Sex and abstinence: Wait loss

Posted: May 28, 2003 12:00 AM

It's a scene that will forever be embedded in my brain: the demeanor of my 11-year-old daughter when I explained to her the secret of life. She wins the prize for the best poker-face ever!

My normally bubbly, expressive little girl was extremely quiet and still when I gently went over the basics of "where babies come from." As I scanned her face, struggling for signs to help me determine what I should say next – like how much detail to add or what words to use – she gave me absolutely no guidance. Throughout my 20-minute gut-wrenching lesson (I was as cool as a cucumber on the outside!) she said but one word when I finished, "Yucky."

I expect Kristin and I will laugh together about our memories of "the talk" someday.

To be sure, I would much rather have waited until later to explain the mystery of procreation. But in today's world, I knew time was against me. Our children are bombarded with sexual information – there's no escaping it in our modern culture. What a shame that we have polluted their innocence with images and false information about love and human sexuality.

According to recent research, our children are paying with their bodies for the pathetic reality that adults have failed in our role to protect childhood innocence. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that almost 20 percent of children have had intercourse before their 15th birthday. One in seven of these sexually active girls became pregnant.

Having sex at such an early age leads to many problems, the study notes. Sexually experienced children were far more likely than virgins to engage in other risky behavior. They were six times more likely to drink at least once a week. They were three times more likely to smoke and four times more likely to use marijuana. Worse, only about a third of parents were even aware their children were putting their health in jeopardy by having sex.

Parents and kids alike often squirm in conversations about sex. But the truth is kids need to hear from you about the beauty of sex in marriage, and they need you to protect them from images that say otherwise. It is a constant but worthy battle that must be waged on many levels every single day.

For example, my own children are well aware of the policy at our house when it comes to renting films: If it has worse than a PG rating – Mom or Dad will watch it first to determine if our teens can see it. R-rated movies are off limits. Yet, because many of their friends' parents have given in to the "battle over the ratings," my teen-age sons will frequently present me with a popular PG-13 or R-rated movie at the video store, just to see if it would be OK, this one time. I always respond, "The answer is the same tonight as it was last weekend, and last month, and the month before that: NO." It's become sort of a game for our family, but it's really a lesson for all of us in the importance of setting standards and keeping with them.

Like it or not, we're teaching our children from the moment they come into the world. They watch us like hawks. As they see us obey laws, treat others with respect and remain faithful to our spouse, they learn to do those things, too. If we engage in watching raunchy videos, use foul language or cave-in to the cultural pressures on us as adults, how can we expect them as children, to not give-in to pressure?

For those parents who have the fortitude to fight the battle on behalf of their kids, there isn't a lot of reinforcement to be found. Abstinence-education in schools can be helpful, if the programs truly teach kids to say "no." But beware: Many programs have the word "abstinence" in the title but send a mixed message – instructing children what to do if they decide to have sex, instead of making them realize that their health and happiness depend on waiting.

As a Heritage Foundation study last year found, "many traditional safe-sex programs now take to calling themselves 'abstinence plus' or 'abstinence-based' education. In reality, there is little abstinence training in 'abstinence-based' education. Instead, these programs are thinly disguised efforts to promote condom use."

Heritage Foundation research also proved that real abstinence education can help cut sexual activity among youth. But as the example above shows, it's up to parents to make sure the program their children are in is a good one.

As parents, most of us would do anything to protect our children if we saw they were in danger. Unfortunately, this survey proves that too many children today are in danger. Parents are the first – and often the only – line of defense for today's youth. Your mission is clear, Mom and Dad. As Dr. Laura would say, "Now go and do the right thing."