Sunday, July 22, 2007

Whose Fault is it That Teen Sex Rates Have Stopped Declining?

Just as the debate heats up in Congress over funding for abstinence-only sex ed programs, the Washington Post has an article entitled "Teen Sex Rates Stop Falling, Data Show".

According to a new Centers for Disease Control analysis requested by the WP, the percentage of teenagers having sex began to plateau in 2001 after falling steadily for more than a decade.

John Santelli of Columbia University found similar results in his research, comparing the trends between 1991-1997 and from 1999-2005. "It seems clear that the trend seems to be faltering in the most recent period of time," he told the WP.

Dr. Santelli is among the many in the WP article insinuating that abstinence-only sex ed programs are failures:
"At a certain point, it becomes really hard to change basic human behaviors. I think what we're seeing is the limits of the emphasis on abstinence as the primary message."
The WP article notes that 2001, the year that teen sex rates began to plateau, was also the year that the Bush administration began its push for expansion of abstinence-only programs. There is only one brief mention in the WP article of cultural factors:
"Teenagers today live in an MTV-driven culture and are bombarded by sexual messages that say it is normative for them to get involved sexually," said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council. "We need a message that sexual experimentation as a teenager is unhealthy."
It is clear that pop culture has become even more oversexualized in the past decade, and the message has been aimed at a much younger audience than in previous years. This has been epitomized by the "Bratz" dolls, which debuted in 2001. Is it any wonder that the generation raised on Bratz dolls and idolization of "party girls" like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton is having difficulty rejecting the societal glorification of casual sex?

Also, there is NO discussion in the entire article about parental attitudes towards teen sex. Since teen sex rates rose dramatically in the 1970's and 1980's, it stands to reason that the parents of today's teens are much more likely to have had teen sex themselves than the parents of earlier generations. Are the Baby Boomer parents of today's teens more permissive towards teen sex as a result?

Research has shown that teens whose parents clearly convey their disapproval of teen sex are significantly more likely to remain virgins at age 18 than those whose parents do not. Are fewer of today's teens receiving that message than in the past?

I did a Google search, and was unable to find any research on whether parental attitude towards teen sex has become more permissive. Anecdotally, it seems like it has. Wendy Shalit profiles several young women whose moms put pressure on them to be more sexual in her book Girls Gone Mild. The attitude I've personally encountered among many Baby Boomers takes it for granted that teens will have sex.

This WP article is so typical of the bias against traditional values in the elite media. If it were clearly labeled an op-ed piece, it would be okay for the author to "spin" the data to support his argument against abstinence-only sex ed programs. However, this article was in the national news section! Whatever happened to objectivity, to providing a "fair and balanced" look at things?

Who is truly at fault that teen sex rates have stopped falling- abstinence-only sex ed programs or permissive parents & an oversexualized pop culture? Common sense would place the blame on the latter!

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