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Abstinence. It works every time


When it comes to teen sex, guess who's making news as a way to prevent pregnancy? None other than Mom and Dad.

New research indicates that parents have far greater influence on their children's sexual decision-making than previously thought. [1] Apparently, what parents say, does matter when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy.

Over two decades of study confirm that families — particularly parents — are important influences of whether their teenagers become sexually active. Studies reveal that parent/child closeness is associated with reduced teen pregnancy risk. [2] The closer teens are to their parents, the more likely they are to remain sexually abstinent. [3]

So if you're thinking about handling your teens a condom, don't. You'd be better off giving them yourself ... your views, your expectations, your values, your unconditional love.

“But wait a minute,” some of you are saying, “I'd be embarrassed to talk about that stuff and besides, my kid thinks he knows everything already.” Maybe not. One survey of American youth by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy revealed that teens today want their parents to talk with them about sexuality issues. [4]

If parents don't, there are others who are all too happy to fill young minds with their own thoughts on teen sexuality (“Don't have sex until you're ready. And when you do, use a condom.”) And chances are, they won't be the views you — or most Canadians and Americans hold.

Make no mistake. It's vital for parents to have input into the kinds of sex-ed programs implemented in the classroom. If they don't, officials will continue to hand out information and condoms to kids who then assume they're expected to use them. Whose kids are they, anyway?

Why the family makes a difference

The connection between parental involvement and reduced teen pregnancies is not just a random blip on the cultural radar. A recent study of adolescent health published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that teens who felt “connected” to their parents were far less likely to initiate sex at a young age. [5] The teen you nurture today very well may be the young adult who can resist peer and hormonal pressure tomorrow.

A parent's belief system also plays a major role in teens' sexual behavior. Findings are rolling in to support the notion that when parents hold strong opinions on the value of abstinence and the risks of teen sexual involvement, their children are at less risk for teen pregnancy. [6] Good grief, you mean underneath those baggy clothes and earrings is a teen who listens to Mom and Dad? Apparently so.

But what about teens who've decided not to wait? Shouldn't they be taught proper condom usage? That sounds great in theory, but the highest reported rate of consistent condom usage in the U.S. is only 50 percent — and that among adult couples with one HIV-positive individual. [7]

Don't miss the significance of this. Who should be more motivated to use condoms than couples with one partner infected by HIV? Yet, half of these couples did not use condoms every time. What are the chances that teens will do better? According to a school-based survey conducted in Nova Scotia, for instance, only 32 percent of grade 12 students who were sexually active always used condoms, although 40 percent of these indicated they had had two or more partners in the past year. [8]

Protected sex really isn't

Real-life statistics show that the use of condoms isn't a guarantee against becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. And latex offers very unreliable protection against genital herpes, chlamydia and, worst of all, human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and most cervical cancers, and kills nearly as many women each year as AIDS. [9], [10]

Young teenagers who are told that this little latex device is safe and reliable may not know they are risking illness, infertility and even death. Why are we settling for risk reduction when we can have risk elimination?

And no condom on earth can protect a teen from the pain of a broken heart.

They claim protection. We guarantee it

Focus on the Family believes our kids deserve better. By abstaining from intercourse until marriage, and then staying faithful to an uninfected partner, one can enjoy sex without negative health consequences. This is the only true “safe sex.”

Though once vilified as culturally irrelevant and unworkable for teens, abstinence does work.

A study of the Washington, D.C., Best Friends program is a good example. Only one percent of this program's participants became pregnant, and 90 percent remained sexually abstinent. [11] In a 1996 study on adolescent sexuality, researchers noted a 54 percent decrease in recent sexual activity one year after teenagers were taught an abstinence curriculum. [12] The data seem clear that when you give teens an unambiguous message and raise the bar for their behavior, they respond by saying “no” to premarital sex.

True love can wait

In fact, since 1994, when the True Love Waits campaign was launched in the U.S., more than 2.4 million teens between 15 and 19 have pledged to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. [13] When the same campaign was carried out in Canada, 10,000 teens made similar pledges in just one year. [14] When adolescents report that they've made a pledge to save sex until marriage, they are more likely to delay intercourse. [15]

Findings like these are hard to ignore, and even government is heeding the wake-up call. Ontario just recently unveiled a new province-wide curriculum for Grades One to Eight, which threw out its former contraception-based program and, instead, lauds the importance of abstinence. [16] This comes after years of pioneering some of the nation's most controversial “safer sex” programs — with dismal results.

You don't need to concede the battle for your children's sexual health to peers, popular culture and the media. You have more influence with your teen than you think. Use it. Tell them about abstinence.

Most sex ed ignores the most important sex organ: The brain

The idea behind abstinence is somewhat radical: kids are given credit for using their minds — not their bodies. And what's handed out in these programs is respect and relationship-building skills. How do teens respond? Enthusiastically. They themselves tell us they want help resisting sexual pressure.

In the Emory University survey of 1,000 sexually experienced girls 16 and younger, nearly 85 percent said they would like to learn “how to say no without hurting the other person's feelings.” [17] With findings like these, it comes as no surprise that 62 percent of high school girls who've already tried sex indicated they “should have waited,” according to a 1994 Roper-Starch study. [18]

After two decades of being taught that “yes” was the expected answer, it seems apparent that today's teens want to be empowered to say “no.” Parents, are we hearing them?

