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The Economics of Teen Sex

October 29, 2009

by Dave Wilson

South Carolina has more than 163,000 children living at or below the poverty line. Of those, two out of every three are in households lead by an unmarried parent – a vast majority of those being led by a single mom.

We have systemic social cycles that have developed in America where sexual fidelity and the commitment to marriage and family have all but fallen by the wayside.

Unfortunately, Amanda’s pregnancy at 15 years old came as no surprise to many, especially since her mom was 30, her aunt with two elementary schoolers was 28, and her grandmother was 45. The cycle of out-of-wedlock pregnancies is more than just a teen having a baby. It has compounding effects that ripple throughout an entire society… economically, socially and educationally.

Children born into out-of-wedlock homes often end up on the welfare roles or they’re severely entangled below the poverty line. South Carolina’s 163,000 children are proof of that. These children are more likely to repeat the cycle of teen pregnancy, have physical, emotional or sexual abuse, alcohol or drug abuse, emotional and behavioral problems, poor academics, and they’re more likely to go to jail.

For the teen parents themselves, the picture isn’t much brighter. For those who initiate sex at an early age, those who become teen mothers often live at or below the poverty line, many becoming dependent upon welfare. They often have to drop out of school and rarely, if ever, complete their education. And, more often than we realize, they struggle with alcohol, drug and emotional issues of their own.

That was life for Amanda.

When her daughter was born, Amanda’s life came to screeching halt. Her mother, who herself was barely making it, couldn’t stop work herself to care for Amanda’s little girl. Grandmother, who lived next door, was in the same predicament, working two jobs to make ends meet.  So, Amanda had to quit school, and in so doing found more free time than she was used to.

Alcohol and drugs were all too readily available. Paired with a few short-term relationships and Amanda was pregnant again at the age of 17. Within a few years, her mother and grandmother were forced to make sacrifices of their own to care for Amanda’s children when she was sentenced to jail on drug charges.

The sad reality of this story is what Amanda’s life demonstrated – social cycles tend to repeat themselves.

Abstinence education, when the federal government initially funded it, set out to shift the systemic tide of cyclical poverty caused, in part, by out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In fact, abstinence education was developed as a part of welfare reform, and it’s the Social Security Act that provides abstinence’s federal funding “to promote abstinence from sexual activity, with a focus on those groups which are most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock” (Section 510 of the Social Security Act, http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title05/0510.htm).

Why?

Studies clearly show that sexual abstinence among teens not only eliminates out-of-wedlock pregnancies, but it also helps to form the basis of stable marriages in a teen’s future… and subsequently more stable home environments for the children of those marriages.

But that message is being drowned out by media. NPR host Pendarvis Harshaw on his program Young Radio recently hosted a program entitled “Sex without condoms is the new engagement ring”. He and his guests discussed the concept that “losing the condoms signifies a real commitment” with a complete disregard to teen sex consequences. Harshaw’s concept simply does not hold water.

Just take Bristol Palin as a prime example. During the 2008 election, Palin’s mother, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin proudly introduced her family and included Bristol’s boyfriend Levi as a soon-to-be member of the family. And yet, their engagement didn’t last, and their sex without a condom cost a lot more than a diamond ring.

Maggie Gallagher, in her book The Case for Marriage, analyzed statistical data that clearly demonstrated this point. Given equal conditions, children who are living in stable, married, two-biological-parent homes fare better financially, socially and health-wise than those who aren’t.

Fathers being present in the home make a tremendous difference. Absentee fathers leave a legacy of economic loss and abandonment that hurt their children, while fathers actively involved in their children’s lives provide an environment for greater academic achievement and fewer behavior problems.

Teen pregnancy is often seen as an issue for the pregnant girls, but rarely one that has negative effects on the boys. This is far from the truth, though, because the boys have consequences too. Teen fathers often fall into the same trap as teen mothers… dropping out of school, taking part in high-risk activities, and being prone to delinquent behaviors that often lead to problems with the law.

That’s why reducing the risks of teen sex is simply not enough. Despite the fact that Comprehensive Health Education is in 68% of American schools, teaching proper condom usage and “safe sex” practices won’t be enough to give teens what they need to break free or not fall into this cycle.

Teens need the one element in abstinence education that distinguishes it from its other sex education competitors – life-skills building.

Heritage Keepers ®Abstinence Education and other similar programs teach students the benefits of the placement of sex within the context of marriage, which they seldom hear anywhere else. By giving students insight into establishing boundaries to protect themselves, helping them determine and establish their own goals, and seeing beyond today to their future, two very important factors come into play. First, commitment to a marriage places sex and pregnancy in an environment that fosters on-going relationship growth and maturity throughout a lifetime. In contrast, a casual attitude toward sex fosters the concept that people, and the children that are born into such relationships, are disposable. And second, strong and healthy families positively affect the culture of the community.

Just look at the effects of unmarried parenting in South Carolina and you’ll see how it weakens the family and costs society. It’s estimated that the effects of fragmented families cost the South Carolina taxpayers more than $469 million dollars each year. This includes loss of state revenue, the cost of Medicaid, child welfare and social programs, and a burgeoning demand on the judicial system. In lean times like these, $469 million is a lot of money.

And yet there are those in Washington who are calling for the end of funding for abstinence education. If we want to rebuild the crumbing American society, we have to start at the source of the problem. We have to change and affect lives in such a way that our children see beyond themselves and the immediate to their own futures. We need to build a strong foundation in their lives when they’re young so they can uphold the values that built America.

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