- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Former McLean (Va.) High School varsity baseball player Carter Crain took the "True Love Waits" chastity pledge in 1993.

In a culture where male virginity is uncommon, Mr. Crain kept his promise until his wedding day in 1998.

Today, he says saving sex for marriage took effort, but he made it with the support of like-minded male friends, personal commitment and faith.

"And it was worth it, without a doubt. Without a doubt," he says.

Abstinence-education teachers who work with boys say that abstinence until marriage is an honorable, advisable and realistic choice.

"With proper education, kids can make healthy choices," said Mike Worley, a former college basketball star and abstinence teacher living in Georgia who is 27, single and a virgin.

Men who teach abstinence to young males say they are heartened that in studies of teen sexual activity, the steepest declines are among boys.

"Girls respond more audibly [to abstinence messages], but boys are listening to every single word and they have the same response to it: They want to live good, healthy lives," said Mike Long, a former public school teacher in Durham, N.C., who developed the "Everyone Is NOT Doing It" program.

But even abstinence experts admit that today's single males face formidable odds in their quest for sexual self-control because the popular culture is saturated with sexual imagery. For many men, bachelorhood stretches into their late 20s. And the social messages that urge men to at least strive to be chaste have weakened.

These factors lead many sex educators to conclude that teaching boys to postpone sex until marriage is an exercise in futility.

It may even be "something that is almost physiologically impossible," said Evelyn Lerman, a retired teacher and author of a new book, "Safer Sex: The New Morality."

Hundreds of abstinence programs have emerged since the 1996 welfare law created a $50 million-a-year grant program to fund them.

However, federal studies of their effectiveness are far from complete, and it will be several years before there are answers on how well teens respond to abstinence messages.

Most abstinence programs are designed for both sexes or girls only, but few target boys exclusively, said Leslie Unruh, head of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Pennsylvania funds four abstinence programs for boys and will eventually have evaluations for all of them, said Derrick Span, director of the Governor's Project for Community Building in Harrisburg.

In Washington, the fast-growing Best Friends abstinence program for girls is starting two "Best Men" pilot programs for boys next month, said a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, a chorus of educators and public health agencies says there is ample evidence to show that most young men are sexually active, and therefore, it's best to teach them to be abstinent when they can and to always use a condom when they aren't.

A 1997 Urban Institute report, for instance, said that by age 19, 85 percent of American men have had sex.

The number of male virgins drops even lower "in the first year of college," said Mrs. Lerman, 74, who advocates birth control for girls and condom use for boys, as is practiced in Europe.

"I think that abstinence-until-marriage probably made sense when people married very young, but today, people are not marrying very young or not marrying at all," Mrs. Lerman said.

Since most men don't marry until age 27, "it seems that you're asking an awful lot of people who became hormonally ready for sex at age 13, 14 or 15," she said.

In the past, only girls were traditionally expected to stay virgins until marriage, added Mrs. Lerman. "Nice girls didn't and boys did, but not with nice girls. That's how we were raised."

In today's popular culture, even nice girls are portrayed as sexually active, say studies released this year.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington examined hundreds of television episodes, movies and MTV music videos for its report, "Sexual Imagery in Popular Entertainment." It found that:

• Broadcast TV shows averaged a sex scene every four minutes, while cable TV shows averaged a sex scene every five minutes.

• MTV's music videos averaged 93 sex scenes per hour.

• The popular teen movie, "There's Something About Mary," had 53 sex scenes.

The Parents Television Council (PTC), a watchdog group based in Los Angeles, also reported that TV references to sex have proliferated since 1989.

Ten years ago, there were 36 references to sex in 180.5 hours of programming, the PTC said. In 1999, there were 342 references in 235.5 hours of programming, including 20 references to oral sex, a previously taboo subject on TV.

Even the broader culture "says to boys, 'You can't help it, don't even try. You're going to be sexually active. It's impossible to have virtue in today's world,' " said Wade Horn, a child psychologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

But that kind of message is "ludicrous" because men are expected to be faithful after they are married and exercise self-control in other areas of their lives, he said. "Where's the logic in saying to males, 'You can't control yourself before marriage, but you can after marriage?' "

The problem, said Mr. Horn, is that "our culture is no longer telling men to strive toward virtue."

"We have to figure out a way to make virginity and virtue a courageous and manly thing to do, not something that is reflective of weakness or a flaw," he said. He adds that a "wonderful message" for teens is to let them know that all the research says that "really good, satisfying sex … happens when you're married and you're fully committed and it's even better if you were a virgin when you were married."

Gary Swant, a former biology teacher who founded Sexual Abstinence and Family Education Inc. in Montana seven years ago, says he stresses long-term goal-setting and commitments to "renewed virginity" as ways for boys to avoid premarital sex.

"Boys will say, 'I never thought this through, but I wouldn't have started [sex] if I knew that it impacted long-term goals,' " recounted Mr. Swant, who said boys are often impressed when he tells them how he and his wife of 34 years were virgins on their wedding night.

Bill Devlin, president of Urban Family Council, a Philadelphia abstinence-education group, said he urges inner-city boys to avoid pornography and find adults and friends who "believe like you."

"Abstinence is not a one-time decision, it's a lifestyle, a moment-by-moment decision," said Mr. Devlin, who lost his parents to death and abandonment when he was 15 and stayed chaste until marriage with the help of father figures.

Sticking with friends who are abstinent works for Chris Stein, 17, of Glenn Dale, who was in Washington recently with the Pure Love Alliance, an international youth group that holds abstinence rallies around the world.

"It's hard, but the best way to say 'no' is to establish your beliefs with friends. People respect that," said Chris, who stood outside Union Station with Kiantar Betancourt, 16, of University Park, and Nam Hi Hwang, 16, of Hong Kong.

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