Scott Phelps is a leading author of critically acclaimed abstinence curricula used around the country, including A.C. Green's Gameplan and Navigator. He is the founder and executive director of the Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership.
Scott has worked with youth in San Francisco and Chicago, and each year he speaks to thousands of teens around the country on the benefits of abstinence until marriage. He provides training seminars nationally to help educators and parents effectively communicate the message of abstinence to teens.
Scott was kind enough to stop by and answer questions for today's Friday Five:
If you consume pop culture, you'd think every young adolescent is engaging in sexual activity, but your work with young people shows that there is a willingness to listen to the abstinence message. Why is that?
False perceptions in pop culture are a big part of our challenge. We are regularly trying to educate the public that most high school students are not sexually active. We use CDC data to show that the majority of high schools students have never had any sexual contact of any kind (53% of Boys, 58% of Girls).
Furthermore, there is an assumption that those who are sexually active won't listen to an abstinence message. The fact is, we find that the most receptive students are those who are sexually active. So the dynamic is that most students are abstinent, and they need to be encouraged to remain so. Those who are sexually active need to know that there is another way, and they need to be encouraged that it's okay to choose abstinence even if they've already been sexually active.
Abstinence promotion is often portrayed as old-fashioned and unrealistic by many in the media and the educational establishment. How do you answer that?
We make a clear distinction between the objective and subjective. Personal beliefs and opinions don't matter. What matters are the facts. It is a fact that abstinence before marriage is the safest, healthiest choice—regardless of what anyone may think about it. Furthermore, the claim that it is "unrealistic" is common, but illogical. Since most high schools students are abstinent, in what sense can abstinence be considered "unrealistic"? "Realistic" is by definition what is "really" happening. Most students are abstinent so this is reality.
You've talked about abstinence in mostly secular settings, but this is an important issue in the Church as well. How would your message to Christian kids differ?
In secular settings we talk about the consequences of sex outside of marriage and the objective benefits of marriage. Our program for Christian students mentions the consequences, but doesn't dwell on them. It's much more about choosing to live your life for the glory of God than it is to avoid some possible consequences. Our Excel program for churches & Christian schools follows the life of Joseph, and shows that by avoiding sexual temptation (Potiphar's wife) we can go on to accomplish all that God has planned for us to accomplish for him. It ends with a challenge to live with an eternal perspective, and to make your days on this earth count for eternity. It's much more than just an "abstinence" program, as it would be in a public school.
For many parents, this is an issue that they just feel ill equipped to discuss with their kids. How would you encourage them?
All of our programs have a parent component. We encourage parents to be actively involved in discussions with their teens. We help them understand that it's not about having a "sex talk," but rather it's about developing a relationship with their teens and sharing the Word with them day by day (Deuteronomy 6).
What trends, positive and negative, are you seeing in the culture when it comes to abstinence?
All of the trends are positive. Teen pregnancies, births, and abortions have all been in decline for two decades now and teen sexual activity is also in decline. Teens are very receptive to the abstinence message, but those of us providing the message are fighting against a multi-billion dollar media industry that sells sex to gain customers. We are further handicapped by the fact that the Obama administration has eliminated nearly all funding for abstinence education, and is instead using those funds to promote contraception and "alternative lifestyles" to school children across the country. Even where there is some funding to teach abstinence in public schools there can me no mention of the spiritual aspects, so that the message is censored, and students don't get the whole story. That said, there are positive trends in spite of these challenges, and the Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership is on the front lines of moving this message forward across the country.