Sex Ed.

I feel like these come out once every couple of months, but another study into the effectiveness of abstinence focused sexual education has hit, and its results are entirely unsurprising.

In true journalistic fashion, the Washington Post article uses the inverted pyramid technique and puts the money statement right at the top.

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

I know it’s not any surprise that I’m skeptical of most abstinence programs, but this article highlights one of the reasons for my jaundiced view.  Regardless of how you view the morality of sex before marriage, these programs just don’t work.  The range of study results runs the tiny gamut between “does nothing to reduce sexual activity” to “does nothing to reduce sexual activity but does reduce practice of safe sex.”  Why there is even a debate in any government anywhere about instituting these programs in our public schools is beyond me.

I think what this study makes clear is that there’s a certain percentage of the teenage population that’s going to have sex regardless of what you teach them.  Pretending like a promise to your pastor and a piece of jewelry are going to mean anything in the face of, say, a suddenly topless girlfriend is silly.  Not everyone has sex before marriage, but study after study shows that abstinence vows have nothing at all to do with it.

I have two close friends who are pastors.  Of the three of us, only one was never promiscuous.  By promiscuous I mean only one of us had sex only with one partner, and that partner is now their spouse.  That would be me, the agnostic who never attended an abstinence program and stopped going to any gathering held  in a church by 9th grade.  My friends, on the other hand, did a fair amount of fooling around through high school and college despite regular youth group attendance.

What does that mean?  Absolutely nothing.  It means that some people have a lot of sex and some people don’t.  There are a thousand reasons for it, but it’s a fact that no amount of education is likely to change.  We’re programmed to have sex.  Our bodies and minds are built to seek it out as often as possible.  Teenagers have it the worst, as a flood of hormones overwhelms what little ability to reason they have.  People talk about teenage sex being some kind of crisis, and the idea is just ludicrous to me.  Biologically, that’s when we’re supposed to start having sex.  Thousand of years of 14 year-olds getting married should be proof of that.

I think that the delayment of marriage into adulthood is a good thing, and I think trying to keep teenagers from getting someone pregnant or catching the clap is as well.  We’re living a lot longer than we did when Romeo and Juliet consummated their teenage  marriage, and because of that we’ve extended adolescence out further and further.  Creating an environment in which our kids can grow up unburdened with the consequences of a stupid hormonal mistake is exactly what we should be doing.

But we have to do something that works.  That’s my biggest problem with abstinence vow programs.  Every study finds that “ineffective” is the best case scenario.  More likely than not, they’re actually dangerous.  They either ignore protection or lie about its effectiveness, so that when their students inevitably end up in bed they’re more likely to get pregnant or sick  because of it.  We need to accept that by pushing marriage into adulthood, we’ve inserted a decade between our sexual maturity and when we’re supposedly allowed to have sex.  Abstinence vow programs ask our kids to hold off biology for years, but refuse to point them towards protection should their resolve fail.  This, I’m sorry to say, is just plain wrong.

If I have children, I’ll do what I can to teach them to restrain themselves, but I’ll also teach them to protect themselves.  You can recover from having sex with the wrong person.  AIDS not so much.  If premarital sex will send you to hell, you still might as well wear a condom.  No reason to catch that train any earlier than necessary.

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2 Responses to Sex Ed.

  1. arisonn says:

    This is an issue I think about a lot, so even though this is an old post I thought I would add my two cents. I find it interesting that these studies typically don’t comment about WHY abstinence programs reduce the use of birth control. I also find it interesting that it took me as long as it did to figure it out. I used to think, rather vaguely, that it must have something to do with the lack of knowledge about birth control. But I recently realized this is probably not accurate. The problem is guilt and denial. Perhaps this is obvious to everyone else, but it was a revelation to me.

    If sex outside of marriage is bad, bad, bad and you are going-to-hell if you do it, then you don’t plan to do it. So you don’t buy birth control because that would be planning to do it when you weren’t crazed with hormones. But then “in the face of, say, a suddenly topless girlfriend” “it just happens.” Somehow that is okay. Whereas planning ahead and buying condoms is not okay with god apparently.

    It is just bizarre. But perhaps not as bizarre as wearing the silver ring AND also regularly hooking up with full intent. Denial and lack of insight into oneself and one’s behavior is so unfathomable to me. I couldn’t agree with you more on the point that abstinence programs are ridiculous considering our physiology. My next logical problem is to figure out why the heck Christianity is so concerned with sex in the first place. My current vague idea is that it has to do with the historical need to identify paternity in a world without DNA testing or reliable birth control.

    I actually did attend an abstinence program (sans ring) and this is the funny part – the reason I agreed to go to the program at a neighboring church was to meet boys. Anyway, the hypocrisy and lack of logic (with religion in general) eventually got to be too much. Even though I initially had doubts by 12, I wasn’t able to fully quit church and deal with the ostracization of being an atheist until much later in life than 9th grade.

    And by the way, sorry I can’t keep my replies to an acceptable one or two lines. If I have something to say, it seems, I have something to say.

  2. arisonn says:

    And it occurs to me, now that I’ve posted the pervious, that also there is something undeniably alluring about the forbidden. So abstinence ed is actually making teenage sex all the hotter.

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