Thursday, November 08, 2007

Abstinence-Only Education Fails Again

The Bush administration remains gung-ho about dropping a cool $141 million on abstinence-only education next year despite mounting scientific evidence that such programs do not delay sexual debut.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a report Monday and the best thing they could say about abstinence-only education is that two programs in Ohio and Arkansas showed “weak but encouraging results.” Contrast that with several studies showing that two-thirds of 48 programs which combined abstinence with honest instruction on contraceptive methods actually resulted in delayed sexual debut and increased condom use.

Moreover, a five-year, $8 million study completed in April found no difference in the age of sexual debut between teens enrolled in four abstinence-only programs and teens not enrolled in the programs.

The Dallas Morning News headline for the story about this study is, “Teaching only abstinence not certain to curb teen sex.” I’m fairly certain that nugget belongs on the short list for understatement of the decade.

And how do abstinence-only proponents respond to these findings? By crying “faulty science,” of course.

Despite having no evidence to refute the research piling up against abstinence-only education, Kyleen Wright of Texans for Life says this is all just an attempt “to discourage parents from supporting what they feel in their gut is right for children.”

By law, the only way condoms and other forms of contraception can be discussed in federally-funded abstinence education is in terms of their failure rates. So not only does abstinence-only education omit discussion of condoms, it actively discourages their use.

The core principle of abstinence-only education is that sex outside marriage always has negative consequences. Anything that might reduce the odds of this ordained fate is viewed as sending a harmful message. Kids who don’t get pregnant or infected with an STD because they used condoms can’t be used as cautionary tales, so abstinence-only education simply pretends they don’t exist.

Schools in Texas are overwhelmingly wary of comprehensive sex education. Who can blame them? We live in a country where a surgeon general serving under a Democratic president lost her job because she suggested telling kids that it’s normal to masturbate.

To introduce comprehensive sex education is to invite religiously-induced histrionics into school board meetings that will be duly covered by local news outlets on the hunt for sexy sweeps fodder. It’s easier to just keep your head down because the faces of children failed by abstinence-only education will eventually morph together into an ambiguous, self-perpetuating social problem that no one will be held accountable for.

In the course of my job, I’ve talked to more than a few teachers and school nurses who do their best to get around abstinence-only education. When students ask questions, they answer honestly at the risk of being reprimanded or even fired. They do what they can within the system they’re dealt, but piecemeal efforts like this are not enough to turn the tide.

The only way comprehensive sex education will ever be widespread in Texas is if parents who support it recognize what they’re up against and demand changes in a sustained, organized manner. All the social scientists in the world can’t hold a candle to the proverbial angry mother waving a rolling pin over her head.


Stephen Colbert said...

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Kate said...

Well said, Greg. I'm glad you're writing about this - it's too easy for too many people to stick their heads in the proverbial sand when it comes to this topic