Just saying "no thanks"
"Just Say No" was a laughable approach to the nation's drug problems during the Reagan era, and evidence is mounting (no pun intended) that abstinence-only education, in which kids are told to "just say no" to sex, isn't having the desired results. The Bush administration touts its federal abstinence-education grant program for slowing sexual activity by teenagers, but an Associated Press story that appeared on the front page of today's O-R notes that states are increasingly bailing out on the program, with many believing it does little, if any, good. Nearly half the states are now turning down the federal money, which requires matching funds. A study by Yale and Columbia universities a few years ago found that teens who make abstinence pledges have sex at a later age, have fewer sex partners and get married earlier. But the same study found that teens who make such a pledge and those who don't have virtually the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases. The study blamed that on the fact that when "pledgers" fell off the no-sex bandwagon, they were less likely to use condoms. The same study, according to a 2004 AP report, found that in communities in which at least 20 percent of teens made pledges, the STD rate for all youths was 8.9 percent. In places where less than 7 percent pledged, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases was 5.5 percent. "It is the combination of hidden sex and unsafe sex that creates a world where people underestimate the risk of STDs," study co-author Peter Bearman, chairman of Columbia's Department of Sociology, said at the time. Ah, yes, those "unsafe" practices. A related study released by the universities showed that pledgers were more likely to have had oral and anal sex than other teens who had not engaged in intercourse. That's a little more serious than substituting onion rings for fries at Red Robin. Of course, I've heard it said that when God closes one door, He opens another one. The bottom line is, just saying "don't do it" is a stupid approach to helping teens cope with sexuality. Is it best that teens wait until adulthood to have sex? Absolutely. But to assume that we can stop kids from having sex is to ignore reality, and we do our kids a disservice - indeed, we may condemn some of them to death - if we fail to give them all the information they might need about sex.