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Use character, not condoms

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It is a good time, therefore, for some straight talk about this disturbing subject. The place to begin is not with condoms and clinics where 12-year-olds can get birth control without parental consent, but with the surest and safest means of avoiding pregnancy (and maintaining self respect): abstinence.

We have lived in a culture of condom-mania for the past quarter century and it has scarcely brought about a utopia of sexual enlightenment. In fact, as sex and sex education have been reduced to the mechanics of birth control, teens have been thrust into a world of sexualized powerlessness and nihilism. Those obsessed with distributing birth control techniques to 12-year-olds don’t seem to understand that they are taking the magic out of their world and putting them in dreary jeopardy. There is no doubt that early sexual activity has multiple negative consequences for young people. One in four sexually active teens today has been afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease. Annually three million teenagers contract STDs. Roughly three quarters of all 15-year-old girls who become sexually active are pregnant within a year. It is worth noting that all of the teenaged mothers from Silver Springs High School featured on the front page of The Union Thursday apparently had had access to a full range of birth control technology.

The rationale for this ever-intensifying regime of birth control is quintessentially cynical: “They’re going to have sex anyhow, so we’d better teach them how to protect themselves.” But birth control pills don’t protect against STDs; nor do condoms protect against pregnancy. (Fifteen percent of girls using condoms get pregnant within a year.) This cynicism also degrades the value of self-control and self- respect. Eight out of 10 teenaged girls report regretting that they had sex so early in their lives. Clearly, a complex sexual relationship, which is hard enough for adults, is not something that 13- year-olds should expect to cope with. Research from a variety of sources indicates a correlation between precocious sexual activity among teens and the likelihood of engaging in other high-risk behaviors such as tobacco use, abuse of alcohol, and use of illicit drugs.



Abstinence is always mentioned by the sex educators, of course, but in a condescending tone of voice implying that no adolescent these days has the will power to resist the lures of sexual activism: “We’d like you to be abstinent, but if you don’t, be sure you use a condom.” This injunction may sound logical, but actually it is like saying, “We’d prefer you not smoke, but if you do smoke, use filtered cigarettes (and we’ll provide them to you without the consent of your parents.)” In fact, it is entirely possible for teens to remain abstinent. Even in our current highly sexualized environment, the majority of females 12-18 have never had sex.

However, true abstinence-based education is more than simply telling kids “Just say no.” It helps them understand the physical and emotional consequences of early sexual activity and teaches them how to withstand the messages of our sex-saturated popular culture. Abstinence teaches self-respect. And while condom-oriented sex education teaches teens that they are creatures of their own appetites, abstinence education help them take control of their lives and shows them that they can take their time before plunging into the tangled world of adult behavior and relationships.




Mary Collier is executive director of The Friendship Club, an abstinence-based non-profit program for adolescent girls in Nevada County.


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