Abstinence Makes Sense: A Common Sense Rationale

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The debate over the merits of abstinence education continues as liberals try to dismiss its effectiveness, credibility and validity. Alarmed by the Bush administration’s expanded funding for abstinence curricula in America’s public schools, the left continues its hysteria, indignantly denouncing abstinence education with scorn, ridicule and distortion.

The firestorm over abstinence-only education blazes because it advocates two core principles: 1) Sexual activity is meant for a monogamous relationship within marriage; 2) Sex outside of marriage is likely to be “psychologically and physically harmful.”

Liberals deride “abstinence until marriage” as an underhanded attempt by conservatives to stealthily spread their “radical” ideology. Left-wingers work themselves into a frenzy when describing the horrors of “the religious extremists” who promote abstinence education.

According to Planned Parenthood, “abstinence-only education is one of the religious right’s greatest challenges to the nation’s sexual health,” promoting “alarmist misinformation” and “force-feeding students religious ideology.” Thus, teaching abstinence is “endangering” students’ sexual health.

Tamara Krenin, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), accused the Bush administration of “disregarding the public health” by advocating abstinence. SIECUS’s public policy director, William Smith, cited these programs as “potentially harmful,” and the American Civil Liberties Union audaciously declared that abstinence-only programs raise “serious civil liberties and health concerns” which “jeopardize” adolescents’ health.

Regrettably, the left’s mantra is like a drippy faucet: The substance of their arguments goes nowhere but down the drain. The constant drip leaves a residue behind that others have to clean up, if they can: The sexual promiscuity of adolescents robs their childhood, leaves them with emotional scars and, too often, gives them sexually transmitted diseases.

Ironically, it is the “progressive” sexual agenda that has led us to the physical and social health crisis we face today; the proliferation of more than 25 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and an out-of-wedlock birth rate of 33 percent. Compare this with 1960, when just three STDs were in existence1 and only 5 percent of babies were born out-of-wedlock.2 Now this should truly cause alarm.

The soaring number of STDs, by itself, raises “serious health concerns” and is undeniably “endangering” the health of American teenagers. In fact, STDs are fast becoming an epidemic. Consider the following:

  • More than 15 million new cases of STDs occur every year; over 3 million of them are contracted by teenagers.3
  • Nearly two-thirds of STDs occur in people younger than 25 years of age.4
  • Twenty percent of all AIDS cases are among college-age young people.5
  • Teens have higher rates of gonorrhea than do sexually active men and women aged 20-44.6
  • Some studies have shown that up to 15 percent of sexually active teenage women are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), many with a strain linked to cervical cancer.7
  • Reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that condoms, at best, sometimes prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, chancroid, trichomoniasis, genital herpes and HPV.

Additionally, many STDs are incurable and can lead to infertility, genital cancers, pregnancy complications and pelvic inflammatory disease. STDs pose a serious health crisis, yet liberals want to encourage our teenagers to keep having “safe sex”?

This approach makes about as much sense as encouraging teenagers to smoke, as long as they do it “safely” by perhaps smoking “low tar” or “light” cigarettes. Would we ever dream of launching a “safe smoking” campaign, advocating that teenagers be taught about a variety of cigarettes types, given free packs of cigarettes that are “safe,” and perhaps taught about alternatives such as chewing tobacco?

Besides failing to protect from the physical health risks of STDs, “safe sex” does not protect teenagers’ mental and emotional health. In fact, it harms their mental and emotional well-being. Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, said, “We are seeing dramatic increases in adolescent depression, suicides, and sexual assaults; these negative trends track the increase in sexual promiscuity among adolescents. Indeed, the sexualization of our culture is robbing our adolescents of their childhood and innocence.”

In a 2003 study by the Heritage Foundation, a full 60.2 percent of abstinent girls report rarely or never having feelings of depression, as opposed to just 36.8 percent of sexually active girls. Both teenage girls and boys who are sexually active are three times more likely to report feeling depressed all or most of the time, and attempted suicide rates are three times higher for sexually active girls; six times higher for boys. Not surprisingly, the majority of teenagers, 72 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys, acknowledge regret over early sexual activity and wish they had waited longer to have sex.

Dr. Crouse adds, “Ironically, the sexual activity that comes from so-called sexual freedom brings an overlay of seriousness to the teen years, when dating ought to be fun and exciting. Innocent pairing up during the teenage years increases social skills and, at a deeper level, reveals what it takes for a couple to be compatible. Sadly, today’s teens jump right into so-called intimacy — thus derailing the possibility of understanding the basics of building a relationship that could lead to the true intimacy of knowing, understanding and caring about another person.”

