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UA to help discourage teen-age sex

By Kate Goff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 17, 1998
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The UA's Cooperative Extension program at the College of Agriculture will participate in a new taxpayer-funded program to promote sexual abstinence before marriage.

The Arizona Department of Health Services awarded $67,000 to the college to help fund community-based projects and classes on sexual abstinence, which will be targeted at teens and pre-teens.

The program, to be administered in Gila County, is part of a statewide abstinence-promoting multimedia campaign that has a budget of $405,000.

Brad Christensen, communications director for the health services department, said the ultimate goal of the project is "to reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births in Arizona."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Arizona's teen birth rate in 1995 was fourth in the nation, at 75.3 per 1,000 teen-agers 15-19 years old.

In Arizona last year, unwed mothers accounted for 38 percent of all births, and 82 percent of all teen-agers who gave birth were unmarried.

Christensen said the new campaign will affect community projects throughout Arizona, all aimed at promoting abstinence.

"We expect it to be a long-term project," he said.

Some UA students questioned whether the campaign, awarded to Winward/Cooley Advertising & Public Relations in Phoenix, is a good use of taxpayer money.

"I don't think any of these types of ads work," undeclared junior Valerie Erhardt said. "I think people are going to do what they want regardless of what TV says."

Junella Springer, a molecular and cellular biology junior, predicted mixed success for the program.

"I think it would work to a certain extent with some kids," Springer said, "But others don't really pay attention to ads."

Christensen said the small-scale television and billboard campaign will not be about preaching morals to kids.

"We don't want to say that sex is dirty," he said. "We want to say that sex can wait."

The ad campaign will run though June 30, 1999 but may be renewed for up to three additional one-year periods, Christensen said.

UA Cooperative Extension will use its portion of the funds to continue an existing program called Postponing Sexual Involvement, said Ruth Carter, director of the UA's Gila County Extension.

The program includes classes on abstinence given at elementary and middle schools. Also, teens are trained to be role models and mentors to the younger children.

"We try to give them the skills to say 'no,'" Carter said.

Another event Carter helps organize is Mother-Daughter Night Out, an event in which mothers and daughters are educated about abstinence. She also is planning to put together a Father-Son Night Out.

"There is no one simple solution to the problem," Carter said.

Computer engineering senior Jonathan Rhoads said the program is a good idea.

"There are so many problems associated with sexual promiscuity," Rhoads said. "There are a lot of benefits to abstinence."

Kate Goff can be reached via e-mail at Kate.Goff@wildcat.arizona.edu.