JOINING a virgins' club in high school would hardly seem to be the '90s path to popularity. But for a small band of teenage girls in Dallas, the unusual group symbolizes their commitment to their future.
Corrian Spencer, the club's founder, was eager to avoid repeating her mother's experience as a teenage mother. With guidance from an innovative program for 12- to 17-year-old girls conducted by Girls Inc., Ms. Spencer is carving out a different life:She now attends college.
At a time when casual sex has become almost a rite of passage for many teens, the three-year study by Girls Inc. (formerly Girls Clubs of America) offers encouraging news. Through mother-daughter workshops, educational and career planning, assertiveness training programs, and information about sexuality, the inexpensive program cut in half the proportion of 12- to 14-year-old girls who became sexually active. It also reduced by half the number of pregnancies among 15- to 17-year-olds.
More than a million teenagers - 11 percent of all teenage girls in the United States - become pregnant each year. Nearly one-quarter will have a pregnancy by age 18, and 44 percent by age 20. Four of every 10 teen pregnancies end in abortion. The cost of government support to families formed by teenagers runs into billions of dollars a year. The cost in interrupted educations and careers is incalculable.
Last month the 18-year-old star of the TV sitcom "Doogie Howser, M.D." complained that "being a virgin is driving me crazy." And so, in an episode that by all accounts was tastefully done, Doogie went to bed with his girlfriend, Wanda, taking care to use a condom. A few weeks earlier, Roseanne's daughter Becky announced that she was sexually active and needed birth-control pills.
In the middle-class, make-believe world inhabited by Doogie and Becky, teenage sex carries a predictable glamour. Yet for poor teenagers in real life, the risk of sexually transmitted disease is assuming new dangers. …