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Abstaining From Reality

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Abstinence education: like intelligent design, teaching abstinence in place of sex education is the Christian right’s way of injecting religion into our education system. They promote abstinence as the only true way to avoid pregnancy and STDs and the ultimate evil, abortion. And you know what, they’re right.

But just like communism and all the other ideas that sound good on paper, reality has a funny way of proving how wrong you really are. Abstinence-only education is no exception.

Anyone who has ever been a teenager or currently is one, knows full well that the idea of abstinence is about as realistic as jumping from here to the moon in a single bound. Bodies are primed and ready, hormones are going crazy and the urge to merge is flying right in the face of society’s man-made age of consent and social mores. We want to protect our children, so what’s the best way to do that? Is it to tell them simply, just say no and that’s final? I suppose this is the sexual equivalent of “because I’m your mother and I say so”.

Is that simple prohibition enough to override the forces of nature, peer pressure, human curiosity and the first feelings of love and attraction? Let’s take a look.

As expected, the answer is no. A study in the American Journal of Health Behavior was conducted to analyze the sexual behavior of more than 2000 students in the Cleveland area. Researchers led by Elaine A. Borawski, Ph.D., in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, found that after going through the program, teens reported significant increases in their HIV/STD knowledge, their personal beliefs about the importance of abstinence and their intentions to remain abstinent in the near future.

That sounds nice.

But the program did not affect students’ confidence to avoid risky sexual situations, and sexually inexperienced and female students actually reported a decrease in their intent to use condoms in the future.


In the end, the study showed that abstinence-only education had NO effect in preventing teens from becoming sexually active.

This evaluation reveals that abstinence-only intervention can influence knowledge, beliefs and intentions…” Borawski said, adding that the intent of teens to reduce their condom use merits further study to determine long-term implications.

Well let’s see what those implications may be.

Just south of Cleveland, in Canton, OH there is another school that preaches and teaches an abstinence-only sex education program. I wonder how that turned out. Thirteen percent of the female students at Timken Senior High School in Ohio are pregnant.

Wow. I guess they could have used those condoms over there.

The statistic at the school in the heart of this old steel city contrasts with a decade of declining teen pregnancy rates nationwide.

I wonder what could have happened.

“Joanne Hinton, whose 16-year-old daughter, Raechel Hinton, is eight months pregnant, said she believes the school’s abstinence-based sex education program isn’t enough.”

“It’s time to take the blinders off and realize that these kids are having sex,” she said. “Obviously, abstinence is not working. If we have to, just give them condoms.”

Last school year, both high schools in the city’s district reported 55 pregnancies. Ninety-nine pregnancies are expected in the district this year, most of them at Timken, where expecting students get six weeks of maternity leave.

WOW! What the heck could be going on over there? Hmmm. Maybe this has something to do with it:

Abstinence-based programs have been growing nationwide at schools over the past few years. In Ohio, the Bush’s administration and the state’s health department have awarded $32 million in grants to Ohio agencies for abstinence education since 2001.

Well, nice work George, I guess that settles it.

Let’s tell our kids not to have sex, even though we know they are going to. Then lets compound our mistake by not giving them the knowledge, tools or support for making smart healthy choices about the sex we already know they are going to have. Then let’s add funding for already cash-strapped schools thanks to ‘no child left behind’ so that we keep promoting the non-reality based ignorance of abstinence-only education.

What’s the result? A total and complete mess. More kids born to single teenage mothers who can now add to the growing roles of people on public assistance programs that are being cut by the same stupid government that helped put those kids there in the first place.

As you may have guessed, I think George Bush is a moron. But I’m starting to reconsider this opinion. All this time I’ve been thinking about things from the perspective of someone who wants to help make this country great. But what if you take a different viewpoint?

How would things change if President Bush woke up one morning in 1999 and said, “What can I do to fuck up this country, not just for 4 or 8 years, but for an entire generation?” If you look at his and his administration’s actions from that perspective, suddenly he looks like a genius. There is no way he could be this successful in that plan through sheer luck and incompetence. It had to be part of a grand scheme. No, I think that George W. Bush is one of the most brilliant tacticians of our age. Bravo!

This article originally appeared on The Rudicus Report.

Additional reporting courtesy of CONNIE MABIN, Associated Press Writer

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  • Rob

    First, I find your attitude that “Abstinence is impossible” to be insulting to teenagers. Yes, hormones do hit at puberty, but they do not override all thought. Look up the stats on when people lose their virginity. It’s obviously not impossible.

