Abstain From Danger

Are abstinence education programs dangerous’ A recent editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News titled “Real Sex Ed for Real Lives” by ACLU staffers Nancy Hopkins and Louise Melling opines, “If the president gets what he asked for, the federal government will throw nearly $206 million in the coming year into programs that are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.” Dangerous’ Yes, indeed; encouraging teens to refrain from sexual intercourse is right up there with drinking and driving.

Now I have to question that line of thinking. Walking through inner city Philadelphia at night might be dangerous; climbing Mount Everest is dangerous, but is it hazardous to teen health to suggest that later might be better than sooner when it comes to sex?

According to critics, not only is the abstinence message hazardous, but it can be scary. Mary-Jane Wagle, CEO of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles, wrote in an editorial, “Abstinence only programs try to scare and shame teens, teaching only the negative consequences of sexuality without telling young people what they can do to stay safe and healthy.”

What can kids do to stay safe and healthy? I always thought that abstinence was the only sure way to do that but I am not an expert such as Ms. Wagle.

Where Ms. Wagle really loses me is when she compares driver’s education to sexual education. She says, “Imagine a driver’s education course in which teachers show students grisly photos of traffic accidents but never tell them to stop at red lights or buckle their seat belts, and you’ve a pretty good idea of what abstinence-only sex education is like.”

If I am following Ms. Wagle’s analogy correctly, then we should be teaching kids how to have sex. You know, unbuckle their (seat) belts, apply their condoms and drive. I always thought the goal of driver’s education is to train safe drivers. When I send my teen to driver’s education, I want her to learn to drive well. In fact, I want her to practice driving so that when the time comes to get her license, she will be good at it. In my home state of Pennsylvania, teens are required to practice driving with an adult before they get their license. Sorry, Ms. Wagle, I really don’t want the analogous approach to sexual education used in our schools.

According to a recent Toledo Blade article, the schools in Toledo teach students about contraception beginning in the sixth grade. Health services coordinator Joan Durgin was quoted as saying “We have to recognize that children are going to be sexually active, and to deny them information on protection is unrealistic.”

I am glad we don’t take that approach with driving. If we did, here’s a sample pitch: “Look folks, we all know that kids are going to speed when they get behind the wheel. You did it, I did it; so we better show them how to do it safely. Safe speeding skills for teen drivers will save lives. And the students just love the safe speeding video we use.”

If there is something dangerous to be found here it is the view that all kids are having sex and we should just get out of the way. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, teenage sex is declining. In 1988, 50% of males and 38% of females younger than 17 said they had already had intercourse. The newest data from 2002 shows a dramatic drop: 31% of males and 30% of females surveyed said they had ever engaged in sex. A recent People magazine survey found that only 27 percent of teens aged 13 to 16 were sexually active. Different surveys, same results: a substantial majority of teens are avoiding danger the old fashioned way.

I say let’s encourage those abstinent teens. Celebrate them in fact. Make them role models for their generation. According to the wise heads at Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, those young men and women are doing something that is unrealistic.

On the contrary, I think abstinent teens are the realists.

Let’s hope the Congress is as realistic and funds the only programming that will give young people good reasons to slow down and abstain from danger.