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Helping teens put sex back in context.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ecstasy. AIDS. Beer advertisements. The surreal string of images associated with sex in the 1990s makes Molly Kelly's message seem simple and sane, healthy and, well, hip.

"There's nothing wrong with the word virgin and there's no disease afterward called virginitis," says Kelly, 55, nicknamed the Chastity Lady.

In eight years the mother of eight has told some 800,000 youth: "Sex is so good it's worth waiting for. And you're so good you're worth waiting for. ... If someone leaves you because you wouldn't have sex, they're not worth it."

Kelly, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Philadelphia, seems to be everywhere these days. Notices of her talks appear in one diocesan paper after another; public schools are issuing invitations right and left. And no wonder. A 1992 Centers for Disease Control survey indicates 40 percent of young people have sex by the ninth grade, a figure that's got a lot of adults worried.

But telling kids to "just say no" is no solution, Kelly told NCR in a telephone interview.

Preaching abstinence is too negative, she said. "You can abstain from anything, smoking, cookies. ..." Instead, she calls for chastity. "It's not |no.' It's |yes' to the gift of my sexuality" - in marriage.

It was Kelly's own marriage, to a physician who died in 1975, that ultimately led her to what she calls her ministry. Kelly's husband was convinced, on medical and moral grounds, that abortion was wrong; the couple got involved in the educational arm of Pennsylvanians for Human Life.

But by the mid-1980s, Kelly was questioning her focus. "I realized after about seven or eight years I wasn't offering a solution."

Too many abortions can be traced back to peer pressure to have sex in a culture that has "sold sex" to teenagers, Kelly explained. She concluded she could do more to prevent abortion by encouraging young people to hold off on sex until marriage.

And encourage she does, not only in talks but in brochures and other publications, always grounding her principles in humor and practical advice.

Sound like you mean it when you say no, she says. Avoid situations that make you feel powerless. Attraction is one thing, arousal another. Learn to brake: "If you don't want to arrive at the destination, don't keep traveling in the same direction." But if you've already arrived, just remember - it's never too late to embrace "secondary virginity."

But it's her focus on feelings that seems to impress teenagers the most, said Kelly.

"You can talk about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, et cetera, but what they want to hear about are the emotional consequences - the fear, frustration and anger of entering into a relationship without being able to make a real commitment," she said.

"If there are no emotional consequences, that's a consequence," she added. "It's become no big deal."

But sex - in context - is becoming a big deal, at least for some kids. Around the country peer support groups with names like Truth in Motion, Teen Esteem, and Body and Soul Posse are springing up, aimed at encouraging young people who want to hold off on sex, Kelly said.

And given the legion of shy thank yous and the 200-plus standing ovations she has received, Kelly thinks chastity may become a very |90s concept. "You can turn kids off if you get on the podium and shake your finger and tell them to go back to the good old days. You have to believe in kids."
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Title Annotation:The Faith We Teach
Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 16, 1993
Next Article:Where the blind see and the deaf hear.

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