    What the study you quote shows is that abstinence-only education doesn’t work the way it’s being taught. Giving kids all the information and giving them the emotional tools to make use of that information is going to do a lot more than abstinence-only.

    The Christian Right is pushing abstinence-only and distorting the information to support it.

    Is that really the pattern you want to follow?

  • Did you actually read the article?

    Please quote me where I said abstinence was impossible.

    What I DID say was that abstinence-only education was unrealistic and irresponsible because the odds of getting 100% abstinence participation is as close to zero as one can get without being an absolutist.

    Thus it is dangerous and irresponsible not to teach all the factors that go into a viable sex education curriculum – which includes accomodating the percentage of teenagers that are going to be having it.

    What I’m talking about is the delusional belief that teaching abstinence-only and not including the rest of the curriculum apart from scaring kids with AIDS will have any impact on sexuality and may in fact be counter-productive – which is what I am suggesting.

    And for the record you said:

    “What the study you quote shows is that abstinence-only education doesn’t work the way it’s being taught. Giving kids all the information and giving them the emotional tools to make use of that information is going to do a lot more than abstinence-only.”

    Hence it would cease to be abstinence-only education and would become a full sex education curriculum, which is exactly what I’m saying.

  • Rudicus,

    A couple of points. First of all, I made it through my teen years and through college as a virgin. Was it easy? No way! But it’s realistic if that is what you want.

    Secondly, there are quite a few studies that show abstinence education to be highly effective. Probably the most effective program is what I believe is called the “ABC Method.” Abstinence first, then contraceptives, then something else (not sure what the “C” stands for). That method is highly successful, far more than simply teaching kids how to use contraceptives or simply teaching them not to have sex.

    The advantage that abstinence until marriage has over everything else is the fact that it maximizes your chance of staying STD free for the span of your life. Unfortunately, kids are being taught to have “safe” sex when, really, there is no such thing as “safe” sex.

    There are many STDs that condoms can’t even protect against, so why are we telling kids that they can? And that is where evolution and the “safe sex” rhetoric intersects in my opinion. Some want evolution AND “safe sex” taught as fact when, in reality, evolution is just a theory and safe sex is, at best, a fantasy.



  • Again, I appreciate your positions and applaud people who make life choices and stick to them.

    And I said myself, the only 100% effective means to prevent STD’s and pregnancy is abstinence.

    But where you guys are missing the point, for some reason, is not that people can’t choose abstinence, it’s that most people do not. And, whether I think people should wait until they are married or have as much pre-marital or homosexual sex as they can is really immaterial to the issue.

    What we are talking about is preparedness and reality. Since we know that 100% of the students in question will not be practicing abstinence only then it is in our best interests as a society to equip the kids with as much information and knowledge as possible about the entire gamut of sexual activity and relationships so that whatever decision they choose to make they have the very best information they can have.

    The fact that there is widespread difference in the quality, content and education of the curriculums and their instructors, it would not surprise me if there was a whole host of nonsense being peddled as true and correct.

    Condoms cannot protect 100% from either pregnancy or STDs, but they’re a damn sight better than nothing and mostly pretty good regardless and that IS a fact. So if I had a kid who was going to be having sex anyway, I’d much rather have them do it with protection rather than not.

    No one is claiming (or at least should be claiming) that condoms are 100% safe and effective or that evolution is the be all end all of existence. Those kinds of statements are best left to absolutists. However both represent the best we have so far, and until something comes along that changes either of those things, that’s what we have to work with.

  • Joey

    I could have used a lot more controlled, protected sex as a teenager. Perhaps a hot phys ed teacher. But plenty of it, directed toward putting my hormone levels at normal, and allowing more focus on study rather than always onthe hunt.

    I think I would have been a lot better off. Seriously.

  • lelouisa

    Abstinence programs are as varied as the person presenting. Social skills for better relationships are good for everyone. Information on contraception and birth control is more likely remembered if the person seeks it out from a medical professional and that information is relevant for their life at the moment. Wholesale promotion of contraception doesn’t meet the desired goal unless its just to sell products and services.
    A much overlooked fact is this debate is that most abstinence education is aimed at children ages 10-15 years old, all illegal to have sex with even with each other in most states. There are reasons for sexual age of consent laws. The debate is so myopic. Human beings are not merely biological they are emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual and these young people have financial responsibilities, too. Ignoring all these aspects should send up red flags to caring adults.