more likely to have unprotected or risky sex, though Pattyn said he does not support those findings.