Abstinence from sexual activity is a healthy choice and an effective way of avoiding pregnancy and HIV/STDs.
Young people should understand a few very basic facts about abstinence:
- That abstaining from sexual activity is one of two behaviors that can help them avoid unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The other protective behavior is using condoms and/or contraceptives.
- That they have the right to negotiate and avoid any sexual activity at any point in their lives, whether or not they have participated in those activities before.
- That the media often overemphasizes the prevalence of sexual activity, when the reality is that most teens (57%) have not had sexual intercourse.
- The values their own family holds regarding sexual activity.
Parents, policy makers, and youth-serving adults should understand:
- Nearly every young person will become sexually active at some point in the future. Youth is the time to build the foundational knowledge and attitudes they will need to be safe, healthy, and responsible for the rest of their lives. Promoting abstinence should be done in conjunction with providing comprehensive health information.
- The teen years are the years when most people become sexually active:
- The median age of sexual debut in the United States is 17.
- About half of all teens have had sexual intercourse.
- About 70% of high school senior in NC have had sexual intercourse.
- Nearly all teens – including those who have avoided sexual intercourse – will have engaged in some form of sexual activity by age 20.
- While these numbers seem high, rates of teen sexual activity are declining. Today's teens are less likely to have sex than their parents or grandparents.
- Parents can be effective supporters of abstinence from sexual activity by:
- Talking openly about sex. Research shows that children whose parents have more open conversations about sex feel more able to avoid sex.
- Clearly expressing their family’s values toward appropriate sexual activity.
- Educators and community leaders can be effective supporters of abstinence from sexual activity by:
- Providing comprehensive education. Research consistently shows that young people who participate in sex education wait longer to have sex than young people who do not receive sex education. Furthermore, students who participate in comprehensive programs are more likely to avoid pregnancy, have healthy relationships, and use condoms and/or contraceptives than students who participate in abstinence-only programs.
- Responding to parents’ needs. Nearly 90% of North Carolina public school parents feel it’s important for schools to provide messages about both abstinence and contraception.
- All adults should remember that young people become sexually active for a variety of complex reasons. Abstinence can and should be addressed in a way that does not degrade a person’s worth or make them a “bad” person if they are or have been sexually active.
Read more on our position on abstinence-only education in our issue statement on Sex Education.