Family Life Education
Which Road to Take?
The prevalence and consequences of promiscuous sexual behavior among adolescents are being viewed with concern in almost all countries. In response, most countries have adopted sex education programs for use in their schools.
However, educators are divided as to which approach is best. Should sex education reaffirm traditional values of chastity and monogamy, risking the possibility that many young people will reject that message as outdated? Or should educators accept the seeming inevitability of adolescent sex and simply encourage teenagers to take protective measures against disease and unwanted pregnancy?
Under the umbrella term of Family Life Education, various efforts are being made to educate youth about sexuality and prepare them for marriage and family. Oftentimes, however, these efforts merely serve to socialize young people into the prevailing sexual ethic.
The two approaches have been developed to deal with the consequences of the sexual revolution. One focuses on reducing the risks of disease and unwanted pregnancy. The other offers much broader protection.
• The contraceptive-based approach attempts to reduce health risks through the use of contraceptives and other physical techniques. This approach, also called the comprehensive sex education or condom-based approach, will be referred to as the contraceptive-based approach in this book.
• The character-based approach focuses on promoting the qualities of character that will enable adolescents to make healthy choices in life and lay the foundation for a happy and lasting marriage. This book demonstrates the superiority of the character-based approach to adolescent health education.
First, let us consider contraceptive-based education.[i] In the 1970s, a marked increase in teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases caused a rude awakening and alerted educators and social activists to a pending social crisis. They responded by seeking to stop or slow the rise in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
The first tactic was to dispense information to young people about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. Policy makers were convinced that young people just needed sufficient information and then they would make wise choices. Sex education escalated in the belief that if a little knowledge did not have any effect, then more explicit knowledge given at ever earlier ages would surely solve the problem.
The United States followed the pattern of Scandinavian sex education programs by developing what came to be known as comprehensive sex education. It is called comprehensive because of the wide age range of children who are taught and the breadth of information given. This approach is aimed at children from primary grades, beginning at ages 5 and 6, through adolescence. Reproductive anatomy and sexual activities are discussed openly and explicitly, on the assumption that ignorance and misunderstanding are the main barriers to be overcome.
These programs encourage discussions beginning at a young age. Discussion groups often include both boys and girls. The programs are designed to break down inhibitions and promote free and open questions. Students are led to conclude that sexual experimentation is fine and natural, but that "safe" or "safer" sex should always be practiced. This means always using condoms or other contraceptives.
Character-based sex education appreciates the complexity of sexual relations and addresses issues from a moral perspective.[ii] Instruction in anatomy and physiology addresses only the external dimensions of sexuality. The internal and more essential dimensions involve the meaning and value of human sexuality. This approach has been gaining favor in the United States, as more and more research brings to light the tragic limitations of the contraceptive-based approach.
As the name indicates, the character-based approach focuses on the importance of character in matters of sex. Sexual activity among young people may be described as immature behavior because their character is still immature. Character-based sex education is not a “bandage” approach that seeks to minimize the damage caused by irresponsible behavior. Rather, it goes to the heart of the problem by seeking to help young people develop a better understanding of themselves and others. The character-based approach promotes responsible attitudes by addressing the purpose and role of sexuality. It defines sexuality within the whole realm of being human, and encourages young people to see sex in the context of responsibility to oneself, to one's spouse and children, and even to society as a whole. It is never simply a private concern.
Since it demands much more from both young people and adults, this approach is more challenging than dispensing information and condoms. It recognizes that raising mature individuals requires sincere investment of heart. It calls on caring adults to invest themselves in the overall well-being of young people.
We can effectively compare these two approaches by looking at the ways in which they address key issues in sex education.
-Promotion of Norms
The contraceptive-based approach assumes that most adolescents are sexually active and that sexual experimentation is normal and healthy. Marriage is not considered a prerequisite for sex. Premarital abstinence is presented as merely one of various options, not the norm. The only ethical consideration for sexual relationships is mutual consent. Responsibility in sexual relations is limited to concerns about disease and birth-control.[iii]
The character-based approach, on the other hand, stresses that honoring one's conscience is far more important than the minimal standard of mutual consent. This approach clearly advocates abstinence from sexual relations until both partners are mature and have made the commitment of marriage. It presents premarital abstinence as the norm towards which all young people should strive, for the sake of their personal happiness and the well-being of others. Rather than assuming that teenagers are unable to control their sexual urges, this approach projects a clear expectation that people can and should learn self-control in this area, as in other areas of life, if they are to attain fulfillment and success.
