America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 2

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But most of all, these programs don these programs don' t work. t work. Here's proof: Here's proof: * In Minnesota, s.e.xual activity of junior high school partic.i.p.ants in an abstinence program doubled.15 * Young people who took a virginity pledge are one-third less likely less likely then nonpledgers to use contraception when they become s.e.xually active.16 then nonpledgers to use contraception when they become s.e.xually active.16 * Young people who took a virginity pledge have the same rates of STDs as nonpledgers.17 * Teens who pledge abstinence and haven't had intercourse are more more likely likely to have oral and a.n.a.l s.e.x than nonpledgers who haven't had intercourse.18 to have oral and a.n.a.l s.e.x than nonpledgers who haven't had intercourse.18 * Two-thirds of Northern Kentucky University students who pledged celibacy until marriage broke that pledge while still in college. Of those who remained "abstinent," more than half acknowledged having oral s.e.x while describing themselves as celibate.19 Did you know this? Probably not.

With all the media discussion of the abstinence mission and programs, with all the confident a.s.sertions that this is what's right for the country, why don't you know this? It should be front page news-"Billion-dollar program crucial to saving youth of America doesn doesn' t work. t work. " "

Despite these programs' failures, abstinence advocates still seem to think that ignorance and fear will motivate young people. If they'd only read the social science literature, they'd know that doesn't work. But they proudly declare their beliefs to be more valid than science. For example, last year, over 2,000,000 kids smoked their first cigarette. Three-quarters of a million of those kids will become regular smokers. One-quarter of high school kids smoke.

Four-and-a-half million adolescents smoke. This despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent nationwide to discourage them, and radical age restrictions on tobacco advertising, marketing, and retail sales, and its near-disappearance from primetime TV and a dramatic reduction in films and video.

Does anyone think kids haven't been told enough about the dangers of smoking? And unlike s.e.x, which you can get as a kid, you can't even buy the 18 18 stuff legally. Somehow, kids want to do it anyway-even though they know relatives, friends' parents, and even popular figures die from it.

Does anyone think the desire to try a cigarette is stronger than the desire to try s.e.x?

EVALUATION? NO THANKS.

When confronted with questions of effectiveness, the motto of abstinence programs is, "Just say, 'I don't know.'"

One of the most d.a.m.ning facts about abstinence programs is their dramatic lack of interest in fact and science. The material actually delivered, as well as the mission of and marketing of the programs themselves, bear only a coincidental relationship with fact. Here are common untruths the abstinence movement repeats: * Condoms don't work * Premarital s.e.x is emotionally poisonous * Premarital s.e.x is physically disastrous * People who make abstinence pledges are the only ones who respect themselves In 2004, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a report, "The Content of Federal y Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs."

It's a concise evaluation of the thirteen most popular abstinence-only s.e.x education programs.20 It doc.u.ments that "over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula used by 2/3 of [federal y funded programs] contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." Especial y common were: * false information about the effectiveness of contraception; * false information about the risk of abortion; * blurring religion and science; * treating stereotypes of girls and boys as scientific fact; * scientific errors.

Here are actual quotes from these federally funded programs that actual children in actual American schools are now reading and hearing: * "In heteros.e.xual s.e.x, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time"

* Touching another person's genitals "can result in pregnancy."

* "The popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs is not supported by the data."

Battleground: s.e.x Education-Where Children Come Second 19 s.e.x Education-Where Children Come Second 19 * "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."21 * "Following abortion, according to some studies, women are more p.r.o.ne to suicide."

* Personal problems "can be eliminated by being abstinent until marriage."

The Religious Right's response (e.g., Morality in Media, Focus on the Family, Agape Press) was predictable: they trashed Waxman. They link him to same-s.e.x marriage. They attack him for quoting Planned Parenthood data.

They criticize his acceptance of campaign contributions from "groups that financially benefit from abortion" like the American Medical a.s.sociation. They complain that he didn't mention all the funding for safer s.e.x programs.22 Since they say they care about kids, you'd imagine they were concerned, wanted to fix the programs, increase their credibility, ability to serve kids, and so forth. But no. They attacked the report, the Congressman, his district, and his supporters. They attacked science.

No programs attempted to improve themselves. No one apologized for or attempted to remove inaccuracies. This is clear proof that these programs are far less interested in their results than in their ideological purity-and their hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.

