"Did you know? The only 100% foolproof way to prevent pregnancy is not to have sex?"

This is front page news heralded by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy on its website home page. Recognizing the significance of America's problem with teen pregnancies, they have set a goal to "reduce the rate of teen pregnancy by one-third between 1996 and 2005." This is the final year ... a time to measure success ... or failure.

The National Campaign website goes to great lengths to explain the urgency of this goal. "A basic tenet of the Campaign is that reducing the nation's rate of teen pregnancy is one of the most strategic and direct means available to improve overall child well-being and, in particular, to reduce persistent child poverty."

Connecting cause to effect, their website points an official finger at the cause of teen pregnancies ... having sex. Ah ... well ... yeah ... mmm ... but ... well, then what?

So ... you don't have sex? And you don't get pregnant? This is news?

Ah ... well ... yeah ... mmm ... but ... sex ... well .. then ... what? You don't have sex? Forever? A lump forms in our throat. Forever? No sex?

The problem with the problem of teen pregnancy in America is our reluctance to deal with the solution. We get as far as telling teens to not have sex ... telling them this will prevent teen pregnancy. But we have yet to settle as a nation on the time when they get to have sex.

If teens are going to be willing to abstain from having sex, we owe them a standard for the defining time when having sex is okay. When can they start having sex?

There is a long list of answers that have been trotted out over the years ... you can have sex ...

.. when you're in love

.. when you're responsible

.. when you're mature

.. or (my favorite) when you're ready ... to have sex.

For 30 years, giving teens approval to have sex at the moment when they felt responsible and mature and ready, we pushed teen pregnancy rates to an all-time high in 1990 of 117 pregnancies per 1,000 girls ages 15-19.

Then a change began. In the early 1990s, maverick trend-setting teachers, bucking the "truisms" of sexual "enlightenment," began to teach students the truth. Sex causes pregnancy. And if you take this truth seriously, the only time to begin having sex is when you are ready to bear the responsibilities of being pregnant ... giving birth ... and raising a child ... when you are married.

Doctors and legislators began to connect the dots between the cause and the problem of teen pregnancy. In 1996, Congress allocated its first small sums of money to encourage innovative educators to find effective ways to teach this truth to students and to help them achieve success in remaining sexually abstinent until marriage.

In 2000, the last year reported on the National Campaign's records for teen pregnancies, we can be heartened by signs of success. From the high of 117 pregnancies per thousand in 1990, we achieved a low of 84 pregnancies per thousand in 2000.

Teens are getting the message. They are responding. But is this enough?

It is 2005, and we are reaching for the prize. If we are to reach the National Campaign's goal of a reduction by one-third in teen pregnancies from 1996 to 2005, we are looking at fewer than 65 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls.

If we truly desire to reach this goal, we must reflect once more with urgency on the messages we give teens about when to not have sex ... and when to have sex.

When do we want them to have babies? When do we want our children raising our grandchildren? How many of us will feel blessed if our children are lucky enough to be unified with a spouse ... together as mother and father, husband and wife ... two parents who love each other and are committed to building an enduring relationship for the benefit of their children?

If we want to solve the problem of teen pregnancy, we will have to do more than tell teens when not to have sex. We will have to set the standards for having sex ... abstinence ... until marriage .. a good choice for this generation ... and the generation of babies they will bring into the world.

A former elementary school teacher, Jane Jimenez (speakout@fromthehomefront.org) is now a freelance writer dedicated to issues of importance to women and the family. She writes a regular column titled "From the Home Front" (fromthehomefront.org). Her work has appeared in both Christian and secular publications. She also is producer for a Phoenix afternoon live talk AM radio program dealing with current issues. Jane and her husband Victor live in Phoenix and have two children.

© 2004 Agape Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.