“Abstinence Only” …think again!

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee not only opposes a woman’s right to choose, nixes comprehensive sex education in favor of “Abstinence Only”, but now we discover that she cut funding for teen moms.

“Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee who revealed Monday that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, earlier this year used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live.”  —Washington Post

What if other parents don’t buy this shit.  What if they think preparing their kids for the eventual responsibilities of adulthood, which includes sexuality, is not a bad thing.

Sarah Palin’s unwed daughter will no doubt receive all the benefits a well-positioned family can provide.  Not so the daughters of everyone else.

What pisses me off the most is the double standard.  For everyone else’s kids — no choice, no clear unambitious information about human sexuality in school…and if you get in trouble, because you don’t have a choice or you are uninformed…no help from your government.

I don’t generally do this, but the timing couldn’t be better on this.  Monday’s podcast, #78, included my response to a message I recieved from a mother of three in Toronto.  The timely nature of Lynn’s question compels me to print it in full here.

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Name: Lynn
Gender: Female
Age: 36
Location: Toronto
I’m a mother of three great kids.  My oldest, who is in middle school, went to camp for the first time this summer. A local church group sponsors the camp every year.  When my husband and I asked him about his time away from home, he said rather noncommittally; “It was ok.”  He seemed to like it well enough, but you know how uncommunicative kids can be at that stage.
Anyhow, yesterday I was going through some laundry from his camp outing and discovered a pamphlet in the pocket of his pants.  It was for an “Abstinence Only” program.  It was full of the most sex-negative fear and shame.  It was awful.  We are not raising our kids like that; my husband and I were appalled.
Now we’re wondering if this is why our son was so unenthusiastic about his camp experience.  Do you think we should quiz him on this?
What gives with this kind of indoctrination anyway?  I thought that those “Abstinence Only” programs had been discredited.

So wait, wait, wait; are you thinking that just because a social engineering strategy, like abstinence-only, has been debunked that it wouldn’t still be employed by certain factions of our culture?  Oh hun, I think you oughta rethink that supposition right away, don’t cha know.

I mean, come on!  There are loads of outdated and discredited philosophies being promulgated in an effort to ensnare the  uninformed and gullible.  I don’t know about ya’ll there in Canadaville, but here in Amercanski land we have a whole segment of our population who believes in creationism as a viable explanation for the universe.  In fact, one was just nominated to be Vice President for the Republican party.  D’oh!

So, as you can see, there is no necessary connection between what has been discredited and what is still wildly popular in some segments of the population.

Back in the spring of 2007, a long-awaited congressionally funded national study concluded that abstinence-only sex education does not keep teenagers from having sex. Nor does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.  (Attention:  Governor Palin!)

Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary and middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities — two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community; in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education.

By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners.

So if abstinence-only programs don’t work, at least the way they are supposed to; why do we still have them?  Ahhh, good question.  We still have them because for a large segment of the population, especially those who are makin all these babies, it’s easier to just say “NO” than to step up to the plate and educate their kids about sex in a wholesome and holistic way.

Another problem is that the word abstinence often means something quite different to kids than it does to adults. That’s one reason why abstinence-only programs do not have strong effects in preventing teenage sexual activity.  At least that’s what a recent University of Washington study found.

The researchers found that interventions that encourage abstinence treat abstinence and sexual activity as opposites.  Teenagers, on the other hand, don’t consider them to be mutually exclusive concepts. Like in the congressionally sponsored study, the UW researchers found abstinence-only programs are less likely to work than more comprehensive sex-education programs because they are not speaking the same language as adolescents.

The study showed that attitudes and intentions about sex were more powerful than attitudes and intentions about being abstinent.  No surprise there, I suppose.

Again, I don’t know how things are there in Canada, but down here there is no federal funding for comprehensive sex-education.  But there’s a shit-load of funding for abstinence-only programs.  Funding has mushroomed from $9 million in1997 to $176 million in 2007.  Leave it to the current administration to dump loads of money into a program that doesn’t work.  But such is the power of the conservative religious lobby.  They are the people who back these programs.

This wouldn’t be such a big issue if it didn’t hold such dire consequences. For example, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate among all first-world nations.  The rates of sexually transmitted diseases in this country are also astronomical.  If we want to keep our young people safe from the negative aspects of casual sex, abstinence-only programs are not the way to go.

However, more comprehensive programs that include abstinence as one choice are much more likely to have a more productive outcome.  Besides, is it ever a good idea to try and motivate behaviors out of fear and shame?  I don’t think so.

Since abstinence-only programs often only look at the negatives of sex, it doesn’t really empower a young person to take responsibility for his/her behaviors.  This is particularly thorny for young women who often bear the brunt the peer pressures to be sexual.  And they have way more at stake in terms of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

When kids aren’t expected to take responsibility for their behaviors, especially in terms of sexuality, it cripples their ability to make good life-affirming choices.  Abstinence-only programs disqualify all sexual options, even the relatively innocuous behaviors like mutual masturbation and oral sex.  So if all sexual options are equally out of bounds, there’s no way for the average kid to distinguish between harmless and risky behaviors.  And this is what leads to the high rate of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.

If we want our kids to grow up with healthy and integrated attitudes about sex, ones that will lead to loving and fulfilling sexual relationship later in life, we ought teach from a more sex-positive theory.

Back to the other question you raise; the one about quizzing your son about his camp experience.  I think that would be great.  It would let him know that you care, that you don’t support this fear and shame-based approach to human sexuality and that he doesn’t have to embrace it either.

Good Luck

3 Thoughts on ““Abstinence Only” …think again!

  1. Excellent response dd, this is some heavy stuff. When I saw Gov. Palin on the Republican ticket, my heart dropped. Her redneck, backwoods ways would throw this country into a deeper, stinkier, more ignorant mire should she and McCain be elected. As a child of abstinence-only education, I can say it worked the way it is to be expected…as I didn’t learn that “pulling out” was safe birth control. And voila! I became pregnant at 18. Funny how Palin’s daughter is another case-in-point for this “educational” method being totally unreasonable and faulty.

    On the plus side, Palin does look a bit like a hot librarian in a cheesy porno flick. I want to see her fling her glasses off and shake her hair out as she gets down on all fours…but that’s still not a good reason to be in office!

    xoxo
    JLR

  2. OMG! you are so right about the hot librarian in a cheesy porno flick comment.

  3. Len Maxwell on September 15, 2008 at 1:45 pm said:

    I am not in favor of our republican veep nominee, but I object when people take things out of context and hate to have to argue FOR something/someone I don’t normally support.

    Ms. Palin did, indeed, decrease the amount of money requested by the state legislature. Covenant House, a home for unwed, teenage mothers, asked for ten million this year in funding from the state. The state legislature put five million in the budget and Ms. Palin cut it down to 3.9 million, which was actually an increase in their funding. In 2006 and 2007 the state funding for Covenant House was somewhere around 1.6 to 1.9 million. By giving them 3.9 million, Ms. Palin INCREASED their funding by two million.

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