Abstinence, the New Wave in Sex EducationZENIT
The abstinence movement has grown rapidly in recent years. There are now more than 1 million teens and college students registered with True Love Waits, one of several abstinence campaigns, the L.A. Times said
Advantages Are Gaining Proponents
Las Vegas, a town not normally
associated with moral restraint, was the site last week for the seventh annual
National Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference. The conference, which concluded
last Sunday, gathered around 750 people, the Los Angeles Times reported
The abstinence movement has grown rapidly in recent years. There
are now more than 1 million teens and college students registered with True Love
Waits, one of several abstinence campaigns, the Times said.
One of the
participants, Luis Galdamez, an abstinence educator from California, said it was
important to stress that anyone can practice abstinence until marriage, even if
you're no longer a virgin. "It's your body. It's your choice," said Galdamez,
who spoke at the event. "You're worth the wait."
Federal government funding
for abstinence programs should reach a record high of about $120 million this
year, the Washington Times reported March 24. "This is as high as it's ever been,"
said Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector. The goal, he said, remains at
least $135 million a year, which would put abstinence funding on par with spending
for contraceptive education.
"Abstinence education is very valuable in
promoting a viable alternative to sexual activity" and can reduce the risks of
unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and single parenthood, said
U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.
Outside of the
United States there are signs that support for abstinence programs is growing.
The British government had set a target of ensuring that three-quarters of teen-agers
in Northern Ireland still be virgins at age 16, BBC reported Jan. 23. The goal
is included in a strategy document aimed at reducing teen-age pregnancies and
improving sexual health.
The five-year Teen-age Pregnancy and Parenthood
Strategy and Action Plan was published by the Department of Health, Social Services
and Public Safety. A department spokesman told BBC News Online: "We have
to help teen-agers understand and avoid the risks of underage, unprotected, uninformed
Meanwhile, in Chile, a group is organizing workshops for teen-agers
on matters involving sexual health, the newspaper El Mercurio reported April 2.
The group Chile United (Fundación Chile Unido) aims to reduce the pregnancy rate
among 15- to 19-year-olds, which has increased in recent years. The program covers
a wide variety of subject matter, from explaining the stages of physical and psychological
development, and strengthening self-esteem, to promoting abstinence.
A report published in April by Bridget Maher of the Family
Research Council provided a wealth of information on the benefits of abstinence.
The study, "Abstinence Until Marriage: The Best Message for Teens," explained
the negative consequences of precocious sexual activity. Unwed teen mothers are
likely to live in poverty and be dependent on welfare, and only about 50% of them
are likely to finish high school while they are adolescents or young adults. Additionally,
children born to teen mothers are more likely than other children to have lower
grades, to leave high school without graduating, to be abused or neglected, to
have a child as an unmarried teen-ager, and to be delinquent.
Research Council also highlighted the high risk of contracting a sexually transmitted
disease (STD). Each year 3 million teens 25% of sexually active teens
are infected with an STD. The report explained that if untreated, these diseases
can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Studies
have also found that up to 15% of sexually active teen-age women are infected
with the human papillomavirus (HPV), an incurable virus present in nearly all
The study criticized many of the sexual education programs
in use among teens. The majority of schools teach "safe sex" programs that are
normally limited to providing information about sexuality, leaving it up to adolescents
to make their own decisions. Abstinence is downplayed and sexual activity and
condom use are encouraged in these curriculums, noted the Family Research Council.
A 2002 report by the Physicians Consortium, which investigated comprehensive sex
programs promoted by the Centers for Disease Control, revealed that abstinence
is barely mentioned.
Evidence that abstinence programs have positive
results came in an article published in April's issue of the journal, Adolescent
and Family Health. The article, "An Analysis of the Causes of Decline in Non-Marital
Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teens from 1991 to 1995," concluded that increased
sexual abstinence played an "important role" in reducing teen pregnancy rates.
The article also noted that empirical studies are beginning to reveal the effectiveness
of the abstinence approach to sexual education.
And a survey carried
out earlier this year showed that parents would like more attention to abstinence,
the New York Times reported Feb. 13. The survey's results were released
by a variety of groups, including the Christian Coalition of America, Focus on
the Family, Concerned Women of America and the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.
While most parents are in favor of schools teaching their children the
basics of sex education, they disapprove of the more explicit guidance commonly
used in sex-education classes. "When you ask parents in a vague euphemistic way
about comprehensive sex education, they will respond one way," said Peter Brandt,
director of issue response at Focus on the Family, one of the groups that sponsored
the poll. "As we get more specific in terms of what children are actually taught,
though, parents are more opposed."
programs under fire
Sexual education programs have come under
fire in Scotland. The Scottish Catholic Media Office in a press release on Monday
published an open letter to the Scottish Executive's Sexual Health Strategy Reference
Group by Father Joseph Chambers, a member of the group representing the Catholic
Church. Father Chambers set out his reasons for refusing to sign and endorse the
final report which he claims pursues the "same policies which are patently failing"
in the field of sexual health.
The director of the Catholic Media Office,
Peter Kearney, observed: "In the area of sexual health we see Scotland's abortion
figures standing still, no decrease in teen-age conceptions and a massive increase
in sexually transmitted infections, all of which attest to the total and absolute
failure of current approaches."
In his letter, Father Chambers protested
that little attention was paid in the report to the views of many religious groups
on issues such as abortion, contraception and homosexual activities. "Despite
the theological/moral discussions which did take place within some of the meetings,"
he added, "there is no attempt to provide any moral framework in the report which
is important to our society whether or not the population comes from a religious
background or none."
The importance of a moral element in sex education
programs was backed up by a recent study in the United States. According to an
April 2 press by the National Institutes of Health, teens particularly
girls with strong religious views are less likely to have sex than are
less religious teens. The information came from a study using information from
the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a comprehensive survey of
90,000 seventh- through 12th-graders.
Scotland's sex education programs
had already come under fire in May, from the Free Church of Scotland. According
to a May 22 report in The Scotsman, the Reverend Chris Smart, convener
of the church's youth committee, stated that there was no mention of marriage
in the material. He also criticized the programs' failure to underline the message
of sexual abstinence. It's a long jump from Las Vegas to Scotland, but the message
of abstinence is spreading more and more.
Las Vegas, JULY 5, 2003 (Zenit.org).
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