- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

Recently, directive abstinence programs have been attacked by organizations such as Advocates for Youth and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those opponents claim, based on one analysis of four middle-school interventions, that they do not work and that it is a waste of money to fund programs that promote abstinence until marriage.

Advocates for Youth purchased full-page newspaper ads urging: “Tell Congress: End funding for failed abstinence-only programs.”

Advocates for Youth states: “We know the facts. Abstinence-only programs: Censor lifesaving information about condoms and contraception; replace science with scare tactics; use scientifically incorrect information; do not actually stop teens from having sex. This report is a huge milestone in the battle to provide America’s youth with accurate, effective sex education.”

The thinking behind this is clearly ideological. And the ideology that drives it is the supposition that teens are going to have sex and that it is fine to do so as long as you are “responsible” and use condoms.

First of all, there will always be a need for directive abstinence programs. The majority of school age teens in Washington, D.C., through high school, have never had sex. And the large majority of middle school teens have never had sex. There will always be a need to encourage the right choices that teens have made, and to encourage more youth to make those right choices. This will produce health benefits, including fewer teen pregnancies, reductions in sexually transmitted diseases, and fewer cases of depression and emotional trauma.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported a 16 percent drop in high school teens reporting having sexual intercourse between 2003 and 2005. This, obviously, was not because they received more lessons in how to use a condom.

When I mention this to proponents of encouraging condom use (versus clearly stating abstinence as the preferred standard), it often is dismissed as an inaccurate statistic. Directive abstinence programs are often attacked as “medically inaccurate.” I have found just the opposite.

On April 27, 2007, a health fair was held at Eastern High school, sponsored by the Eastern Health Academy and assisted by George Washington University students. Incidentally, our organization, which operates a program at the school, was not invited to set up a display, but the program director told me we would be invited next time. (We’ll see).

I stopped to observe a demonstration of condom use (that employed a plastic form). Afterward, I told the GWU graduate student at the table that they should have a chart clearly showing condoms’ effectiveness at preventing various sexually transmitted diseases. The graduate student insisted that condoms were “90 percent effective for everything.” After I left, I read their literature, and one pamphlet explained the rate of effectiveness for various sexually transmitted diseases. However, there was no visible display, and the grad student at the table gave incorrect information. So much for medical accuracy.

When I ask youth in the ULTRA Teen Choice Service Club what they think about the claim that no funds should be given to those who promote abstinence, they clearly respond that, of course, funds should be provided for it, since they are staying abstinent, which is the best choice and the only 100 percent sure way to avoid pregnancy, disease and heartbreak.

It is important to note the definition of “abstinence” of many sexual education programs is far different than that of groups directively promoting abstinence.

ULTRA Teen Choice encourages “abstinence from all areas of physical or sexual activity which I know in my heart are against my own conscience and well-being.”

A pamphlet I picked up at the Eastern Health Fair titled “Abstinence Facts” and produced by ETR Associates, defines abstinence as follows: “Abstinence may mean: kissing and hugging only, some sexual touching, everything but sexual intercourse. Your reasons for waiting will affect what abstinence means to you. To protect yourself against most STDs, including HIV, make sure no body fluids are exchanged. Some STDs can be passed during skin-to-skin genital contact.”

If that is not what you had in mind when you instructed your children to be abstinent, you should look more closely at what is taught by the programs your child is exposed to in school.

At ULTRA Teen Choice, we fully support and encourage parents to participate in all aspects of the program, and parents know exactly the message conveyed in the program: Waiting to have sex until marriage is the desired standard for school-age children, and is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent physical, social, emotional and intellectual consequences of sexual activity outside of marriage.

A recent Zogby poll (https://www.ampartnership.org/research/ParentsSupportAbstinencePrograms.htm) showed parents support directive abstinence education 2-to-1 over so-called “comprehensive” sex education when they know what is actually taught in each kind of program.

If anything, the recent Mathematica survey shows children need continuing support in their commitment to remain abstinent. Ultra Teen Choice incorporates college students committed to abstinence before marriage as mentors for younger students, as well as peer counselors from the schools where the program operates. After participating in the program, many report they “Learned to stay abstinent.”

Will this commitment require continuing education, nurturing, and support? Of course. Should we continue to fund programs that help youth to stay abstinent? Of course.

We expect young people to remain drug, alcohol, and tobacco free. Cigarette filters, legalized marijuana, and limited drinking under the age of 21 are not encouraged as appropriate risk-reduction strategies. Is promoting condom use, while hiding the safety risks, any more appropriate?

It will always be appropriate to fund programs that encourage and promote abstinence among youth. Why would we not encourage sexually abstinent youths to remain so, and work to increase the trend here in Washington, D.C., and nationwide of more young people abstaining from sex?

RICHARD URBAN

Executive director, ULTRA Teen Choice. On the Web at www.ultrateenchoice.org.

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