'Tis the (mating) season

Posted: Dec 08, 2006 10:08 AM
'Tis the (mating) season

The very first virgin birth (an event many are preparing to celebrate later this month) didn’t make the newspapers, if only because there weren’t newspapers in Bethlehem during King Herod’s reign. Had The New York Times existed, it surely would have noted the birth of “a homeless child,” as Hillary Clinton described Jesus in 1999.

But today, an apparent rash of virgin births is in the news. “Success of abstinence in cutting teen pregnancies is a ‘myth’,” reported a headline in the London Daily Telegraph on Dec. 1. “Sexual abstinence as an effective tool in reducing teenage pregnancy is a complete ‘myth,’ the [British] Government’s advisory body on the issue claimed yesterday,” the story began, leading a reader to the logical conclusion that at least some girls who had abstained ended up pregnant, anyway.

Well, now. For years, most of us have believed that abstinence was a completely effective “tool” in reducing pregnancy, whether among teenagers or older folks. After all, those who abstain from sex, we naively thought, cannot become pregnant.

So if abstaining gives only “mythical” protection against pregnancy, we can only hope that the “experts” (and who wouldn’t want to be an intercourse expert?) have outlined a course of action that will actually work. And so they have. “The Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy said that research from the United States showed that contraception was the way to bring down rates,” the Telegraph story added helpfully.

So, to review: abstinence doesn’t prevent pregnancy. Contraception prevents pregnancy. Film at 11 (now that’ll boost those sagging TV news ratings.) All right, let’s be serious. This story is silly on two levels. First, because of course everyone knows that abstinence works. Excepting Mary, throughout history zero percent of women who abstained from sex became pregnant. And, as a bonus, zero percent contracted sexually transmitted diseases.

Second, this story highlights the backward approach our country has taken to preventing pregnancy. We give teenagers advice but assume they’ll ignore it. “You should abstain from sex,” we tell high schoolers. “But, if you don’t, here’s a condom and a handy instruction book to show you how to use it.” Imagine if our government approached really important topics -- such as seatbelt use -- this way. “Wearing a seatbelt will make you safer,” the PSAs would announce. “But if you refuse to wear one, here’s how to duck as your airbag deploys.”

In reality, with seatbelt use we’ve taken a zero-tolerance policy. Many areas have even made not wearing a seatbelt into a moving violation -- fail to buckle up and we’ll treat you exactly as we’d treat a driver who’d done something dangerous, such as run a red light or a stop sign. That’s actually silly, since drivers who don’t wear seatbelts are endangering only themselves.

But it does let drivers know we’re serious.

We ought to approach teen pregnancy the same way. Schools should explain to our children that premarital sex is dangerous. It leads to pregnancy and sometimes-deadly diseases including AIDS.

We should tell teens that we, as a society, don’t tolerate premarital sex. Just as students are urged to sign pledges to never drink and drive, they should be encouraged to sign abstinence pledges. These pledges, despite what you read in the newspapers, actually work.

As proof, just look at the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a long-term, government funded study of 90,000 seventh- through 12th-graders. “Teens who pledged to remain a virgin until marriage began sexual activity much later than their peers who did not take such a pledge,” the government reported in 2001. And the later they start, the better off we all are. Older teenagers are generally more responsible, and thus less likely to become pregnant or contract an STD.

Are some children going to have sex anyway, no matter what we tell them? Certainly. Just as some are going to drink and drive anyway, no matter what we tell them. Teenagers always have, and always will, think they’re immortal. They’re always going to take risks that seem foolish to adults.

But at the same time, they’re always going to look to adults for advice. We make it a point to let teenagers know they shouldn’t drink and drive, ride in a car without a seatbelt, smoke, or litter. Let’s make sure we give them the correct advice about abstinence, too.

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