Last month, the leading lights of journalism reported (with a trace of smugness) the results of a study showing that adolescents who took a pledge of sexual abstinence were almost as likely as those who took no pledges to contract sexually transmitted diseases.
The Washington Post noted that the report "sparked an immediate, bitter debate over the wisdom of teaching premarital abstinence." Bill Smith, vice president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, crowed, "Not only do virginity pledges not work to keep our young people safe, they are causing harm by undermining condom use, contraception and medical treatment."
A Nexis search of the words "abstinence," "pledge" and "STDs" brought up 60 hits for the past 90 days, beginning with the Village Voice's contribution "F--- Abstinence" and ranging through the big networks and major newspapers.
Most conveyed the lesson in the headline, such as that of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Abstinence-only programs fail and deceive our kids, says Stacey I. Young." There were dozens of stories touting a related finding that those who pledged to abstain from sex were more likely than others to engage in anal or oral sex.
Yet the results of a new study showing that abstinence programs do work to reduce sexual behavior get only two hits on Nexis -- one a UPI story and the other a PR Newswire item. So much for the idea that the media are no longer dominated by liberals.
Now, let's look at substance. Despite the hyperventilating by Bill Smith and others in the condoms on cucumbers school of thought, the study on sexually transmitted diseases actually revealed very little about abstinence-only programs in schools. The report, which looked at data contained in the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, found only that abstinence pledges were of limited (but not zero) utility. A pledge is not an abstinence program. As for data on risky anal and or oral sex by so-called abstainers, those too were self-described pledgers, not participants in an abstinence program.
By contrast, the Journal of Adolescent and Family Health has just published a carefully crafted study of the Best Friends program and found that it does, in fact, deliver on its promise -- to promote abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol among its school-age participants.