American teens are sexually active. In this era of AIDS, that means many Americans who are now teenagers will die during the next decade.

In the U.S., a new case of sexually transmitted disease is caught by teens at the rate of one every 13 seconds. Testing for AIDS in schools has produced alarming figures. In one Washington, D.C., high school, for example, unofficial random testing showed that 1 out of 100 students carries the AIDS virus. National testing on college campuses reveals that 1 out of 500 college students is infected. (This rate is roughly double that in San Francisco’s homosexual community during the midseventies.) And in the nation’s capital, the average infection rate for college students soars to 1 in 300. Among young people, HIV infection is not limited to male homosexuals: Among 17-year-old civilian military applicants, the rate of infection is twice as high for females as for males. The clear implication is that in a few years we can expect an explosion of full-blown AIDS among those who are now in their late teens.

Parents who think they can protect their young adults by sending them off to a Christian college may not be getting all they are bargaining for. If research into the sexual habits of Christian teens is to be believed, many of them are sexually active. One study revealed that while teens from church-going families are not quite as sexually active as their secular counterparts, their sexual habits are still disquieting: Just under half of all youths who attend conservative churches have had sexual intercourse by the time they are 18 (see CT News, Mar. 18, 1988, p. 54).

There is a clear mandate for both parents and pastors: We must not hesitate to educate our youth about sexual morality and disease. That means parents will have to be well prepared:

• prepared with the right attitude—that is, willing to listen as well as talk, willing to deal with reality as well as the ideal, willing to relate to a fragile adolescent identity as much as to lay down the law;

• prepared to talk frankly and precisely—using the right words for body parts and a variety of sexual activities;

• prepared with the right information—able to pass on the truth about just how people get AIDS.

Current and accurate information, as well as suggested ways to approach young people of various ages, is available for a phone call (1-800-342-AIDS). Ask for the “AIDS Prevention Guide for Parents and Other Adults Concerned About Youth.”

It is a good resource. Because it was prepared by government agencies concerned to communicate in a morally and religiously pluralistic environment, it could not simply urge youth just to say no. The Prevention Guide does, however, have many good points: It stresses the importance of delaying intercourse as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. It appeals to “most religious, cultural, and social traditions and family values” in supporting its argument for abstinence. It explodes the myth of “safe sex” by stating clearly that condoms do not provide a foolproof barrier against the AIDS virus. It urges compassion and continued human contact with those who, for whatever reason, have contracted AIDS. It gives clear information about the kinds of sexual activities that can communicate the virus, and about the kinds of casual contact that cannot. It shows understanding of teenagers by pointing out that even when they say they do not want adult interference, they often do want guidance.

In preparing this packet for parents and teens, our government has done its best in a pluralistic climate. Now it is up to our churches and families to make sure our young people know the life-saving truth about AIDS.

By David Neff.

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