In 2002, Congressmember Lois Capps (D-CA) offered an amendment to an abstinence funding bill that would have required abstinence programs receiving federal money to be scientifically accurate. Nothing fancy.

But no. They say they don't trust science-they simply "know" the programs work-and it was soundly defeated. In subsequent years, this was attempted again and again. In 2006 it was reintroduced with 120 cosponsors. You'd think this would be a slam-dunk-who doesn't want their kids to have accurate information, especially about protecting their health? But a majority of con-gressmembers resist this. Abstinence proponents say, "Whose science?" as if they could provide competing data showing that abortion does lead to infertility, premarital s.e.x does lead to suicide, gays are mentally defective, or condoms do fail to protect against disease.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is particularly hypocritical about this, as he proudly struts his support of health care outcomes research. In 2000, he said that outcomes research was a priority "of federal efforts to improve the quality of health care in the United States."23 And in 2003, he said, "We must continue to move forward in the collection and the evaluation, dissemination, and a.n.a.lysis of information related to everyday health care."24 The outcome data on s.e.x education programs already exists, and he promotes federal policies and he promotes federal policies contraindicated by the data. contraindicated by the data.

20.Program evaluation is a sophisticated science used by trained experts across the industrial world, including the United States. It is is possible to know how abstinence programs affect both thinking and behavior in its recipients-if someone wants the facts. possible to know how abstinence programs affect both thinking and behavior in its recipients-if someone wants the facts.

Proponents of comprehensive s.e.xuality education have wanted to know for decades. Here's what peer-reviewed, validated, and replicated studies have conclusively shown; that is, here is what American civilization now knows: * Does s.e.x education make kids have s.e.x?

No * Do condoms work?

Yes * Does the availability of condoms in school clinics increase kids' s.e.xual activity?

No * Are gays mentally defective?

No * Does premarital s.e.x itself lead to problems?

No * Does abortion lead to breast cancer?

No * Do abstinence programs stop kids from having s.e.x before marriage?

No The biggest lie of abstinence is that it works every time. It doesn doesn' t. t. In the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and s.e.xuality, Columbia University's Dr. Peter Bearman's investigators interviewed more than 20,000 young people about virginity pledges. Twelve percent (12%) of the students who pledged virginity kept their promise. That's a 12 percent success rate with this supposedly perfect method. That means abstinence fails 88 In the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and s.e.xuality, Columbia University's Dr. Peter Bearman's investigators interviewed more than 20,000 young people about virginity pledges. Twelve percent (12%) of the students who pledged virginity kept their promise. That's a 12 percent success rate with this supposedly perfect method. That means abstinence fails 88 percent of the time- six times as often as condoms fail in typical use, six times as often as condoms fail in typical use, six times as often as the method that abstinence advocates say is unreliable.25 six times as often as the method that abstinence advocates say is unreliable.25 Kids using abstinence this weekend this weekend will have s.e.x. They've promised they won't, but they will. How do we want to prepare them for this? We tell kids to wear seat belts, even though we don't want them to crash. We tell kids to call if they'll be late, even though we want them home on time. will have s.e.x. They've promised they won't, but they will. How do we want to prepare them for this? We tell kids to wear seat belts, even though we don't want them to crash. We tell kids to call if they'll be late, even though we want them home on time.

What do we offer kids who don't refuse s.e.x the way we want them to?

Nothing-no backup plan, no mnemonic devices, no support, no information to protect themselves. Ask an abstinence proponent what a kid should do if he or she has s.e.x, and they reply, "Don't have s.e.x." Denny Pattyn, founder of Silver Ring Thing, says if "my own 16-year-old daughter tells me she's going to be s.e.xually active, I would not not tell her to use a condom."26 tell her to use a condom."26 Battleground: s.e.x Education-Where Children Come Second 21 s.e.x Education-Where Children Come Second 21 Abstinence "educators" disregard kids who have s.e.x like so much trash. It's a disgusting form of hostility toward our young people. It would be like withholding vitamins from kids who refuse to eat vegetables (after promising they will), or withholding toothbrushes from kids who drink pop (after promising they won't).

CONSEQUENCES OF ABSTINENCE EDUCATION.

We shouldn't be surprised, then, that America has inherited the consequences of the failure of al three of these strategies (lie about safer s.e.x, claim that beliefs are facts, and provide forums for abstinence pledges). Kids don't abstain- whether they think s.e.x is dangerous or not. Kids don't abstain-whether they make public pledges or not. Kids don't abstain-whether they think G.o.d wil be mad at them or not. Over 90 percent of Americans have s.e.x before marriage.

