A recent study hit the news waves earlier this week proclaiming that a statistically significant portion of young adults who say they are sexually abstinent are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). According to the study, conducted at Emory University, 10 percent of youth that reported no sexual intercourse in the last 12 months tested positive for an STD, with 60 percent of that 10 percent saying they had never had sex in their lives.
The proposed solution: require that all youth—even those who report being abstinent—be tested for STDs. However, this “band-aid” type—not to mention controversial—recommendation is not a real answer to the problem of sexual activity taking place among the nation’s youth today.
The authors of the current study suggest that the discrepancy in answers is likely due to a variety of factors: youth contracting an STD prior to the 12 months the study measured, simple testing error, youth contracting an STD from other types of sexual behavior, or participants simply not telling the truth about being abstinent.
Regardless, what we know for certain—from this research and other studies—is that sexual activity increases the risk of STDs significantly. We also know that young people have much higher rates of STDs compared to the rest of the population. Beyond STDs, research tells us that youth who have sex are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school, not to mention more likely to get pregnant and become a single parent. (In the U.S., 80 percent of all long-term poverty occurs in single-mother homes.) Additionally, a study released just a few weeks ago shows that couples who initiate sexual activity early on in their relationships report lower satisfaction and stability in their marriages.
Fortunately, we know that the best way for youth to remain free from these problems is abstinence as a preparation for future healthy marriage.
Also fortunate is the powerful influence parents can have on helping youth avoid sexual activity. Researchers report a variety of factors that help teens remain abstinent, including an intact family, parents’ disapproval of sexual activity, parental monitoring, and communication about sex and its consequences. However, research also shows that parents are often not as aware of their children’s sexual behavior as they should be.
Far too many young people are putting themselves at risk by being sexually active. Not only are they putting themselves in danger of STDs, but they risk becoming single parents and ending up in poverty and dependent on welfare. A doctor’s checkup isn’t the answer to avoiding these problems. What youth need is a clear message on the importance of abstinence and strong support from parents.