This week, NC Family president John Rustin continues a discussion he began last week with Valerie Huber, president of Ascend, formerly the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), about the important role parents can play in helping teens make wise decisions about sex.
INTRODUCTION: Valerie is president of Ascend—formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). Ascend is a professional association that represents organizations and individuals who support a priority on risk avoidance through abstinence education.
Valerie is back with us to continue a discussion we began last week about the critical role that parents play in helping teens make wise decisions about sex. This week, we will talk more about the importance of parental involvement in these issues, and why abstinence education is the best way to help teens choose wisely when it comes to sexual activity.
JOHN RUSTIN: If there are some of our listeners who doubt, or question the effectiveness of abstinence-based education, verses a comprehensive-based sex education approach, talk a little bit about that and help them understand the effectiveness of abstinence education programs for helping teens understand the value of delaying sexual activity until marriage.
VALERIE HUBER: That’s such a good question John, because even those who really believe that waiting for sex is the ideal choice, a lot of people think that, “well, while I wish that were the case, you know this is 2015 and that’s just not a realistic expectation.” Because of that, they will kind of clamp down on what they would think that sex education classes should look like because they want to be relevant and realistic. I think that your listeners would be encouraged to know there are about 25 peer-reviewed studies that show that our programs that focus on sexual risk avoidance are having a really dramatic impact on students. And it’s not just those who are waiting for sex, but among all experiences. So, among those students who haven’t had sex, it lengthens the time that they remain abstinent, if they’re part of a sexual risk avoidance program. We would expect that to be the case if our programs were effective, and not surprisingly, those results are a part of that research. But, our detractors will often say, “Well, these programs are okay for those students who aren’t having sex, but we know that a lot of students are having sex, so these are not irrelevant to them.” Well, the research shows just the opposite to be true: that our programs really resonate with the young people who have already has sex, because oftentimes, in choosing to have sex looking for something that they think will be satisfied if they have sex, and then they find out afterwards that it didn’t fill that hole either. So the fact that about two-thirds of teens who are sexually active wish they had waited, plays into the effectiveness of our programs for those students too, because we offer a healthier choice for them in the future, and really address those core issues of the heart. You know, you can’t just separate reproductive organs from a holistic discussion of the value of a person, the importance of building healthy relationships, and how to set your own personal boundaries. Those are the sorts of conversations that need to be a very real part of this discussion. And so as a result the sexually experienced students are more likely to choose to wait again, or at least reduce their sexual activity, which is a step in the right direction. And those who go on to be sexually active are no less likely to use contraception than their peers, because we talk about contraception in the context that it reduces your risk, but it’s not going to eliminate it, and the risk still remains. We don’t demonstrate contraception, we don’t pass it out, and we don’t give them the false sense of security that as long as they use a condom or some other kind of contraception, they’re going to be okay. But they do know that it does reduce their risk. We think this is a win-win for all of the students, regardless of their sexual activity, and the research shows that.
But beyond that, the CDC has released some information that also shows that on a broad level, the sexual risk avoidance message is relevant today for our teens. One of course is the data that I shared a few minutes ago showing that the percentage of teens who had not had sex has increased over 15 percent in the last 20 years. But I think looking at a narrower time period, and that is, let’s look at that period of time since President Obama made a huge change in the priority for sex education at a national level. What are we seeing from that period of time? Are there any changes, either positive or negative? And unfortunately, we’re beginning to see some negative changes in student behavior as a result of having a priority on normalizing teen sex. High school students who are sexually active are having more partners. The CDC just a few days ago released sexually transmitted disease rates, and among young adults, which are 15-24 year-olds, we have the highest rate of STDs that we have ever had. Are we surprised? No.
JOHN RUSTIN: What do you believe the proper role of our government is in using our tax dollars for sex education?
