My friend Pam Stenzel has recently come under heated attack, receiving vitriolic mail. Why? Because she speaks across the country to high-schoolers, trying to help them stay away from sex. And she does it very, very well.
Pam unabashedly uses the “A” word—that in-your-face-button-pushing one: abstinence. Honestly, I’ve never understood why that word bothers so many folks. We all abstain from things. I abstain from red wine because it triggers my migraines. I encourage my patients to abstain from smoking and using drugs, and good teachers abstain from being overly critical of kids in their classrooms. Each of us abstains from something every single day. So what’s the rub? Three things.
1. There is widespread misunderstanding about what teaching sexual abstinence to kids is about. Many parents believe that teaching abstinence means withholding critical information about birth control to kids. It doesn’t. It simply means that the entire of focus of the teaching is about how to postpone sex. But it is comprehensive in content.
2. Some believe that teaching sexual abstinence is used to teach moral values or religious leanings. The truth is, the abstinence movement was founded on moral and religious beliefs. However, since the explosion of sexually transmitted infections over the past 15 years, the medical community has jumped on board. One would be hard-pressed to find a physician in the U.S. who thinks that sexual activity (with or without condoms) is safe for kids.
Dr. Julie Gerberding said how dangerous sex was for kids in a 2004 letter to Congress when she addressed how we can drive down the rates of cervical cancer in the U.S. Her solution? Get kids to delay the sexual debut as long as possible and decrease the number of sexual partners to as few as possible. Sounds like teaching abstinence to me.
3. Teaching abstinence threatens business and politics everywhere. Can you imagine if we as a country came together (as we did with cigarettes) and told the media, clothing companies, and gaming companies to back off of our kids?
Selling sex to our kids is a multi-billion dollar industry, and simply put, lobbyists and lawyers representing those companies would wage war to keep sex in their marketing plans.
The reality is, our kids need us to help them delay sex. They feel so much pressure, and beginning sexual activity in the teen years leads them to no good place. I tell my patients, the younger they start, the greater their risk for infections, depression, pregnancy, and other problems. In my experience, kids listen when you speak to them directly and respectfully.
The Best Friends Foundation started by Elayne Bennett in Washington, D.C. has been wildly successful in helping teen girls and boys abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol. After the first few years, teen pregnancy rates in Washington plummeted. Until Best Friends, they were among the highest in the country.
So let me ask you parents a question. Knowing that the CDC says that we are living with an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases (disproportionately concentrated among our youth), which cause everything from small warts to cancer to death, what do you want your kids to be taught?
Would you rather your child hear from a teacher who encourages him or her to simply take birth control or use condoms—or hear from Pam?
I’ll take Pam any day. So if you support her work, please let her know.