Among the 57 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys ages 15-19 who said they had never had sex, 41 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys chose "against religion or morals" as their main reason for not having had sex. Teenagers were least likely to choose "don't want to get a sexually transmitted disease" as the reason for not having had sex, the CDC said.
"Adults have to decide whether teenagers are like barnyard animals, incapable of moral decision-making and at the mercy of primal urges," Richard Ross, cofounder of the True Love Waits abstinence movement, said. "Adults who tend to believe that assume all we can do is try to prevent some of the consequences of their amoral behavior."
Early True Love Waits leaders stood in opposition to that sentiment and instead told teenagers, "We have great respect for you. In the power of the Spirit, we believe you are perfectly capable of choosing values, making promises and keeping those promises," Ross said.
"That was a completely different message than they were hearing in school, and they rose up in historic numbers to embrace what they were hearing," Ross told Baptist Press. "Then, here we are, 17 years later, and the government asks the teenagers not having sex why they live that way. And by a wide margin the students tell us it is all about their faith and not so much about their biological fears."
The response choices for the in-person interviews of more than 4,600 teenagers were: "against religion or morals," "don't want to get pregnant/get a female pregnant," "don't want to get a sexually transmitted disease," "haven't found the right person yet," "in a relationship, but waiting for the right time" and "other."
Researchers also found that the rate of teenagers having sex has declined slightly from the last report, which was released in 2002. But the report said that from 1988 to 2006-2010, the percentage of sexually experienced teen females declined significantly, from 51 percent to 43 percent.
If teenagers had been raised by both parents, the study found, they were less likely to have sex. For example, 35 percent of girls who lived with both parents were sexually experienced, compared with 54 percent among those who lived in any other parental arrangement.
"Our leaders in Washington need to talk to each other. With the support of the White House, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service now says abstinence education does not work and is 'an unallowable activity' when groups seek grants to fund sex-education in the schools," Ross, a student ministry professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said.
"At the same time, the government's own Centers for Disease Control reports annually that rates of teenage sexual activity have dropped every year since True Love Waits and the broader abstinence movement came on the scene. Perhaps the Administration is making decisions based more on an ideology than on research."
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the study shows the sexual risk avoidance message is "not only resonating but also making a difference in the lives of youth."
The bad news, though, is that STD rates for teens continue to increase alongside the increase in condom use, the NAEA said in a statement Oct. 12.
"While teens comprise only 25 percent of the population, they bear the burden of 50 percent of all new cases of STDs. Notably, girls ages 15-19 have the highest rates of Chlamydia," the group said. "This troubling statistic overlaps the timeframe when most teens receive sex education instruction."
Huber said more teenagers are waiting to have sex, but those who aren't are not as protected as they think they are.
"We must ask if our teens are getting incomplete information regarding what will keep them truly 'safe,'" she said. "If condom use is increasing among teens and yet STD rates continue to rise, teens may be taking sexual risks because they have been taught that condoms offer adequate protection from the possible consequences of teen sex, when such is obviously not the case."
NAEA is urging the Obama administration to rethink policies regarding sex education.
"In light of the data found in this report, we need a dramatic change in our sex education policies," Huber said. "The sexual risk avoidance message found in abstinence education programs must be supported in order to continue to reinforce the healthy choices teens are making.
"In addition, we must examine the connection between increased condom use and rising STD rates among teens. In an administration that professes to embrace science, these findings beg serious questions that need to be addressed with objectivity and for the health of our youth."
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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