The only question is whether they wil have it in a physical y and emotional y healthy environment. The goal of abstinence programs is to a.s.sure they won't.27 Although the emotionally abusive messages of abstinence programs don't shape adolescents' s.e.xual behavior behavior much, they do shape the much, they do shape the emotional context emotional context of their s.e.xual behavior. So these young people use contraception less, understand less about how s.e.x actually works, feel worse about themselves, and talk less about their s.e.xual feelings or experiences with their parents. So abstinence programs create the worst of both worlds: nonabstinence, lower rates of contraception and disease protection, and less intelligence about s.e.x-not only logistically, but emotionally and spiritually. of their s.e.xual behavior. So these young people use contraception less, understand less about how s.e.x actually works, feel worse about themselves, and talk less about their s.e.xual feelings or experiences with their parents. So abstinence programs create the worst of both worlds: nonabstinence, lower rates of contraception and disease protection, and less intelligence about s.e.x-not only logistically, but emotionally and spiritually.

All this from people who say they care about the children.

Without question, many young people would be better off if they postponed s.e.x by a year or two or more. (Of course, many adults would, too.) But no social policy is cost-free. And every public policy has unexpected consequences-some of them quite unpleasant.

So what do kids pay for abstinence programs?

* Unfamiliarity with, and mistrust of, contraception * Increased contraceptive risk-taking * Reinforcement of the belief that s.e.x is bad and dangerous * Reinforcement of traditional gender roles * Unrealistic expectations of marital s.e.x * Unrealistic expectations of their own future-that they'll be chaste, when most won't be * Ignorance of appropriate, personal s.e.xual decision-making * Shame, guilt, and isolation when chast.i.ty vows are broken * Healthy experimentation made complicated and more dangerous * Feeling rejected and judged by parents and/or G.o.d 22 22 Abstinence advocates say that a comprehensive (they call it "mixed") message teaches kids that we expect them to fail. That a.s.sumes, of course, that shunning s.e.x is the only form of "success."

But what does it do to young people when we actually do set them up to fail? We are training a whole generation that "if " (actually when) when) they have s.e.x before marriage, that they have failed, that G.o.d will be angry, that they lack discipline or self-respect or love for their future partner. They will also learn that they can't plan effectively. What kind of parents, citizens, lovers will they then be? With how many bad feelings will they a.s.sociate s.e.x-thereby undermining thoughtful s.e.xual decision-making? they have s.e.x before marriage, that they have failed, that G.o.d will be angry, that they lack discipline or self-respect or love for their future partner. They will also learn that they can't plan effectively. What kind of parents, citizens, lovers will they then be? With how many bad feelings will they a.s.sociate s.e.x-thereby undermining thoughtful s.e.xual decision-making?

"Abstinence" is a huge gamble-if kids "fail," they can't protect themselves.

So even if a few kids benefit, the rest-the majority-pay the price. Is this a reasonable social policy-gambling that a few will make it and abandoning the rest?

Finally, as award-wining educator Bill Taverner asks, how are programs preparing people to make the transition from using abstinence to using a different method of contraception and disease prevention? After all, almost 90 percent of abstinence pledgers have intercourse before marriage-and they protect themselves and each other at a lower rate than nonpledgers. Even if abstinence programs do help teens postpone s.e.xual involvement, morality-yes, morality- dictates that they prepare these kids for the time when they will switch to a different way of life, with different challenges. So long as abstinence programs ignore this reality, their claims of "morality-based s.e.x education" are hollow.

What's left is the simple-and dangerous-antis.e.x message.

KIDS AS A MINORITY TARGETED FOR DISCRIMINATION.

When it comes to s.e.xuality, Americans under 18 are a repressed minority.

In most or all states, * information is systematically withheld from them; * government, school, and church programs deliberately lie to them; * health services are withheld from them; * health products are withheld from them; * in many states it is against the law for them to have intercourse with anyone; anyone; * it is against the law for them to take photos of themselves of themselves in provoca-tive poses. in provoca-tive poses.

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In other arenas, kids have rights, regardless of the needs and feelings of adults. There are laws, for example, requiring school attendance and certain vaccinations, and restricting child labor and corporal punishment, regardless of how parents or other adults feel about these issues.

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