Seventeen Mag Assumes Teen Sex, Ignores Morality

In its August 2008 issue, Seventeen magazine assumes kids are having sex and offers practical advice on doing it safely, but fails to discuss the benefits of abstinence or the moral issues raised by having sex outside of marriage.

An article entitled “Sex Lies He Tells You” advises girls how to respond when guys push them towards unprotected sex.  The advice comes from Paul M. Fine, M.D., of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, a notable organization for pushing sex education, and obstetrician-gynecologist Rebecca Booth, M.D.

Three of the four suggestions offer advice on how to insist on “safe sex” if the guy wants to do it unprotected.

For instance, if the guy says, “We don't need a condom—I'll pull out when it's time,” the doctors give this advice:  “If you want to have sex, always use a condom from the very start.  Some STDs are spread through skin-to-skin contact.  And even if he 'pulls out,' he could leak pre-ejaculate, which may contain sperm.  That means you're still at risk for pregnancy and STDs.”

If the guy says, “I can't feel anything if I wear a condom,” the doctors say:  “Actually, he can feel a lot.  Any guy who cares about you will want to protect you from the risk of STDs or pregnancy.  Tell him it's important to you that he use a condom.  If he doesn't respect you enough to do it, then you shouldn't have sex with him.”

The doctors do concede that “the only 100 percent sure way to avoid pregnancy is to not have sex,” but not once do they promote abstinence and certainly not abstinence until marriage.  Rather, the advice is that “unprotected sex is always risky.”  For instance, when the guy says, “You can't get pregnant your first time,” the doctors advise:  “Believe it or not, you can—it doesn't matter if you're a virgin or if you haven't gotten your period yet. (You can never know when you might be about to.)  Unprotected sex is always risky.  The only 100 percent sure way to avoid pregnancy is to not have sex.”

In a sidebar entitled “How to Say No,” writer Erin Meanley concedes, “No one ever regrets waiting.” However, she assumes that those who opt to wait will eventually have sex, though they may be abstinent for a period of time.  She writes, “But having sex when you're not ready or just to make him happy isn't fair to you.  Remember, you can stop at any point.  He may be upset, but that's nothing compared with the stress of a pregnancy or STD scare—or the pain you'll feel if he acts weird afterward.  No one ever regrets waiting.”

Meanley then suggests how to respond to a guy pushing for sex:  “I'm sorry if it seems like I don't care about you—I really do—but I have to consider my feelings too.  I'm just not ready to go this far right now, and I don't want to take any chances.”  Again, she assumes teens may be abstinent for a period of time but will eventually give in.

According to a report released recently by the National Institutes of Health, 46 percent of teens are having sex with no significant decrease in that statistic over the past few years. (Fox News article)

With such a startling statistic, the word needs to be spread about the huge benefits of abstinence until marriage.  Not only is it better from a health standpoint, but a Rand Corporation study found (according to an article from Abstinence Clearinghouse) that “people who delay sex until they are older are less likely to have unintended pregnancies or contract a sexually transmitted disease, and are better equipped emotionally for the experience.”  High moral standards apparently make sense.

The Family Research Council also documents the benefits of abstaining until marriage: “Practicing abstinence helps couples to avoid the long-lasting negative consequences of premarital sex, including out-of-wedlock childbearing, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), emotional problems, promiscuity, and future marital break-up.”  In addition, “Unwed mothers and fathers are less likely to marry and more likely to suffer from depression and to live in poverty than those who do not have children outside of marriage.”

According to the Family Research Council, premarital sex often comes with damaging emotional consequences:   “A 2005 study of youth in grades 7-11 found that engaging in premarital sex often leads to depression.  Compared to girls who abstain, girls who engage in premarital sex are two to three times more likely to be depressed one year later.  Teens who engage in premarital sex are also likely to experience regret, guilt, lowered self-respect, fear of commitment, and fears about pregnancy and STDs.  In addition, they are more likely to commit suicide.”

Julia Seward is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.