-Basis of Appeal
The contraceptive-based approach deliberately seeks to minimize moral discussion and guidance. The implicit assumption is that there are no moral absolutes and individuals should be free to set their own standards of right and wrong. All lifestyles are considered to be equally valid, as long as there is mutual consent. Sexual experimentation is assumed to be a normal part of the maturing process. Abstinence until marriage may be presented as one of various options, but it is not held up as a norm. Whether deliberately or not, the contraceptive-based approach promotes the values of the sexual revolution.
On the other hand, the character-based approach recognizes that certain norms are universally important for the cohesion of society. As explained in Chapter 1, there are several ways to determine whether a value is universal. An important question is whether the results would be good if everyone embodied the value. If all human beings were to embrace the ideas of the sexual revolution, what would happen? Social relations based on trust and responsibility would be abandoned if each person pursued self-gratification. Another indication of a universal value is its presence in a diversity of cultures. Certain values have become legitimated by cultural traditions through the ages. These include honesty, loyalty, trust, respect, responsibility, commitment, compassion, perseverance, and self-sacrifice.
Cultures throughout the world establish sexual norms and promote qualities that are foundations for a stable marriage. Therefore, the values of the sexual revolution cannot be considered universal values.
Despite dismal modern divorce rates, a happy marriage continues to be an important life goal for most young people. There is ample evidence to help convince teenagers of the benefits of maintaining their chastity until marriage. Studies indicate that success or failure in marriage is influenced by whether one was abstinent or sexually active before marriage.[iv]
The contraceptive-based approach deliberately seeks to reduce resistance among its young audience by being nondirective and encouraging them to make their own decisions in sexual matters. Teenage sexual activity is considered inevitable.
In contrast, the character-based approach recognizes that young people are not psychologically mature enough to understand all the implications of their actions. It offers age appropriate guidance with clear expectations that appeal to the idealism of youth.
-Honesty about Risks
Contraceptive-based programs promote "safe" or "safer" sex, based on the use of condoms and other contraceptives.
Research shows that condoms are actually a very risky form of protection.[v] Given the serious limitations of condoms, policy makers and other people in a position to influence adolescents can adopt one of two positions:
Downplay the poor record of condoms and seek to increase their use in the general population for whatever meager benefits they may give. This seems to be the policy most often adopted. Most "safe sex" literature advocating the use of condoms gives little or no information concerning their real effectiveness.
Speak honestly about the risks of condoms and give guidance about true protection. If people choose to use condoms, they should at least know the truth about them. Once teenagers realize that in reality there is no such thing as "safe" sex outside of marriage, they are receptive to guidance about making truly wise and responsible decisions in sexual matters. People need to learn that responsible sexuality involves self-control and that the only context for responsible sex is marriage. To gamble with each other's physical and emotional health now and in the future is not true love. The honest option advocates a life-long commitment in marriage as the only healthy and safe context for sex.
Adolescents may be more likely to postpone sexual activity than to use condoms consistently and correctly 100 percent of the time.[vi] Sex education programs that promote premarital abstinence have demonstrated that it is quite realistic to expect teenagers to be able to control their sexual desires. Sadly, many sex educators cling to the notion that advocating condom use is the more realistic approach.
-Definition of Terms
In the contraceptive-based approach, some instructors use the word "abstinence" quite loosely. For example, it might mean intervals of abstinence between sexual partners. In this view, one can be abstinent for a period of a few weeks or months, become sexually active for a while, and then resume being abstinent. Sometimes the word abstinence is used in a very narrow sense, meaning any activity short of intercourse. This kind of abstinence is promoted as a "safe-sex" option, similar to using contraceptives.[vii]
The character-based approach defines abstinence as refraining from all forms of genital activity and avoiding arousal. It encourages character growth, social skills, and friendships in preparation for healthy marriage. Abstinence is promoted as the only responsible and healthy norm outside of marriage.[viii]
Advocating abstinence until marriage does not mean ignoring the issue of sex. Today's young people are receiving all sorts of sexual information through the media and their peers, whether their parents like it or not. Character-based sex education can help them deal with this steady bombardment by giving them information and guidance appropriate to their developmental level.
