The sex industry is a multibillion-dollar operation, if one includes pornography, much of cable TV (is that redundant?), pregnancy prevention devices (mislabeled "birth control"), and virtually all contemporary magazines. It should then come as no surprise that the sex industry has a vested interest in recruiting new "customers." Just as the tobacco companies must hook kids on cigarettes to survive, so must the sex industry need to hook teens on sex. That's why we should regard with skepticism a recent review sponsored by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy which found that sex education and other programs that tell teens how to avoid pregnancy and AIDS do not encourage them to experiment and in some cases discourage sexual activity. The review looked at 250 studies. The review included no dissenting voices, according to the Abstinence Clearing House, a national organization that promotes abstinence until marriage. Apparently, it's assumed that teens will have sex, so the focus of programs examined in the 250 studies is limited to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Some of the programs are expensive. The New York Times reports that one costs $4,000 per student per year (greater than the per-child expense in some school districts) but "did not reduce sexual risk-taking among boys." In fact, says Times writer Tamar Lewin, "the boys in the program actually were more likely to become fathers." Sex is the only form of human behavior viewed as uncontrollable in teenagers. If we taught them about driving the way we do about sex (how to speed and break laws without getting caught or paying the consequences), there would be more accidents and casualties among this age group than there are now. Where teens are led, they will follow. The culture is leading them-through music, music videos, TV, and films-toward sexual activity. It is always presented as fun but without consequences. Suppose the bias was different. Suppose we began to think the best of young people and presume that they can make decisions in their own and in society's best interests? That's what was on display earlier this month at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Hundreds of girls and boys, from elementary to high school, showed up for the 14th Annual Family and School Recognition Ceremony sponsored by Best Friends, an organization that unapologetically promotes sexual abstinence in the public schools. Currently, 5,000 girls and 125 boys belong, representing 100 schools in 26 cities and 14 states. The philosophical foundation of Best Friends is simple. It is reinforced in its own culture of abstinence. The Best Friends creed says, "Sex is never a test of love; the decision not to have sex in high school is a good one; the decision to wait until marriage is the best one." Best Friends has compiled some eye-popping statistics. According to their own survey, 95 percent of members had never used illegal drugs or had sex. Ninety-one percent say they want to wait until at least after high-school graduation to have sex, and 69 percent want to wait until marriage before having sex. In 1999, an independent researcher associated with the National Centers for Disease Control compared data about the behavior and attitudes of District of Columbia public-school children. According to the survey, 17.8 percent of D.C. seventh-grade girls and 32.8 percent of eighth-grade girls had had sexual intercourse. The survey of Best Friends girls attending those same schools found just 4.2 percent of seventh-graders and 5.6 percent of eighth-graders had experienced sexual intercourse. I do not believe in a doctrine of inevitability when it comes to teens and sex. The Best Friends approach works. You can see success in members' eyes. You can see what purity has brought to their lives. Why aren't more people embracing such programs? It is because the sex industry makes money off young minds and bodies. The industry would go broke if abstinence among youth were to become a trend. After seeing these happy and hopeful children, one desperately hopes it will.
-© 2001 Tribune Media Services, Inc.