I Beg to Differ: Abstinence Education Works
To: Arthur Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania
From: A.C. Green, President, A.C. Green Youth Foundation (www.acgreen.com)
I read your recent commentary on abstinence education (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9504871/), and I must admit, I was very disappointed.
“So what,” you may say, wondering why you should listen to a retired NBA player with no Ph.D. I suppose that’s a fair question. But as the founder of a national abstinence organization, and as a husband who married his wife as a virgin (at the age of 38), I ask that you thoughtfully consider my response.
The opinions you put forth may be popular in academia; however, history has certainly taught us that popular ideas are often wrong. Therefore, I think we can agree that the evidence – and the truth – should dictate our conclusion.
You say: “Not only is [abstinence education] contradicted by everything that medicine and science know about teens and sex, but it flies directly in the face of everything all ordinary Americans know about teens and sex.”
Let’s examine that claim. Medicine tells us that sexually transmitted disease is avoided by having one partner for life. Social science tells us that the earlier a teenage girl begins sexual activity the more likely she is to suffer from increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth, increased rates of single parenthood, decreased marital stability, increased maternal and child poverty, increased abortion, increased depression, and decreased adult happiness (Heritage Foundation). And history tells us that abstinence used to be expected. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, abstinence was the norm among unmarried American teenage girls at least until 1982. Is that when we started telling ourselves it wasn’t realistic?
You mention that 45 percent of U.S. teens have had sex by the time they reach 18. Simple subtraction tells me that means 55 percent have not.
You make the interesting argument that “70 percent of young women and 80 percent of young men approve of premarital sex.” First of all, I would suggest that years of sex education that involves teachers encouraging sexual activity might play a role in shaping that attitude! Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, the truth should shape policy decisions on sex education, not the supposed popularity of an activity. However, since you brought it up, a survey of 1,000 girls conducted by Emory University found that of a dozen possible sex education topics, the most popular (chosen by 84 percent of the respondents) was more information on how to say “no” to a boyfriend’s requests for sex without losing the boyfriend. Among sexually active teens, 8 out of 10 girls and 6 out of 10 boys say that they wish they had waited to have sex. Parents also weigh in on the side of abstinence. According to the Heritage Foundation, approximately 85 percent of parents believe that teaching about abstinence should be emphasized as much as, or more than, teaching about contraception. Only 8 percent believe that promoting contraception is more important than abstinence.
You and I certainly agree that STDs are spreading at an alarming rate. That’s not all. Except for a pause in the early 1980s, pregnancy rates for 15-19 year olds have risen over the last 25 years to the present high of 111 pregnancies for every thousand girls. This is not due to a lack of knowledge about contraception and “safe” sex! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that in typical use for just ONE YEAR, condoms failed 14% of the time in preventing pregnancy. What’s more, there is not sufficient evidence that condoms protect against the spread of some STDs, including the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is not only incurable, it is also the fastest spreading STD in America and has consistently been linked to cervical cancer.
You argue against the effectiveness of abstinence, yet it is 100% reliable. You say we can’t expect teenagers to be abstinent, yet I made it through adolescence (and 16 NBA seasons!) unscathed. My Foundation has worked with many young men and women who have chosen abstinence. Others have recommitted themselves to abstinence after experiencing firsthand the pain that results from sex outside of marriage.
You claim that abstinence programs are ineffective, and yet there are currently 10 evaluations showing that abstinence education is effective in reducing teen sexual activity.
You question virginity pledges, but according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, young women who take a virginity pledge are approximately 40 percent less likely to have a child out-of-wedlock when compared to similar young women who do not make pledges.
You imply that abstinence programs fail to discuss STDs and contraception. Not only do abstinence programs address these topics, they do so accurately, explaining the truth about so-called “safe sex” and helping teens understand that their decisions have consequences.
You bemoan the money spent on abstinence education, but according to the Heritage Foundation, the government spends $12 to promote contraceptives for every $1 spent on abstinence.
Simply put, Arthur, you were wrong. Abstinence until marriage is the best decision physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. That is the truth. To justify your viewpoint by saying “kids can’t choose to be abstinent” is to portray our children as little more than animals with uncontrollable urges. Boys and girls who can’t learn to choose the best for their future. Perhaps that is how you see America. But I see the young men and women in this country as children with dreams, with unlimited potential, and with choices to make.
In fact, we all have a choice to make. I choose the truth.
A.C. Green established the A.C. Green Youth Foundation in 1989(http://www.acgreen.com/), with the main focus on sexual abstinence education. The Foundation’s mission is to help young people build self-esteem and character, and learn moral and ethical principles which will help them make responsible decisions. A.C. currently owns the NBA Iron Man title, having played in 1,192 straight games during his 16 year career.
Statistics taken from:
Heritage Foundation: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/wm461.cfm
A.C. Green’s Game Plan abstinence workbook