These approaches differ in their emphasis on purity. The contraceptive-based approach emphasizes descriptive ethics -- what people do. Since purity is considered an unrealistic ideal in the contraceptive-based approach, it receives little attention. In contrast, the character-based approach stresses prescriptive ethics -- what people ought to do. So, purity receives the greater share of attention.
-Attitude towards Parents
The contraceptive-based approach tends to focus on personal issues and minimizes social responsibility. In contrast, the character-based alternative seeks to clarify both personal and social responsibilities. It impresses upon young people the implications of their sexual choices on the lives of others. It encourages them to fulfill their duties to their family, friends, and community, as well as to their future spouse and children.
The contraceptive-based model seems biased against parental guidance. Not only does it advocate offering reproductive services to minors without parental knowledge and permission,[ix] it undermines the authority of parents in a more subtle way. Although young people are encouraged to seek trusted adults for advice, they are told that conflicting value systems are equally valid. The message to youth is: “Your parents may or may not be right; you decide your own values.” This stance offers no support for parental convictions and can lead to tensions between parents and children and between parents and school officials. This can only weaken the confidence of young people in their parents and other adult authorities.
In contrast, the character-based approach respects parental authority and responsibility for guiding all aspects of their children's lives until they reach adulthood. Since parental involvement is a key factor that keeps young people from engaging in sexual relationships, the link between parent and child needs utmost reinforcement by schools and other authorities. Although both models have been shown to increase parent/child communication; the character-based approach encourages a more open and honest relationship.[x] Character-based education at its best keeps parents informed of classroom instruction, assigns homework that invites parental participation, and coaches the parents in transmitting their own moral standards to their children.
In 2012, Pulse Opinion Research did an independently commissioned study that confirmed American parents of 9-16 year olds “support abstinence education, with similar enthusiasm. Also, parents, regardless of party, gender, age, or race, agreed with all the major themes presented in an abstinence education class, indicating parents’ strong endorsement of Abstinence Education for their children.”[xi]
-Effectiveness of Protection
From extensive studies conducted over a period of 30 years, it is clear that merely teaching adolescents how to prevent STDs and pregnancy is not sufficient. For example, contraceptive-based courses do little to reduce teen pregnancy rates. An American physician’s council declared: "the safe-sex [contraceptive-based] approach to teen sexuality is a failure and not at all safe." [xii]
The contraceptive-based approach causes little reduction in sexual activity. A key advocate of contraceptive based education, Planned Parenthood, found in a study of 14 such courses that none of them had "a measurable impact on whether the participants experienced sexual intercourse or the number of times" they did.[xiii]
Advocates of the contraceptive-based approach cite research proving their success, but a closer look often reveals a slanted interpretation of poor results. A 1997 report by the World Health Organization reviewed 53 studies of contraceptive based programs and found that half of the programs had no impact at all, and only 22 were somewhat successful in delaying sexual activity, reducing the number of partners, reducing unwanted pregnancies, or preventing STDs.[xiv] Even among the effective programs, the differences between program participants and non-participants were often quite small. In one study, only 12 out of 433 participants did not engage in sexual activity, and even this small positive outcome evaporated during the following months.[xv]
Furthermore, how effective are contraceptives? For birth control, condoms have long been considered one of the least effective means. Condoms are so unreliable at preventing pregnancy that at one time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would not allow condom manufacturers to advertise them as birth-control devices. When oral contraceptives became available, Planned Parenthood quoted statistics about condom failure to encourage women to use pills rather than condoms.[xvi]
But let us now compare the risk of pregnancy versus the risk of sexually transmitted disease. With regard to birth control, it is only the woman who can get pregnant. Also, she can conceive only approximately 60 days per year; and the only consequence of condom failure is pregnancy. For sexually-transmitted diseases, however, the risks are very different. A condom that reduces the chances of getting pregnant may offer little protection against the HIV virus, because sperm are 450 times bigger than the HIV virus. Both partners can become infected, and they are vulnerable any day of the year. The risk of infection is many times greater than the chances of pregnancy. If one partner has HIV, the consequences may be fatal when the condom fails.
