Just Say No Sex
Now that it's been many, many years since I was in high school, I have nothing against abstinence education, but the White House's lapdog-styled deference to it is troubling -- especially since its concept of abstinence instruction also entails no mention of birth control.
The Religious Right marches on. Last month, Congress appropriated about $170 million for abstinence education programs that preclude any discussion of birth control. It amounts to an increase of $30 million, but is $100 million less than what the Bush Administration initially requested.
According to AP, the funding measure comes amid a delay of a national evaluation of abstinence programs.
In a smug and specious defense of the funding hike, U.S. Health and Human Services assistant secretary Wade Horn chortled, "We don't need a study, if I remember my biology correctly, to show us that those people who are sexually abstinent have a zero chance of becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease."
Har har har, Wade. No, jackass, that's not the concern. There's no question that abstinence works in avoiding pregnancy (at least in the post-Biblical age). The question is whether abstinence education works. There is inconclusive evidence that simply telling hormone-addled kids to keep zippered up is enough to render their sexual curiosity as flat as Mary Kate Olsen on a boogie board. Surveys indicate that roughly half of all teens say they've had sex before leaving high school. Although the nation's teen pregnancy rate is on the decline, young people between the ages of 15 to 24 account for about half of the new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States each year.
Like it or not, we are saturated in sex culture. Preteen girls sporting tattoos on the small of the back and outfitted in tank tops and low-rider jeans are all but indistinguishable from hookers. TVs are crowded with images of desperate housewives and advertisements hawking everything from Viagra to Trojan condoms. Celebrity is bestowed on women whose chief contribution to the culture is having sex on home videos leaked to the Internet. There are plenty of valid concerns about how the orgy of salaciousness impacts children, but it's doubtful that blissful ignorance in sex education is the key. Kids were playing doctor, after all, long before Britney Spears revealed her, um, talent as an artist.
"The only 100 percent way to avoid a car collision is not to drive, but the federal government sure does a lot of advocacy for safety belts," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, an organization promoting birth control education
To further complicate matters, we now have a congressional staff analysis that has found abstinence education rife with bogeyman tales of how abortion leads to suicides, how touching of genitalia can spur pregnancy and how masturbation can spur halitosis and even spontaneous combustion (OK, I made up that last part).
Surveying the 13 most commonly used curricula for abstinence education, congressional staffers discovered the teaching of many gross inaccuracies, including that:
- HIV can be spread through sweat and tears
- As many as 10 percent of women who have an abortion can become sterile
- A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person"
Bill Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a comprehensive sex education group that also receives federal funding, told the Washington Post that the report "underscored the need for closer monitoring of what he called the 'shame-based, fear-based, medically inaccurate messages' being disseminated with tax money. He said the danger of abstinence education lies in the omission of useful medical information."
Surely, there are more direct and honest ways to keep teens from risking pregnancy.