Abstinence Views in Conflict

by Dave Clark

A new and disturbing report discloses a wide gulf between parents' and teens' understanding of sexual abstinence.

Dr. Freya Sonenstein, of the Urban Institute, conducted a national survey of the sexual practices of boys as young as 15. "We think that parents may be quite surprised and concerned that actually 44 percent have had some sexual experience," Sonenstein said.

Teen boys and girls are having a wide range of sexual contact apart from normal intercourse, and because their activities cannot lead to pregnancy, teens largely believe they are still, effectively, abstinent.

An accompanying report confirms the ambivalence teens feel about sexual purity. "If adolescents perceive that pregnancy prevention is the main goal of abstinence, then they might count behaviors unrelated to pregnancy as safe and abstinent," the report states.

Amy Stephens, who heads Focus on the Family's abstinence-education department, said she thinks teens are only reflecting what they've been taught by adults.

"I do think that they learn in schools with government dollars that ‘outercourse' and all those behaviors that supposedly come with it are safe," Stephens said. "Now, they're only acting on what they've been told." She blames Planned Parenthood, particularly, for propagating dangerous views.

Linda Dominguez, spokeswoman for the New Mexico chapter of Planned Parenthood, contends the word "abstinence" causes confusion across the age continuum. When asked where things have gone wrong in children's understanding of sexual purity, Dominguez responded: "I don't know that we can say it has gone wrong. There is not a wrong and a right in this from my perspective."

Abstinence advocates say that's not the message teens need to hear.

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