People are still having sex

There’s been a lot of discussion this past week in the Enquirer regarding Governor Strickland’s budget proposal that eliminates funding for abstinence-only sexual education programs. Peter Bronson and abstinence-only proponent Carole Adlard have both written editorial columns denouncing this decision, and citing facts that support their position that abstinence is the only position that should be taught within public schools. While they may make some good points, a closer look at their positions exposes the flaws in their thinking.


Adlard cites a litany of figures to back her position. Central to that is the signing into law of Title V abstinence education funding by President Clinton in 1996. As proof that this has been a raging success, Ms. Adlard states that the percentage of high school students that have had sex has dropped from 55.2 percent down to 47.8 percent, and the teen birthrate has fallen by 33 percent. Impressive figures no doubt. Here’s the problem: the time period these figures that the sexual activity figures occurred across were from 1993 to 2005, and the birthrate decrease occurred from 1991 to 2004. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know how you can say a policy was having a positive effect before it had actually been implemented.

A couple additional figures were cited as well, notably that teen pregnancies dropped from 82 to 39 per 1000, and there was a 51 percent decrease in teen births (again, the latter of the two statistics occurred over a period from 1993 to 2005, though Ms. Adlard states that this is when abstinence education was added to the curriculum. Confused am I.). These are positive changes, but I would also ask if perhaps the “contraceptive sex-ed toolbox”, as she described it, was improved and the students took greater to those teachings as well. If you’re going to state that A occurred because of B, you need to show some sort of correlative data.

All of this is made more curious by the statements by both Bronson and Aldard that somewhere between $8/12 (depending on whose figures you believe) are spent on contraceptive education for every $1 spent on abstinence-only education. Are we to believe that these major changes are all due to a program that receives no more than 10-15% of the total sex education tax funding in the state? It seems somewhat counter-intuitive to suggest that a program has this great an effect, yet has that small a presence in the school system. There’s a disconnect here that needs to be bridged.

Noticeably absent from either of the editorials is any data that shows a decrease in the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). After all, if teens are having less sex, then there should be less diseases passed around, correct? Well the likely reason that they’re not making this claim is related to a study conducted by Northern Kentucky University on college students that had pledged to remain virgins until marriage. While the study showed that these “virginity pledges” did delay by one year the student’s first sexual intercourse experience, it also showed that the student was far more likely to not use a condom or other protection, which the study found logical since someone that is not intending to have sexual intercourse does not tend to have protection at hand, nor have they taken the time to educate themselves on contraceptive methods. Also, 55 percent of these students engaged in risky sexual behaviors, such as oral sex. So while pregnancies could be reduced by abstinence-only education, it’s entirely likely that STDs could increase as a result.

Surprisingly, these aren’t even the most questionable facts asserted in their articles. Adlard cites something called the With One Voice survey, which states that 94% of adults and 92% of children believe that there should be a strong abstinence message in sex education. Bronson cites an unnamed survey where 94% of all high school students felt that the best way to prevent an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is to wait until marriage to have sex.

Bronson’s statement is the easiest to dismiss out of hand. Technically, yes, I would agree with that statement. However, I would assume that 94% of those students would also believe that the best way to prevent drowning is to not go near an ocean, but you could always learn to swim or wear a life-jacket. Just because they said it was the best way does not mean that it is the only way.

Aldard’s statement is accurate, as that’s exactly what the survey says. However, she omits a large portion of the survey that doesn’t support her statements. For instance, in the paragraph below the one that she cites, only 18 percent of adults and 9 percent of children want more information about only abstinence. Three quarters of all adults surveyed say they want more information on both abstinence and contraception.

Furthermore, 68 percent of adults and 77 percent of teens agree that providing information on both abstinence and contraception does not send a mixed message. This is always the pillar of the right’s argument against contraceptive education (“oh, well you might as well teach kids how to drive drunk, it’s the same thing”). Apparently people are smarter than the abstinence-only proponents give them credit for; they can actually hold two opposed ideas and process them both equally.

I’m all for teaching abstinence as part of a comprehensive sex ed program; I just don’t think it should be taught by itself. People that want strictly abstinence education are either very far removed from their youth, or they just want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that they can’t see what’s going on around them.

No comments: