December 4th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The rise of Condoleezza Rice

EDITORIAL: Corporate power ... and the public interest

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Talent gap widens between major parties

CENSORSHIP: Nicole Kidman in controversial movie

ECONOMICS: Productivity report driven by ideology

FINANCE: Day of reckoning for Australia's debt binge?

RURAL AFFAIRS: The National Party's Telstra sale dilemma

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION PART 1: Iran backs down on uranium enrichment

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION PART 2: US doubtful about Tehran's intentions

VIET TAN: New reform party launched for Vietnam

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Uncharted territory / The Zamindars / Labor's performance / The Light on the Hill

SEX EDUCATION: Telling teens the truth - 'cool' virginity, abstinence and faithful marriage

US ELECTIONS: Christians eat lions in 2004 election

China's stand-off with Taiwan (letter)

Labor needs heart transplant (letter)

Saddam's secret weapons (letter)

BOOKS: MONASH: The outsider who won a war, by Roland Perry

THE CRISIS OF ISLAM: Holy War and Unholy Terror, by Bernard Lewis

BOOKS: Non-Alignment and Peace versus Military Alignment and War

Books promotion page

Telling teens the truth - 'cool' virginity, abstinence and faithful marriage

by Roslyn Phillips

News Weekly, December 4, 2004
Australia's Dolly magazine, with its "Perve Alerts" followed by condom and pill advice for young teenagers, is not the place you'd expect to find an article promoting virginity.

But the November 2004 edition of Dolly showed six "cool" young women aged 16-23 who were all virgins and proud of it. Anna McCoy (17) said: "I believe sex is something that should be given in a life-long relationship - ultimately marriage. Most of my friends feel the same and we all support each other in our decision to remain virgins. I've had a few boyfriends and they have all respected my decision or have had similar views."

Anne Bennett (23) said: "There are many reasons I'm a virgin: the health risks; the possible emotional upset; my faith, and wanting to prove commitment to my future husband. The more guys I sleep with, the less I'll have to offer the guy I marry."

"I feel most pressure from advertising, TV and movies. I don't watch movies with full-on sex scenes because where the mind goes, the body wants to follow.

"I'll have sex after I've walked down the aisle, the ring is on my finger and the guy's totally committed."

Although other articles in Dolly had a different message, this one actually told Australian teens the truth - that abstinence until faithful marriage is both achievable and worthwhile. Is it light at the end of the tunnel?

1960s sexual revolution

The culture of Australia and other Western nations underwent a sea change following the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Before then, virginity before marriage and fidelity within it were the cultural norm. But the introduction of the contraceptive pill in Australia in the early '60s, along with the effective legalisation of abortion in the '70s and the development of antibiotics in the '40s, meant that many young men and women believed they could "sleep around" without the risks of pregnancy or sexually-transmitted disease.

They didn't escape these risks, of course. Contraceptives - including the condom and even the pill - are not fool-proof.

The number of common sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) has increased from two (syphilis and gonorrhoea) in the 1960s to 25 today. At least eight new STIs have been identified since 1980 including HIV.

Pressure from government

The sexual revolution brought with it a new subject in schools which had previously been the province of the church or parents in the home - sex education. Some of the pressure for the new programs came from governments, concerned at the rising levels of abortion and disease.

By the 1980s, a "value-free" approach to sex education lessons had become common in state and some independent schools. The word "marriage" disappeared from many curricula in favour of the vague term, "long-term relationship". Many schools invited the Family Planning Association to provide explicit instruction on contraception, including how to put a condom on a model of male genitals.

However the emphasis on contraception - especially condoms - did nothing to stop the increase in teenage pregnancies and abortion.

In the United States, by contrast, President Bush greatly increased funds for abstinence-only sex education programs in 2002. The success of programs like True Love Waits (begun in 1993) - where church teens sign pledges that they will remain abstinent until marriage - is pushing down teen abortion and disease rates in the US.

Since 2001 Mia Bell has been running an abstinence-based sex education program in Mitchell County, an impoverished rural area in south west Georgia. She says:

"The abstinence program offers our students an opportunity to see once again the beauty and values they possess. Low self-worth is a major problem with our young girls. They look to the opposite sex for the approval and attention they so desperately desire. With this program students have a channel to express their innermost feelings."

Uganda slashes HIV

However the most dramatic evidence for the effectiveness of abstinence-based sex education comes from Africa, where Uganda - a small, very poor nation - used youth forums, schools and churches to teach the message of abstinence and fidelity, slashing its terrible AIDS toll.

In 1990 Uganda's HIV infection rate was around 30 per cent. But alone among African nations, Uganda has seen its HIV/AIDS infection and death rate plummet over the past decade.

What is Uganda's secret weapon? It is not condoms - Uganda has the lowest per-capita use of condoms in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. Instead, Uganda follows the "ABC" approach - Abstinence first, then Be faithful to your spouse, with Condom use only when one spouse is infected with HIV.

The evidence is in - from the US and especially, Uganda. Abstinence-based education cuts teen pregnancy and disease rates. Condom-based education does not.

  • This is an edited extract from a recent research paper by Mrs Roslyn Phillips, B.Sc., Dip.Ed. The full-length version is available from the Festival of Light, South Australia.

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