There is also evidence that condoms fail to protect against other forms of sexually transmitted diseases. Condom use has no effect at all on the transmission of chlamydia, syphilis, genital herpes, human papilloma virus, or trichomoniasis.[xvii]
In preventing STDs, condoms have serious limitations, especially when the infection extends beyond the protected area. Condoms offer an especially uncertain protection against HIV infection, where they must prevent the transfer of bodily fluids. Studies show that up to 30 percent of condoms may leak HIV-size particles.[xviii]
Researchers have studied couples in which one partner has been infected with HIV. In one study, 23 percent of wives of HIV-infected men became infected despite consistent condom use.[xix]
An analysis of 138 studies shows that condoms are about 85 percent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV when people use then consistently.[xx] For protection against the flu, perhaps an 85 percent effectiveness rate would be considered pretty good. However, is it acceptable effectiveness for protection against a potentially fatal disease?
Using condoms does reduce the risk of infection and is better than using nothing at all. Yet it is amazing that as many as half of the people with HIV-infected partners have intercourse without condoms, despite the risk of a life threatening disease. If half of such presumably highly motivated people neglect to use protection, what level of diligence can be expected of young people who do not know whether their partner is infected?
Although Western sex educators and medical experts tend to follow the official policy of promoting condom use, in fact even they themselves do not really trust condoms for protection. This was revealed at a 1987 conference in which the past president of the American Society of Sex Educators and Therapists asked 800 sex educators if they had available the partner of their dreams, and knew that person carried the [HIV] virus, would they have sex, depending on a condom for protection? Even among so many condom advocates, not one person raised a hand.[xxi]
The promotion of condoms gives a false sense of security. It actually has a destructive effect on adolescents, because it encourages their tendency to believe that they are invulnerable to serious harm. A survey of American teenagers found three main reasons why they would be reluctant to engage in sex:
• fear of AIDS and other STDs
• fear of pregnancy
• worry about their parents' disapproval.[xxii]
Teachers and other respected adults who reassure young people that using condoms will reduce and perhaps eliminate the risks of disease and pregnancy remove two of their three reservations about engaging in sex. Having a trusted adult encourage the use of contraceptives also erodes the third concern -- worry about parental disapproval. The implicit message that adolescents receive through the contraceptive-based approach is that adults not only expect them to engage in sexual activity but they also approve of it.
A commentary in the Pediatrics journal (2013) by Dr. McAnarney explained:
Neurocognitively, the limbic system (the accelerator) is activated before the prefrontal cortex (the brake) that controls judgment and impulses. Thus, adolescents, biologically capable of being sexually active in the presence of adolescent sexual impulses and risk-taking behaviors may have untimely pregnancies and/or contract sexually transmitted illnesses.[xxiii]
From the above it should be clear that the only effective protection from the physical, emotional and social risks of premature and uncommitted sex is a culture of abstinence until marriage and mutual, lifelong fidelity within marriage.
-Success in Changing Behavior
The effectiveness of any sex education program depends very much on what it perceives to be the problem. From the beginning, most Western sex education programs chose to focus on the symptoms (teen pregnancies and STDs) rather than the cause (teenage sexual activity). The contraceptive based programs aim to slow the rise in teenage pregnancies and STDs rather than reduce teenage sexual activity. If an underlying cause was perceived, it was adolescent ignorance of sexual matters. In this way, such programs have tended to promote knowledge, technologies, and techniques as the solution.
Significantly, many studies funded by Planned Parenthood, a leading promoter of contraceptives, indicate that the contraceptive-based model has the perverse effect of actually increasing sexual activity. A Planned Parenthood study found a 50 percent increase in the likelihood of 14-yearold girls starting sexual activity after they had received birth control instruction.[xxiv] This is particularly noteworthy given the young age of the girls and their vulnerability to exploitation, disease, and pregnancy.
Similarly, another study reported that giving contraceptive instructions to 15- to 17-year-old girls increased the probability of sexual activity.[xxv] A Swiss program promoting contraceptives among 16-year-olds reported a rise in sexual activity.[xxvi] A condom distribution effort in Los Angeles schools led to an increase in homosexual activity.[xxvii]
Another Planned Parenthood poll found that 46 percent of adolescents who had received contraceptive-based health education were sexually active, as opposed to 19 percent of those who had received health education without contraceptive information.[xxviii] These findings suggest that the contraceptive-based approach is not only ineffective, it can be worse than no instruction at all.
