What Is Sexual Risk Avoidance?
Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) is an approach that gives teens information and skills to help them avoid all the possible negative consequences of teen sexual activity and is the most comprehensive and holistic approach to sexual education. SRAE focuses on the real-life struggles that teens face as they navigate through the difficult adolescent years in the midst of an increasingly sexually saturated society. SRAE realizes that engaging in sexual activity outside of a life-long, committed relationship can potentially affect teens not only physically (STIs and pregnancy) but also, as research shows, can have emotional, psychological, social, economic, and educational consequences both immediately and in the long-term. In their Guidelines for Effective School Health Education to Prevent the Spread of AIDS, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that:
“School systems should make programs available that will enable and encourage young people who have not engaged in sexual intercourse...to continue to abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage. For young people who have engaged in sexual intercourse, school programs should enable and encourage them to stop engaging in sexual intercourse until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous relationship within the context of marriage.”
Within an SRAE program like Real Choices, teens receive all the information they need in order to make healthy choices. Topics discussed in Real Choices programs include how to identify a healthy relationship, how to avoid or get out of a dangerous, unhealthy, or abusive relationship, developing skills to make good decisions, setting goals for the future and taking realistic steps to reach them, understanding and avoiding STIs, information about contraceptives and their effectiveness against pregnancy and STIs, practical ways to avoid high-tension and dangerous situations, and why abstinence until marriage is optimal for health and happiness. The programs also incorporate lessons about the media’s influence as well as the interconnectedness of other risks behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. All of these topics are taught within the context of why abstinence is the best choice for present and future happiness and success.
Teen pregnancy comes at a high cost to teen mothers and fathers and to society as a whole. In 2016, almost 210,000 babies were born to teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Compared with their peers who delay childbearing, teen girls who have babies are:
- Less likely to finish high school
- More likely to rely on public assistance
- More likely to be poor as adults
- More likely to have children who have poorer educational, behavioral, and health outcomes over the course of their lives than do children born to older parents
Teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers between $9.4 and $28 billion dollars annually due to lost tax revenue, increased public assistance payments, and greater expenditures for public health care, foster care, and criminal justice services. An analysis from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy shows that teen childbearing in Pennsylvania cost taxpayers at least $409 million in 2010.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
The Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health categorize the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among American teens as an epidemic. Adolescents ages 15-24 account for nearly half of the 20 million new cases of STIs each year. Today, four in 10 sexually active teen girls have had an STI that can cause infertility and even death. A young woman is more likely to be infected than an older one because the cervix of a teenage girl is immature and biologically more vulnerable to certain STIs. Additionally, expenses related to STIs among teens is conservatively estimated at $4.5 billion annually. Abstinent teens, however, are not at risk of contracting an STI and avoid any corresponding medical costs associated with diagnosis and treatment. The CDC posits that the most reliable way to avoid STI transmission is to refrain from sexual activity.
The emotional consequences related to sexual activity are often overlooked but are in no way insignificant. Girls who are sexually active, even after one sexual encounter, are three times more likely to be depressed as girls who are abstinent. The rates of suicide attempts for sexually active girls (ages 12-16) is six times higher than the rate for virgins. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine recommends to doctors: “[Girls who are engaging in] sexual intercourse should be screened for depression, and provided with anticipatory guidance about the mental health risks of these behaviors.” When compared to abstinent teens, young men who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to suffer with depression and are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide.
Teenage sexual activity is detrimental to academic achievement in both boys and girls. According to a study of 14,000 teenagers, those who were abstinent in high school were 60% less likely to be expelled from school, 50% less likely to drop out, and nearly twice as likely to graduate from college. This is because abstinent teens suffer from fewer distractions and emotional turmoil, and are prone to show greater impulse control, perseverance, and other positive attitudes. Researchers have noted that “ because they are more successful in school, teen virgins can expect to have, on average, incomes that will be 16 percent higher than sexually active teens from identical socio-economic backgrounds. This will mean an average increase of $370,000 in income over a lifetime.”
Those who are sexually active before marriage have a significantly increased risk of divorce. When a man gets married as a virgin, his divorce rate is 63% lower than a non-virgin. When a woman gets married as a virgin, her divorce rate is 76% lower than a non-virgin. Additionally, the younger a girls is when she becomes sexually active, the more likely she is to live under the poverty level, as well as to experience more breakups, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and abortion.
Effectiveness of SRAE Programs
Twenty-three research studies of sexual risk avoidance education show significant behavioral changes in improving teen outcomes. An additional 43 studies from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 2010, 2007, and 2005 Abstinence Education Evaluation Conferences showed positive attitudinal impacts predictive of decreased sexual initiation rates. SRAE has been shown to decrease teen sexual activity by approximately 50% and increased abstinence is responsible for at least half of the decrease in teen pregnancy, saving taxpayers over $1 billion each year. Additionally, a survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research found that the majority of American parents, regardless of race or political party, support SRA education with similar enthusiasm, endorsing all major themes presented in an abstinence education class. The primary findings include:
- Nearly 9 out of 10 Republican parents and almost 8 out of 10 Democratic parents support abstinence education.
- More than 8 out of 10 parents, but especially women and African Americans, support the dominant themes of SRA education.
- 85% of parents believe that all youth, including homosexual youth, benefit from skills that help them choose to wait for sex.
- Nearly 9 out of 10 parents strongly support the way SRA programs share the medically accurate limitations of condoms for preventing pregnancy and disease.
A federally funded study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, entitled “National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinion About Sex and Abstinence” found that:
- Approximately 70% of parents surveyed are opposed to premarital sex both in general and for their own adolescents.
- The majority of parents favor their adolescents receiving abstinence messages from multiple sources. 83% of parents favor their adolescent receiving abstinence education in school.
- 62% of teens say that it is against their values to have sex before marriage; 75% believe that having sex would make life difficult; 84% oppose sex at their age; 69% oppose sex while in high school.
- More than two-thirds of sexually experienced teens express regrets about having sex so soon. These statistics indicate that sexually experienced teens are open to a different choice in the future.
The Real Choices Commitment
In the midst of a culture that sensationalizes sexuality and encourages unhealthy sexual activity, Real Choices provides teens with the most accurate, credible, and up-to-date scientific facts about sexual behavior and health and provides valuable life and decision-making skills that lay the foundation for personal responsibility and a successful future. Such comprehensive information empowers students to make the choices that will allow them to live a life free from the repercussions that often result from poor sexual health decisions. Real Choices speakers are ready to engage your students in respectful and honest conversation that affirms their desire for healthy relationships, long-term happiness and success, and their wish to promote the honor, dignity, and value of all persons.