The Heritage Foundation has published a new study showing a link between sexual activity and depression among teenagers. The news isn't good. For sexually active girls age fourteen to seventeen, the rates of depression (which the study's authors define as "unhappiness," not clinical depression) are more than three times higher than for those who have not been sexually active. Sexually active boys "are more than twice as likely to be depressed as are those who are not sexually active." And both boys and girls who have been sexually active are more likely to commit suicide.
Study co-author Robert Rector is quick to point out that the study, based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, does not show conclusive evidence of a "causal link" between sexual activity and depression. Such a cause-and-effect relationship, he says, would be "really impossible to prove." And some people, of course, are skeptical about the study as a whole. Tamara Kreinin of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (or SIECUS), which promotes "safer sex" education, thinks it's important to focus on other factors as well when studying teenage depression—factors like family problems and abuse.
Kreinin may be right about that. But the study's authors did control for certain "social background factors," like "gender, race, age, and family income." Moreover, nearly two-thirds of the sexually active teenagers surveyed expressed regrets about having sex too early. This suggests "that early sexual activity leads to emotional stress and reduces teen happiness." And regardless of whether unhappiness causes early sexual activity or the other way around, they say, "teens should be told that sexual activity in teen years is clearly linked to reduced personal happiness."
You'd think everyone could agree about this. Unfortunately, nothing will deter some people from selling the "safer sex" message to kids. No matter what the data show, organizations like SIECUS and Planned Parenthood insist there's no way to stop kids from having sex and that the best we can do is to teach them to use condoms and other birth control methods.