January 25, 2008 | Commentary on Sex Education and Abstinence
"It's difficult to really be abstinent until marriage because it's a lot of different things pulling at you when you're a teenager."
No, that's not Jamie Lynn Spears talking. That's 16-year-old Kristen Brown, speaking earlier this month to a CBS News reporter in search of a typical teen. Yes, the cultural minefield of abstinence education is back in the news, thanks not only to Miss Spears but to the latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, the nation's teen birth rate rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991. Among girls 15 to 19, the rate went from 40.5 births per 1,000 females in 2005 to 41.9 births a year later. It wasn't completely unexpected -- the decline in the teen birth rate had been slowing for a while -- but the reversal, obviously, was an unwelcome development.
Unwelcome, that is, to everyone but the "just give teens contraception" lobby. These folks were quick to tout the CDC report as proof that teaching teens to refrain from sex is a waste of time.
"Congress should … immediately stop funding for dangerous abstinence-only programs that deny young people information about how to prevent pregnancy, protect their health and make responsible decisions," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "It's time to put money toward real solutions that will help prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among teenagers."
Her so-called "solutions"? Birth-control pills. Condoms. Diaphragms. All of which send an unmistakable message to teens: "You have no self-control, and we don't expect you to. We know you're going to 'do it,' so just make sure you're 'safe' when you do."
Never mind helping teens learn the skills they need to say "no." Forget the guys who may be willing to avoid sex -- they'll have no excuse when the "cool" kids tease them. And the girls who would like help saying "no" when their boyfriends pressure them? Sorry, they're on their own. Some "solutions"!
It's ironic, too, to see the condom crowd jump on the uptick in the teen birth rate to bad-mouth abstinence education. After all, they had their way for years before true abstinence programs became widespread, and the teen birth rate kept climbing. By their logic, doesn't this prove that "comprehensive sex ed" doesn't work?
In fact, plenty of reliable studies demonstrate that abstinence education does work. Check out familyfacts.org and search for "abstinence." One study, published in the journal Adolescent and Family Health and based on data from National Vital Statistics Records, the National Survey of Family Growth, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute (formerly the research arm of Planned Parenthood and no friend of abstinence education), notes that:
"The factors most strongly related to the decline in teen pregnancies and teen births from 1991 to 1995 were an increase in abstinence and a decline in the percentage of teens who were married. Increased abstinence among teens accounted for most of the reduction in births and for 67 percent of the reduction in out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancies."
I could cite other studies that reached similar conclusions, but you get the idea. The notion that abstinence education has been proven false is utter nonsense. Sadly, though, it's a message that's catching on in certain quarters. New Mexico recently became the 15th state to reject abstinence-only funding from the federal government.
This despite the fact that surveys show parents overwhelmingly support abstinence education. "Over 90 percent of parents, at a minimum, want teens to be taught to abstain from sexual activity until they have at least finished high school," one study from The Heritage Foundation notes. Almost as many, 84 percent, go further, preferring that teens be taught to abstain "until a couple is married or close to marriage."
Parents aren't alone: "Teens themselves also favor abstinence education: Over 90 percent agree that teens should be taught to abstain from sex until they have at least finished high school," the Heritage study says. Of course, we should be teaching the whole truth - that sex outside of marriage (regardless of age) is always unhealthy, risky and morally wrong.
And what about the teens caught in the middle of this debate? "I think they're the victims of a huge lobbying effort on behalf of the contraception education proponents, who truly do not want abstinence education to exist," says Elayne Bennett, president of the Best Friends Foundation.
That's why it's so important for parents to make their voices heard. Don't allow the condom crowd to push abstinence education aside. Our kids need us to speak up. "So many people have had sex and had sexual experiences, so you sort of feel left out," says Kristen Brown, the girl I began by quoting. It's time to help her and her friends understand that abstinence is not only perfectly normal. For the sake of their health and happiness, it's essential.
Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad" and runs the Web site HomeInvasion.org.
First appeared in Town Hall online