Aside from the physical health detriments of STDs, the “safe sex” campaign has done little to prevent teen pregnancy, another negative consequence of illicit sex. Contrary to popular belief, “protection” can and does fail! According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 53 percent of women who become pregnant use some form of “protection.” Even the condom, in typical use, has a 15 percent failure rate. Consequently, 820,000 teenage girls become pregnant, most of them unintentionally, every year in America.8

The ill effects of teen pregnancy dramatically decrease the well-being of teen parents and the children they raise. Even Planned Parenthood, which is perhaps the most ardent supporter of teen promiscuity, acknowledges that the vast majority of teen mothers will be single parents. We also know, from the data, that only one-third will complete high school; they are more likely to be poor, and 80 percent will resort to welfare within five years. Ironically, Planned Parenthood claims to empower women.

The children of unwed teen parents also suffer. They are more likely to experience poverty and are twice as likely to experience abuse and neglect. Children of unwed teen parents are much more likely to exhibit behavioral problems; they are more likely to abuse drugs, drop out of school and become incarcerated. Unwed teen parenting becomes a vicious cycle, as children of unwed teen mothers have a greater likelihood of becoming unwed parents themselves.

Society bears the burden of combating the social ills associated with unwed teen pregnancy. Not only does unwed teen pregnancy erode the overall cultural health of our nation, but it also bears significant economic costs. The federal government alone shells out $40 billion every year to help families that begin with a teenage birth.9

A rational examination of the physical, emotional, cultural and economic ramifications of unwed teen pregnancy illuminates the necessity of an unequivocal abstinence-only message. Current comprehensive sexual education programs, which devote a mere 4.7 percent of their curriculum to abstinence, will not suffice.10 Do we really expect teenagers to heed an abstinence message when 95 percent of comprehensive sex education curriculum is imparting a contrary one?

In contrast to comprehensive sex education, abstinence-only education devotes most of its curriculum to teaching teenagers the benefits of waiting until marriage for sex, and numerous studies document the effectiveness of such programs. A recently released study commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services reports that students in federally funded abstinence-only sex education classes are significantly more likely to have a negative perception of teen sex,11 and a 2003 study by Adolescent and Family Health credits increased abstinence education for 67 percent of the recent decrease in pregnancy rates among 15-19 year old girls.12 Other aggressive abstinence-only programs such as Not Me, Not Now, True Love Waits,13 and Best Friends Foundation report similarly convincing results in reducing sexual activity and teen pregnancies.14

The Heritage Foundation reports that the federal government spends $4.50 promoting teen contraceptive use for every dollar it spends promoting teen abstinence.15 Imagine the potential for even wider success if a greater proportion of funds were allocated for abstinence-only education.

Imparting a message of abstinence to teenagers does not “endanger,” or “jeopardize,” teenagers’ health as liberals like to assert. It is not solely a religious ideology of the radical right. Rather, it is a rational and logical alternative to the failed “safe sex” message that has misled millions of teenagers. Instead of putting teens at risk of disease, premature parenthood and depression, abstinence empowers teenagers to practice self-control to avoid the detrimental consequences that accompany sexual activity.

Conservatives advocate abstinence-only education because they know unequivocal abstinence until marriage will most assuredly bring the greatest well-being to America’s teenagers and society.

By refusing to advocate abstinence-only education, liberals are blatantly “disregarding the public health” by encouraging destructive and unhealthy behavior.

Clearly, the dishonest accusations of liberals do not hold water. Their leaky faucets continue to drip, leaving behind social deterioration that erodes America’s economic and social well-being. Liberals, quite simply, need a good plumber.

Jessica Anderson, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, is an intern in CWA’s Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program. She is majoring in public administration, political science and music.

End Notes

  1. Janice Shaw Crouse, “Cohabitation: Consequences for Women and Children,” The Beverly LaHaye Institute, 2004, http://concernedwomen.org/images/content/kuala-lumpur.pdf.
  2. “Percentage of Births to Unmarried Women,” 2003, Child Trends, http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/75UnmarriedBirths.cfm.
  3. Cynthia Dailard, “Family Planning Clinics and STD Services,” The Guttmacher Report, Vol.5, #3, August 2002, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/05/3/gr050308.html.
  4. Crouse.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Alan Guttmacher Institute, “Teen Sex and Pregnancy,” 1999, http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_teen_sex.html.
  7. Ibid.
  8. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “Teen Pregnancy-So What?” February 2004, http://www.teenpregnancy.org/whycare/sowhat.asp.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Rector, Robert E., “Facts about Abstinence Education,” The Heritage Foundation, 2004, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/wm461.cfm.
  11. Zwillich, Todd, “Abstinence Ed May Change Kids’ Views on Sex,” Fox News Channel, June 16, 2005, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,159650,00.html.
  12. Pardue, Melissa G., “Increased Abstinence Causes a Large Drop in Teen Pregnancy,” The Heritage Foundation, May 2003, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/em872.cfm.
  13. Rector.
  14. Pardue, Melissa G., “More Evidence of the Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs,” The Heritage Foundation, May 2005, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/wm738.cfm.
  15. Rector.

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