The cause of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies is primarily a behavior issue, not a health issue. Character-based approaches focus on reducing the cause: sexual relationships outside of marriage. Since contraceptive based programs do not seek to reduce pre-marital sex itself but only its physical consequences, adolescents are unlikely to decrease their sexual activity as a result of such an approach. Clear promotion of purity, however, does reduce all risky behavior. For example, the most effective protection against early sexual activity is a pledge of commitment to abstinence until marriage.[xxix] This is a feature of only the character-based model.
Character-based sex education programs have been linked to actual declines in sexual activity. Best Friends, a program used in Washington, D.C., one of the American cities most notorious for high rates of teenage sexual activity, has had marked success. Only one out of ten girls who participated in the school-based program was sexually active, compared with over seven out of ten girls in similar schools without the program.[xxx] Another study of the program found that of the 600 girls ages 13 through 18 who had participated for two years or more, slightly over one percent became pregnant, as compared to 25 percent citywide.[xxxi] This program has consistently brought similar results across the country.
Another program, called Postponing Sexual Involvement is used with eighth-grade girls in several schools in Atlanta, Georgia. The program features older teenagers teaching refusal skills (how to say no to sex) and providing other positive influences through their own example. After one year, only four percent of the participating girls had begun sexual activity, as opposed to 20 percent of comparable girls in other schools that did not use the program.[xxxii]
Choosing the Best, a program offered to 2,500 Illinois students between the ages of 13 and 16, obtained similar results. Pro-abstinence attitudes increased and were maintained one year later, even among those who drank alcohol. The number of participants who had recently had sex declined by 23 percent, compared to one year earlier. Furthermore, fewer students had lost their virginity during the previous year, according to estimates based on those who had become involved in other associated high-risk behaviors.[xxxiii]
The character-based approach has a healthy impact beyond reducing hazardous sexual activity. It results in better academic performance as well as improving the overall school environment. A 2005 study reported that abstinent teens were more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college compared to their sexually active peers. The reasons given were that sexually active teens “become preoccupied with the present.”[xxxiv] In addition, those who are not sexually active have “less emotional turmoil and fewer psychological distractions.”[xxxv]
The character-based approach and the attitudes it fosters provide more protective factors for young people. Parents play a key role in raising children who can resist pressure for sex. In an extensive study of adolescent risk behavior, premature sexual activity was associated with parental approval or permission for the following activities: early dating, sexual experimentation, pornography, poor school performance, sexually experienced friends, drug use, and delinquent behavior.[xxxvi] The character-based approach encourages parents to set high standards and provide effective supervision of their children, since these are significant protective factors.[xxxvii] It is not fear-based and parents need to have a good communication connection with their children.
-Support for Personal Development
The contraceptive-based approach demands less morally and focuses significantly less on character development. In an attempt to be value-neutral, it disconnects youth from traditional wisdom. Also, its attitude of moral relativity trivializes the tough moral questions surrounding sexuality. If feeling in love, using contraceptives, or being married are all equally acceptable moral bases for sexual relations, why choose the most demanding standard? In effect, promoting contraceptives makes purity a less sustainable choice.
One reason for the failure of the contraceptive-based approach is that it is simply not age-appropriate. It is not designed to meet the real needs of adolescents or accommodate their cognitive limitations. As mentioned earlier, teenagers tend to think in concrete terms focused on the present. They have difficulty thinking abstractly or imagining outcomes they have never had to deal with before. It is hard for them to imagine an unwanted pregnancy or STD happening to them.
Psychologically, adolescents tend to believe that they are invulnerable. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and they typically cannot imagine harm coming to themselves. Given this mindset, it is unrealistic to expect them to use protective devices in the heat of sexual arousal when they do not take seriously the potential danger to themselves. If students have trouble remembering to bring pencils and books to class, as some teachers complain, will they be responsible enough to use proper birth- and disease-control techniques consistently? Research seems to confirm these concerns. A Texas study found that fewer than 20 percent of sexually active teenagers use condoms consistently. Of those who do use condoms, half do so incorrectly.[xxxviii] This is despite years of condom promotion by the U.S. government. Reports are that the percentage of youth using condoms is improving. However, based on a study in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still only 59 percent of high school students who had sex in the last three months said they used a condom during their last sexual encounter,[xxxix]
Character-based education's focus on purity greatly supports personal moral development. Honesty, integrity, responsibility, self-discipline, and other virtues are all embodied and reinforced in a chaste lifestyle. The character based model focuses on strengthening students' character to meet the challenges of the purity ethic. The purity ethic also supports the conscience by preventing moral anguish and corruption. Few things are more potentially poisonous to the conscience than using people and being used as objects of sexual gratification, even in the name of love.
