Is teen sex
on the rise in the United States? In June, 17 Gloucester, Massachusetts’s high
school girls under the age of 16 revealed they were pregnant. Actress Jamie Lynn Spears
gave birth to a baby girl. New data
from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that by every measure
the decade-long decline in sexual activity among high school students leveled
off between 2001 and 2007, and the rise in condom use by teens flattened out in
2003. However, the survey found hints
that teen sexual activity may have begun creeping up and that condom use among
high school students might be edging downward.
The issue of sexual activity by teens and how information about sex is
conveyed to them is most controversial.
More on the story by VOA's Alena Mikhailova.
something profoundly wrong in a culture that preaches and funds abstinence-only
'til marriage when 95 percent of the American people have sex before marriage, says James Wagoner of
Advocates for Youth.
Shelby Knox, also of
Advocates for Youth adds: "The majority of scientific evidence shows that
abstinence 'til marriage programs do not work at all."
"Teenagers' brains are not fully
developed. They do not have the ability to understand the consequences and the
reality of what can happen when making poor choices, especially where sexual
activity is concerned," explains Michelle Turner of
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.
"No more movies, no more going out to
dinner with friends. No more parties, no more going out to the mall with
friends," says a teenage
mother, living in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
mother lives in a working class fishing village on
the Atlantic coast. Her words follow
the revelation that 17 of her school friends became pregnant this school year.
It is a story that brings home the issue of sex education in U.S. schools.
sex-ed to teens is one of the most controversial subjects in American
education. There are two major points
of debate: First, that basic sex-ed
should primarily be a discussion of abstinence-only and its benefits. And, the
other, called comprehensive sex education, talks about abstinence but with a
stronger emphasis on contraception and the use of contraceptive devices.
1980's the HIV / AIDS epidemic brought the controversy front and center. The question was and still is: what kind of sex-ed information should be
made available to schoolchildren?
Shelby Knox. This 21 year-old young woman, who testified before Congress this
spring, comes from a very conservative, religious home in Lubbock, Texas.
Shelby is now a spokesperson for Advocates for Youth, a think-tank that
believes in a comprehensive program.
Here is how Shelby was introduced to sex education in school.
"The city I grew up in, Lubbock, Texas, had an
abstinence-only policy. And, as part of that policy they would bring in a local
pastor who did a religious version of an abstinence-only program and he would
bring the secular version of the program into the schools," she explains. "That's what we got
on our junior and senior prom day. I guess they thought that would help the
night before. So he would come into the
"He would give a lot of
misinformation: like you can get an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) by
shaking hands with someone; that half of all young gay males had AIDS," she adds. "He had a
special toothbrush demonstration, where he would pull out a toothbrush but
looked like it was used to scrub toilets.
It was brown and disgusting. He
would pull up a girl on-stage and say: 'would you brush your teeth with
this? And she would say: no, of course not. And he would pull out another toothbrush, this one in a box and
pristine and say 'would you brush your
teeth with this?' And when she answered, 'Yes,' he would turn to the audience and
say 'young people, if you have sex before marriage you are the dirty
high school years were documented in the film, The Education of Shelby
Knox. It was during this
three-year period that Shelby said she changed her thinking about life.
Knox's views changed and so did that of many school districts across the United
in Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, when a comprehensive sex education
curriculum was introduced in 2007. But
not all parents are happy with the content.
called Citizens for a Responsible
Curriculum (CRC) said the curriculum emphasis was misplaced.
Turner, a parent, is spokesperson for CRC. Michelle believes the comprehensive
program in Montgomery County is misguided.
"They are more or less telling
the kids that birth control, condoms, will protect them at a greater rate than
is actual from pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases," Turner
Michelle Turner are the National
Abstinence Education Association and the Family Research Council. Both
believe comprehensive sex education is a green light for sexual activity and
the American culture tells teenage girls to be cool by dressing provocatively
and having non-marital sex is normal.
people, don't take this lightly,” a clergyman tells a group of teenagers. “ What we're gonna do: I want you to look into the eyes of your
parents, declare the commitment that you are making before God, before your
parents, before your future husband.
Use those words!"
American parents who insist that abstinence-only be ritualized. Special chastity or purity ceremonies,
similar to this one in South Dakota, are still practiced in America, with the
goal of no sex until marriage. It has
all the hallmarks of a wedding with vows, a cake, even a first dance, but
instead of giving their daughters away, the fathers are holding on tight.
"Today's day and age, if the daughters are sexually active before
they're married, that (wedding) ceremony really is meaningless because the
father's not giving anyone away," says Brett Markle, a
One of the
key congressional supporters of abstinence-only is Senator Sam Brownback of
Kansas. A father of five, he says, "I'm like most parents in this country, I want
them to abstain from sexual activity until they are married."
think giving the abstinence pledge means giving up your sexuality to your
father or your husband - letting someone else make that decision. How can you have personal autonomy if you
give up those decisions," Shelby Knox counters.
about abstinence-only, are supported by Deanne Keagan, a counselor for the
United Church of Christ youth program.
could see it winding up in more teenage pregnancies and that type of thing
because they don't know everything that they need to know," Keagan says.
University's Institute for Social Research's study on abstinence shows that
nearly 90 percent of those who make an abstinence pledge break it. Why do most
break the pledge?
Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth says "Young people globally are the
same. They are looking for
connection. Relationships are the
gateway to sexuality,” Wagoner said. “Yes, there's a strong sex drive in teens,
that's the way they are created biologically.
But to assume that's all that's at play is to miss the holistic nature
of sex education is an ongoing debate in America, Russia and many parts of the
world. Let us know what is happening in
your country. We'd like to hear from you.
Some video courtesy
of Cine Qua Non, Inc.