Ross Olson's Web Site

Social Issues: Letters

February 6, 2001
To the Editor, Pediatric Infectious Disease

Thank you for printing my letter on the promotion of sexual abstinence to teens. That point of view is rarely given space. But I am amused and perhaps flattered that it required rebuttal by three experts and saddened that you did not seek (or could not find) anyone who agreed.

It is so obvious in my opinion that sex is intended for a relationship of permanence and security that the failure to see that fact and promote it to teens reflects some sort of blindness, whether that is from uncritical acceptance of cultural norms or the desire to justify personal behavior.

Will all teens accept the message? No, but do we change our emphasis on not smoking because some teens will smoke? Does this cross some forbidden border between medicine and morality? Is it just meddling to tell an alcoholic he will destroy himself and perhaps others if he continues? When we warn of natural consequences and strongly promote the best choice, we are doing the compassionate and courageous thing, even if we meet with resistance.

Do abstinence programs not work? That mantra is chanted on the basis of flawed studies or faulty interpretations. Youth programs like "True Love Waits" which promote a whole new subculture are very effective. The null studies are critiqued by The Medical Institute for Sexual Health ( Links to resources are available from Abstinence Clearing House ( and I have analyzed all the objections to this approach that I have heard over the years (

Now after offending nearly everybody, I have one more point. The abstinence programs work best on youth who are deeply religious. Why? Because they know that there is more to life than the momentary pleasures they might find and they call on a source of power beyond themselves. For some opponents of abstinence, that clinches their opposition, but for others it will hopefully open their minds to the possibility that the rules given by our Creator, which turn out to be for our good, are another proof that He exists.

Ross Olson MD FAAP

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