As part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the Personal Responsibility Education Program provides grants for programs to help them reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Programs need to “(1) be evidence-based, (2) provide education on both abstinence and contraceptive use, and (3) educate youth on at least three of six adulthood preparation topics.”[xl] The adult preparation topics are: healthy relationships, adolescent development, parent-child communication, educational and career success, financial literacy, and healthy life skills. Out of 306 providers, three of the adulthood preparation subjects are planned for implementation more than the other three: “healthy relationships (289 providers), adolescent development (247), and healthy life skills (221). These subjects are likely the most prevalent because the intended content for these subjects suggests that they are more commonly incorporated in comprehensive [contraceptive-based] pregnancy prevention programs.”[xli] Also, some topics within the categories can overlap. The Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) includes positive self-esteem, relationship dynamics, friendships, dating, romantic involvement, marriage, and family interactions in the healthy relationship category. For adolescent development, the ACYF includes the development of healthy attitudes and values about adolescent growth and development, body image, and racial and ethnic diversity, etc. The healthy life skills include topics that could be considered part of the financial literacy, educational, or career success categories including: goal-setting, decision making, negotiation, communication and interpersonal skills, and stress management.
[xlii] This initiative is a step in the right direction hopefully encouraging more parental involvement and character education approaches.
-Appropriateness for the Majority of Youth
Contraceptive-based approaches have been wrong in assuming that most adolescents are sexually active. They offer no support to the great number of virgins who want to maintain their sexual purity. Despite the sexualized environment of modern society, surveys have found that adolescents are not as sexually active as people might think. In some circles it is not fashionable to be abstinent. Therefore, in order to avoid ridicule, many teens talk about sex without actually engaging in it -- or at least not as much as they might let on. “Teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did in the recent past. In 2006–2008, some 11% of never-married females aged 15–19 and 14% of never-married males in that age-group had had sex before age 15, compared with 19% and 21%, respectively, in 1995.”[xliii]
It is important to let abstinent adolescents know that they are not a tiny minority but part of a significant percentage of adolescents who are also making healthy and wise choices.
The character-based approach recognizes, appreciates, and supports those who have maintained their virginity while also reaching out to those who may have experimented sexually. This latter group needs to be informed of the advantages of an abstinent lifestyle:
• Freedom from anxiety about possible pregnancy and disease
• Freedom from psychological and emotional damage caused by sex without commitment
• Opportunities to grow and develop one's talents and abilities free from premature sexual attachments
• Healthy preparation for future marriage and family
There is a trend called secondary virginity, in which teens who have experimented sexually come to understand the value of purity and make the commitment of abstinence until marriage.
Some experts advocate a mixed approach, combining a pro-abstinence focus with a contraceptive-based focus, arguing that teaching contraceptives will help those who are sexually active and not put the abstinent youth at risk.
However, when both abstinence and contraceptives are taught, the abstinence standard is undermined.[xliv] It is both false and dangerous to teach that delaying sex and engaging in sex with condoms are morally equivalent decisions.
An evaluation of a program that combined the abstinence and contraceptive approaches underscores these concerns. When the instructor is not absolutely committed to the abstinence message, but qualifies it by introducing the role of contraceptives, students are less committed to postpone sex.[xlv]
Teaching about both saving sex and “safe” sex is equivalent to telling young people not to smoke cigarettes, but if they do, to use ones with filters. It is like telling people not to drive while drunk, but if they do, to use a seat belt. To imply that “safe” sex is acceptable weakens the standard of premarital chastity.
For those who have already decided to engage in behaviors that put themselves at risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, harm reduction may be the wisest approach. However, these fringe groups should not set the agenda for sex education for the general population. The majority of youth and adults actually want to hear the abstinence choice explained and promoted.
