- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Religious teens are less likely to have sexual relations outside of marriage even though few teens are influenced in their decision by clergy, a new study said yesterday.
Four in ten teens say religious and moral beliefs are what most influence their "decisions about whether to have sex," according to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
But just 6 percent of teens said ministers and rabbis had a significant influence on these decisions. Half said their parents were "most influential" in these decisions.
After moral considerations and parental influence, the factors most influencing teen decisions on sex were worries about disease (17 percent) or pregnancy (15 percent).
Religious activity and parental influence combine to be the strongest factors in preventing teen pregnancy, said political scientist William Galston, chairman of the campaign's task force on religion and public values.
"This connection between faith and sexuality is at the center of public consciousness," Mr. Galston said at a news conference.
The campaign will disseminate the information about how religion helps prevent teen pregnancy.
"We intend this as a contribution to the public dialogue," said Mr. Galston.
From a record high in 1991, the number of teen pregnancies dropped by 19 percent in 1997 to 872,000, or 94.3 pregnancies per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 according to the most recent data.
The survey found that just 10 percent of teens said sex education was a primary influence on their decisions.
In an interview, Isabel Sawhill, president of the campaign, said that schools have been forced to emphasize "reproductive biology" over values and relationships. "They are scared to death to touch moral questions, by and large," she said.
Modern sex education has prompted parents to "pass it off to schools," though parents' attitudes may be changing, Mrs. Sawhill said.
The campaign also reviewed the 50 best studies on teen sex and religion and compiled "snapshots" of local projects to help teens.
The most salient finding on teens and religion is that conservative Protestant and Catholic girls delay sexual activity longer than other girls and are least inclined to use contraception.
Boys who are active in their religious tradition are more inclined to use birth control than religiously active girls.
The cause of these different outlooks among the sexes is unknown, said psychologist Brian Wilcox, who reviewed the data. "We haven't talked to teens about why they behave the way they do," he said.
Family researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead reported that there is a "health-faith divide" in the social debate on how to prevent teen pregnancy.
"It's conventionally addressed as a public health issue," she said. That approach "tends to see teen-agers as thinking, reasoning human beings" who make decisions using facts about biology, communication skills, health clinics, and contraceptives.
Though there also is a "faith-faith divide" among liberal and conservative religious traditions in how they address the sex topic, Mrs. Whitehead said, they all help put sex in a moral framework for teen-agers.

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