Features

Stop, in the name of love

Abstinence Education

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

PLANO, Texas—At 8 a.m. 34 teens ready for a discussion of sex-sex abstinence, that is-bite into Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the second floor of Vines High School in Plano, Texas, just outside Dallas. "Okay, let's get started," calls school nurse Darlene Workman in a fluttering white coat, clapping her hands above her head. Mrs. Workman founded the abstinence club on Valentine's Day last year after three years of "horror stories in my clinic. The students were uninformed [about sex], devastated by the consequences, and searching for answers."

School doesn't start for another hour, and the abstinence club usually meets after school twice a month on Thursday afternoons, but the meeting is early today to nab a special speaker: former San Diego Chargers quarterback Neal Jeffrey. Mr. Jeffery, now an associate pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, starts by asking, "You know who thought up sex?" He pauses and exclaims, "God did! God is up on sex!" The teens giggle nervously, and soon he asks them to choose between a night or weekend of premarital sex with the possibility of pregnancy or disease, or "60 years of maximum sex" by abstaining until marriage. "Hey, I'm on my 25th year of my 60 years!" he smiles. The students laugh.

"The football guys needed to see a cool guy," says Mrs. Workman, 61. "Abstinence isn't always attractive to boys that want to be macho." So far, fewer than one-fourth of the club members are guys, but Mr. Jeffrey points to two tall boys slouching in the front row. "I'm glad to see you athletic guys-you jocks-here," he says. "You are doing the right thing." One of those boys-Daniel DeVega, 15-plays both baseball and football, and he says the club has changed the school atmosphere about abstinence. One of his female friends, who is also in the club, wears a button that says, "I'm worth waiting for," and Daniel notes, "Whenever I see her, I'm like: We've got to wait until marriage."

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The club's co-president, Wes Thompson, 16, says most of his pals "didn't want anything to do with (the club)," but "more social activities" that are planned for next year could help. Mark Teguns, 16, says being a part of the club is not always so easy. "For a long time, it was only me and Wes and all these girls," he laughs shyly, fingering a cross necklace. And many times, he says, his basketball teammates say in disbelief, "You're in the abstinence club?"

It's a little easier for girls. Tawni Fredriksen, 16, a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair, took an abstinence vow at 13 and has helped organize the club. Tawni's two older sisters didn't abstain until marriage and one of them got pregnant. "That was really hard," she said. "But the abstinence club has really helped me keep my promise. Now that people know I'm part of the abstinence club, they don't bug me about what I did last weekend. Some even respect me." Her boyfriend attends club meetings with her.

After Mr. Jeffrey closes his talk, the students applaud and then snatch up free pro-abstinence T-shirts that Mrs. Workman has bought with her own money. She's committed in part because of her eight years at a family-planning clinic dispensing birth-control pills and condoms: "When I kept seeing them come back pregnant and miserable, after maybe selling their pills or not taking them regularly, or having the birth control fail, I knew there had to be another way." So far, she's received no opposition to the club from the school or parents. "It's so good for them to hear the abstinence message from someone other than their parents-especially at school," says mother Martha Hall.

Mrs. Workman is a Christian and she invites Christian speakers like Mr. Jeffrey, but club meetings do not include prayer or Bible reading.

That satisfies wary school administrators and attracts positive attention from school counselors like Shari Stark, who supports the abstinence club because of what miserable students have told her: "I have never talked to one kid in all my years of counseling who said, 'I'm glad I [had sex].' It's always, 'He used me. She used me. I'll never get back what I gave away.' I think it's one of the reasons for self-mutilating, self-esteem problems, and even the disintegration of the family."

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