- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008


When did telling kids to wait until marriage to have sex become so taboo? The irony of which can’t be lost in this sex-crazed “Sex In The City” society we live in. Carrie and Miranda can casually mix-in talk about oral sex over a martini, but mentioning the A-word (abstinence) sets off alarm bells among the special interests opposed to federally sponsored abstinence education programs. The rhetoric has reached a fever pitch as of late, as Congress weighs whether to re-authorize $190 million to keep the federal Title V abstinence program alive. (It’s been extended at least twice since its initial expiration date last year, but is set to expire again on June 30.) Many Democrats have vowed to kill it. The liberal Guttmacher Institute has proclaimed that increasing funding for abstinence-only programs is putting teens “at risk.” At risk for what? You better watch out little Suzy, you know what happens when you don’t have sex, you might not catch something. Pretty absurd. The same kind of overactive rhetoric these youth activists accuse abstinence groups of. Of course they don’t tell you that the government spends about $12 on comprehensive sex ed and contraceptives for every $1 it spends on abstinence education. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to spending that gives kids the “green light” to shower together naked.

Youth activist James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, was quoted in the Washington Post Sunday saying: “We’ve wasted $1.5 billion on so-called abstinence-only programs that don’t work.” Don’t work by whose standard? The fact is that teen sex has been on a continuous downward trend since abstinence programs were instituted. And quite frankly, if just one less teen waits to have sex or doesn’t get an STD or get pregnant, that makes it worth it. That is the point - helping and encouraging teens (whether it is one, 10 or 10,000) to make safer choices when it comes to sex - for their overall health and well-being. Abstinence is the only “choice” that is 100 percent effective when applied. Instead of telling teens that they don’t want to be “punished with a baby” (e.g. Sen. Barack Obama), how about reminding them that the safest sex is no sex. Believe it or not they can handle it. There are many teens and young adults I know personally and have interviewed, who choose this option. In most cases these programs have not only helped to make that choice, but to make it a popular one.

There are a few honest criticisms about abstinence education, however. The first one is for President George W. Bush, who admirably made abstinence a top priority early-on, but has increasingly bowed to politically incorrect pressure. The administration exhibits an “If we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away” attitude. And while “[A]bstaining until marriage” was a pivotal part of President Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (WHOFBCI), now one would be hard pressed to find a government official to even say “until marriage.” It’s been replaced with “abstain from sex until …” Until when is anyone’s guess.

The WHOFBCI recently issued an executive summary of the “Ten Innovations Advanced By President Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative.” No mention of abstinence. What was a top-priority has been relegated to tail-chasing. When WHOFBCI Director Jay Hein was asked about this apparent “non-priority” at a recent Washington Times editorial board meeting he told me that abstinence “research has lagged.”

Mysteriously, one can’t even find comments from President Bush about abstinence education since 2004 when he declared in his State of the Union Address that he would “expand support for teen abstinence” and increase funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “develop research-based standards for model abstinence education.” That was then, this is now.

Those actually leading the charge to keep abstinence on life support are advocates like The National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), who have aggressively pushed to preserve Title V funding (and up to now have been able to convince Congress to extend it.)

This bring us to the second critique. As well-meaning as the NAEA is, it’s outdated mode of messaging isn’t keeping pace with today’s youth. It recently announced a $1 million e-mail campaign targeted at parents called “Parents for Truth.” And while over 90 percent of parents support abstinence education, how many kids actually listen to their parents (or even teachers) these days? Not as many listen to YouTube, their i-pods, MySpace, PS2 and everything else the digital world has to offer. Youth abstinence advocates need to hit young people where they are. The message does not need to change, but the method of delivery does. Saturate their social networks, have parents download the info onto their ipods, generate an automated text message or create a catchy ring-tone. NAEA president Valerie Huber told me that these are options she had not really considered, but agrees: “it is always good to explore ways to communicate the message.”

In the age of “Mr. Big” it’s mandatory.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Her column appears on Tuesdays. [email protected]

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