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Teens cite morals, values in decisions about sex

SHARE Teens cite morals, values in decisions about sex

WASHINGTON — Morals and values — not just AIDS and pregnancy — are important parts of the discussion about teen sex, a new survey and report suggest.

The survey, commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, found that teens say morals, values and religion play a major role in their decisions about sex.

The campaign also released a review of the research on religion and teen sex, which finds more religious teens are more likely to wait until they are older to have sex. But the research also suggests that once religious teens do have sex, they are less likely to use contraception.

The 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 have 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, one of several sponsored by the campaign, found that 39 percent of teenagers 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 and concluded the research is "surprisingly weak." But it did spot trends:

—Teens who attend services frequently are less likely to have permissive attitudes about sex. Those who attend services tend to wait longer to have sex, at least among white boys and all girls.

—More religious teens have more conservative attitudes about sex, but these attitudes are only moderately related to their future behavior.

—Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant girls are particularly likely to wait to have sex, but they are also less likely to use contraception once they do so.

The report notes that there is no good research and "we know almost nothing" about the effectiveness of religious programs that aim to reduce teen sex.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, an independent group founded in 1996, sponsors research about what programs work and offers advice to communities that are working to reduce their pregnancy rates.