After five years of fighting values-free sex education curriculum, Joneen Krauth believes the tide is turning in favor of abstinence.
"It is awesome," said Krauth, a former intensive care nurse who teaches public school workshops known as "WAIT Training," which stands for "Why Am I Tempted?"
Krauth, of suburban Denver, organized the seminars, ranging from ninety-minute assemblies to day-long presentations, after reviewing her son's seventh-grade science text and finding a unit included instruction in condom use.
In north Florida, former teacher Pam Mullarkey is seeing similar success in reaching teenagers. The founder of Project Save Our Students (SOS) said her abstinence-based program has made presentations to 10,000 students in five counties. It is also beginning new works at a juvenile institution and the U.S. Naval Station at Jacksonville.
The Navy recently signed a contract with SOS to present monthly training seminars for new recruits under age 25, she said, because of the military's expensive problems with unwed pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
The day-long workshops also cover drug and alcohol abuse and finances. Mullarkey, who organized SOS after hearing about a fourteen-year-old student's abortion, said many lacking personal restraint are also heavily in debt.
"They have a lack of self-control in spending, as well as with alcohol, drugs, and sex," she said. "We're teaching people self-control and how to run their lives by goals, not by their emotions."
Initiatives such as WAIT Training and SOS underscore key gains by the pro-abstinence movement, said Amy Stephens, a public policy representative for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Five years ago, she estimated there were only about ten groups promoting abstinence and, today, there are more than 100.
Further highlighting the trend toward abstinence education is $50 million in federal funding annually for such curriculum, which went into effect Oct. 1 as part of last year's welfare reform legislation.
By funding abstinence Congress has provided legitimacy to a different approach to sex education, Stephens said. Even people who once ridiculed the True Love Waits campaign now admit abstinence belongs in mainstream education, she said.
However, the pro-abstinence camp has a long way to go, Stephens cautioned.
Many groups designing programs are trying to circumvent Congress' intent by mentioning abstinence — but not presenting it as a clear-cut alternative, she said. The abuses are so flagrant they will be the subject of congressional hearings in 1998, she said.
"They have been wailing and shrieking about this money," Stephens said of groups like Planned Parenthood, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), and others.
"Now, (premarital) sex advocates have stolen our language. They're talking about abstinence as one alternative, but giving it less emphasis than condoms. It's far different than those of us who would support waiting until marriage for sex."
That view is borne out by a recent letter from Debra Haffner, president of SIECUS, to Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson. In it, she protested the policies of the newly formed National Coalition for Abstinence Education (NACE).
"While NACE favors restricted abstinence-only until marriage education, there is wide-based support for broader educational approaches to educating young people about sexuality," Haffner wrote. "In (many) public opinion poll(s), Americans support the provision of sexuality education and HIV prevention."
Typically, sex education begins during middle school, although Stephens said it is entering elementary schools as children begin reaching puberty at a younger age.
One of the problems with traditional curriculum has been its "non-directive" philosophy, which presents all sexual choices as equal, she said.
Stephens said such an approach thrusts children into adult decision-making roles that are beyond their capacity. She compared it to asking them to walk through a field filled with land mines.
Although their thrust is to promote so-called safe sex, she added, supporters of this comprehensive health curriculum hide behind "pseudo science" and say they are simply providing information on HIV-AIDS, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases.
"Another fallacy taught is that our sexuality is on one continuum — that you can be straight today and gay tomorrow," Stephens said. "More kids than ever are questioning their sexuality because of the tremendous confusion thrown on them."
Despite the pro-abstinence movement's increasing numbers, Krauth said those who believe in waiting until marriage for sex need to concentrate on health issues. And they needn't be afraid of allowing the other side to speak, she said.
"A lot of Christians take this 'all or nothing' approach and get nowhere," said Krauth, a member of Mission Hills Baptist Church near Denver. "We say let the condom people in and let us come in, and let the best man win.
"The research is on our side. I tell students I want to teach them how to have good sex, and that the best sex is in marriage. When I ask teens what they want to know, it's never about anatomy and physiology. Kids talk about caring, respect, dignity, and boundaries."
"WAIT Training" is having a pronounced impact, she said, with approximately 30 percent of those attending one ninety-minute seminar changing their mind about premarital sex.
Mullarkey said the new federal funding will result in more programs to help keep teens from damaging their lives.
"I can see it already in the hearts of these kids," she said. "They're overjoyed that somebody is saying they don't have to perform sexually. Some of the girls I see have shut down emotionally. They've been broken down because of early sexual involvement."
"Kids want to hear about abstinence," Stephens said. "It's adults who don't want to talk about it. If abstinence was promoted in this society, it's adults who would have to change their behavior."
Who's to Blame?
In a May 19, 1997 U.S. News & World Report article entitled "Was it Good for Us?," David Whitman suggested that the social ills connected to extramarital sexual activity are more directly linked to adults than teenagers.
He observed, "In an 'enlightened' 1990s America, where a person old enough to vote and serve in the armed forces is also deemed old enough to make mature sexual decisions, the elaboration of these statistics is sobering. In 1994, just 22 percent of children born out of wedlock had mothers age 18 or under; more than half the women who obtain abortions each year, most unmarried, are in their 20s, while just a fifth are under twenty. And the same age disparity is evident among those who contract sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Although a disproportionate number of teens contract STDs, only one in three reported cases of gonorrhea and syphilis in 1995 involved people under twenty."
He went on to report that the magazine's poll showed that while 74 percent of adults have serious qualms about teens having sex before marriage, more than half believe it is not at all wrong, or wrong only sometimes, for adults to have premarital sex.
It appears Amy Stephen's closing observation is indeed the case.
True Love Waits Goes Campus, Valentine's Day
Since the campaign's launch in April 1993, hundreds of thousands of young people have signed a covenant to remain sexually pure until marriage. The campaign continues this year with an annual Valentine's Day celebration on high school and college campuses across the nation.
On April 14, TLW leaders will go to Washington, D.C., to report to the president, state governors, and key state and national leaders on the results of this year's Valentine Day sexual abstinence campaign.
For more information on the True Love Waits Goes Campus (Valentine's Day) campaign, call 800-LUV-WAIT. To order a Goes Campus kit, call 800-458 2772.