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Blunt, abstinence-only advice upsets some teens and parents

New numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics show teen births are one-fourth of what they were at their peak. (AP)

From a distance, a large glass bowl on a counter in the nurse’s office looks like it’s filled with candy. It’s not. The colorful packets are condoms.

Any teen may walk into their public high school’s health center and get handfuls of condoms, free birth control pills and help seeking an abortion.

What the teens seldom get is a public lecture about abstinence.

A national speaker on teen sexuality and birth control is rattling some students and parents with her frank discussions about an abstinence-only approach.

“My goal today isn’t to decide for you what you’re going to do, ’cause you all can do whatever you want. My goal today is to make sure that no one would be able to leave this place and ever again have to say to a physician, to a counselor, to your future husband or wife, ‘Nobody told me,'” says Pam Stenzel.

Stenzel, who’s based in the Midwest, spent nine years counseling girls and young women at pregnancy and health crisis centers.

“I’d have girls in my office for pregnancy tests scared out of their minds, waiting for the results of that test,” she says. “I’d walk in and say ‘your test is negative.’ She gets this look of relief over her face because she’s not pregnant.”

But before the girl leaves, Stenzel has to ask if she’s been tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and she rattles off a long list of possibilities. She’s given this speech many times to high school girls and boys.

Last week, a group of students in West Virginia were offended by the tone and content of Stenzel’s speech; saying she was looking down on anyone who engaged in sex outside of marriage.

Student Katelyn Campbell told her local paper, “Stenzel’s overall attitude was that any type of sex will guarantee the contraction of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy.”

Stenzel then talked about the birth control pill, which she claims makes girls 10 times more likely to contract a disease than if she were not taking the drug, and she could “end up sterile or dead.”

There is no nervous laughter, only silence, when Stenzel talks about the consequences of getting pregnant.

“I have to look at this little girl and say, ‘Guess what sweetheart? Your choices at this point are bad, terrible and even worse. Those are your options. You had a good choice. Now all the choices you’ve got are going to carry life-long consequences, no easy way out of a pregnancy you didn’t plan,'” she says.

She doesn’t cite her sources to the students, but declares that 80 percent of teenage girls who chose to parent children while they’re teens will live below the poverty level for at least 10 years. Nine out of 10 will not graduate from college.

“If you forget everything else I tell you today and you can only remember one thing this is what I want you to hear,” Stenzel says. “If you have sex outside of one permanent, monogamous context you will pay. No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid.”

Washington requires schools to provide medically accurate information about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Several states, North Dakota and Ohio for example, have introduced bills that would limit the scope of sex ed and promote abstinence-only education programs.


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