Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Teen sex

Turning up the volume to sell abstinence


Self-respect, self-esteem, self-determination. These are three qualities rarely modeled by entertainers who target today's teens.

Usually the music industry's role models of the moment are barely clothed and barely past puberty. Their songs, raps and music videos push hard images of fantasy - sexual, romantic, financial - and rage.

I'm too old for that. Too square. Won't even try to go there.

But once in a while, the music industry lets in a rapper here, a girl group there, whose message is productive, possibly wholesome, or at least less objectionable.

Old heads like me should encourage it, maybe even buy the CD. If our children like it, we ought to turn up the volume.

This Friday and Saturday night, some 150 teens and some caring adults are turning up the volume on a sexual-abstinence message. They're performing or producing at an unusual concert called "Unreleased."

It's the first fund-raiser of its kind for a program called Postponing Sexual Involvement (PSI for short), which uses teens to help adolescents decide against having sex.

Unreleased will feature a nationally recorded girl group called Tha' Rayne as well as 24 student acts and performers from a variety of local schools.

The concert, at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, will make a few bucks for PSI and expose some record-industry scouts to Tristate talent, says Carmen Hillman, the show's director.

Students rehearsed and prepared sets and costumes for three months.

"It was just like a job," Ms.Hillman says.

Grooving while clothed

But with the sexual message dialed down, won't the show be lame? Not with all the jazz, hip hop, rap, rock, instrumental, vocal and poetic talent on tap, Ms. Hillman says. These kids auditioned to win a place onstage.

And Tha' Rayne, I'm told, is a girl group that forsakes the skanky image pervading the industry. These New York City high schoolers - whose upcoming CD features a single with P. Diddy - keep the clothes on while getting a groove on.

The PSI program has reached 3,000 Cincinnati students a year, or 40,000 total, in its 13 years.

It partners Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center with Cincinnati Public Schools, but it is expanding to other districts, including New Miami Schools.

You can't directly measure how successful PSI has been. How do you count the numbers of kids not getting pregnant, not being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and not being harmed by sexual contact?

Unmeasured success

Chris Kraus, PSI's director, says births among Cincinnati girls age 16 and under have plunged 30 percent since 1993. PSI probably was a contributing factor, he says.

PSI surveys students in the program but not students outside the program, so it's hard to measure its influence on teen attitudes. PSI also can't ask questions about students' sexual behavior - such as whether and when they've had sex - because the school system has considered such questions too invasive, Mr. Kraus says.

Some of the same questions on national surveys revealed that 40 percent of 10th-graders and 49 percent of 12th-graders have had sex at least once, he says.

(Ohio in 2001 opted out of the national survey for political reasons, Mr. Kraus says.)

We shouldn't be shy about talking about sex with our youth.

Responsible adults can't afford to be subtle. After all, the entertainment and music industries aren't.

That's why events like Unreleased are so important. They can open up communication for youth and for us old heads.

For tickets, call 872-8948.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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