Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Are Abstinence-Only Sex-Education Programs Good for Teenagers?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Are Abstinence-Only Sex-Education Programs Good for Teenagers?

Article excerpt

Yes: 'Safe sex education has failed. it's time to give kids the good news about abstinence.

Abstinence. What's so controversial? Parents, educators and communities want teenagers to postpone becoming sexually active, preferably until marriage, because the risks of sexual activity in the nineties simply are too high, right? Everyone agrees that teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, including HIV, cause serious problems. But how to prevent these problems and educate our young people -- that is controversial.

We have had at least 20 years of an educational message that says, basically, "If you can't say no, act responsibly." Yet these safe/safer/protected sex curricula have been tried and found wanting in terms of preventing the skyrocketing damage to our teens and their long-term physical, emotional, social, spiritual and economic health.

It is time for an honest and open-minded look at a new sexual revolution: abstinence until a committed, lifelong, mutually monogamous relationship. Most people call it marriage.

Are the problems associated with sexual activity really all that bad? You might be surprised. The data are startling. Here are just a few sound bites:

* One million teenage girls become pregnant each year.

* One in 10 females between the ages 15 and 19 become pregnant each year.

* Seventy-two percent of the resulting babies are born out of wedlock.

* Three million teenagers acquire an STD each year.

* One in four sexually active teenagers acquires a new STD each year.

* Two-thirds of all people who acquire STDs are under age 25.

* Eight new STD "germs" have been identified since 1980, including HIV

* One-quarter of all new HIV infections are found in people under age 22.

* Of all diseases that are required to be reported in the United States, 87 percent are STDS (1995 data).

Nonmarital teen pregnancy all too often has a devastating impact on teen parents and their children. Indeed, teen pregnancy has received much analysis because of the long-term effects not only to the mother and child, but to the father, to extended families and ultimately to society. Kids Having Kids, a 1996 report from the Robin Hood Foundation, reveals that only 30 percent of girls who become pregnant before age 18 will earn a high-school diploma by the age of 30, compared with 76 percent of women who delay child bearing until after age 20. And 80 percent of those young, single mothers will live below the poverty line, receive welfare and raise children who are at risk for many difficulties as they grow to adulthood.

Adolescent dads also do not progress as far educationally and earn, on average, about $2,000 less annually at age 27 as a direct result of the impact of teen parenthood.

One other concern surrounding teen pregnancy often is overlooked. Studies from the California Department of Health Services found that 77 percent of the babies born to girls in high school were fathered by men older than high-school age. For girls in junior high, the father was, on average, 6.5 years older. These studies highlight the problem that a substantial portion of teenage sexual activity is more a matter of manipulation, coercion or abuse than anything else.

In addition to pregnancy, adolescents and young adults are in the age group at highest risk for contracting STDs. Why? Here are two reasons. First, teenage reproductive systems are not yet mature. That is why, for instance, the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is as much as 10 times greater for a 15-year-old sexually active female than for a 24-year-old. PID usually is caused by STDs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, which often have no noticeable symptoms. PID is the most rapidly increasing cause of infertility in the United States today.

The second reason that teens are at higher risk for STDs is behavioral. …

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