The characters look like Betty and Veronica from the cartoon strip "Archie," one in a ponytail and the other wearing a cheerleader sweater. But this strip is called "Secondary Virginity" and the blonde is telling the other, "You know that 'gift that you only give once?' I already gave mine, so who cares anymore?" Her friend replies, "You can stop if you want to. If Bill could stop taking drugs and my dad could stop drinking, why can't you stop having sex?"
The cartoon appears in a 61-page federally funded chastity workbook called "Sex Respect." Aimed at junior high school students, it features slogans such as "Score on the Field, Not on Your Date" and "Don't Be a Louse, Wait for Your Spouse." It is listed by the state Board of Education in its proposed sex education guidelines, recently revised to stress chastity for teens as the birth control method of choice.
The word chastity may have an old-fashioned clank to it. But mirroring the latest approaches to drug and alcohol abuse, abstinence is now being revived nationwide to combat premarital sex and what is increasingly seen as its drawbacks--unwanted teen pregnancy, abortion, overpopulation, and sexually transmitted disease.
"Sexual abstinence is the only foolproof way of not getting pregnant," said Jo Ann Gasper, deputy assistant secretary of population affairs, who oversees the federal Office of Adolescent Pregnancy. "The message to convey is you do not engage in sex until marriage," she said.
The office, formed in 1981, will spend at least $5 million this year on programs such as Sex Respect to encourage teen-agers to delay or stop having sex. Another federal project will bring sex education and communication lectures to working parents on their lunch hour, she said.
Also joining in the "just say no to sex" message are some physicians and social workers, singers such as Jermaine ("We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off") Stewart, and even Playboy magazine's current Playmate of the Month.
But unprecedented, say historians, is official government support for what was once a religious issue. California's Office of Family Planning, for example, sponsored a videotape urging abstinence for teens. Produced by the Right to Life League of Southern California, an anti-abortion organization, the $35,000 tape completed last month opens with a teen-age couple in bed watching a TV soap opera depiction of sex, said league spokeswoman Susan Carpenter-McMillan. The boy and girl consider that they could become parents and, realizing they have no contraceptives, decide not to have sex. Testimonials and rock music follow.
Pending state approval, the video will also be listed as an optional educational tool in the state Board of Education guidelines, Carpenter-McMillan said.
Earlier this year, at a cost of $300,000, the U.S. Agency for International Development distributed a pro-chastity rock song and video called "Cuando Estamos Juntos" ("When We Are Together") in Latin America. In it, Latin pop singers Tatiana and Johnny sing, "You will see that I'm right when I say no even though my heart is burning." A follow-up study to assess effectiveness is under way and a sequel called "Detente" ("Wait") is planned, an agency spokeswoman said.
Some claim chastity programs are needed because contraceptive education, mostly through Planned Parenthood Federation programs, hasn't checked the growth of unwanted pregnancy which, according to one estimate, affects 40% of today's 20-year-old women. Nearly half of American teen-agers aged 15 to 19 are sexually active, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research organization in New York.
Result of Ignorance
"Planned Parenthood pushes the fact that your parents have not taught you correctly," said Cherie Smith, founder of Aunt Cherie's Home in Bakersfield, a home for unwed mothers. "In every single case (of unwanted teen pregnancy) it started out with a family crisis, then a month or two later the girl got pregnant. It's family cooperation and discussion that will (stop unwanted pregnancies), not teaching them to rebel against the only authority they know."
According to its executive director David Andrews, Planned Parenthood also promotes abstinence and more sex education involving parents, as well as school-linked clinics, ads for contraceptives on TV, more focus on male responsibility, and continued rights to abortion.
"Our opposition has traditionally felt that ignorance is better," he said. "We know the opposite is true. More unwanted pregnancies result from ignorance than responsible sex education backed up by birth control and contraceptive services."