Saturday, April 14, 2007

Is Abstinence-Only Sex Education Too Explicit?

According to surprising new federal report, which was released late on Friday so that no one would know about it, and only after Congress insisted, abstinence-only sex education classes have had "no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence." Apparently, kids who enrolled in these programs were just as likely to have sex as other kids. Unfortunately, this study comes at a bad time for abstinence-only advocates in the Bush Administration. Wade Horn, the unfortunately named point man for the administration on abstinence-only education, just resigned after overseeing a huge increase in funding for the program to over $200 million and already those who want to turn our kids into a generation of hos are bouyant. "After 10 years and $1.5 billion in public funds these failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will go down as an ideological boondoggle of historic proportions," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. "The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control. We have been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that's not just bad public health policy, its bad ethics."

But Robert Rector of the Abstinence Clearinghouse cautioned that we shouldn't be worried so much about whether the program is effective, calling that a "bogus issue." Instead we should focus on the importance of the "values being taught." He has a point. Just because the War on Drugs has been a failure, for example, that's no reason to stop it, so why should we care if abstinence-only sex education doesn't work as long as we are doing the right thing?

If these programs have in fact been a failure, I don't think it is because kids were being given too much inaccurate information. I think the real problem was that they were given any information at all. We need more ignorance about sex, not less. The word "abstinence" itself is probably too explicit. Once you tell kids to abstain from sex until marriage, you have already told them too much. When kids start experimenting with abstaining, it should be no surprise that things can get out of hand and that they will move on to actually having sex.

Kids who are told to abstain from something are naturally going to start wondering what they are abstaining from. Instead of then telling them what sex is in explicit detail, and then telling them not to do it, it might be better if teachers described sex using vague, confusing metaphors the way adults used to back when teens were not having sex. For example, instead of outlining the mechanics of sex, a teacher could say, "Are you familiar with the workings of the internal combustion engine?" After an hour of talking about pistons and carburetors and spark plugs and power strokes, the class would be over. Typical questions such as "Where do babies come from?" could easily be deflected by talking about storks illustrated by cartoons. Cute stories like this have worked for centuries.

Parents used to be the ones to teach their kids about sex even though they usually didn't know a lot about it themselves, and most waited until the day before their children got married. The idea that people should know anything at all about sex before they were married is a peculiarly modern one. In the past, for example, British mothers used to give their daughters very succinct advice before their wedding nights. "Lie back and think of England," they would say. Obviously, that wouldn't quite work here, but I see no reason why American mothers can't tell their daughters to lie back and think of America. Boys, meanwhile, will have already picked up enough information on the street and from the Internet porn to fill in any gaps.

Some people believe that kids need to learn about sex now to avoid diseases like AIDS. Many abstinence-only programs mistakenly gave lip service to this idea. For example, they would discuss condoms, though only in terms of their failure rates, telling kids that they don't always offer protection from AIDS, which is technically true. But perhaps it would be better not to tell kids about condoms at all. If a student asks what they are, the teacher could tell them that they are balloons and blow one up as a demonstration. A particularly creative teacher could make them into condom animals. If that doesn't work, the teacher could claim that condoms actually cause AIDS.

Of course, there is so much sexuality in our culture now that many kids already know too much about sex despite the valiant efforts of the Justice department and FCC to battle obscenity and of conservative groups to ban contraceptives. I'm afraid that the only way to fight all this information is with strategically released misinformation. Many young people (and some presidents) already believe that some sexual activities, such as oral and anal sex, don't even count as sex, an idea that may unfortunately have been reinforced by the fact that they are often unmentioned in abstinence-only sex education classes. To fight this dangerous tendency to define sexuality down, educators should instead define sexuality up. In some Muslim countries men and women are forbidden from shaking hands. So let's take a page from their book and tell young people that a handshake is sex. Let's tell kids that they could get pregnant from cybersex or get a sexually transmitted disease from a kissing. By redefining sex, we could fool kids into thinking they are having sex when they really aren't. Then perhaps that would be as much of a risk as they would be willing to take.

The less accurate information given in a sex education class, the better, because what kids don't know about sex can't hurt them. Since abstinence-only sex education classes usually don't even discuss homosexuality, many gay kids don't know enough about their feelings to act on them, so they usually channel them into excelling in high school musical performances or band, activities that bring delight to other students. Then when they are older they can enroll in ex-gay therapy or become priests. If more heterosexual students were kept in the dark about their hormonal urges, they would channel their frustrations into sports. Information-free sex education classes would be a boon for high school athletics.

