A Lesson in Sex Ed

There are a lot of things I'd like to post on, but being behind in my work, let me just make reference to this item (h/t Leiter), on a subject about which I think conservatives are dead wrong: sex.

One of the Christian Right's most cherished ideological victories since the 1990s has been the dominance of federally funded "abstinence only until marriage" programs now taught to millions of teenagers across the country.

New evidence, however, suggests that these same programs have contributed to soaring rates of unplanned pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and, yes, abortions among women who are young or poor.


Not surprisingly, abstinence promotion has not decreased teen sexual activity but has led to an increase in unprotected sex. A recent Columbia University study found that 88 percent of teenage girls who take "virginity pledges" eventually have premarital sex-but are one-third less likely to use contraception when they do so.


U.S. teen pregnancy rates are double those in England and Canada, and nine times more than those in the Netherlands and Japan.

Research shows that when contraception is readily available, the rate of unplanned pregnancy drops. France offers free emergency contraception to teenagers, without requiring them to inform their parents, yet France has an abortion rate half of that in the U.S.

For the record, no scientific evidence exists to show that consensual sex between teenagers is harmful in any respect. [emphasis mine]

There are some more important facts in this short article, like how misleading and factually incorrect federally funded abstinence programs are, and how poor women have been the hardest hit. Read the whole thing.

On top of this, the article doesn't even mention the ideological, anti-scientific position of the FDA against emergency contraception or, even worse, how idiotic US policy is tragically promoting the spread of AIDS in Africa by disparaging condom use.

Ben and I have argued on and off about this for years. He thinks it's better for women to die than for more teenagers to have sex (i.e., he is against universal inoculation of girls with the HPV vaccine, HPV being a common cause of cancer in women).

He's aware of the ineffectiveness of the abstinence programs but he counters that the alternatives are also ineffectual. (I don't know the research well enough to adequately respond to this--and we should keep in mind that many of the effects studied are correlational only--but we should note that even if he's right, this is an argument against sex ed in general, not one in favor of abstinence "education".)

In our last conversation, though, I think I convinced him that comprehensive programs are worth funding, so long as they aren't blatantly encouraging teenagers to have lots of sex (abstinence should still be an option, perhaps even encouraged, so long as it is presented as a choice).

Nevertheless, he is still against teenage sex, as are many social and religious conservatives. This is why I emphasize the last line of the essay. Show me evidence that protected, consensual teenage sex causes problems, and maybe I'll reconsider my position.

To be fair, some of the arguments often given against discouraging teen sex--e.g., that it fosters an unhealthy attitude toward sexuality or that sex between teens can't be stopped because it's human nature--are inadequate.

What evidence is there that Victorian sexual ethics are unhealthy, in any sense (besides the negative effects associated with not using contraceptives, which is typically not what liberals making this argument intend)? Similarly, aggression among young males is also "natural" but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to curb those impulses. Even Freud recognized that repression isn't always necessarily a bad thing.

When all is said and done, contraception and abortion are highly necessary measures that do more good than harm. Not only should their use be promoted (especially contraception), but they should be subsidized for those who can't easily afford them.

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