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McIlhaney: Abstinence revolution under way while STD risk greater

CHARLESTON, S.C.(BP)–At a time when young people are far more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, a new sexual revolution based on abstinence until marriage appears to be under way, sexual health expert Joe McIlhaney said at the annual seminar of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The number of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 who are still virgins increased from 1990 to ’95 by at least 5 percent among both males and females, McIlhaney reported in the opening session of the seminar on “The Family & Human Sexuality: Reaffirming God’s Design.”
In addition, about 25 percent of teenagers who have been sexually active in the past are now abstinent, he said.
This new revolution is marked by a personal commitment to remain sexually abstinent until marriage and societal support for premarital abstinence and faithfulness in marriage, said McIlhaney, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas. He praised “True Love Waits,” the Southern Baptist-initiated abstinence campaign for teens that has spread to other countries.
Abstinence is the solution at a time when the risks of acquiring a STD “are enormously more … than they ever have been,” said McIlhaney, a longtime obstetrician-gynecologist who has left his practice to direct the institute.
Among the marks of the escalating problem of STDs, he said during an hour-long slide presentation, are: — 12 million Americans get a new STD infection each year; — Five of the 10 most frequently reported infectious diseases in the United States are STDs; — There are more than 25 significant STDs today, while there were only two before 1960.
This is “about real-life problems that are real major, and it’s happening to a whole lot of people,” McIlhaney said.
God “made sex a very, very good thing,” he said. “Sex can be a very, very good thing. Sex can be a very, very bad thing. What’s important is how we use it.
“Every time we research this, the data is all” on the side of those who teach abstinence until marriage instead of the “safe-sex” approach of instructing teens in the use of condoms and the practice of forms of sex outside of genital intercourse, McIlhaney said.
National surveys show only 5 to 21 percent of sexually active singles always use a condom, and it does not prevent some diseases from being transferred, he said. STDs can be transferred by anal sex, oral sex and other forms of sexual activity, he said.
Among the specific STDs, McIlhaney said, are:
— Chlamydia, the most common nonviral STD that results in about 4 million new infections each year;
— Human papillomavirus, the most common viral STD that causes more than 90 percent of the cervical cancer cases among U.S. women;
— Herpes Type II, which nearly 22 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 74 have tested positive for.
Abstinence until marriage is a realistic goal, he said.
A study published last fall by the Journal of American Medicine showed the greatest factor in avoiding risky behavior, including sexual activity, was a high level of parent-family connectedness, he said. In delaying sexual behavior, a significant factor was parental disapproval of their children being sexual active and of using condoms, the report showed.
Other factors in helping teens avoid risky behavior, according to the study, include a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage, importance ascribed to religion and prayer, a higher grade point average, school connectedness and attendance at a parochial school or a school with high average daily attendance.
To help young people delay sexual activity until marriage, McIlhaney encouraged character education in the early grades of school, highlighting teens who are not having sex and the training of parents on how to control their childrens’ media consumption.