An organization that claims to be devoted to helping young people make smart decisions about sex is promoting education about the use of condoms and other contraceptives as the best method to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But one Texas physician and public health advocate is saying the message that condoms equal "safe sex" is a lie.
Advocates for Youth (advocatesforyouth.org) was established in 1980 as the Center for Population Options, with the purpose of "advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health." The group was founded on the self-proclaimed principles of rights, respect and responsibility -- including the idea that youth have a right to "accurate and complete sexual health information" and "confidential reproductive and sexual health services," and that they should be allowed to take part in shaping policies that affect their well-being.
But as Advocates partners with liberal U.S. policy makers, educators, colleague organizations, and the media to educate the public and reframe debate on adolescent sexual health, the group also works to discourage abstinence-based education and criticize those conservative policy-makers who favor it.
One ad sponsored by Advocates in partnership with Rock the Vote declares: "Just say no didn't work for drugs ... It won't work for sex" and goes on to encourage viewers to join the fight to force the government to fund "comprehensive sex education" instead of programs that promote abstinence-only till marriage. Meanwhile, another partner of Advocates, MTV: Music Television, has announced a comprehensive year-long initiative called Fight for Your Rights: Protect Yourself, dedicated to empowering young people to demand their sexual health rights.
But are the so-called rights that Advocates and its partners lobby for really in young people's best interests? Among the programs Advocates promotes is a campaign to raise teen awareness of and access to "emergency contraception" (EC), or what is commonly known as the morning-after pill. Advocates says EC could stop about half of the unwanted pregnancies and "consequent abortions" that occur among U.S. teens annually. According to Advocates, once teens are informed about EC, most say they would use it in an emergency.
Another Advocates campaign is the Media Project, which works with the entertainment industry to place supposedly responsible sexual health information and "realistic" sexual health images on television. Located in the heart of Hollywood, this project, according to Advocates, has had significant impact on popular television shows such as E.R., Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Moesha, and Boston Public, among many others.
The Media Project also sponsors the SHINE (Sexual Health in Entertainment) Awards to honor writers and producers who do an outstanding job of incorporating "accurate and honest portrayals of sexuality" into their entertainment programming. The nominees for 2003 SHINE awards include episodes from a broad spectrum of television shows, including Sex in the City, Queer as Folk, and Law and Order: SVU.
Advocates works on multiple fronts to promote to youth, to policymakers, and to the public that teens have a right to have sex and should simply be taught to exercise their rights safely and responsibly. Advocates also pushes the idea that teens should have a right to confidential healthcare -- including access to contraceptive drugs and devices -- without the necessity of informing their parents or gaining parental consent.
While Advocates claims that medical science is on their side, they seem to be ignoring those voices from the medical science and public health communities that disagree with them. One doctor who has tried to combat several safe sex myths is saying that campaigns to push condoms and contraceptives on young people are not only misguided but dangerous.
Texas physician Joe McIlhaney says public announcements about "safe sex" infuriate him, because they suggest that people can have sex outside of marriage safely if they use condoms, without having to worry about getting pregnant or being exposed to a sexually transmitted infection. "The message is a lie. The failure rate of condoms is extremely high," McIlhaney says.
The obstetrician-gynecologist and recognized expert in the field of human sexuality is the head of an organization called Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH) (medinstitute.org). McIlhaney's organization was established to confront the worldwide epidemics of non-marital pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease with incisive health care data.
The physician is a proponent of abstinence-based sexual education, virginity pledges, and other character-based sex-ed programs for teenagers. Rather than caving into the cry for "comprehensive sex education" and access to contraception, McIlhaney advises a return to the spiritual and moral guidelines that come from Scripture.
In a recent Focus on the Family interview, McIlhaney praised the Bible as the best "owner's manual" for the human body. "In it, [God] tells us not to have sex until we are married; not to have sex with anybody other than the one man or one woman to whom we are married; and to stay married the rest of our lives. That's the one and only prescription for safe sex," the doctor says.
© 2003 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.