WASHINGTON (RNS) -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher refused to bowto criticism of his recent report on sexuality and teen-agers, insistingin a speech to the National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality that thenation must care as much for young people who are sexually active as forthose who are abstinent. "I don't believe some people deserve a death sentence because theymade a mistake -- I don't believe they deserve a sexually transmitteddisease, or to become a teen-age parent," Satcher said Friday (June 13)on the final day of the three-day summit at Howard University. "Sex istalked about in the wrong places in the wrong ways. ... People don'twant to talk about it responsibly."Satcher rejected criticism of his "call to action" released June 28,in which he called for sex education that is more comprehensive than theabstinence-only programs supported by the Bush administration. Helamented abstinence-only programs that tell sexually active students"you're on your own." "There are no studies showing abstinence-only programs are effectiveat delaying sexual activity, and there's no evidence that sex educationprograms increase sexual behavior among teen-agers," said Satcher, whowas appointed in 1998 by former President Bill Clinton. Sex education should encourage abstinence, but also let studentsknow that "if you are sexually active you ought to know how to beresponsible and how to protect yourself," Satcher said. "Giving people information does not make them sexually active," hesaid. "We need to acknowledge that."
Satcher also defended the report's conclusion that there is noevidence that the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians can bealtered, a stance that had upset groups such as Focus on the Family andthe Center for Reclaiming America. "There is no excuse for the fact that people are being killed inthis country for their sexual orientation," Satcher said. "So the reportsays, `America, it is time for us to appreciate sexual diversity in thiscountry.'" Satcher also responded to criticism from organizations such as theFamily Research Council that the report did not specifically encourageteen-agers to remain abstinent until marriage. "Young people ought to be abstinent until they're involved in anenduring monogamous relationship," he said. "I don't use the term`marriage' because not all marriages are mutually monogamous.Unfortunately, people can get AIDS in marriage." Parents are the most important sex educators in a child's life,Satcher said, but "parents vary widely in their intellectual andemotional ability to talk about sex." "It is critical that all children have equal access to sexeducation," he said. "That's where school and the church comes in."
He added: "There is no institution that I can think of that is moreimportant to (the black) community than the church. I can't think of anyinstitution people trust more than the church."