Bush's Sex Scandal
Nicholas Kristof's column in this morning's New York Times rips the Bushies for promoting abstinence-only sex education. He's right; it's a scandal. Some excerpts:
...for all the carnage in President Bush's budget, one program is being showered with additional cash - almost three times as much as it got in 2001. It's "abstinence only" sex education, and the best research suggests that it will cost far more lives than the Clinton administration's much more notorious sex scandal.
Mr. Bush means well. But "abstinence only" is a misnomer that in practice is an assault on sex education itself. There's a good deal of evidence that the result will not be more young rosy-cheeked virgins - it will be more pregnancies, abortions, gonorrhea and deaths from AIDS.
Look, I'm all for abstinence education. I support the booming abstinence industry as it peddles panties and boxers decorated with stop signs (at www.abstinence.net), and "Pet Your Dog, Not Your Date" T-shirts.
Abstinence education is great because it helps counteract the peer pressure that often leaves teenagers with broken hearts - and broken health.
For that reason, almost all sex-ed classes in America already encourage abstinence. But abstinence-only education isn't primarily about promoting abstinence - it's about blindly refusing to teach contraception.
To get federal funds, for example, abstinence-only programs are typically barred by law from discussing condoms or other forms of contraception - except to describe how they can fail. So kids in these programs go all through high school without learning anything but abstinence, even though more than 60 percent of American teenagers have sex before age 18. ...
Other developed countries focus much more on contraception. The upshot is that while teenagers in the U.S. have about as much sexual activity as teenagers in Canada or Europe, Americans girls are four times as likely as German girls to become pregnant, almost five times as likely as French girls to have a baby, and more than seven times as likely as Dutch girls to have an abortion. Young Americans are five times as likely to have H.I.V. as young Germans, and teenagers' gonorrhea rate is 70 times higher in the U.S. than in the Netherlands or France. ...
The Rev. Earl Holt of King's Chapel was the visiting preacher in our church last Sunday, and he preached from Matthew 4:1-11, the account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. His point was that it is a mistake to see temptation as a primarily external phenomenon, that can be controlled effectively by restricting the external opportunities for temptation. In one of the archetypal stories of temptation in our culture, Jesus did not go to Sodom or Gomorrah or Nineveh or Las Vegas to be tempted; he went into the wilderness alone.
The right-wing religionists' approach to teen sexuality misses this point, from their own loudly vaunted religious tradition, in large part. Or "big time", to borrow from Dick Cheney's language of reverence. The conservative moralists suppose that if you withhold knowledge in order to make the wages of sin seem more dangerous, the perception of external danger will encourage teens to resist external temptation.
But do they really think they can successfully control teen sex by refusing to teach contraception? The studies are in, and the numbers show it doesn't work. When will religious prudes catch on that if they truly want to reduce sin and relieve suffering -- by reducing the incidence of abortions, unwed mothers, and STD epidemics, or by increasing the number of girls receiving higher education and children being raised in stable two-parent households -- a better way to achieve those laudable moral goals is with rational rather than taboo-driven public health policies? If abortion is seen as a grievous sin, the best way to keep a naive 14-year-old girl from committing it is not to try to scare her away from the far lesser sin of premarital sex by making its consequences more dangerous than they need to be, or to try in other ways to limit her access to external temptation; her greater temptation is internal and she will encounter it eventually anyway. Rather, it is to teach her all the ways that unwanted pregnancy and other sexual dangers can be prevented even before she begins to encounter temptation.
In Matthew's story Jesus successfully resists his own temptation, but only a few chapters later we also find him speaking of motes and beams. Isn't hiding truth from our kids, and knowingly exposing them thereby to a greater risk of harm, ultimately a more discretionary and therefore graver moral failure than their own potential lapses in their adolescent battle to gain wise and willful control over their hormones? Isn't it a scandal that Bush, who himself is intimately familiar with both the nature of adolescent temptation and the moral admonitions of Jesus, is trying to use our tax money to perpetrate this sin against our children?