Angie Vineyard documents how the major media spin sex abstinence studies.
September 10, 2002
Last week, the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development (AHD) released two separate studies examining how mothers' opinions on premarital sex affect their teenagers' sexual activity.
As usual, the media snapped to attention. And, as all good papers do, The Washington Times and The New York Times gave marching orders to their respective journalists to cover the findings. But a quick comparison of the accounts from these papers left many bewildered. The reporting was so incredibly antipodal that readers were left wondering if both articles actually covered the same health studies.
NY Times headline (Sept. 4): "Study Finds Mothers Unaware of Children's Sexual Activity."
Washington Times headline (Sept. 5): "Moms' Actions Affect Commitment to Abstinence."
NY Times: "Close relationships with mothers seemed to discourage youngsters from sexual activity, although the effect diminished with age and, among girls, disappeared altogether."
Washington Times: "Certain maternal behaviors are linked to the delaying of sexual intercourse among teens in the eighth through 11th grades. ... Specifically: boys and girls in all four grades are likely to stay abstinent if they know their mothers strongly disapprove of premarital sex. Boys and girls in eighth and ninth grades are likely to stay abstinent if they have warm, healthy relationships with their mothers. This was also true of boys in the 10th and 11th grades. Girls in the eighth and ninth grades are likely to avoid sex if their mothers talk regularly with their friends' parents."
NY Times: "The research also found that the mother's frequency of religious observance and prayer had no correlation with whether her children became sexually active."
Washington Times: "Earlier studies of AHD Health data have found that parent-child connectedness, college aspirations and frequent religious activity help discourage teens from smoking, drinking, violence and sex."
So let's get this straight. According to The New York Times' report on the studies, mothers are in the dark about their teenagers' sexual activity, having a close relationship with your teen does little good because they're going to have sex anyway and oh, church attendance and prayer have no effect at all on whether your child will be sexually abstinent. But according to The Washington Times' report on the studies, teenagers are more likely to stay sexually abstinent if they have close relationships with their mothers who disapprove of teen sex.
One doesn't need a trained eye to see that what we're dealing with here is good, old-fashioned spinning.
After Diana Jean Schemo's dismal 'parents-don't-even-bother' reporting, The New York Times reporter's article digressed into an op-ed opposing the Bush administration's stance on abstinence-only education. The White House has asked that $135 million be allocated for abstinence-only education, which would equal the amount of federal funds already given for teen contraceptive services.
After peppering her "reporting" with a charge from Advocates for Youth [a radical "safe sex" group] for comprehensive sex education, Schemo then lamented, "The administration has also held up the release of a training program, developed by Advocates for Youth and financed by the Clinton administration, that was intended to help parents overcome awkwardness in discussing sex with their children."
But what about those studies? Ah, yes, those statistical facts and figures! Those are much harder to spin.
Funny, The New York Times failed to include those numbers. Yes, Schemo mentioned that there was a 2000 study of 3,322 mothers and children in grades eight to 11 and another 2002 study of 2,006 parents and their 14- or 15-year-old teens.
But only The Washington Times included the results.
Reporter Cheryl Wetzstein noted, "In the 2000 study, 88 percent of eighth- and ninth-graders and 80 percent of the 10th- and 11th- graders said they were still virgins at the time of the second interview. In the 2002 study, 89 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls said they were still virgins a year later."
These hormone-charged teens were inundated daily with sexual messages from the mainstream media and yet the overwhelming majority of them chose to remain abstinent. But instead of even mentioning those findings, Schemo focused on a pinhole percentage of sexually active teens in order to build a case for contraceptives education.
Wetzstein, however, stuck to the facts. Of their reporter, The Washington Times has said: "Cheryl Wetzstein ... consistently find(s) important stories that the rest of the media overlook."
Overlook, indeed. Wetztein "got it"; her story reports the results of the studies and highlights the facts in their findings. Schemo, on the other hand, uses her story to promote her own agenda -- government funding of sex education instead of abstinence education.
This article can be found on the Culture and Family Institute website (link closed) of the Concerned Women of America. Reprinted with permission.