There's good news and there's bad news.
The good news is teen pregnancy rates in the United States are at the lowest in 24 years. The bad news is 10,000 teens per day contract a Sexually- Transmitted Disease (STD). Nationally, one in four Americans has an STD.
The good news is the bad news: Eight out of ten girls and six out of ten boys who had sex as teenagers wish they had waited.
But in Chicago earlier this month, at the Power of Abstinence rally sponsored by Project Reality, it was all good news. Project Reality is one of the abstinence pioneers in the nation. For years, its curricula have forged the way in public schools: abstinence does not have to be a faith-based initiative. Common sense and cold hard statistics provide reasons enough to avoid heartbreak and disease.
The results of sexual activity outside of marriage are all bad news, but Project Reality spreads the good news that young people can say no to sexual activity. And that is very good news for a culture desperately in need of change.
The message at the Power of Abstinence celebration was clear: Abstinence works, abstinence is achievable. You are worth waiting for.
At the center of the rally were 13 titleholders in Miss America and other pageants. Miss Black USA 2002-2003, Miss Michigan -- All American Latina 2001, Miss Allegheny Valley 2002, Miss Southern Illinois 2001 were some of the names on the tags.
The other guests were about 300 high school students from Chicagoland -- mostly from public high schools, mostly at risk. Precisely the segment of the population that needs to have positive role models.
The pageant winners were in ballgowns, wearing their crowns. They personified glamour. During the reception, they talked with the teens, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. After the banquet, they performed their talent, singing or playing an instrument mostly, though one read some thumping good poems.
They were there because they have all chosen abstinence as their platform. Pageant contestants have to have a platform, some area in which they are trying to improve the world. These young women have chosen abstinence because they see a vacuum they can help fill. Most of them hadn't really thought much about abstinence until their friends and classmates succumbed to STD's or welfare status to support a baby.
After the banquet, and in between performing their talent, some of these beautiful young women told their stories. Ashley Huff, Miss Nevada 2001, always believed in abstinence, so she wouldn't date by the rules typical in public high schools, where normal "dating" is serial monogamy without benefit of clergy. She was willing to date, but not any one person exclusively. As a result, nobody would date her. With a catch in her throat, she recalled that she had no date for her junior prom. Every girl present could identify with her pain.
But the story didn't end there. In college, Ashley met a young man who also believed in abstinence, and she dated him and fell in love with him. She trusted him, and shared her heart with him. Then he dumped her. She cried all night. But the next morning, when she looked in the mirror, she was able to smile. She smiled because she had the satisfaction of knowing that while she had given him her heart, she hadn't given him her body. He hadn't gotten everything. She still had her self-respect. She still had within herself the basis for pulling herself together and moving on with her life.
Nitia Harris, Miss Langston University 2001, from Oklahoma, had a more tragic story. Miss Harris was raped in early adolescence. The trauma of that put her on a downward spiral, and she became very sexually active, though she hated herself for doing it. Then one day she heard an abstinence message. The speaker took two pieces of adhesive tape and stuck them together. Then he tried to separate them. Needless to say, they wouldn't come apart. "That's the way you want your marriage to be," he said, "unbreakable."
Then he took a couple pieces of adhesive tape, and wrapped them first around his sleeve, and then tried to stick them together. They wouldn't stick. "That's what happens if people are sexually active," he said, "they can't stick together." It hit Nitia like a ton of bricks. She realized that what she wanted the most in life was for a permanent person, a husband. And she realized that if she kept on the way she was going, she wouldn't be able to bond with a husband.
Nitia promised herself she would practice what is called "secondary virginity." She reformed. Her friends didn't believe in her: "No way, you can't do it, girl," they laughed. But she did it. As she concluded by telling how she has kept that promise, the students started applauding, then stood up and continued applauding. They knew exactly how hard her choice has been. And they loved her for her courage.
Ashley and Nitia reached 300 kids that evening. Not a very large drop in the bucket compared to the numbers reached in every school by the federally-subsidized (Title X) Planned Parenthood message that tells the lie of "safe sex." All the more reason why perhaps there should be parity in federal spending between Title X and Title V (of Welfare Reform, which is the authority under which a trickle of federal funds currently support some abstinence education).
But perhaps, in that one drop, after hearing Ashley and Nitia speak, eight out of ten young women and six out of ten young men in the audience will not have to regret being sexually active. Maybe because they have heard these young women, they too, will know the power of abstinence.
Connie Marshner is Director of the Free Congress Foundation Center for Governance where this article can be found. This article is reprinted with permission of the Free Congress Foundation.