Clearly, more needs to be done to frighten and guilt-trip kids and confuse them about sex. In the Bible when someone has carnal relations with someone the verb "know" is often used. Adam and Eve did not even have sex until they ate of the Tree of Knowledge. The lesson is obvious. If we really want our kids to stop having sex, we need to give them as little knowledge as possible. Abstinence-only sex education has been a good first step in reaching that goal, but we can do better.

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36 comments:

Anonymous said...

You done wroted:

"We need more ignorance about sex, not less."

And this can only come about through stem-cell research.

Sylvia said...

If more heterosexual students were kept in the dark about their hormonal urges, they would channel their frustrations into sports. Information-free sex education classes would be a boon for high school athletics.

Now, if we've learned anything from Imus, it's that athletes can be hos no matter how much sex they're [not] having. I'm not sure that sports are very safe. We need to use measures like Play-Doh or organic chemistry to keep the heterosexual teens in line. Nothing keeps kids in motion like a Bunsen burner.

OutOfContext said...

Apparently, kids who enrolled in these programs were just as likely to have sex as other kids.

This is a bad thing? No, it is progress. If we found a way to travel in our SUV's just as far using no less carbon based fuel, wouldn't that be a good thing (at least it would get the whiney liberals off our backs)? Abstinence only programs are the "clean fuel" of sex education. Same effect+purer methods=Progress.

Abstinence can be taken too far, as can all good things, and this is something I have been striving to impress on Mrs. Context (who "thinks of her canning", by the way, ever since she saw The Night of the Hunter)

Lewis Morris said...

New York abstains.



Courteously.

Steve said...

"Is Abstinence-Only Sex Education Is Too Explicit?"

You may have one too many "Is"s in there...

eConsultant said...

"When kids start experimenting with abstaining, it should be no surprise that things can get out of hand and that they will move on to actually having sex."

You, sir, are a genius.

Michelle said...

I think the language needs a complete overhaul, so many words for sex, and so many of them sound like to much fun, we need to get rid of words like "sex" and "fuck" and terms like "making love" and replace them with a general term "making a baby" perhaps, or "our duty to the President" just so people don't get any ideas that there's anything to it but that.

Miss Cellania said...

Sex is a filthy, disgusting thing that should be given only to someone you really love.

OutOfContext said...

If we found a way to travel in our SUV's just as far using no less carbon based fuel

--sorry, should be less, not no less.

Roger Ailes said...

Is that a Wankel engine?

I think you're encouraging masturbation.

Charles said...

Mr. Swift,

While your editorial is accurate as far as it goes -- and forgive me if I must be blunt here -- you are merely nibbling around the edges of the great cheese that lies at the heart of the problem.

It's education of the young. Not just sex education, but the whole thing. The brilliant recent past and the glowing future of America are ample proof that Education in Mathematics and Science (which, as you have pointed out, is dead) are deleterious -- as the quality of this education has dropped, the American economy has soared.

Perhaps we should read the writing on the wall and eliminate them altogether.

President Bush has demonstrated that English is unnecessary to success.
History is pernicious. As Tom Friedman and many of our current national leadership have exceptionally demonstrated, a sense of history extending no more than six months back is a tremendous advantage. Why should we handicap our young when compared with these successful people?

That leaves Shop, PhysEd, and what used to be called Home Economics -- but I submit to you that these could be more readily be home-schooled, and many people don't think these fall into the category of "education" anyway.

Sure, everybody says that you need a college degree to get ahead, but we have seen many times over the last years (and it's especially obvious at the current time) that it's the degree that matters. We could save everybody a lot of money and suffering if we simply gave degrees to Harvard and Yale to everybody at the age of 21.

Think how happy all those professors would be when they found that they wouldn't have to deal with students anymore. Everybody wins!

I make these suggestions in all humility and, furthermore, I pledge that, if you (or anyone) decide to use them, not only will I not claim that I said them first, I will deny categorically ever having said them at all.

Jaesoreal said...

"Lie back and think of England," they would say. You always have that one line that sends me over the edge...literally. I am funning from the cops as we speak! Mr. Charles may be on to something as well!

Anonymous said...

Come on John, you know this would work better:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chastity_belts

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson could give them away free in exchange for charitable contributions to the cause....

Or they could be updated to include taser devices so if you even think about doing it.....

Anonymous said...

