- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

ATLANTA — Teen pregnancy hit home for Teresa Tapia when her favorite pastime was playing dress-up with her mother's gowns and makeup.

Teresa's older sister, pregnant at 15, dropped out of school and became overwhelmed by motherhood. Teresa's mother already was swamped taking care of her own 10 children and struggled to handle one more.

Teresa, now 15, wants teenagers to consider her sister's story before having sexual relations.

Her essay urging her peers to skip sex is one of 14 winning entries in a Georgia contest the first of its kind aimed at encouraging abstinence.

"It wasn't just that my sister just got pregnant, but her self-esteem was really bad," Teresa said.

Children as young as 11 to a 22-year-old college senior submitted 35 packages, including essays, poems, songs and magazine clippings. One 17-year-old girl wrote about losing her virginity to a 27-year-old camp counselor whom she at first saw as "so suave, so sexy."

Regret is often what comes next. In a 2000 survey conducted for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 63 percent of boys and girls ages 12 to 17 who have had sexual relations said they wished they waited longer. In 2001, 46 percent of high school students had had sexual relations, down from 50 percent in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Though teen pregnancy is on the decline, Georgia continues to have one of the highest rates, ranking seventh in the country.

Stephen Palmer, 17, submitted photographs of animals having sexual rerations; his caption: "Only animals do it without thinking. So what are you?"

He has almost had sexual relations several times, "but I always stopped," he said. "It was the instilling of my parents and wanting to be cautious." He said a friend, who is about to be a father at 17, is afraid of missing out on his childhood and worries about the sudden responsibility of paying bills.

Many teens wait until after they have had sexual relations to talk to their parents about it, if they ever do, according to a survey by Kaiser Family Foundation/Seventeen magazine.

Only half of the 503 boys and girls ages 15 to 17 surveyed said they had talked to their parents about how to know when they are ready for sexual relations. Only about half said they had talked to their parents about sexually transmitted diseases and condoms.

Julia Davis, a senior program officer at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said teens want to talk to their parents about sex and birth control. "They want to hear what their parents have to say to make the right decision," she said. "That's surprising to many parents."

Miss Davis said the sex talk is not a one-time deal. The more parents talk to their children about the subject, the easier it becomes, she said.

"A lot of parents have that one conversation when their kids were in sixth or seventh grade," she said. "But they need to come back to the issues. They need to talk about drugs and alcohol."

Nathan Trail, 22, a senior at the University of Georgia and the oldest contest winner, said encouraging teens to be celibate is an uphill battle.

"The way society is today and the way sex is portrayed in TV and in the movies, it is portrayed as acceptable," he said. "Not enough are teaching the opposite. I will wait until I am married."

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