A new policy statement by the nation's major professional group for pediatricians has won praise for its indictment of America's hypersexualized media.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has disappointed pro-family advocates by rejecting what it calls "ineffective" abstinence education as a way of countering the onslaught of sex-laden music, television shows, movies and online pornography — a shift from the group's previous policy statement issues nine years ago.
Instead, the doctors, in a statement issued late last month, endorse comprehensive sex education — even though the latter has been shown to be sexually explicit at times — as the best way to educate the young and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
"I thought AAP did a good job of assessing the problem that we have with the media," said Rebecca Burgoyne, research analyst with the California Family Council, an educational nonprofit that tracks family issues.
"But at the same time, their response was too simplistic and only told half the story. It focused on prevention but denied and ignored the whole child," she said. "Abstinence still remains the only 100 percent foolproof way to prevent both [sexually transmitted diseases] and pregnancy."
This month, the AAP's Council on Communications and the Media released its revised policy statement on "Sexuality, Contraception and the Media."
The statement decried early sexual activity in U.S. teens and blamed the media, entertainment and music industries for filling the culture with "sexual messages and images, many of which are unrealistic."
The pornography-laden Internet is also a problem, the AAP policy said, as is salacious advertising that serves to "degrade and devalue sex."
In its new recommendations, the AAP urged doctors to ask parents about their children's "media" exposure, and called for more media literacy and better programming.
But it also said that "federal money should be spent on comprehensive sex-education programs, but not on abstinence-only programs, which have been found to be ineffective."
In its previous 2001 policy, the 60,000-member AAP was clearly supportive of comprehensive sex education but open to abstinence messages. It urged pediatricians to get broadcasters to "provide messages that support and encourage delay of first coitus" and "use public service announcements that promote abstinence from sexual intercourse for adolescents."
Those 2001 pro-abstinence recommendations are now gone.
Instead, pediatricians are urged to get the broadcast industry to air more "advertisements for birth control products" and "healthy messages about sex and sexuality," and "limit advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs until after 10 p.m."
The new AAP stand marks a break with another children's doctors group, the American College of Pediatricians (ACOP), a group founded in 2002 that recognizes as one of its core values "the physical and emotional benefits of sexual abstinence until marriage and pledges to promote this behavior as the ideal for adolescence."
"I think we need to go further and attack the issue of early sexual debut the way we attacked the marketing of cigarettes to children," said Dr. Michelle Cretella, a pediatrician who is a member of AAP, a board member of ACOP and a certified abstinence educator.
"We got rid of Joe Camel. We made sure we eliminated the media that made smoking look cool and was targeting kids," she said.
The AAP's support for comprehensive sex education is likely to be criticized as a counterweight to overt sex messages in the media.
The AAP is out of step with American parents, according to Ms. Burgoyne.
Abstinence "is what parents want and what is best for the teens," she said.
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