Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sex ed groups find a way to challenge abstinence only education.

Abstinence is the only 100% sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. We know that, and it should be taught that way as part of a broader sex education curriculum.

However, what we have seen over the past few years is an abstinence only curriculum. In fact, this agenda, which removes all other forms of sexual education, is damaging, because it is ineffective. A study by the American Society of Pediatricians cites statistics that 45% of high school girls and 48% of boys have engaged in sexual intercourse. For these students, who are not practicing abstinence, there needs to be a recognition that ignorance is more dangerous than providing a discussion of birth control, STD's and other topics contained in a sex ed class.
In fact, abstinence only education is a recent development, and it is (as I posted on July 21) liberal solutions that have worked over the past generation to reduce the abortion rate to half of what it was in the mid 1970's.

Now, however, we see a new tactic being used by groups which favor a broad based sex education curriculum (and despite what conservative pundits say, no liberal proposes not teaching the benefits of abstinence, but rather we support teaching it as the best, but not the only option for avoiding pregnancy and illness). These groups are challenging abstinence only by the use of an obscure law that allows "affected persons" to seek the correction of information disseminated by federal agencies, the groups said Tuesday that the abstinence education programs contain erroneous and ineffective information. They asked the Health and Human Services Department to correct it.

According to James Wagoner, the President of Advocates for Youth, one of the two groups challenging the programs, the programs state that condom use reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS by 69-90%, while in fact the rate is at least 98%.

Now, abstinence is still the best plan, and I hope that my younger daughters practice it. But my older daughter did not, and I hope that if they also do not then they will use birth control and protect themselves in every way they can.


Mr. Mack said...

I hope they succeed. I've always questioned where the "18" rule came from. Seems arbitrary, especially when one considers we allow them to control a 3ooo pound machine capable of speeds to 100 MPH, but don't allow them control over their own bodies, at age 16. I have a daughter, and while I have no preference over her choice to be sexually active or not, I do intend to take her to a doctor or clinic at puberty to learn about and indeed stock up on the best birth control method available to her. Thats my job as a parent. I know this has little to do with your thread, Eli, but I don't have time to go into all the reasons that abstinance only is a coward's way out....

Eli Blake said...


In fact this has everything to do with my thread.

While I believe that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy and STD's, it is not the only way, and to teach abstinence only is in effect to limit the knowledge of contraception and protection available. Since some kids do, and will inevitably, fool around (and that's a story older than the hills-- you won't get 100% of them to behave no matter what you tell them), it only stands to reason that after making it clear that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid pregnancy or STD's (which should be good enough for the kids who make avoiding them a priority), you focus on educating the kids who are sexually active. You tell them what works and what doesn't work.

What (in my opinion) 'abstinence only' does is force one specific view on kids with the attendant dangers of not arming them with other levels of knowledge. I don't even consider this 'moral', since there is a good case that can be made that not educating people about birth control increases both the number of AIDS cases and the number of abortions.

dorsano said...

Fortunately, we still have reality-based sex education in Minnesota and my kids know more about STD's, birth control and reproduction than I ever did (or will).

They are not told what to do, either explicitly through lecturing on "moral values" or implicity by restricting the curriculum. They are given the facts and treated like the intelligent, thinking human beings they are.

From what I understand, it is not that way in other states - to their loss ultimately. A great many children will in the end rebel against the overly authoritarian approach.

The "abstinence only" sex education classes are of course the result of the righteous right who exert a disproportinate amount of influence on policy than their numbers warrant.

Christians (let alone practitioners of other faiths) can come to different conclusions about what is right or wrong on matters pertaining to our sexuality, to terminating a pregnancy or to end of life issues.

Anyone who infers or claims otherwise is offensive and insulting not to mention arrogant to the extreme. All of those fine qualities are woven into "abstinence only" sex education.

dorsano said...

Just don't teach that sex with multiple partners is normal... Don't teach that condems will always protect you from pregnancy and disease... Don't teach that premarital sex is normal... Don't teach that abortion is a birth control choice...

That's not, nor has it ever been part of the public high school sex education programs.

TV and films are a different matter - but that comes from the invisible hand that moves market.

The culture changes that took place during the 60's and early 70' have been used from the very beginning to polerize the electorate.

Most of us hippie liberals have moved on decades ago and became stock brokers, computer programmers, insurance agents, accountants, and most of all parents.

Damn, I'm starting to get nostaligic for the summer of love.

Anyone with flowers in their hair going to San Fransico next summer ?

shrimplate said...

Abstinence always fails.

Virtually nobody maintains abstinence for any significant portion of their adolecent and adult lives. People almost always abandon abstinence, so for that reason I do not recommend it as a birth control strategy.

As for the comments about sex with multiple partners, that is indeed the norm, for most people in this culture practice a kind of "serial monogamy" in which they move from one (often sexual) relationship to another.

This is so common I wonder at the meaningfulness of attempting to assert that it should not be considered "normal," for statistically it likely is indeed quite "normal."

Similarly, many college-educated people postpone marriage until they are about 28 years old. To expect them to avoid sex until marriage is ludicrous, and it seems unnatural to expect sexually mature people to abstain for an entire decade of their lives.

Did nature intend this? No. If the answer were "yes" then puberty would not arrive until one was 28.

If abstinence is their choice then I support that fully, but I would not lay that demand upon anybody and claim it to be a moral assertion. It just doesn't make any sense to do so.

Abortion is a birth control choice, but obviously a traumatic and costly one. As Clinton said, it should be rare.

But I maintain that it is abstinence that has the greater failure rate, and though I do not have the statistics at hand to support my argument, I suspect those who rely on condoms and birth control for protection have more success than those who rely only on abstinence itself.

Eli Blake said...


Traditional sex education classes discuss birth control and safe sex. How many partners people have is not specific to either topic (other than basic common sense which still needs to be taught, like you don't re-use a condom). And the protection rate for latex condoms is taught accurately-- about 98%. Obviously, that means that one out of fifty people who use them will not be protected. And yes, in traditional sex ed courses, abstinence is stated as the only 100% safe option.

As to 'normal,' I'm not sure what your definition is. According to most dictionaries, 'normal' is defined as the most frequent or regular outcome, and in the case of premarital sex, while I'm not recommending it, it is a fact that about one out of five first time newlyweds are virgins. So by most definitions of 'normal,' someone who did NOT engage in premarital sex would not be considered, 'normal.'

Now, I'm not saying it shouldn't be the ideal, but the fact is that even in a high school sex ed class, the statistics say that about half of the kids sitting their listening to you will already be sexually active. That's the reality you face, and your goal is to make sure that they make intelligent and informed choices that will protect their lives and prevent an unwanted pregnancy. And the approach is different for each kid.

As far as abortion, it is frankly sad when it is used as birth control. An abortion represents a failure. I suspect that in almost all cases, it is a failure to take a couple of minutes that would, if taken, prevent a lifetime of misery and pain. I would further suspect (this is just a hunch, but a pretty secure one) that the number of abortions due to failure OF birth control (like a broken condom) and the number due to rape or incest, all taken together is less than five percent, and is certainly less than ten percent of abortions. Hence, if you get half of the people who are now sexually active but not using condoms, to begin using them, you could theoretically cut the abortion rate about in half. That is what sex ed seeks to do, and in fact, has done over the past twenty years.