VALERIE HUBER: We need to look at what sort of sex education are our tax dollars going toward. Right now, about 95 percent in fact of our tax payer dollars devoted to sex education are going to programs that are telling teens to go ahead and experiment, just be careful. That is a message that, as the Barna research shows, makes teens feel pressured to have sex, but even more than that it’s really setting a standard that is putting our young people at increased risk, and certainly that is not a wise use or a healthy use of our tax payer dollars. Certainly, the emphasis should be on giving them the information and skills and encouragement to wait for sex, and if they’ve already been sexually experienced, to make a healthier choice in the future.
JOHN RUSTIN: In light of those recent trends, what advice do you have Valerie, for the parents of teenagers who are listening to us today, and even for teenagers who may be listening to the program today about how parents can use it to better influence their teens, and how teens can really embrace this information? Say, for example, they are facing conflicting messages at school today, they walk into a sex education class or a health education class, and they are feeling pressured that, “Hey, the norm is to be sexually active, and I don’t feel like that’s what I want to do, and even believe that being sexually active outside of a married relationship is morally wrong, but it also exposes me to risk that I just don’t want to take.” What advice do you have for parents and for teenagers to really encourage them and to bolster their efforts to make healthy and correct decisions?
VALERIE HUBER: I think the first thing is that we need to be very conscious of is the fact that there is so much what I’ll call “cultural chatter” that is sending the message both to teens and to parents that sex is an expectation and it’s the norm. I think both parents and teens need to realize that the majority of their peers [for teens] haven’t had sex, and that can be a game-changer because that cultural chatter is saying just the opposite. Secondly, parents really need to step up—even though it’s an uncomfortable conversation, even though they may have made, looking back, some personal choices themselves when they were teens that they’re not especially happy about now. Their children can learn through their mistakes, rather than having to repeat them themselves. And after all, this is a critical time for parents to parent.
Young people who are feeling that pressure—I get that. I mean certainly from all sides they’re receiving that message that really makes sexual activity almost seem a part of the teen experience. But we’re seeing something through the CDC data that show that more teens are waiting, that I think bears more research. Snd I just wonder if young people are looking at how this has impacted their peers, they are recognizing the potential for negative consequences, and they’re saying, “I think I would rather focus on my future right now, and I’m going to wait for this.” And yet, the reinforcement from adults in their lives—whether it be teachers, educators, parents, and even the faith community—aren’t embracing nearly to the degree that they should, this healthy decision. Think of how those numbers and those decisions might change even more positively, if there could be a chorus and an amplification of that healthy messaging and encouraging? [We need to say]: “I believe that you can do this, it’s the healthiest, and if you’ve made unhealthy choices in the past, I’m here to help you make healthier ones in the future.”
JOHN RUSTIN: And those positive reinforced messages that teens are hearing at home and then hopefully at church and at school, of course the media is a whole other thing, but to the degree that we can influence those different arenas that ultimately influence our children, the more these numbers can move in a positive direction. And we’re so grateful for Valerie, for you, and for Ascend, and all the great work that you’re doing. Before we close out our time for this week I do want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to learn more about Ascend and all the great work that you’re doing?
VALERIE HUBER: We are in the midst of a re-brand, and so we have a holding page for the new website that is being created as we speak. They can go to weascend.org, and it will for right now take you back to the NAEA, National Abstinence Education Association, website. But very soon we will have a brand new website with new data, a new look, and much more easy to navigate for parents, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great. This is such a critically important issue for our teens, and it’s so important that parents are involved because it is such an impactful thing for the future of our teenagers. So, parents, please be involved in this area in your teens lives, talk to them about it and recognize that as Valerie has so well stated again, that our children are facing challenges on lots of different fronts and hearing messages that say “Look, it’s the norm to be sexually active” and for our teens who for a variety of reasons believe that’s not in their best interest, it’s not the direction that they want to go in, we need to be doing all that we can to reinforce them with positive messages and encouragement that the best decision for them is to delay sexual activity until they are in a committed, life-long married relationship.
VALERIE HUBER: Well said, and thank you, John, for supporting this important agenda for our young people, and we really appreciate your partnership.
JOHN RUSTIN: We appreciate you so much Valerie and for all that Ascend does. Thanks so much for being with us today and all the best for the future.
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