In conclusion, it is clear that abstinence education offers more hope for delaying teenage sexual activity and reducing the physical, emotional, and social risks associated with it. A whole constellation of factors helps protect youth in their quest for loving relationships and family. These include the following:
• a strong parent/child relationship
• an attachment to parents and parental support
• parental disapproval of teen sexual activity & contraceptive use
• regular school attendance and good grades
• religious identity
• clear vocational goals
• neighborhood monitoring
• a public or written pledge to remain abstinent[xlvi]
The Medical Institute for Sexual Health offers the following summary of factors that contribute to early sexual activity:
Most sexually active adolescents are not psychosocially mature individuals who have carefully considered all the ramifications of being sexually active and then concluded that having intercourse is a good decision. Instead, adolescent sexual activity is often a byproduct of a poor home environment, sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, pressure from older adolescents or adults, and poor prospects for the future.
Prevention efforts that ignore these environmental factors are not likely to be effective. Many sexually active adolescents, both boys and girls, are victims of their past or present environment. Prevention efforts must focus on all of the factors that influence adolescent decision making and help youth develop the decision-making skills and motivation they need to make the healthiest choices.[xlvii]
If anything good has come out of the sexual revolution, it may be the fact that it brings the issues of sexuality out into the open.
[i] The definitive reference for the contraceptive-based approach is the National
Guidelines Task Force, National Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Kindergarten-12th Grade, New York: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States [SIECUS], 1996 and other materials prepared by SIECUS.
[ii] The National Guidelines for Sexuality and Character Education, Austin, Texas: Medical Institute for Sexual Health, 1996.
[iii] Hafner, D.W. (ed.), Facing Facts: Sexual Health for America's Adolescents New York: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 1995, P. 21.
[iv] DeMaris, Alfred & Rao, K. Vaninadha, "Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability in the United States: A Reassessment," Journal of Marriage and Family, 54, 1992, pp. 178-90. Cited in David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation and Marriage: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research," National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, 1999.
[v] "Condom Effectiveness." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 2014
[vi] Kirby, Douglas, "Reducing the Risk: Impact of a New Curriculum on Sexual Risk-Taking," Family Planning Perspectives, 23/6, 1991, pp. 253-62.
[vii] National Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, pp. 5-36.
[viii] Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Austin, Texas: Abstinence vs. "Safer Sex" Sexuality Education, p. 7; Margaret Whitehead & Onalee McCraw, Foundations for Family Life Education: A Guidebook for Professionals and Parents, Arlington, Virginia: Educational Guidance Institute, 1991, p. 20.
[ix] National Guidelines Task Force, p. 30.
[x] Kirby, Douglas, "Sexuality Education: An Evaluation of Programs and Their Effects, an Executive Summary," Network Publications, 1984
[xi] Pulse Opinion Research, Parents Speak Out: National Survey Indicates Nearly 9 out of 10 Republican Parents and 8 out of 10 Democratic Parents Support Abstinence Education, NAEA, 2012, p. 2.
[xii] “New Study Shows Higher Unwed Birthrates among Sexually Experienced Teens Despite Increased Condom Use,” Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, press release, February 1999, p. 2.
[xiii] Kirby, "Sexuality Education."
[xiv] Gruenseit, A., "Impact of HIV and Sexual Health Education on Sexual Behavior of Young People: A Review Update," Geneva: UNAIDS, 1997. Cited in Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Sexual Health Update, 1998.
[xv] Kirby, "Reducing the Risk."
[xvi] Jones, Elise, et al., "Contraceptive Failure Rates Based on the 1988 NSFG," Family Planning Perspectives, 24(1), 1992, pp. 20-23.
[xvii] Cates, W. et al., "Estimates of the Incidence and Prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the United States," Sexually Transmitted Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999; 26 (suppl): S2-S7.
[xviii] Carey, Ronald F., et al., "Effectiveness of Latex Condoms as a Barrier to HIV-sized Particles under Conditions of Simulated Use," Sexually Transmitted Diseases, July/August, 1992, pp. 230-34.
[xix] Guimaraes, M.C.C. et al., "HIV Infection among Female Partners of Seropositive Men in Brazil," American Journal of Epidemiology, 1 42(5), 1995, pp. 538-47.
[xx] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Workshop Summary: Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention," June 12-13, 2000. Released by National Institutes of Health on July 20, 2001.
[xxi] Reported in Panzer, Richard, Condom Nation, Westwood, New Jersey: Center for Educational Media, 1997
[xxii] Harris, Louis, American Teenagers Speak, May 1987 (poll).
