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Only Abstinence-Only

A University of Pennsylvania study of sexual behavior published in The Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine has caused quite a stir by concluding that abstinence-only education is the most effective means of delaying teen sexual activity, preventing unwanted pregnancy and avoiding STDs. Even long-time critics of abstinence-only education are conceding that that extensive study (shockingly, the first of its kind) is "game-changing" and provides thorough, scientific evidence that skepticism of abstinence-only education was misguided.

The four educational approaches studied, and the percentage of participants who began having sex within the next two years, are listed as:

Abstinence only education: 33%
Abstinence / safe-sex comprehensive education: 42%
Healthy lifestyle education (i.e., eating well and exercising): 47%
Safe-sex (condom-use) education: 52%

So, the more young people hear the message of abstinence, the more likely they are to choose a healthy, moral lifestyle - and an abstinence-only message reaps dramatically superior results. Even talking about health food and exercise (i.e., not teaching kids about sex at all) proved more efficient than teaching a safe-sex / condoms-use approach. The "comprehensive" and safe-sex message, promoted with disastrous results over the past few decades, is a sexually permissive approach which merely has the effect of portraying sexual activity as entirely innocuous and granting a license to sexual promiscuity so long as condoms are plentifully employed.

The more radical leftist groups are circling the wagons in protest. They have no evidence on their side, but they see abstinence as conservative, religious conduct in opposition to progressive, sexual liberation, and hence oppose such programs out of ideological prejudice - regardless of the collateral harm caused by their recklessness. To wit, Obama has defunded abstinence programs of $170 million, routing the money to "safe-sex" programs. Whether new evidence alters the administration's decision will be another indicator of Obama's alleged commitment to science over ideology.

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Discussions - 7 Comments

The problem is that "science" is so often "ideology." This study apparently isn't, given that the message is so unwelcome by the left-academic establishment.

I think it's time for the Right to begin to understand that science is the game today. Most everything else has been's the only weapon that has the power to reinstitutionalize commonsense (ironically). The Right needs to pay far more attention to higher education...those people have controlled it for far too long.

I could go into an elaborate and long-winded critique of sex education in public schools, but I'll pass simply by saying this is one of the reasons my children don't go to public school. We are practicing abstinence-only sex ed in our home with detailed and well-reasoned explanations of the purposes and natural law of human sexuality. If my children ultimately decide to sin and have premarital sex, it will not be because I did not do my job as a parent.

The real and sad message here is that even using the most effective method of sex-ed, one of three students will still be having sex at a very young age.

Here's hoping they know how to use a condom.

I have always wondered what the condom education advocates find so confounded complicated and mysterious about that information, Matt. I suppose there is a certain percentage of the population who really can't manage to figure this out on their own . . . but it's always been unclear to me whether the offering to them of the cucumber-type instruction on the point would actually improve their understanding (or the likelihood that they'd remember it and use it in a non-vegetable context). The evidence seems to suggest that all this instruction did, as abstinence advocates have always said it would, is make explicit the "wink and nod" too many adults seem to entertain about teenage sexual activity. It appears to have given permission.

I'm not saying that responsible parents shouldn't talk to their children about these matters, in private and in ways that suit their family's own understanding of morality . . . but I guess I am saying that it is better if it comes from parents. Failing that, I don't think it is up to educators to say anything except in a very human way (i.e., where trust and respect exist) and on an individual basis. The worst thing about school-based sex-ed classes, in my view, is less the content of them than it is the making public of things that ought still to be veiled in some measure of privacy. There is a scientific aspect of reproduction that needs to be covered, of course. But this other business is degrading to the students. It just makes it so . . . well, common. And today I think that its pretty clear that sex is common enough without turning it into just another science lesson.

No Julie, you get it and you're right. It's absolutely about making it less private, less mysterious, and less intimidating so that they will actually ask their parents about contraception or go buy condoms at the gas station.

I remember awful "Worth Waiting For" classes that fed lies about condom ineffectiveness and the mortality rates of women who get abortions. Until that kind of crap is weeded out of our culture, I'm more than happy to support organizations and classes that make clear how and why one should get some contraceptives (and I'm not saying abstinence should not be a clear, loudly preached tenet of such a class).

Sex is common. Reproduction is science. The emotional relationships involved in all of this are complex - you're right. But that's not a good reason for public institutions to stop trying to curb unwanted pregnancies and STDs by encouraging the use of contraceptives.

It's absolutely about making it less private, less mysterious, and less intimidating so that they will actually ask their parents about contraception or go buy condoms at the gas station.

Condoms from the gas station . . . how appealing. I hope they don't forget their super-slurppies and cigarettes on the way out.

One of the most illustrative demonstrations I have ever seen on this point was during college when a certain professor was a bit perturbed by an editorial in the student newspaper calling for the installation of condom machines in all campus bathrooms. The argument from the editorial was that if it was perfectly o.k. to sell tampons in the restroom, then there should be no problem with another machine selling condoms. Tampons=condoms. Just another bodily function . . . it's science, right?

After driving home the problem with this point, very effectively, some students still objected. They argued that some students on campus (not them, of course!) might not know where to find condoms if they needed them. So this professor mapped out the city on the blackboard (this was many years ago when people still used blackboards . . . and also knew how to find and use condoms without graphic demonstrations) and . . . lo and behold! Every student in that class could pinpoint a location where condoms were sold--many of them could even pinpoint a location that was within walking distance. (Indeed, some could tell you the exact amount of time required to get there and back . . .)

So what, exactly, was the point of making condoms even more readily available? Oh . . . yes, that's right. To make sex more common . . . in every sense of the term. To tear down all the mystery and wonder. To prevent disease and such. Right. The first thing you should think about when you think of sex is a disease? And who, exactly, are the prudes in this debate?

It seems to me that if you want to discourage the spread of STDs and decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies, the smarter thing to do is to encourage people who want to do grown up things to . . . well, grow up. If you need instruction about how and when to use a condom and, beyond that, you need some big and mighty institution to make them readily available (and also to subsidize them) then perhaps the problem of having sex is not your most pressing concern. I'm just sayin' . . .

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