Worth the Wait
To the Editor
Proposals to increase spending on abstinence education from the current $100M to $270M is warranted in light of the fact that conservative estimates of the annual costs of teen pregnancy are over $29 billion while an additional $7 billion is spent on the treatment and complications of sexually transmitted diseases.
Patricia J. Sulak, M.D. is a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas, who unfortunately gets to see firsthand the problems of adolescent sexual activity. As a Professor of Texas A&M College of Medicine and a nationally known contraceptive researcher, she also knows the facts on contraceptive methods and their failure rates, particularly in teens. Contrary to popular belief, contraception is not the answer for teens; and this statement is coming from someone who has spent her career researching new methods and is a leader in the redesign of birth control pills. Contraceptive methods all have failure rates; and condoms often fail in preventing not only pregnancy, but also many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
With teen pregnancies and STDs in epidemic numbers, Dr. Sulak realized the need for sex education curriculum for middle and high school students that were based solely on medical, legal, and socioeconomic facts. Healthcare professionals at Scott and White Hospital collaborated with local attorneys and educators to develop, implement, and research a fact-based abstinence sex education program called Worth the Wait®. Due to the factual nature of the curriculum, it is well accepted and now reaches tens of thousands of students in Texas.
Because of Scott & White's commitment to research and its affiliation with The Texas A&M University College of Medicine, Worth the Wait® is collecting and analyzing data from over 30,000 students and thousands of adults including parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. The preliminary results show that all student and adult groups improve their knowledge scores and have a change in attitude (favoring abstinence) after Worth the Wait® curriculum has been taught to them.
The impact of the Worth the Wait® curriculum on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases will take years to evaluate because of two factors: (1) It takes years for middle school students who have been taught the Worth the Wait® program to get to the riskiest age for teenage sexual activity (15 to 17 years old). (2) There is a lag time of one to two years for the state to compile the rate of teen pregnancies and STDs by county.
The Scott & White data shows that knowledge of the consequences of adolescent sexual activity is increasing, attitude in favor of abstinence is also increasing, and the teen pregnancy rate in the Central Texas area is decreasing. This is all good news for adolescents and society. Research details can be found on the Worth the Wait® website
Sent as an op-ed [edited for length] by
Julia Suttles Saunders