The burgeoning teen abstinence movement was also an influence.
By the 1980s, abstinence pioneers were in full swing. Some had won federal grants from a tiny pro-chastity program promoted in 1981 by Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Alabama Republican. Those early materials flowed into faith-based programs and laid the foundation for today’s major abstinence programs.
In 1987, Elayne Bennett’s “Best Friends” program held its first graduation ceremony for girls, and over the years, countless youth heard abstinence presentations by speakers like Molly Kelly, Lakita Garth and A.C. Green.
A watershed moment occurred in 1994, when more than 200,000 teens signed True Love Waits cards pledging to wait until marriage to have sex. Some 20,000 teens came to Washington, D.C., to plant a sea of pledge cards on the Mall.
Then in 1996, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy debuted with the mission to reduce teen pregnancy by a third within 10 years.
The campaign disseminated truckloads of materials — most of which urged teens (especially young ones) to delay sex — and in 2006, it declared victory and promptly set new goals to reduce both teen and unintended pregnancy.
And finally, American youth cannot help but have been influenced by the national debate that has raged since 1996, when Congress stepped up its funding of abstinence programs. Agree with the funding or not, virtually no one has escaped the arguments over whether abstinence or condoms are best.
I think the new generation will establish its own values and sexual mores, regardless of exhortations from the left or the right. The YRBS shows that most teens agree that sex can wait at least through the 10th grade — and for many of them, it waits until after graduation.
My question is when will we take aim at college-age teens and start talking nonstop about abstinence until 20. With an epidemic of STDs in that population, I think that’s a message that just can’t wait.
— Cheryl Wetzstein’s “On the Family” column appears Tuesday and Sundays. She can be reached at email@example.com.