Teaching Abstinence Only

President Bush has asked to double the funding next year for abstinence-only education.


While some people say these programs deserve at least part of the credit for declining teen pregnancy rates, others say when it comes to teens and sex, "just say no" just doesn't work. The Early Show Correspondent Tracy Smith reports.

Abstinence. The dictionary says it's: "To not do something, especially something pleasurable, that you think is bad."

In the 1950s, the girl who abstained from sex was the "good" girl, saving herself for marriage, just as her parents taught her to.

Abstinence was, morally, the right thing to do.

But today, in classrooms across America, abstinence is being redefined as not just a moral decision, but as a matter of public health - the one sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Elayne Bennett, a Best Friends teacher addresses her class: "Ladies does having sex make you a woman? No!"

Best Friends is one of the most successful abstinence-only programs in the country. Bennett says, "We discuss abstinence as the only way of preventing pregnancy and as the only acceptable behavior for children."

And "children" is the right word since sexual activity starts as early as middle school. Mercedes, a 14-year-old, says the pressure to have sex in school is "terrible."

To help them resist, Best Friends coaches kids about what to do when the pressure is on.

Rehearsing, a girl says, "Just because I love you, that doesn't mean we have to have sex!"

But one thing they don't teach is how to prevent pregnancy if you do have sex. To get money from the federal government, programs like Best Friends cannot talk about any form of birth control other than abstinence.

Besides, Bennett says, teaching effective contraception would dilute the message of abstinence-only. "We know it would be diluted. There are too many options," she says.

Margaret Spellings, President Bush's assistant on domestic policy, agrees. The White House plans to give $270 millions to groups like Best Friends on one condition.

Spellings explains, "These programs have to focus on abstinence and the need for kids to avoid sexual activity. I think for too long we've sent mixed signals to kids. We're trying to reframe expectations that say we don't expect you to engage in sexual activity; we expect you to remain abstinent through high school."

But some say those expectations and reality are two very different things.

Christina Davis says, "Sex is real. Sex has been around as long as we have, and it's something that teens deal with every day."

She is one of thousands of teenagers protesting abstinence-only education by collecting petitions to send to President Bush.

They think that instead of abstinence-only, kids should be taught abstinence plus contraception so those who choose not to be abstinent have a back-up plan.

Christina says, "I don't think it is realistic to say that all teens everywhere can be abstinent. And for the teens that aren't practicing abstinence, they need the information to keep them safe."

But here they hope the message will be protection enough.

Asked what she would do if a boy pressures her to have sex, one teen replies, "I'm just going to have to say no. And walk away."

The reason?

"Because you're not supposed to have sex until after you're married," she says. But she knows that is not going to be easy to do.-->