WASHINGTON (RNS) -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher refused to bow to criticism of his recent report on sexuality and teen-agers, insisting in a speech to the National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality that the nation must care as much for young people who are sexually active as for those who are abstinent. "I don't believe some people deserve a death sentence because they made a mistake -- I don't believe they deserve a sexually transmitted disease, 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 is talked about in the wrong places in the wrong ways. ... People don't want 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 the abstinence-only programs supported by the Bush administration. He lamented abstinence-only programs that tell sexually active students "you're on your own." "There are no studies showing abstinence-only programs are effective at delaying sexual activity, and there's no evidence that sex education programs increase sexual behavior among teen-agers," said Satcher, who was appointed in 1998 by former President Bill Clinton. Sex education should encourage abstinence, but also let students know that "if you are sexually active you ought to know how to be responsible and how to protect yourself," Satcher said. "Giving people information does not make them sexually active," he
said. "We need to acknowledge that." Satcher also defended the report's conclusion that there is no evidence that the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians can be altered, a stance that had upset groups such as Focus on the Family and the Center for Reclaiming America. "There is no excuse for the fact that people are being killed in this country for their sexual orientation," Satcher said. "So the report says, `America, it is time for us to appreciate sexual diversity in this country.'" Satcher also responded to criticism from organizations such as the Family Research Council that the report did not specifically encourage teen-agers to remain abstinent until marriage. "Young people ought to be abstinent until they're involved in an enduring 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 and emotional ability to talk about sex." "It is critical that all children have equal access to sex education," he said. "That's where school and the church comes in."

He added: "There is no institution that I can think of that is more important to (the black) community than the church. I can't think of any institution people trust more than the church."

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