Originally created 06/20/00

Keeping it to themselves



Teens are getting a strong message about sex from a recently-launched media campaign in Aiken County: Save it for later.

The Aiken County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Council adopted the "Not Me, Not Now," campaign in May.

The campaign originated in Monroe County, N.Y., and was developed to combat high teen-pregnancy rates. Since implementing the program in 1994, the New York county has seen a 20 percent drop in pregnancies among girls 15-17.

The "Not Me, Not Now" campaign targets youth 9-14 with radio and TV ads featuring teens discussing the importance of not letting sex get in the way of dreams by practicing abstinence.

"It's a good thing everyone should hear, even if they're older. It helps you feel more comfortable with talking about sex," said Shaundrika McCorkley, 11, a rising sixth-grader at Sego Middle School.

Antwain Parker, 11, a rising sixth-grader at Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, said the ads reinforce what he has already learned from television - that sex can give you diseases and a bad reputation.

Others who've heard the radio ads are skeptical about the effectiveness of such campaigns.

"I don't really pay attention to them," said Brian Jones, 15, an Xtreme board member.

"It (the ad) sounds really corny. It's not a conversation teens really have," said the rising sophomore at Greenbrier High school.

Brian said teens who refrain from sex usually don't come out and proclaim "I'm abstinent!" and the same goes for those who are sexually active. He said some teens may find the current ads condescending.

"If I was a teen who was sexually active, they might make me feel bad because it's making a judgment without knowing who they are talking to," he said.

But one group of Belvedere teens who've taken vows of abstinence said the movement isn't about judging others.

Daniel Rourk, 18, Chrissy Duke, 18, and Jessica Rhoden, 15, are part of the True Love Waits program at First Baptist Church of Belvedere. Daniel and Chrissy are 2000 graduates of North Augusta High School. Jessica is a rising junior.

In sixth grade, after completing a seminar that included information on sex, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, all three participated in a church ceremony with their parents. The vowed to stay abstinent until entering "a biblical marriage relationship" and were presented with a token, usually a ring worn on the right-hand ring finger, to symbolize the commitment. Each year they are asked to recommit and sign a card.

Now the teens consider themselves a guiding moral force for younger kids and fellow teens who may have become sexually active and regret it.

Sexually active teens who wish to become abstinent also can take the vow. Chrissy said she knows some people who've strayed from their vows who've become "born again virgins."

The teens said being abstinent feels natural.

"We really didn't have a choice; our parents just started us in it," Chrissy said.

Some teens said parents should be more involved when it comes to educating their kids about sex.

"I don't think campaigning works. It's all parents," said Natalie Spires, 17, an Xtreme teen board member and a rising senior at Lakeside High School.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that children with strong ties to their parents are less likely to become sexually active - and potentially give birth - than those from other backgrounds.

Abstinence programs, including Not Me, Not Now and True Love Waits, provide parents with tips on how to talk to their children.

"You're never comfortable talking about sex with your parents. But it makes it easier when they understand from the teen point of view," Daniel said.

Although she's not involved in True Love Waits, Natalie said programs that require teens to sign a contract may be more effective than campaigns.

"I think encouraging people to sign a promise that makes them think twice is good. If you sign something, it sticks in the back of your mind," she said.

A signed card may seal the deal for some, but fear of pregnancy and STDs are the main reasons cited by most teens who refrain from sex, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. One-quarter of teens abstain for moral or religious reasons.

Natalie said among her peers, "the fear of catching a STD weighs more than the morality."

"I was scared into doing it because they make you think, `I'll get THAT if I have sex!" Daniel said.

And although fear and duty may have started them on the path to abstinence, some teens said the result has meant a strengthening of faith - and self-worth.

"It gets more spiritual. You know it's what God wants you to do," Chrissy said.

Teens and sex

Fifty percent of students in grades 9-12 have had sexual intercourse. About 27 percent of the students said they were abstinent, according to the 1999 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The birth rate among teens has declined nationwide. However, South Carolina and Georgia have high teen birth rates. South Carolina ranks 38th (from lowest to highest) and Georgia 46th, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Aside from pregnancy and STDs, there are legal ramifications when teens have sex. Anyone who has sex with a person younger than 16 can be charged with statutory rape, even if the sex is consensual. Statutory rape is a felony punishable with imprisonment from one to 20 years. If a person who is 14 or 15 has sex with someone who is within three years' age difference, the charge is a misdemeanor.

Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340 or mweston@augustachronicle.com.