Teens make vow to lives of purity

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

So much has changed in American society in the past half-century. In 1953, the nation's moral code supported a dim view of divorce, sexual activity outside marriage and teen pregnancies.

In 1953, the U.S. marriage rate was 9.8 out of every 1,000 of the population. By 1998, the marriage rate had dropped to 8.3 out of every 1,000 of the population.

In 1953, the divorce rate was 2.5 out of every 1,000 of the population. By 1998, the divorce rate had climbed to 4.2 out of every 1,000 of the population -- after peaking in 1979 at 5.3 out of every 1,000 of the population.

Premarital sex and teen sex, which obviously occurred 50 years ago even if they were considered taboo, were generally regarded disapprovingly by older generations and rarely discussed openly, except for sex-education films sometimes shown to high school health classes.

But the problems associated with sexual promiscuity are well-documented. Sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and emotional side effects are just a few of the results of early sexual activity, particular among younger couples.

Fortunately, the problems of early sex are being talked about more in teen peer groups. And more and more teens are taking steps to act responsibly when it comes to sexual activity. One indicator of the success of more education and an increased emphasis on the problems of early sexual activity has been a decrease in teen pregnancies. In 1997, there were 94.3 pregnancies out of every 1,000 women 15 to 19 years old. This was down 19 percent from the all-time high set in 1991.

There are many reasons teens are becoming better informed about the consequences of sex. One of them is a religious-based program called True Love Waits. This national program asks teens to make a vow not to be sexually active before marriage. Recently, more than 400 teens made that pledge at Freedom Rock, a youth center outreach of the Cape First Church in Cape Girardeau.

The True Love Waits event was organized by youth ministers from Cape First and Bethany Baptist Church. Fifteen other church groups participated.

Today, the teens who made the vow to abstain from premarital sex and to lead lives of purity will have an opportunity to participate in a ring ceremony. Participants will put on rings as tokens of their vows and will present these special rings to their new spouses at their weddings.

Organizers of True Love Waits say the program is not so much an abstinence effort as a way to bolster commitments made by young people to God. "It is a commitment of faith," said Bryan King, youth minister at Cape First Church.

Both the participants and organizers of True Love Waits are to be commended for taking an earnest approach to a societal problem whose complexity recognizes the urges and hormonal development that occurs as teenagers become young adults.

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