By The Greenwood Commonwealth, Greenwood Miss.
GREENWOOD, Miss. —
There are two schools of thought on the best way to discourage teenagers from getting pregnant.
One advocates teaching (and preaching) “abstinence only” — that is, telling teens that there are economic, physical, emotional and moral imperatives to refrain from having sex until they are married, no exceptions allowed. It says that saying anything else just condones pre-marital sex and contributes to it.
The other side says that the abstinence-only approach is unrealistic. Since a majority of young people are already engaging in sexual relations, the argument goes, they need more than lectures that are out of touch with their experience. Sure, talk about the advantages of abstinence, they say, but youngsters who aren’t going to opt for abstinence need honest, factual information about contraception.
Those two schools of thought — in an apparently unplanned coincidence — were on display in the same building recently in Jackson. The Women’s Fund in Mississippi presented a conference on abstinence-plus early in the day at the Jackson Convention Complex, and Gov. Phil Bryant’s office sponsored one on abstinence-only later.
The juxtaposition invariably led to comparisons in the style and effectiveness of the two approaches. Mississippi’s public schools are closely divided over which is best. Required for the first time to provide students with sex education, 81 school districts have opted for the abstinence-only approach, 68 for abstinence-plus. Three are using a mixture of the two, depending on the age of the student.
In our opinion, abstinence-plus is the more effective approach. It better addresses what is really going on with today’s young people than what we wished was going on.
Neither approach, though, will be all that successful in reducing the state’s chronically high rates of teen pregnancy, premature births and sexually transmitted disease if responsible sex education only happens at school.
Young people are bombarded with erotic messages these days from the film, TV and music industries. They also receive from their peers a lot of bad information as well as pressure to become sexually active early.
Countering that combination of popular culture and peer pressure requires many adults — not just classroom teachers but parents, church leaders, coaches, neighbors. Not only do they have a role in imparting good values to young people. They also are critical in keeping tabs on what young people are watching, saying and doing.
As with a lot of risky behavior, sexual promiscuity among teenagers occurs when they are unsupervised or when the adults in their lives are sexually irresponsible themselves. Schools — no matter what approach they adopt — can’t overcome that.