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Education Reporter

Abstinence Ed Message
Gaining in Popularity
Scott Phelps
Scott Phelps
GOLF, IL - A recent study entitled Changing Emphases in Sexuality Education in U.S. Public Secondary Schools, 1988-99, found that the numbers of teachers and nurses who favor abstinence education as the primary "sexuality education" message for teens has increased significantly during the past decade. Published in Family Planning Perspectives (Vol. 32, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2000, pp. 204-212), the report states that "Many of the changes occurring between 1988 and 1999 reflect the increasingly strong promotion of abstinence as the only appropriate option for adolescents."

In 1999, four in 10 secondary school teachers reported that abstinence was their most important message, compared to just one in four in 1988. "In 1999," says the report, "one in four secondary teachers were teaching abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs, compared with one in 50 in 1988."

"This report confirms the clear trend we have witnessed across the country," said Scott Phelps, Director of Program Development for Project Reality, a leading abstinence education provider based in the Chicago area. "We continue to receive strong support for our abstinence programs throughout Illinois and across the nation from students, parents, and teachers." Phelps predicts that these survey numbers will continue to rise as the strong positive results of abstinence education become more apparent.

The responses of 3,754 teachers and nurses from across the country were recorded for the study. When asked what was the "most important message they wanted to convey to students," the number-one response - given by 41% - was "abstinence." In 1988, only 24% gave that response.

The study reveals a dramatic decline in the numbers of teachers and nurses who cited "contraception" as the most important message. Those listing contraception as a number-one response fell to 1.5% in 1999 from 4.8% in 1988. Though the disparity between respondents choosing abstinence and those choosing contraception was great in 1988 - 24% for abstinence vs. 4.8% for contraception - the difference continued to grow over the 10-year period, to 41% vs. 1.5% in 1999! The study further shows that 23% of teachers said they presented abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs in 1999, a steep increase from just 2% in 1988.

The study findings are consistent with recent reports of declines in unwed teen pregnancies. On August 8, the National Center for Health Statistics released a preliminary report on births in 1999. It showed that the teen birth rate declined 3% from 1998. According to the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the more significant finding is the continuing decline in unwed teen births. "The total teen birthrate is of dubious value because it mixes the measurements for both married and unmarried teens," notes the LaHaye Institute's Data Digest for October-November 2000.

"Even with the 10-15% decline over the last five years, the unmarried rate is still more than three times its level in 1950," quotes Data Digest. "That it should at last be on a downward trend is an extremely important and hopeful development - an encouraging sign of change in cultural values."

Both Project Reality and the LaHaye Institute doubt the pro-choice media's assumption that any drop in the unwed teen pregnancy rate must be due to abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sex education. They point out that the birth rates for unmarried women 20 and older do not show similar declines. It is more likely, they reason, that the lower teen birthrate is due to greater numbers of teens becoming more receptive to the abstinence message. These curricula and presentations, they say, are helping teens understand that abstinence from sexual activity until marriage is possible, that it has priceless personal benefits, and that it offers the safest, healthiest lifestyle.

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