- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2010

I wrote a news story recently about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy on the hypersexualized media and its impact on children.

The people I interviewed about the AAP’s “Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media” report loved the doctors’ diagnoses. They agreed that the pornography-laden Internet and entertainment, music and advertising industries were filling the culture with “sexual messages and images, many of which are unrealistic.”

But there was definite disappointment with the doctors’ “prescriptions” — and I felt the same way.

The AAP policy goal is to prevent or reduce premature sexual activity among U.S. children. Since sex is an adult activity, I expected AAP to at least recommend that children and teens be instructed to delay sex until they’ve graduated from high school or reached adulthood. (The World Health Organization defines adulthood as age 20.)

I also expected AAP to continue to support abstinence programs and comprehensive sex education, since both approaches can delay first sexual experiences.

Instead, AAP inexplicably told the federal government to fund only comprehensive sex education, not “abstinence-only” education programs, which, in the group’s view, “have been found to be ineffective.”

I say inexplicable because if the goal is to delay sexual debut — well, that’s the hallmark outcome of several abstinence programs. (In one program, teens delayed their first intercourse experience by as much as 18 months.)

When it comes to comprehensive sex education, a handful of programs also have been shown to delay sex. But as a general approach, the most common outcomes of comprehensive sex education programs are to “increase condom use” and “decrease unprotected sex,” according to a 2007 analysis of 15 successful such programs.

Keeping virginity an extra year is a big deal. New brain research shows that judgment kicks in fully around age 25, so a 20-year-old will almost certainly pick a better first-sex partner than a 16-year-old. Twenty-somethings are also far more likely than teens to use birth control correctly and consistently.

So I was imagining AAP would have updated its policy to reflect the best knowledge about teen sex and point the way to some real progress. Instead, with its rejection of funding for abstinence education, it defaulted to a particular political stance.

Two more points.

I think the good doctors stepped in it when they decried explicit sexuality in the media and then gave blanket approval for comprehensive sex education. Maybe they don’t realize they have just endorsed classroom “condom races” (where teams of students race to put rubbers on cucumbers) and discussions about how youths can avoid sex by showering together and watching erotic movies together.

(For more graphic details, read Dr. Miriam Grossman’s “You’re Teaching My Children What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child.”)

Finally, the AAP policy fails to see that parents expect better from them.

Parents are already crying out in vain against the hypersexualized messages spewing at their children day and night. But they expect their doctors to be on their side when it comes to promoting sexual sanity in their children — especially when most support abstinence for themselves, too.

According to a federal study of 1,000 teens, 53 percent said it was against their values to have premarital sex and 62 percent agreed with the statement that “having sexual intercourse is something only married people should do.”

About 70 percent of parents agreed with those statements too, according to the “National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinions about Sex and Abstinence,” conducted for the Health and Human Services Department.

Then this same national survey asked parents where they most wanted “abstinence messages” delivered to their children and teens.

The top two answers were places of worship (85 percent) and doctors’ offices and health care centers (85 percent).

Dear pediatricians, this means you.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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