Abstinence Efforts Help but Need Support

( [email protected] ) Dec 09, 2003 12:17 PM EST

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. –Abstinence efforts among schools which use tactics of sexual –abstinence commitment cards do not seem to be effective. Sexual-abstinence cards simply ask the students to sign a piece of paper to say they will not have sex before marriage. According to a survey conducted by Northern Kentucky University, out of 527 Northern Kentucky students, 16 percent of students pledged. 61 percent of students who made abstinence promises broke them. Even those who claimed to have kept their pledges, 55 percent found other loopholes and participated in oral sex.

The study also showed that students who broke overall delayed having sex approximately one year longer than non-pledging students but were less prone to use condoms when first having sex.

Skepticism to the study is not absent. Angela Lipsitz, a professor at Northern Kentucky University who was involved in the study noted the warning signs the study flags but does not see the study as a final verdict.

"To me it sends up cautions," she said. "I would say we need to be skeptical at this point. It is only one study. I would say this is showing some interesting things, but I would like to see them replicated."

Among the abstinence programs operating, grass-roots abstinence effort dubbed “True Love Waits,” has been one of the most popular, even receiving government-funding more than 200 abstinence programs, according to the program’s spokesman, Richard Ross, who started the movement at 10 years ago at the Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Nashville. He also adds that he is not surprised by the results of the studies.

"Even though I am very supportive of any programs that talk about abstinence, I think many of the pledges signed lack the power to shape long-term decisions," Ross said.

True Love Waits puts God into the pledge picture giving the effort more steam. "Promising a notebook means almost nothing," Ross commented. "Promising to God is extremely important to most young people."

The movement works through local churches and families. The efficacy of signing the pledges come from the bonds the pledges create in letting teens know they are not alone in their promise and can even be proud of it, says Ross. Such pride is displayed at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta where pledge cards were stacked up to show those committed that they are not alone.

However, to continue the success of True Love Waits, support is needed, says David Hager, director of the obstetrician and gynecology training program at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, Ky. He found that reduced support led to a decline in abstinence statistics. "The teaching of abstinence and abstinence education is no a one-time event," he said. "It has to be a continuous thing."

Joe McIlhaney, director of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a nonprofit educational group based in Austin, couldn’t agree more. "The kids are really asking for help staying sexually abstinent," he said. "They just aren't receiving the support."

Ross says that the effort True Love Waits has seen dropping national statistics in sexual activity, where over 50 percent of middle and high school teens are virgins.

"Behavior is changing," Ross stated. "It has not changed for every teenager."

A separate research by the U.S. government’s 2001 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health revealed the number of compliance decreases as pledges within a school increases.

Ross still argues that governments should continue funding the abstinence programs because such efforts to prevent teen sexual activity can also mean less money spent to aid teen pregnancies. Although Ross promotes the pledge signing, he disagrees with distributing condoms at schools for clear reasons.

"I grieve [that] a teenager breaking a promise might be at a higher risk of pregnancy and disease, but the implications of that are not as dangerous as parents and church leaders telling them, 'We want you to always carry protection because we expect you to fail.' That would be self-fulfilling prophecy," Ross said.