Handshaking clearly is a ritual evolved from mutual wanking. (Open hand held waist high / pumping it in an up and down motion.) Bonobos use genital rubbing as a greeting just as we use hand-shaking.

Yet business leaders, women (what does that suggest?), and politicians commit this act all the time.

So while they push abstinence sex ed, they clearly don't walk the walk with all their relentless, animalistic sexual glad-handing.

Bukko in Australia said...

Darn! Anonymous beat me to it.

I did not see anything in these studies on the effectiveness of barrier-type chastity preservation devices, which, in the interests of better marketing, should be re-purposed as "purity" belts. Instead of the medieval metal models, lighter-weight, slit-proof Kevlar belts could be employed. Coated with black or pink vinyl for, uh, matching with flesh tones and ease of slipping clothing on and off.

A federally funded study, with the money being given to a suitable faith-based college (I'm sure $200 million would suffice) could be done on a target high school. A secular school would have to be targeted, because no youths attending a religious school would dream of fornicating.

Girls would be asked at an assembly in front of their fellow students and parents to come forward if they would like to wear the purity belts until they were either married or menopausal. It would be voluntary, of course, although non-participants might need to give careful consideration about taking a public stance announcing their easy, sleazy availability in front of their fathers and packs of ravening teenage boys.

Every nine months, a comparitive survey on the rates of pregnancy and filthy social diseases could be done between the purity girls and the hos -- I mean non-participants. To prevent whiny protests by politically correct types, I envision some sort of ligature for boys, perhaps with tight leather strapping and elaborate knots that would be applied to the male areas of temptation.

I frequently think about the logistics of this vitally needed survey. In the interest of science, I would be willing to donate my labor free of charge to help fit out the female participants. My parish priest advises that he, in the name of all that is Holy, would likewise volunteer to apply purity devices on the boys.

Kathleen said...

If abstinence education doesn't work, has anyone considered reverse psychology? Worth a try.

DiscordianStooge said...

slit-proof Kevlar belts

Are you sure "slit"-proof was the best word choice there?

james higham said...

We always had well formed anatomical ideas what we'd like to do with our girlfriends but the stumbling block was that the girls, as a speices, usually said no. Mostly. We knew the ones who didn't.

So did their fathers, who prevented them coming to visit us. We were neither purer or more ignorant - it was a question of access and supply.

Education, in this context, has no meaning.

Bukko in Australia said...

You're right, Discordian! I used an "S" when it should have been a "C"...

saskboy said...

Just think how low the abstinence rates would be if there weren't classes to tell children to "just say no to penis".

The Speeker said...

Back when teens didn't have sex? Not too long ago the BBC covered a report that said teens 50 years ago had just as much sex as they do now.

Clearly, therefore, teen pregnancies that were once the fault of rock and roll are now caused by rap and the "hip hop".

Anonymous said...

Im not sure yet if you are serious or not, if you are not serious...then your view is pretty funny..but If you are serious...its just sad. You make it sound as if sex is something people invented to sin or something... its a biological process you cant make it disappear through ignorance. Humans will always have a need for sex if they know the term for it or not. My parents subscribed to your ideal. It dosnt work, sorry. I knew that sex existed from an early age, learned it on the bus to and from school from older kids who were already thinking and doing it. Your idea just wont work...its nonsense

Anonymous said...

Actually the best way of keeping people from having sex would be to remove the genitals from males soon after birth and to give hysterectomies to girl babies. We could reproduce only by cloning. We could get rid of a lot of problems..families, marriage, homosexuality, heterosexuality. Life would be a lot better. People could concentrate on working more and making more money. We would truely be happy then. Ahh a perfect world. Wouldnt everything be much better this way?

Pete Bogs said...

anon - I think you should look up Jonathan Swift, and his "Modest Proposal"

Anonymous said...

I must say that republicans sometimes have a nice way to listen to their own sexual eduction....

Anonymous said...

"What teens don't know about sex won't hurt them"
Yeah right! Sex is too damn good for us not finding out about it anyways. And its SO easy to protect yourself towards AIDS if you don't know what it is

Anonymous said...

You make me sick. I will be using your article as an example in an upcoming speech as to why we should not leave our children's future in the hands of ignorant conservatives like yourself. I know what would cure you, a good fuck. It's nice. Try it sometime.

TheNerd said...

This is the best satire ever on why abstinence-only education doesn't work! I hope everyone that doesn't understand why we need more detailed information in sex education reads this, then maybe our nation will take a change for the better.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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