Don't Use the 'A' Word

The 10th anniversary America's Children report, put out by the NationalCenter for Health Statistics, says fewer teens are having sex.  It also reports an increase in condom use by those teens who are engaging in sexual activity.  The result: a record low teen birth rate. 

Put these facts into the hands of the mainstream media and what do you get?  A salute to condoms and no mention of the A-word.


Think about it.  If the percentage of teens having sex has decreased, then the number of kids abstaining from sex has increased.  But CNN, The Washington Post and the Associated Press, whose article ran in many newspapers and Web sites, including The New York Times, USA Today and MSNBC/Newsweek, don't mention abstinence at all. 

The Post's left-leaning coverage leads with the report's findings that teen birthrates have decreased and attributes the lower birthrates to the increase in condom use.

In fact, both condom use and abstinence have increased significantly according to the report, though the Post downplays the drop in sexual activity. The NCHS reports that 63 percent of high school students reported using condoms in 2005, compared to 46 percent in 1991.  47 percent of high school students reported having sex in 2005, down from 54 percent in 1991.  The Post describes sexual activity as “relatively stable” despite the seven point drop.

Note to Post reporter Marc Kaufman:  abstaining from sex will also cause the teen birthrate to go down.

Abstinence appears to be a four-letter word for the mainstream media, only pulled out of the lexicon when they want to attack its efficacy. One only has to look at how the press piled on the flawed results of a study purporting that abstinence education doesn't work.  Those headlines screamed from newspapers around the country. 

Now comes word, backed by evidence from 22 federal agencies, that fewer teens are having sex. Yet with that good news there is not one mention of the word “abstinence” in the reporting.  No, the focus is on the increase in condom use and how that protects against sexually transmitted disease and a decrease in the teen birthrate. All true, of course, and good news for the health and well-being of America's children.  But it isn't the whole story.    

Abstinence is an important part of the picture.  Reporters shouldn't be afraid to use the A-word.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.