Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Teen Sex: Fueled by Media Images or Curbed through Good Information?

Janice Shaw Crouse

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Recent studies document physical, psychological and emotional damage from teen sex.

Pass any magazine rack and sexy images are on prominent display, not just in the popular magazines for adults, but also in those geared for the teen market. Watch any television show targeting teens and the sexual images are even more blatant and pervasive. The end result is that 20% of teens have sex before reaching age 15 and while teen sexual activity has declined, an astounding 48% have engaged in sexual intercourse. This is a remarkable failure for a nation that spends $219 million per year on comprehensive sex education programs. (In contrast, liberals raised a hue and cry against the proposed $135 million that the President proposed for abstinence programs.)

In February, our organization (CWA/BLI) released a poll conducted by the well-respected polling firm, the Zogby Organization, revealing that parents want their children to be well-informed ---- they just don't want their teens to get flawed and false messages and special agendas from comprehensive sex education programs and "safe sex" messages. Instead, they want their children to be taught the benefits of abstinence while they are getting straight-forward facts and information. In other words, they want their children to get the truth.

Parents face a challenge, however, in getting truth through to their children and teens. A study last month indicates that 70% of American teens get their information about sex through the media.

The good news is that, more and more, solid information about the risks involved with early sex activity is competing with the sexy images that bombard teens on every front. This week, the Heritage Foundation released a study indicating that "Sexually Active Teenagers are More Likely to be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide." The Heritage data comes from the 1996 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the study commonly called "Ad Health" from whose deep data resources so many organizations have analyzed specific issues and questions. The Ad Health study questioned 6500 representative adolescents and found that, in addition to the more commonly documented health problems associated with early sexual activity, there are significant psychological and emotional problems that accompany teen sex. One quarter of sexually active girls are depressed ---- three times the rate of depression among abstinent girls. While less than 10% of sexually active boys are depressed, that is twice as high as the depression rate among abstinent boys. There is an even stronger link to suicide attempts among teens that are sexually active. The girls are three times more likely to attempt suicide and the boys are eight times more likely. This is very sobering data that cannot be ignored. Equally important are the personal reactions of teens ---- overwhelmingly, they express regret at starting sexual activity. Two-thirds of sexually active teens express regret and fully three-fourths of the girls wish that they had waited.

Teens today live in the midst of a public health epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. One in five teens has genital herpes. Half of the girls who have had sex contract HPV, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, and 14% of them will get cervical cancer, a disease that causes more deaths than HIV/AIDS. Over the past 20 years, more than 2 dozen STDs have been added to the two known STDs of 1960, syphilis and gonorrhea. And, while teen sexual activity has declined, it is still too high and more than 3 million teens a year come down with an STD. More than a quarter of sexually active teens have an STD.

Liberals tell those teens to just wear a condom. But the National Institutes of Health are unequivocal ---- even with 100% consistency in condom use, there is only an 87% reduction of risk for HIV/AIDS and condoms decrease the risk for other STDs at an even lower percentage.

College counselors tell us that the physical risks pale in comparison to the psychological and emotional risks. Over the past 10 years, college counselors have seen their case loads expand dramatically --- depression cases have doubled, suicide attempts have tripled and sexual assaults have quadrupled.

Abstinence promotes the health and well-being of teens and is their best lifestyle choice until marriage. Young people are capable of developing the character, integrity, self-control and personal responsibility necessary for remaining abstinent before marriage. We do young people a disservice when we expect less. We endanger their health and well-being when we perpetuate the myths that "their hormones are uncontrollable; they are going to do it anyway" and "condoms provide protection so promiscuity won't be harmful, let them live it up while they are young." No responsible adult can, in good conscience, seriously want to encourage teenagers to jeopardize their future by short-circuiting their character development and endangering their health and well-being.

Reprinted with permission from The Concerned Women of America website.

Read this article on The Concerned Women of America website.

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