Abstinence-Only: A Reminder Of How People Let Beliefs Trump Fact

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Newsweek has an article out today abysmally called The Future of Abstinence-Only Sex Ed.

The article focuses mostly on funding issues, since Obama’s administration is no longer offering any for abstinence-only education. It doesn’t work, we know that.

You can read the full article for facts and figures about different programs that are struggling (many of which have Christian affiliations, surprise surprise). I personally think the article is a little too apologetic for abstinence-only education and sympathetic to people who work to promote it it.

Let’s think about what sex education really is. This is when and how our society decides to equip our young people to understand how their bodies work and how to make healthy choices with it. That’s really all it should be. Sex education is about promoting responsibility, and it should not be about preaching moral values. “Waiting until marriage,” should not even be appropriate. It sends a message that everybody has to get married, it condemns those who do not want to get married to the notion of never getting to experience sex, and it’s extremely homophobic since same-sex marriage is not allowed (especially in most of the states where they’re eager to teach abstinence-only sex ed).

Study after study have shown that abstinence-only education doesn’t work:

By 1999, one study estimated a third of American students were receiving an abstinence-only education. But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn’t change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up. “Each evaluation came along … and each showed it didn’t work,” says Santelli. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals, many in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and in government-commissioned reviews. In 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence programs found its students no more likely to abstain than those in a comprehensive program. At the same time, comprehensive programs that discuss contraceptives and their use received better, although by no means perfect, marks. Researcher Doug Kirby’s 2008 review of 48 studies of comprehensive curriculum found that two thirds , either reduced frequency of sex or number of sexual partners. By time Obama cut Title V abstinence-education funds from his budget, 25 states had already begun rejecting the money, 16 because they didn’t agree ideologically or weren’t seeing results, the others for administrative reasons.

Despite this, abstinence-only education providers are no less swayed from their passion!

But many of the abstinence advocates NEWSWEEK talked to thought such compromises were untenable, that they could not teach students to remain abstinent until marriage while demonstrating how to use condoms. “If the funding is for a different worldview, one that says you should give condoms to kids, that’s not my belief system,” says Unruh. “I think it’s very harmful.” She and others say it’s a question of morals and values, which is not an area for compromise.

This woman wants to protect young people, which I respect, but she wants to go about it pretty foolishly. It doesn’t matter if abstinence-only doesn’t work and doesn’t achieve what she wants; it’s not her belief. She’s got morals. Because she doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, obviously no one else can or should ever be able to even think about such a notion. That is a far-reaching position well beyond what sex education is actually about. Here’s another person who won’t “compromise”:

“Our program indicates that sex is more than physical. It’s emotional. There’s a lot of different aspects,” says Scott Phelps, who directs A&M Partnership, an Illinois-based provider of abstinence-only curriculums. The group has a federal grant that expires in 2013. “If I’m teaching all of that, and then I’m teaching contraception, what is contraception going to do for all those consequences? It would be sort of nonsensical.”

What’s nonsensical is thinking that teaching young people “don’t do it” A) constitutes any kind of worthwhile “education” and B) thinking it’ll actually make them not do it.

The one thing that religion has generally been quite wrong about over its entire existence is this notion that ignorance is bliss. The truth is that knowledge is power. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make healthy responsible decisions. We don’t get to control what young people do with their bodies. The best thing we can do is give them as much information as we can so that they are best prepared to make decisions for themselves. Anything less is selling them short and actually endangering them as they head out into the world.

And, let’s not forget that abstinence-only education helps believers cover up all the other things they despise with their beliefs:

“It would be a conservative comprehensive program,” she says, noting that her teachers won’t “talk about bisexuality or hand out condoms.” If it comes to that, Hangett knows she’ll face resistance from some parents. “I’d have some people who will drill me, but I’d rather see my daughter practicing safe sex than die from AIDS.”

We wouldn’t want young people to learn anything about their identities or have access to the simple resources that would allow them to make safer decisions. That would be an abomination.

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