- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

COLUMN:

Bristol Palin’s recent put-down of abstinence education has been a boon to those who want an end to the federal government’s $200 million-a-year investment in such programs.

Abstinence education “is not realistic at all,” Miss Palin, 18, told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who was interviewing her about her new baby.

Miss Palin urged teens “to wait” and not follow her example, since motherhood is “so much easier if you’re married, have a house and career.” But her abstinence comment - coming from the daughter of conservative Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - overshadowed everything else.

What can save abstinence education?

Sex educators’ allies are in power in the White House and Congress, as well as in many state legislatures and governors’ mansions. The stimulus law conveniently delinked the Title V abstinence program from a must-pass Medicaid program, so the former is left to expire in July. Also, a House bill cuts funding to another big abstinence program, shrinking it by $13 million, to $95 million.

Public outcry and fierce lobbying are abstinence education’s only hopes, and groups such as the National Abstinence Education Association are planning a Capitol Hill rally soon.

But make no mistake, sex-education advocacy groups, medical groups, gay rights groups and their allies have created a “wall of sound” against abstinence education.

What can penetrate this juggernaut? How about a simple truth, backed up by research.

Here it is: Pro-abstinence messages in schools and communities help the children who want to be abstinent, stay abstinent.

In other words, abstinence education provides much-needed adult affirmation to the children who want to keep their pants on, who don’t aspire to be “friends-with-benefits,” and who don’t want to keep explaining that they’re not gay, they’re virgins.

Taking a virginity pledge is meaningful to these save-sex children, said a study published in a 2008 Journal of Adolescent Health.

Rand researcher Steven C. Martino and colleagues wanted to know whether, among a group of youth “who are already inclined to delay intercourse,” the act of making a virginity pledge further delayed their sexual debut.

“Our analysis suggests that it does,” they said.

This doesn’t mean virginity pledges should be “imposed” on all teens, they said. But “it may be important and useful to have both pledge programs and comprehensive sex education available to provide the most appropriate intervention for all types of teens.”

Two more points. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds that most high school students (52 percent in 2007) have not had sexual intercourse. This means there are more teen virgins out there than most people think.

Second, government shouldn’t strive for one-size-fits-all messages, because, as Mr. Martino notes, there are “all types of teens,” and no one prevention method works perfectly for everyone.

I’ll let the Seattle & King County (Wash.) Public Health agency shore up that last point. “The fact that condoms are not 100 percent protective does not mean they have no value in prevention,” it says on its Web site. Many public safety measures get recommended even though they are “less than 100 percent effective,” it added.

There’s no easy answers, folks.

• E-mail Cheryl Wetzstein.


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