By 'Today' anchor
NBC News
updated 1/26/2005 8:03:20 PM ET 2005-01-27T01:03:20

Every generation of teens has had to face the same dilemma -- how to rebel and conform at the same time. Today, in a culture that shamelessly promotes sex, the defiant seem to be those who are proudly and publicly choosing abstinence.

Kameron: “I'm 16 from New Jersey. Some people tell me that it's crazy that I'm abstinent in high school, because if I go to college the Virgin Mary, that I could just be influenced by everything.”

Sarah: “I'm 15 and I'm from California. It's not like we have our heads in the sand or anything. You know we're making a conscious decision towards it.”

EJ: “I'm 16 years old from New Mexico. I'm just like any other kid. But then when they find out I made a pledge to abstinence and I'm going to remain until I’m married like that, they have so much respect for me.”

Natalia: “I'm 17, and I'm from Florida. People do see me as square. I don't do what everybody else does. But, then again, I'm a leader, and not a follower.”

All four have decided to delay having sex for different reasons.  Kameron, who just got into Harvard, says he's not ready.

Kameron: “For me abstinence means that I'm saving myself until I feel that I'm emotionally mature. I just want to focus on other things in my life. More than having to balance being a high-schooler and an over-achiever, as well as being in a sexual relationship.”

Couric: “Does that include oral sex for you?”

Kameron: “Yes that includes oral sex.”

For Natalia, it's a matter of principle.

Natalia: “Abstinence is a self-respect thing for me. You know being a virgin is something so sacred.”

Couric: “So are you waiting until marriage?”

Natalia: “I'm just going to wait until I feel the right time has come along. I don't necessarily think that marriage is the right time.

16 year old EJ saw how hard it was for his mom, who had a baby in high school, a path he wants to avoid. He was once sexually active, but not any more.

EJ: “To me, it means saving myself for the person I love. Although you don't have to be a virgin, there's such a thing as secondary virginity.”

Couric: “What's secondary virginity?”

EJ: “Like if you've had sex before, and you've changed your mind and made a pledge to abstinent until you're married.”

Sarah, a devout Catholic, believes sex is for procreation. She wears a ring her mother gave her as a reminder of her faith.

Sarah: “I won't engage in any sexual activity until I'm married. My virginity is an extremely special gift that I'll give to my future husband.”

Couric: “What about kissing?”

Sarah: “Oh kissing that's different. I mean I'll kiss before I get married.”

Couric: “What about fondling?”

Sarah: “I don’t know what that is.”

And Sarah doesn't mind not knowing. She deliberately shelters herself from too much information. She had never seen most of the explicit images that were the "same old, same old" to the rest of the group.

All four are socially conscious. Sarah is a member of her school's chastity club. EJ has been involved in a program in his town that teaches "healthy living" to younger kids. Kameron is a staff writer for a sex education newsletter written by teens for teens. Natalia is the founding member a teen pregnancy prevention program that promotes awareness and protection.

Though they are united in spirit, they are divided -- like much of the country -- on what teens should learn in school about sex.

EJ and Sarah support programs that emphasize abstinence only, instead of focusing on contraception.

Sarah: “You need to educate them to tell them you are capable of making this decision and it might be hard and you might be tempted but you're able to do that because you're a capable young person.

EJ: “If kids did make a pledge to abstinence, they wouldn't have to worry about getting any STDs or getting pregnant.”

Natalia and Kameron, on the other hand, advocate comprehensive sex education.

Kameron: “I think the information should be there just in case that it's something they want to do or in case they slip up.”

Couric: “And in fact one recent study showed that 88 percent of kids who say they're going to abstain until marriage do not.”

Kameron: “In health class, you need to learn the basics about STDs, contraception, and then, after school, you can go to the abstinent club. You can have pledge cards. You can vow not to have sex while you're in high school. And you can do it as a choice. As a conscious aware, young adult.”

Couric: “What about what Kameron said, Sarah, that it's an individual decision.”

Sarah: “It's hard for me to defend myself in that situation because it's an individual decision for me. And I would hope that other people would make that decision.”

Natalia: “In an ideal world you could talk to a group of kids about being abstinent and you'd be totally popular and you could totally get away with it and everyone would agree with you. But that's not how the world is.”

Sarah: “But there's nothing wrong in working towards an idea.”

Natalia: “Completely, but you have to be realistic about it, you really do.”

Whether your expectations should be idealistic or realistic is a tough call, especially for parents.

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