NASHVILLE, Tenn. One of the most popular news stories circulating in recent days is a study by the Guttmacher Institute in New York that says 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex. But there's more to the story than is being reported.
"It would be more forthright for the Guttmacher Institute to mention in its reports that it is the research arm for Planned Parenthood," Richard Ross, founder of the True Love Waits abstinence movement, told Baptist Press. "Corporate profits and staff salaries at Planned Parenthood depend on abortion services.
"Helping Americans abandon any sense that sex belongs in marriage is essential to boosting the demand for those abortion services. Knowing of the tie between Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher could help readers watch for any possible bias creeping into research," Ross said.
Comments from the study's author, Lawrence B. Finer, indicate his motivation may be to suggest that programs promoting abstinence until marriage are not worth American taxpayer dollars.
"This is reality-check research," Finer said in a news release Dec. 19. "Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades. The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government's funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12-29-year-olds.
"It would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active -- which nearly everyone eventually will," Finer added.
However, Finer's assertion does not square with other studies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data in 2003 showing that the percentage of teens who reported that they have had sex decreased from 54 percent in the early 1990s, to 46 percent, a significant reversal that coincided with increased federal funding of abstinence programs.
A study that same year in Adolescent & Family Health concluded that abstinence was the catalyst for a drop in the teen birth rate from 1991-95 (the latest data available). Researchers found the number of pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls (ages 15-19) decreased from 115.8 in 1991 to 101.1 in 1995. At the same time, the number of unmarried teen girls who were abstinent -- defined as never having had sex or not having had sex in the past year -- increased from 53 percent to 56 percent. The study credited abstinence as the catalyst in 67 percent of the teen birth rate drop -- discrediting a Guttmacher study that claimed contraception was the major factor.
The Bush administration has given abstinence programs hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, and Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the Associated Press the abstinence approach is useful.
"One of its values is to help young people delay the onset of sexual activity," Horn said. "The longer one delays, the fewer lifetime sex partners they have, and the less risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease."
Columbia University researchers reported in the January 2001 edition of American Journal of Sociology that teenagers who pledged to remain sexually abstinent until marriage were 34 percent less likely to have sex than those who did not take virginity vows. The study found that among those teenagers who did not keep their pledges, virginity vows delayed sexual intercourse by an average of 18 months compared to non-pledgers.
Pat Fagan, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, told USA Today the Guttmacher study is "an attack on abstinence" and its release at the end of the year is "part of a major Congressional battle about to start in January and February … to get rid of abstinence funding."
Though it has already been released online, the study called "Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003" will be published in the January/February issue of "Public Health Reports," a journal of the U.S. Public Health Service.
Finer concluded in his study that because people are sexually active before marriage and are waiting longer to get married, young adults have an especially great need for accurate information about how to protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the news release noted.
But Ross, a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, disagrees with Finer's willingness to concede the defeat of abstinence.
"The logic that accompanies this new report seems to be this: When behavior becomes normative, it becomes morally acceptable," Ross told BP. "I wonder if the folks at Guttmacher would apply that logic to other behaviors among the young. For example, most research indicates that almost all children and youth tell lies from time to time. Should schools and families just accept that as a fact of life and stop calling the young to truthfulness?
"Similarly, most research indicates that almost all children and youth sometimes cheat at school. Should we instruct schools to stop trying to 'legislate morality' by punishing cheaters?" Ross said. "Of course there is much about the human condition that is far less than perfect. The question is, Do we just accept every new level of human coarsening as normative and even moral or do we do strive to lead people toward the very best?"
Ross said that since the year True Love Waits became a national movement in 1993, teenage sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions and live births before marriage have declined for 12 consecutive years.
"The fact that many Americans have been immoral during that period does not negate the fact that there are many among the young who are responding beautifully to a clear, positive call to morality and purity," he said.