The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released its 2007 report “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance,” a nationally representative sample of 14,000 American students in grades 9-12 that includes national, state and local surveys.
The good news is that fewer teens engage in risky behavior. The bad news is that far too many of them still do!
Teens continue to have less sex: in the early 1990s, more than half of teens reported that they were no longer virgins, whereas in the CDC report for 2007, that number had dropped to only 48 percent. Equally important, fewer teens have had multiple sexual partners: in the early 90s, 19 percent reported having four or more partners, but in 2007 that number was only 15 percent. Sadly, fully 35 percent of high school students describe themselves as sexually active and almost 40 percent of them did not use a condom during their last intercourse.
Further, fewer teens are into drugs (marijuana use is down, as is methamphetamine use), alcohol use is down (from 42 percent reporting having a drink in the previous month in 1991 to 35 percent today), more wear seat belts (only 12 percent admit to not seat-belting), an additional 10 percent of students now will refuse to get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and fewer smoke cigarettes than teens in the 1990s (though 20 percent still smoke).
Other risky behaviors continue. Over 35 percent watch three or more hours of television on an average school day, almost 80 percent have not had the daily recommended fruits and vegetables, more than 33 percent drink soft drinks during the day, and more than 65 percent fail to meet recommended levels of physical activity.
Much has been made of the “news” that the trend for delaying sex has leveled off and that progress seems to have stalled. The data in several areas of sexual activity peaked in 2003, but the changes have not been statistically significant. Some areas have inched downward or seem to have reached a plateau; some continue the trends, but not in significant ways.
The important information is that during the period from 1991 to 2007, teen sexual activity dropped, teen pregnancies declined and abortions declined. All of these positive developments coincide with the increased prevalence and greater sophistication of abstinence programs. No wonder the comprehensive sex education establishment is looking for opportunities to debunk their effectiveness.
Predictably, the relatively stable lines from 2003-2007 in students who have ever had sexual intercourse and students who are sexually active, as well as the slight decline in condom use, though not statistically significant, is being used by the comprehensive sex education establishment to blame abstinence programs. The timing of this interpretation of the data comes just as the Title V program is scheduled to expire on June 30, and the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill will be written, is headed by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), who opposes abstinence programs.
Instead of abandoning Title V (which is funded at far less — $1 for abstinence programs to every $12 for comprehensive sex education), we need to expand our commitment to the effort and broaden the distribution of abstinence programs to more schools.
The bottom line is that since 1991 the number of female high school students that have ever had sexual intercourse has dropped, the number that are sexually active has dropped, the number with multiple sex partners has dropped, and fewer girls are having first sexual intercourse before age 13.
When comprehensive sex education was the only approach available to students, all the risky sex activity trends were moving in the wrong direction. Now they are improving or, at least, holding steady. But we must work to see that those trends continue to improve so that our teenagers will have a bright and hopeful future.
Who could possibly want to risk seeing sexual activity trends go back to where they were when comprehensive sex education had a monopoly? Who would want to cut off funding for abstinence programs before they have a chance to influence teens toward better decision making across the whole nation?
The answer is, sadly, that those who are promoting the comprehensive sex education programs that have proven so ineffective over such a long period of time are those who are benefiting financially from the federal troughs. The organization that probably benefits most from federally funded comprehensive sex education programs, Planned Parenthood, gets almost $340 million from the government every year (though their funds come from Title X, they are one of the most influential lobbying groups for a monopoly for comprehensive sex education) even though their profits have more than doubled since 2003 to a record $112 million “excess of revenue over expenses” last year.
The answer for getting the trend lines on sexual activity to resume their progress is for teens to learn that they — with the skills, values and habits that they learn from abstinence programs — can control their destiny. When they internalize solid values, learn self-control, develop hope for the future, and put into practice the habits that they want to establish, they will be able to achieve their goals and avoid getting side-tracked into too-early sexual activity that lures them off the path toward future success.