Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not Much Else Going On, So How About Some Abstinence Talk?

Aimee Short (of the BreakDown abstinence Shorts, as ABB might say) is back. She left a lengthy comment while I was away, so I've not gotten around to responding until now. I'll give her this much; she's persistent.

Now about the blog posted on June 18th in response to my comment. It is encouraging to know that the blogger is not heartless and has the ability to step away from her strong opinions and see not just the values of another person, but the PERSON behind those values. It's easy to put another person into a box that they do not deserve when you know very little about them or what they really do. I have been guilty of that myself from time to time. But, I do not, nor does BreakDown as an organization fit into the "abstinence" box.

There is one major difficulty that I have with this blog. It is stated as a fact that "Ms. Short offers no solution beyond don't have sex." Now how would you know that? Have you been to a high school classroom with me anytime over the last 6 years while I am teaching a 5 hour course on sex, abstinence and relationships? How can you be so sure that I say "just say no" for 5 hours and throw a ring or a pledge card at the students as they are running as fast as they can from my class? Let me answer my own question. Because you put me, and the entire "abstinence movement" into a tiny little box.

Well, like you are with your responses to the postings and comments on my blog, I'm only going with the information I have. The newspaper articles I referenced didn't give details about the curriculum of your five-hour classes; they focused on encouraging abstinence through dancing and positive messages about self-worth. If I came away with the impression that your abstinence program presented an overly simplified view of human sexuality, it's because that's how it was presented.

You are correct when you say that sex is a powerful, powerful thing. I agree wholeheartedly. That's why I do what I do. Because sex is so powerful it has the potential to be so painful. 2 minutes of sex can destroy a lifetime. Young people usually find this out the hard way. I just want to be the voice of encouragement that inspires some young people to avoid the consequences all together, possibly even save their lives. People can write what they want and criticize, but I for one do not want to be remembered for sitting back and allowing the young people around me to have the accuse that nobody cared enough to tell them the truth and that they are worth more than our society gives them credit for. I want to be one who offers hope of a better way, inspires young people to believe in and value themselves, their bodies and their futures.

I'm all over that. Seriously, I am. Could it be that you've done your own bit of box-building, assuming that people like me, who object to abstinence-only education, are hedonists trying to rid society of the last remaining strictures against personal pleasure at all costs? I think abstinence is absolutely necessary for the vast majority of teenagers. Hell, there are plenty of emotionally immature or unstable adults who would do well to take a vow fo chastity until they get their personal shit together.

My objection has never been to the idea of abstinence for kids, but to the school of thought that demands abstinence education be completely devoid of accurate information about physiology and birth control methods. Let's face it--if you communicate your message of abstinence effectively enough, if it really takes root in a kid's head, the additional knowledge about condoms and less risky sexual behaviors is not going to compel him to run out and have sex despite truly believing he shouldn't. If your message doesn't convince a kid to remain abstinent until marriage, accurate information about safer sex practices will greatly reduce the risk of him impregnating someone or contracting a disease. I mean, it was drilled into me fairly early in life that shooting people is wrong. Subsequently learning to fire a rifle when I was in high school didn't make me more disposed to chuck my moral framework and start plinking folks from a clock tower.

I fail to understand how presenting the full spectrum of information necessary for healthy sexual behavior falls into the category of disrespecting kids, or is somehow designed to convince them their intrinsic worth is less than if we don't bother to teach them about condoms, or mutual masturbation, or piggybacking barrier contraception with the pill.

Yes, I understand that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy and STDs. I truly hope that your curriculum does all you claim, that you present kids with realistic, workable options for making good choices and protecting themselves against coercion. I simply don't believe that withholding information about protection is morally defensible, given human nature and the extent to which teenagers are hard-wired to get it on. Yes, I believe that humans can rise above their instincts, if you want to look at it that way, and that teaching kids accurately about the risks of sexual behavior should and can make them decide to put it off until they're physically and emotionally ready. But knowledge about contraception has to be there as a backup. Withholding that knowledge puts kids at sea without a life raft, and I find that unconscionable.

Good old anecdotal evidence can prove anything you want it to, but I was fully versed in the physiology of reproduction from a young age. The sex ed curriculum in my grammar school covered the range of contraception available at that time, along with the effectiveness rates of each when used correctly. It also talked about the emotional risks of becoming sexually active too early. I decided I wasn't ready to do something that had even the remotest chance of landing me in the spot my parents found themselves in as teenagers (namely, pregnant with me and frog-marched to the altar). I made it through high school with my virginity intact, and when I later became sexually active, it was a carefully considered decision fortified with highly reliable, properly used birth control. My sole pregnancy was carefully planned, the baby wanted. Storybook. And in that storybook, knowledge is power.

So keep fighting your good fight, Aimee. I hope you can understand why those of us on this side of the fence think your curriculum should be augmented with precise instruction on what to do should the individual's informed conscience lead him or her into sexual activity before marriage.

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