WASHINGTON A growing number of teenagers and young adults are virgins, according to a study by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics described as "the largest and most in-depth federal report to date on sexual behavior" in the United States.
What's more, the mainstream media is recognizing that the trend may be attributable in part to abstinence education. An Associated Press article stated, "... perhaps emphasis on abstinence in the past decade has had some influence."
According to the CDC report released March 3, 27 percent of men and 29 percent of women ages 15-24 have never had a sexual encounter, up slightly from 22 percent for both men and women in a 2005 survey based on 2002 data.
In the most recent study, based on data from 2006-08, 68 percent of boys and 67 percent of girls ages 15-17 have never had sexual intercourse, and 53 percent of boys and 58 percent of girls age 15-17 had no sexual contact of any kind. In 2002, only 46 percent of boys and 49 percent of girls in that age range reported no experience.
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the CDC report challenges the wisdom of recent federal funding cuts to abstinence education.
"One hundred sixty-nine abstinence education programs lost funding and over 1 million students lost access to the very programs that can support and encourage the positive trends represented by this data," Huber said, referring to funding cuts that began with the 2010 federal budget.
"If we are serious about decreasing teen sexual activity, we need to use the data to instruct public policy. Funding priority should be given to programs that support this healthy trend rather than capitulating to those who want to normalize sex among teens and simply offer contraception as a solution," Huber said. "The data renders null and void the 'abstinence is unrealistic' claims made by anti-abstinence advocacy groups."
The nation's sex education priorities should seek to further improve the numbers reflected in the study, Huber said, by providing teenagers with programs that help them successfully postpone sex.
"We must insure programs that support sexual risk avoidance are available to as many youth as possible," she said.
The data is based on interviews with about 13,500 males and females between ages 15 and 44, including more than 5,000 ages 15-24. Respondents gave their answers on computers in an effort to promote honesty.
Richard Ross, founder of the True Love Waits abstinence movement, told Baptist Press he sees more value in promoting the positive aspects of postponing sexual activity versus scaring teenagers into obedience.
"Those in the abstinence-until-marriage movement tell teenagers we have great faith in their ability to make promises and keep promises. We tell them we believe in them," Ross, a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. "We show them powerful advantages that come with living in moral purity. We surround them with peers and significant adults who support them in purity promises.
"On the other hand, those in the so-called comprehensive sex education movement put disease and pregnancy prevention front and center," Ross said. "This suggests to the teenagers that leaders have little confidence they can remain abstinent. In fact, if abstinence is mentioned in those programs, it often is presented as an afterthought. So, the question is, 'Which of those two movements seems more responsible for the fact that more and more students are choosing abstinence?'"
Also in the study, just 1.1 percent of women and 1.7 percent of men identified themselves as homosexual.
Anjani Chandra, a health scientist at NCHS and lead author of the study, said the increase in virginity could be attributed to messages about abstinence.
Last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing that a majority of teenagers support premarital abstinence in general and for themselves.
The National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents also found that about 70 percent of parents were opposed to premarital sex both in general and for their own teenagers, and most parents favored their adolescents receiving abstinence messages from multiple sources.
Ordered from most preferred to least preferred, parents in the survey favored abstinence messages delivered at a place of worship (85 percent), a doctor's office or health center (85 percent), school (83 percent), a community organization (71 percent) and the Internet (55 percent), HHS said.
Adolescent frequency of attending religious services was strongly associated with more conservative general views about sex and abstinence among adolescents, as well as more restrictive views about their own sexual behavior, the report said.
The National Abstinence Education Association is calling on Congress to reinstate abstinence education as a community-based approach in the 2012 federal budget.
"The data is clearly siding in favor of a renewed priority on the risk avoidance abstinence education approach ... and it just happens also to be the healthiest option for teens," Huber said.