Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Idea Whose Time Has Ended

It appalls me that folks are still debating the merits of "abstinence only" sex education programs for teens. Look, folks: the programs don't work. Teen pregnancy rates rose for the first time in years, so have STD rates among teens. Some teens will have sex, and they need the appropriate information to protect themselves. What about this is so hard for allegedly rational people to get?

Yet the discussion goes on, this time in Washington. From today's Los Angeles Times:

Continued federal funding of abstinence-only sex education in public schools was debated before a House committee Wednesday amid questions about whether the government should sponsor a program that many experts say doesn't work.

Most of the 11 witnesses who appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform advocated instead for comprehensive programs that include information about how teenagers can protect themselves from pregnancy or disease if they choose to engage in sexual activity.

"The concern that many of us have with abstinence-only programs is the idea that one size fits all," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the panel.

Both sides agreed that abstinence should be the core of any sex education program for teens. Concerns were raised, though, over how much information students should receive about issues such as condom use and methods of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases. ...

...several witnesses emphasized that despite 11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion, teens are still having sex and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Those who support comprehensive plans said teens should get the information they need to protect themselves.
[Emphasis added]

The article points out that when the federal program was first introduced, 49 states signed up for the money (California wisely refrained). Now only 39 states are engaged in the program. Given the statistics from reputable studies (not the one submitted by the Heritage Foundation, which apparently wasn't peer reviewed before publication), the ten states who backed out of the program made wise decisions.

While I don't happen to believe that abstinence should be the core of any such program (it smacks too much of a particular religious point of view), if it has to occupy that role to keep the government funding for sex education, it needs to be balanced with hard information on the proper use of condoms and the use of birth control devices. These kids' lives will depend on it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought one of the "benefits" of the National Rifle Association was that it has a program for teaching children what to do if they find a gun. If we believe the fundies, that would only be teaching children that they should *try* to find a gun. Maybe there shouldn't be a food safety lesson in home ec because then the kids will want to eat rotted food. (Maybe that's not such a great analogy.)

Nevertheless, I don't understand the mindset that believes that ignorance is preferable to knowledge.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Freewayblogger said...

hundreds of millions for abstinency only education and they forget to secure the domain name...

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love you, Scarlet Pimpernel!

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article I read about this in the San Diego UT included this:

"Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said it seems “rather elitist” that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate."

Who needs science when you already have dogma?

8:11 PM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

Abstinence always fails.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can append "in the butt" to almost every sentence in the article and it still makes sense.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Mauro said...

Abstinence is a good idea in general, independent of any religious ideology. It's safe, as far as STD's and pregnancies go, and it's generally the responsible choice. I disagree with you that it should not be the core of sexual education programs: sex, in all its forms, carries risks. This is the main point of sex ed, I think.

At the risk of divulging personal details -- OK, it's not just a risk, here's stuff about my personal life -- I once dated a girl who insisted that I get tested for STD's before she would agree to certain things; even though my doctor said it was unnecessary, I did it anyway. She engaged in underage drinking, but she knew her limits and drank wine responsibly. She did some traditionally risky things, but she did them responsibly because she had long been taught to regard these risky things as risky rather than wrong, as things to do carefully rather than things to avoid completely. In that respect, I want everyone in the world to be like her (no comment on any other attributes, obviously), to be educated about the effects of choices and how to deal with them non-destructively. To learn the properties of drugs, for instance, and how to keep them from being dangerous, rather than to just be told that they're bad for you.

I think I was lucky in that my health class in high school ten years ago covered all these things. We learned the effects of each drug (not that I remember them, but anyway) at various dosages, and while the message was a clear call against using them, as the message should be, we were taught what they would do to us. That means that if someone wanted to do the opposite of what one was told and actually use a drug, one would be aware of the possible consequences.

I think it's too much to ask that the kama sutra be taught in sexual education, but it is important that if risky behaviors -- vaginal sex, for instance -- are discouraged, alternatives -- mutual masturbation, for instance -- should be presented that are less risky along with the proper steps needed for maximum safety (washing hands, the rule that one should not touch a vagina once the man has ejaculated, etc.).

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, 17 states have now rejected funding under the federal Title V abstinence-only program, representing over 40% of U.S. adolescents.

5:25 AM  
Blogger steve said...

It does not work.

1/2 way measures ranging from hand jobs to dry hump just flat don't work.

Stop with the unnatural and bizarre and start in with a solid education starting with the basics like "This is the male genitalia, and this is the female genitalia," and we branch out from there.

Our flibbity-jibbit hysteria about sex in this country has always been an embarrassment to us, whether we care to admit it or not.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Daddy Love said...

How come Mauro never uses the word "condom?"

6:59 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mauro -

Nobody here (or cited in the article) is arguing against advocating abstinence as "the core" of a sex-ed program. What they are criticizing - rightly - is the administration's insistence on abstinence-only sex ed. For fundies, sex ed should NEVER go beyond the "core" of 'just don't do it." They are diametrically opposed to your former girlfriend's approach as well as that taken by your high school health class. If they had their way, you never would have learned anything about drugs or sex in school. If you wanted to learn, you would have had to do so on the street, at the hands of your peers, rather than being taught by adults with some understanding of the issue.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, John, the original post does say, "I don't happen to believe that abstinence should be the core of any such program."

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait wait wait. "The rule that one should not touch a vagina once the man has ejaculated?"

Guess I'd better work on my endurance, since that's been codified into law.

10:42 AM  

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