[xxiii] McAnarney, E.R., "Pushing the Boundaries in Adolescent Health and Disease," Pediatrics, 132(3), August 2013, pp. 571-2
[xxiv] Dawson, D., "Effects of Sex Education on Adolescent Behavior"; W. Marsiglio & F. Mott, "The Impact of Sex Education on Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use and Premarital Pregnancy among American Teenagers," Family Planning Perspectives 1 8/4 (1986), pp. 151-61. Cited in Douglas Kirby, "Sex Education Programs and Their Effects," The World & 1, September, 1989, pp. 591-603.
[xxv] Stillman, A., "Changes in AIDS-Related Risk Behavior after Adolescence: Relationship to Knowledge and Experience Concerning HIV Infection," Pediatrics, 89(5), 1992; Kirby, "Sexuality Education," 1984.
[xxvi] Hausser, D. & Michaud, P. study cited in Stephen Genuis & Shelaugh Genuis, "Adolescent Sexual Involvement: A Time for Primary Prevention," The Lancet 345/894, January 28, 1995, p. 240.
[xxvii] Schuster, et al., "Impact of High School Condom Availability Program on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors," Family Planning Perspectives, 30/2, 1998, pp. 67-72, 88.
[xxviii] A poll for Planned Parenthood by Louis Harris and Associates, “American Teens Speak: Sex, Myths, TV, and Birth Control,” 1986, Louis Harris Project No. 864012. Cited in Panzer, Condom Nation, p. 76.
[xxix] Resnick, M.D., Bearman, P.S., Blum, R.W., et al., "Protecting Adolescents from Harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health," Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 1997, pp. 823-832.
[xxx] Wetzstein, C., Washington Times Weekly, January 22-28, 1995.
[xxxi] Carlson, Margaret, "A Girl's Best Friends," TIME Magazine, 1 47(4), 1996.
[xxxii] Howard, M. & McCabe, J.B., "Helping Teenagers Postpone Sexual Involvement," Family Planning Perspectives, Jan/Feb. 1990.
[xxxiii] Vessey, John T. "Choosing the Best: Abstinence-Centered Curriculum Longitudinal Study, 1995-1996," Illinois Department of Public Aid.
[xxxiv] Rector RE & Johnson KA. “Teenage Sexual Abstinence and Academic Achievement.” A Report of the Heritage Center for Data Analysis. The Heritage Foundation; Washington, DC, 2005¸ p. 20.
[xxxv] Ibid. p. 3.
[xxxvi] Klein, McAnarney, and Hendee, "Adolescent Pregnancy and Its Consequences," Journal of the American Medical Association, 23/12, 1989, pp. 16-24.
[xxxvii] Ibid.; Luthar, S.S. & Zigler, E. "Vulnerability and Competence: A Review of Research on Resilience in Childhood," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 61/1, 1991, pp. 6-22.
[xxxviii] Oakley, Deborah & Bogue, E.L., "Quality of Condom Use as Reported by Female Clients of a Family Planning Clinic," American lournal of Public Health, 85/1, November 1995, pp. 1526-30. Cited in Medical Institute for Sexual Health, "Condom Sense': Is It Enough?" 1997
[xxxix] Rettner, Rachael, "Condom Use Drops among US Teens," Fox News, June 2014.
[xl] Zief, S., Shipiro, R., & Strong, D., "OPRE Report 2013-37." The Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP): Launching a Nationwide Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Effort October 2013, p. vii.
[xli] Ibid. p. 16. Figure 10.
[xliii] Alan Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet: American Teens' Sexual and Reproductive Health, May, 2008.
[xliv] For an analysis of "dual message" sex education programs, see Joshua Mann, Joe S. Mcllhaney, Jr., & Curtis C. Stine, Building Healthy Futures, Austin, Texas: The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, 2000.
[xlv] Panzer, Condom Nation.
[xlvi] Mcllhaney & Stine, Building Healthy Futures, pp. 20-26. See the analysis of the data of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in Peter S. Bearman & Hannah Bruckner, "Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse," American Journal of Sociology 1 06(4), January 2001.
[xlvii] Mann, McIlhaney & Stine, Building Healthy Futures: Tools for Helping Adolescents Avoid Or Delay the Onset of Sexual Activity, Medical Institute for Sexual Health, 2000, pp. 20-26.