Abstinence, anyone?

Strange things do happen. Earlier this month Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, relented after years of obstructionism and allowed the United States to pay its back dues to the United Nations. If Helms can come to terms with the obvious good the UN represents, perhaps "progressive" educators and other advocates of what is called "comprehensive sex education" will one day come to see the virtue and effectiveness of stressing abstinence in public-school sex education. That day has not yet arrived, however.

"Virginity Pledges by Teenagers Can Be Highly Effective, Federal Study Finds," read the surprising (for some) headline in the New York Times (January 4). The new study, conducted by Peter Bearman of Columbia University and Christine Bachrach of Yale, concluded that teenagers who took a pledge to abstain from intercourse until marriage "are much less likely" to have intercourse than adolescents who did not pledge. "The delay effect is substantial and almost impossible to erase. Taking a pledge delays intercourse for a long time," the study concludes.

The pledge, an idea originating with the Southern Baptist church, has been taken by nearly 3 million American adolescents. Virginity pledges and other "abstinence-only" programs are particularly controversial when implemented in public schools. Federal funding guidelines, stemming from the 1996 Welfare Reform Act,...

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