Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Other News: Water Wet; Fire Hot

Abstinence-only Sex Ed Ineffective, Study Finds
Programs that focus exclusively on abstinence have not been shown to affect teenager sexual behavior, although they are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a study released by a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce teen pregnancies.

"At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners" among teenagers, the study concluded.

The study found that while abstinence-only efforts appear to have little positive impact, more comprehensive sex-education programs were having "positive outcomes," including teenagers "delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use."

The study flatly contradicts the usual bogeymen trotted out by the abstinence crowd that giving teenagers accurate information about physiology, reproduction, and sexual health is akin to shoving them into a room with a rotating bed, mirrored ceiling, and chucka chucka bwow music playing. Kids who get that information actually tend to wait longer before having sex and use contraception when they do.

What's this tell us? Besides the fact that knowledge is the first, best line of defense against the crap life throws at you, it's instructive--at least to me-- in another direction I don't often see commented on. While federally funded abstinence-only instruction cannot include explicitly religious content, it places a great deal of emphasis on moral imperatives regarding sexuality and is most fervently supported by (and adopted primarily in areas that are home to) evangelical Christians.

The problem.

When kids from conservative Christian backgrounds stray from what they've been taught and have sex, a lot of them don't bother with contraception. The overwhelming reason for this is likely because they haven't learned accurate facts about their options, but instead have been told that condoms don't work to prevent pregnancy and work even less to prevent HIV. I suspect that a contributing factor, however, is the belief that simply hitting your knees after the deed and telling God you're sorry gives you a great big do-over that wipes your slate, penis, and uterus clean along with your soul.

The abstinence movement likes to be a big tent operation that welcomes even non-virgin people in, which is a good thing since it has to be in order to guarantee its continuing solvency in the face of the sky-high rates of teen sex, pregnancy, and repeat teenage pregnancy posted by its adherents. If you're not a physiological virgin, you can still re-pledge abstinence and get your virginity back in the eyes of God. While extending the olive branch to less-than-perfect people and declining to kick them out of the club for behaving like sexually functional beings is laudable, the availability of nightly get-right-with-God sessions likely goes a long way toward the development of a consequences-free mindset when it comes to sex.

We saw it with David "I Have Requested And Received Forgiveness From God" Vitter. We saw it with Ted "I Am One Hundred Percent Heterosexual" Haggard. We see it in statements from kids who regret past promiscuity and promise Jesus to be virgins forever this time, really. Until the next time. I have had conversations with people who readily admit to all manner of minor sins every day--'cause nobody's perfect--but believe they are washed clean each night because they tell God they're really, really, really sorry. Preventative measures don't go very far against that mindset.

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