- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

Now they say abstinence education doesn’t work. A federally funded study has recently come out, claiming students taught abstinence in school have sexual habits that are, statistically, exactly the same as students who are not taught abstinence in school.

The conclusion: Teaching abstinence does not lead to abstinence. Therefore, the thinking goes, it’s a waste of money to teach abstinence in schools and all programs that try to do so should be scrapped and we should go back to putting condoms on bananas. But not so fast.

This study, and the conclusions that can be drawn from it, is not exactly the slam dunk the anti-abstinence people claim.

Let’s review. The study found that — abstinence training or no — about 51 percent of the teenagers in the study had had sex. And regardless of what they studied in school, the average age for first sexual intercourse was 14 years and 9 months. Something like 25 percent of the teenagers — again, regardless of whether they were ever taught the importance of abstinence — had had three or more sexual partners.

But here’s the caveat: In the study, the youngsters polled had gone through abstinence-education programs when they were 11 or 12. Five years later — during which time they had no abstinence education — they were polled.

So let’s look at this. First, something is working. Roughly half of students getting out of high school have never had sex. That means that, for 49 percent of teenagers, something is working. Whatever is leading them to choose not to have sex is just as strong as whatever leads others to choose differently.

So what is making the difference? Common sense says it is the abstinence education of their families, faiths and cultures. If personal virtue and chastity are encouraged and taught by families — as part of faith, values and tradition — kids are a lot less likely to have sex.

So it seems like this study, instead of being an argument against abstinence education, would be a sign we need to do more research to nail down and replicate — if we can — what is making half of America’s teenagers choose the right.

The study also seems to indicate teaching abstinence to 11- and 12-year-olds doesn’t work. But who expected it would? If the average age of first sexual intercourse is just shy of the 15th birthday, why are they getting the classes three and four years before? Don’t we typically teach young people things when they need to know them?

They take the driving test at 16. Do we give them drivers ed at 11 and expect them to remember it? Of course not. Then why do we do that with abstinence ed?

If you have a physics final in the 11th grade, it is not on material you haven’t studied since the sixth grade. You put the teachings directly before the test, and that should be the case with abstinence education as well.

It is clear that not “everybody is doing it.” In fact, only half of everybody is doing it. That means abstinence is a choice that can be made and lived by.

We have also decided as a society — based on our values, experience and public health concerns — that teen-age abstinence is good. So we should teach it properly, as an ongoing subject with reminders and intensification as the teen years begin until when sexual opportunities and choices present themselves. That’s the way to promote teen-age abstinence.

Those who wave this study as an argument against abstinence education are opponents of abstinence. Their values and world view are typically accepting and even encouraging of teen sex. Their estimation of this study is not based on a fair reading, but on a desire to promote their agenda.

But they’re not the only ones in society. And they are not the majority of society.

And this society still believes — everywhere but in the politically correct halls of sex-ed class — that teen abstinence is a wise goal that should be vigorously pursued. And abstinence education, taught when teenagers need it, is worth pursuing and sacrificing for. Because it is possible. Half of American teenagers prove that.

Until all families and cultures and faiths raise their young with a steady encouragement of personal chastity, then the schools not only can but should.

BOB LONSBERRY

Commentator and talk show host in Rochester, N.Y. Online at BobLonsberry.com.

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