Demoting Abstinence

In 1997, Louisiana Governor Mike Foster began the Governor's Program on Abstinence, in which he authorized the expenditure of $1.6 million of federally allocated money per year for five years to abstinence-only sex education programs aiming to lower the state's teenage pregnancy rate. The money was made available from the federal government through the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The Louisiana ACLU went ballistic, charging that the abstinence programs were Christian-oriented and that spending federal money on them was illegal. Joe Cook, the executive director, said, "We want them to take the appropriate steps to make sure that tax dollars are not being used to preach religion." Following a lawsuit by the ACLU a settlement was reached whereby the Governor's Program on Abstinence agreed to ensure that federal funds would not be used to promote religion.

A reasonable case can be made that federal monies ought not to be used to promote religion. But, just because Christians support the abstinence message doesn't mean that message is religious. Moreover, it appears that other states have an aversion to the abstinence message regardless of whether federal grants are involved. The secularist viewpoint does not readily tolerate the abstinence theme, as a recent incident involving the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) demonstrated.

New Jersey has experienced its share of problems related to teenage sexual behavior. The problems were so severe that the New Jersey legislature passed a law that mandates the stressing of abstinence when sex education is taught in public schools. The NJEA invited three experts on teenage sexual activity to speak at its annual convention but withdrew the invitation when it discovered they promote the abstinence message. The New Jersey Coalition for Abstinence Education (NJCAE), which is part of the New Jersey Family Policy Counsel, was scheduled to present a workshop for teachers at the convention, as were New Jersey doctors Joanna Mohn, M.D., and James Thompson, M.D.

NJCAE's director, Bernadette Vissani, expressed concern that NJEA was censoring the abstinence perspective. NJEA's spokeswoman, Karen Joseph, said the union prefers comprehensive sex education, whereas the NJCAE employs an abstinence-only approach. "The abstinence-only approach is unrealistic," said Joseph. "It's the same as saying, 'If we prohibit driving, we will eliminate all traffic accidents: While that's true, it's unrealistic. We should be teaching safe driving and providing people with tools that will bring about safe driving. The same thing applies here."

One has to wonder about educators who teach that sex is like driving-that is, entirely about mechanics-as opposed to doctors who would acknowledge that there is more to it than that. Isn't it rather superficial for purported educators to ignore that powerful human emotions are involved, let alone profound moral teachings that almost every major religion has promoted?

Joseph's driving analogy also fails because these "comprehensive" sex education programs do not adequately, if at all, alert children to many of the potential consequences of teenage sexdangers that exist even when contraception is used, as pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker recently pointed out in her stunning book Epidemic. Dr. Meeker shows that the assumed safety of contraceptive devices has led to an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers who have never been told that contraception will not protect them from many of the extremely serious health perils that can become a lifetime legacy of teenage sexual activity.

Driver's education, we know, focuses heavily on safety issues. But it's highly doubtful that comprehensive sex education sufficiently emphasizes that certain reliable research has shown that condoms have a fifteen percent failure rate for pregnancy.1 In fact, increased condom use by teens has been associated with increased out-of-wedlock birth rates.2 Condoms are also believed to have a fifteen percent failure rate for HIV transmission. In addition, comprehensive sex education does not likely reveal that HPV (Human Papillomavirus), which is frequently contracted as a result of teenage sexual activity, is the major cause of cervical cancer, which kills approximately five thousand American women each year-and that there is no scientific proof that condoms protect against it.

It is also misleading to suggest that the NJCAE teaches "abstinence only." According to Vissani, its approach is abstinence-centered but does not omit information about contraceptives. It shares scientific information on the actual health risks associated with teenage sex and attempts to correct the dangerous myths that exist about "protected" sex. It stresses that teenage sexual activity itself is high-risk behavior, and it aims to reduce that behavior.

The scandal of the comprehensive approach is that it puts kids at greater risk of pregnancy and disease by downplaying abstinence and promoting the use of condoms without informing kids about the real health risks involved. How can it be argued that such programs don't encourage reckless behavior when they preach the euphemism of "protected" sex, which gives kids a false sense of security?

According to a four-year study reported in the April 2003 issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Family Health, the principal reason for the decline in birth and pregnancy rates of teenage girls is abstinence, not condom use. The report concluded that abstinence accounted for one hundred percent of the teen birthrate decline and sixty-seven percent in the decline in the pregnancy rate for single teens. The study refuted findings of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, frequently cited in the last few years, that seventy-five percent of the decline in pregnancy rate is attributable to contraceptive use and twenty-five percent to abstinence. Research-ten separate scientific evaluations-has suggested that abstinence-centered education has been highly effective (much more effective than "safe sex" and condom distribution programs) in reducing sexual activity rates, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage abortion rates, and the number of children born into single-parent families.3 Yet most conventional "safe sex" programs place little or no emphasis on encouraging people to abstain from early sexual activity. It would appear that the education establishment's fear of religious values outweighs statistical and medical truth to the point of actively putting teenagers' health at risk. Christianity and other major religions do teach the virtue of chastity, but that shouldn't be grounds to deny students potentially life-saving information. Or can we no longer teach children not to steal or murder because those admonitions are contained in the Ten Commandments?

Even if the New Jersey teacher's union disagrees with the claims of abstinence-centered sex education, shouldn't it at least be willing to expose its teachers to legitimate opinions from both sides of the issue in the name of, if nothing else, diversity? Or does its ideology compel it to silence the other side-the one that is supported by empirical evidence? Sadly, it's just another

1 In fact, one study showed the failure rate for pregnancy for committed adult couples during the first year of use and between 36.3% and 44.5% for young, unmarried minority women. Dr. Joanna K. Mohn, "NJ Senate Must Pass Stress Abstinence Bill (S-868) to Best Protect

Teens," New Jersey Family Policy Council, 2002.

"New Study Shows Higher Unwed Birthrates Among Sexually Experienced Teens Despite Increased Condom Use, Report finds that overall reduction in teen pregnancy is due to abstinence, not increased contraceptive use," The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, February 10, 1999.

"New Study Shows Higher Unwed Birthrates Among Sexually Experienced Teens Despite Increased Condom Use, Report finds that overall reduction in teen pregnancy is due to abstinence, not increased contraceptive use," The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, February 10, 1999; Robert E. Rector, "The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth, Heritage Foundation Research Backgrounder #1533, April 8, 2002.

example of the same people who promote "diversity" and "tolerance" being the most intolerant and close-minded against anything remotely linked to religion. In this case, their dogmatism has deadly consequences. But their propaganda continues unabated.

Advocates for Youth (AFY), an organization promoting "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender" practices for teens and children met at a conference in December to launch a campaign opposing federal abstinence funding. One speaker at the conference, Pat Schiller, a longtime advocate of sex education, said, "Sexuality is a pleasurable experience whether you're two, six, or sixteen." Wayne Palowski, director of training for Planned Parenthood of America, added, "Boys should be encouraged to use condoms and masturbate at home so they will develop skills for future sex acts." Palowski also reportedly advocated that schools teach masturbation skills as part of sex education classes.

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