by Gail Quinn
December 6, 2002
Hats off to Newsweek for its December 9 cover story, "The New Virginity....Why More Teens are Choosing Not to Have Sex."
Despite decades of self-styled experts saying that young people are going to have sex anyway, so they better be given condoms and pills, kids are proving them wrong. "Rejecting the get-down-make-love ethos of their parents" generation," Newsweek authors write, "this wave of young adults represents a new counterculture, one clearly at odds with the mainstream media and their routine use of sex to boost ratings and peddle product."
Have all unmarried teens stopped having sex? No. But the percentage of high school teens who remain virgins has risen substantially in the past decade. The Newsweek authors suggest several reasons for the surprising rise in virginity among teens.
Young people do fear pregnancy, and they fear contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Some teens say that having loving, involved parents helped them remain chaste. One added that her career choice requires so much time and effort that she won"t allow herself to be sidetracked by sexual relationships and pregnancy. Alice, a college sophomore, credits the feminist movement: "One of the empowering things about the feminist movement," says Alice, "is that we"re able to assert ourselves, to say no to sex and not feel pressured about it."
There"s truth in all these explanations, but Newsweek barely alludes to one main reason: the spread of abstinence education in public schools. For years, such education was not funded or poorly funded. Today, the Bush Administration has said it plans to expand funding for such programs to $135 million (up $60 million since 1998).
Still the decades-old debate goes on. Should we instill values in teens and teach them that abstinence works (you can"t get pregnant, you won"t pick up an STD, and you won"t get hurt emotionally) or tell kids that abstinence is best, but since we know they"re going to have sex anyway, hand them condoms and pills?
For years American taxpayers have ponied up millions for Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and hand out condoms, pills and other devices to teens. In fact, Planned Parenthood got $137 million from the federal government last year alone. It operates clinics near colleges and in minority communities. And when the college students and minority women get pregnant and "need" abortions, Planned Parenthood is only too happy to provide them " for a fee.
Something"s terribly wrong with this picture.
Before us are two approaches. One that is helping (abstinence only) and one that"s been followed for decades and proven to be a miserable failure. What to do ought to be a no-brainer.
We ought to fund with our tax dollars programs of abstinence that really help. And, by all means, let"s find better uses for the many millions we throw away each year by giving it to Planned Parenthood.
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.