Our kids deserve a guarantee — the truth that abstinence until marriage is the only 100 percent successful way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.



  • Canada has the fifth highest teen birth rate among the 23 industrialized nations. The U.S. ranks first. [19]

  • By age 19, 96 percent of Canadian males and 68 percent of females have engaged in sexual intercourse at least once. [20]

  • 81 percent of teenage Canadian women who had a baby in 1994 were single. [21]

  • STDs represent 36 percent of all notifiable diseases in Canada. [22]

  • The rate of chlamydia for Canadian females aged 15 to 19 is nine times the national rate for all other age groups. [23]

  • The number of teenage abortions in Canada increased from 26 percent in 1974, to 45 percent in 1994. [24]

What many spouses have suspected, researchers now have verified: married couples have the best and most satisfying sex. [25] Not only is physical intimacy more rewarding in marriage, but enjoyment is greater if sexual expression is shared with only one partner in a lifetime. [26] So, Mom and Dad, take heart. Stay involved with your teens. Don't write them off as lost, hardheaded or unapproachable. They want to talk with you about love, sex and values. And they're far more open to the abstinence message than you might think. If you agree with Focus on the Family that abstinence is best, tear out this ad and save it. Take it to you next school board meeting. Send it to your MLA/MPP or MP. And by all means, share it with your teenagers. And be the kind of parent who gives your teens what they really need: yourself.


  1. Miller, Brent C., Ph. D., Professor and Head of Department of Family and Human Development, Utah State University. “Families Matter: A Research Synthesis of Family Influences on Adolescent Pregnancy” Research Review released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, April 1998, p. 1.

  2. Ibid.

  3. “Protecting Adolescents From Harm,” Findings From the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, The Journal of the American Medical Association, September 1997, p. 830.

  4. “Parents of Teens and Teens Discuss Sex, Love and Relationships,” International Communications Research Study conducted for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, April 1998.

  5. “Protecting Adolescents From Harm,” Findings From the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, The Journal of the American Medical Association, September 1997, p. 830.

  6. Ibid.

  7. DeVincenzi, I., “A Longitudinal Study of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Heterosexual Partners,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1994; 331: pages 341-7 Saracco, Alberto, et. al. “Man-To-Woman Sexual Transmission of HIV: Longitudinal Study of 343 Numeric Steady Partners of Infected Men,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, Vol. 6, No. 5, 1993, pages 497-502.

  8. Poulin,C. Nova Scotia Student Drug Use 1996: Technical Report. Drug Dependency Services Division, Nova Scotia Department of Health and Dalhousie University, 1996.

  9. Cates & Stone, “Family Planning and Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” as referenced by CDC/MMWR Family Planning Perspectives, March/April 1992, Volume 24, Number 2, 76-84, 78.

  10. 17th Edition Statistical Abstract of the United States 1997. U.S. Department of Commerce. Chart No. 133. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Deaths, by Selected Characteristics: Thru 1995, p. 100; Division of STD Prevention. The Challenge of STD Prevention in the United States. Accessed August 5, 1998, available at.

  11. Rowberry, David R., Ph. D., “An Evaluation of the Washington, D.C. Best Friends Program,” submitted to the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (1995), p. 184.

  12. Choosing the Best Abstinence-Centered Curriculum, Longitudinal Study, 1995-96. John T. Vessy, Ph. D. Mental Health Services & Evaluation Program, Northwestern University Medical School, p. 3. Based on schools administered by: Project Family, P.O. Box 97/Golf, IL 60029.

  13. 1998 True Love Waits Report on Sexual Abstinence.

  14. 1994 True Love Waits Report on Sexual Abstinence, Canada.

  15. “Protecting Adolescents From Harm,” Findings From the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, The Journal of the American Medical Association, September 1997, p. 830.

  16. “Health and Physical Education,” The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8, 1998, Ministry of Education and Training, Ontario.

  17. Howard, Marion and Judith Blamey McCabe, “Helping Teenagers Postpone Sexual Involvement,” Family Planning Perspectives, 1990, Vol. 22, No. 1, p. 22.

  18. Roper-Starch Study (1994), “Many Young People Regret Sexual Activity,” Accessed August 6, 1998.

  19. The Progress of Nations 1998, Woman's League Table, “Teen Births,” UNICEF.

  20. Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor, “Reducing the incidence of Sexually Transmitted Disease Through Behavioural and Social Change,” The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

  21. Wadhera, Surinder and Wayne J. Millar, “Teenage pregnancies, 1974-1994,” Statistics Canada: Health Reports, Winter 1997, Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 14, Catalogue 82-003-XPB.

  22. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance in Canada 1995 Annual Report, Health Canada: Health Protection Branch - Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, available at.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Wadhera, Surinder and Wayne J. Millar, “Teenage pregnancies,1974 to 1994,” Statistics Canada: Health Reports, Winter 1997, Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 9-17, Catalogue 82-003-XPB.

  25. Lauman, Edward D., et. al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, University of Chicago Press, 1994, table 10.5, p. 364.

  26. Ibid.


Focus on the Family. “Abstinence. It works every time.” Offered with permission of Focus on the Family.

Copyright © 1999 Focus on the Family-Canada



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved