Religious community could help reduce teen sex, pregnancy

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Teens say morals, values and religion play a major role in their decisions about sex, according to a report that suggests religious institutions are allies in efforts to reduce teen pregnancy.

The survey of teen-agers, commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Preg-nancy, is accompanied by a review of the research that finds more religious teens are more likely to wait until they are older to have sex.

At the same time, research suggests that once religious teens do have sex, they are less likely to use contraception. And authors conclude that none of this research is strong enough to recommend any particular approach.

Still, the campaign hopes its report will expand the discussion of how to further reduce teen pregnancy rates, which has fallen dramatically over the last decade.

''Preventing teen pregnancy is as much about moral and religious values as it is about public health,'' said the report being released Tuesday. ''Teens, like adults, make decisions about their sexual behavior based in part on their values about what is right and wrong, what is proper and what is not.''

The survey of 502 teens, conducted Sept. 5-9, also found that half of teens said their parents were most influential in decisions about sex, three times the number who cited friends.

In 1997, the most recent year for which pregnancy data are available, about 9.4 percent of all girls ages 15 to 19 became pregnant. Among girls ages 15 to 17, some 6.4 percent were pregnant in 1997, down 21 percent since the peak in 1990.

The survey found that 39 percent of teen-agers said that ''morals, values and/or religious beliefs'' were the most important factor affecting their decision about whether to have sex. That's more than double the second most popular answer, concern about sexually transmitted diseases, which was the most important factor for 17 percent of respondents.

Even among those teens who say they rarely or never attend religious services, 26 percent said morals, values and/or religion was the most important factor.

The review of research on teen sex and religion examined 50 studies, but concluded ''we know almost nothing'' about the effectiveness of religious programs that aim to reduce teen sex.


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