Abstinence, the New Wave in Sex Education

ZENIT

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


Its 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 June 29.

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 sex."

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.

Favorable data

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.

The Family 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 cervical cancers.

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."

Status quo 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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Las Vegas, JULY 5, 2003 (Zenit.org).

ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.

Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2003 Zenit


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