The study couldn't come at a more inconvenient time for the Obama administration, which has cut more than $170 million in federally funded abstinence education programs from the federal budget. In place of abstinence-only programs, the Obama administration has been advocating instead for pregnancy prevention programs that stress contraception and has asked for increased funding for such programs, $183 million in the budget released earlier this week.
The study will give lawmakers who favor abstinence programs more ammunition to argue that it's worth trying to discourage teens from having sex. But this study isn't the only one to suggest that teens can be persuaded to delay sexual activity if adults are willing to tell them why it's important not to become sexually active at a young age. In one study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 90 percent of teens said that they believed it was important to encourage abstinence, and 60 percent of sexually active teens said that they wished they had not had sex.
What teens seem to be saying is that they want to hear more from adults about the dangers of becoming sexually active in their teen years. The obvious dangers -- sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy -- are only part of the problem. Becoming sexually active at a young an age is fraught with emotional as well as physical risks, and we owe it to teens to tell them so.
Parents are in the best position to make this case -- and according to other studies by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teens say that parents have more influence over their sexual behavior than peers do. And schools should reinforce this message, not undermine it. If we send the message that early sexual activity is no big deal so long as teens are careful to not get pregnant or get an STD, we shouldn't be surprised that more kids will decide to have sex.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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