“Many parents find it valuable to still say to their kid, ‘Look, I don’t want you to have sex until you’re married, but I feel that you need to understand about contraception because so many kids do have sex.’”
– Dr. Mark Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., pediatrician
Each year, thousands of young people make a pledge of abstinence, vowing not to have sex until they get married. But over time, how does the behavior of the kids who pledge abstinence compare to those who don’t?
“That I will, with the grace of God, live a chaste life,” says Rebecca, reading her pledge.
Rebecca’s pledge is a promise she made to herself not to have sex before she is married.
“I was not comfortable with the person I was becoming, so that’s when I decided that I wanted to make a vow of chastity,” says Rebecca, 18.
She’s kept that vow for two years, but according to a study by Columbia University, 88 percent of pledgers break their vow and have sex before marriage. This issue is controversial, and some experts say the problem is that many kids take the pledge because their parents want them to, not because they want to.
“If they do it for Mom and Dad, [then] Mom and Dad took the pledge,” says Molly Kelly, teen chastity advocate.
The Columbia University study included 12,000 teens and found that the kids who pledge abstinence have the same rate of STDs as those who don’t.
“If we just tell our kids to not have sex, and we don’t tell them anything else, [then] when they do have sex, they’re not prepared for the consequences,” says Dr. Mark Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., pediatrician.
He says that even with a vow of abstinence, kids still need to be knowledgeable.
“Many parents find it valuable to still say to their kid, ‘Look, I don’t want you to have sex until you’re married, but I feel that you need to understand about contraception because so many kids do have sex,’” says Schuster.
Rebecca says a serious test of her pledge will happen when she gets to college.
“And that’s going to be when I prove to myself that this promise I made is really real,” says Schuster.
Tips for Parents
- Parents sometimes find it difficult to have discussions about sex or sexuality with their teenagers. However, the importance of having these discussions with children has been well documented. The following suggestions for ideas and topics of discussion about sex and sexuality are excerpted from information available from the National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy:
- Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. Communicating with your children about sex, love and relationships is often more successful when you are certain in your own mind about these issues.
- Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific. Kids have lots of questions about sex, and they often say that the source they’d most like to go to for an answer is their parents. Start the conversation, and make sure that it is honest, open and respectful. If you can’t think of how to start the discussion, consider using situations shown on television or in movies as conversation starters. Connect with Kids DVDs are designed to help you with these conversations, using real kids and stories and a family discussion guide. Try http://www.connectwithkids.com/products/firstcomeslove.shtml or http://www.connectwithkids.com/products/sex_silent_parent.shtml.
- Tell children candidly and confidently what you think and why you take these positions; if you’re not sure about some issues, tell them that, too. Be sure to have a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture. Ask them what they think and what they know so you can correct misconceptions. Ask what, if anything, worries them.
- Supervise and monitor your children and adolescents. Establish rules, curfews and standards of expected behavior, preferably through an open process of family discussion and respectful communication.
- Know your children’s friends and their families. Friends have a strong influence on each other, so help your children and teenagers become friends with kids whose families share your values.
- Discourage early, frequent and steady dating. Group activities among young people are fine and often fun, but experts discourage steady, one-on-one dating before age 16.
- Take a strong stand against your daughter dating a boy significantly older than she is. And don’t allow your son to develop an intense relationship with a girl much younger than he is. Try setting a limit of no more than a two- (or at most three-) year age difference.
- Help your teenagers to have options for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood. The chances that your children will delay sex, pregnancy and parenthood are significantly increased if their futures appear bright.
- Let your kids know that you value education highly. Encourage your children to take school seriously and set high expectations about their school performance. School failure is often the first sign of trouble that can end in teenage parenthood.
- Know what your kids are watching, reading and listening to. The media (television, radio, movies, music videos, magazines, the Internet) are often sends the wrong messages. Sex rarely has meaning, unplanned pregnancy seldom happens, and few people having sex ever seem to be married or even especially committed to anyone.
- These tips for helping your children avoid teen pregnancy work best when they occur as part of strong, close relationships with your children that are built from an early age. Strive for a relationship that is warm in tone, firm in discipline, rich in communication, and one that emphasizes mutual trust and respect.
- National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy