Thursday, April 26, 2007

Katherine Kersten: Abstinence study abstained from the larger truth

Stella Borealis says: It is probable that those who are in favor of comprehensive sex education in schools are opposed to giving students a choice of sex education courses.

According to Katherine, comprehensive sex education "tends to depict sex as essentially a physical process and source of pleasure. They generally teach that sex is OK for teens so long as they decide they're 'ready' and use contraceptives." One would easily win a bet that predicted that those who support this are also those who support a "woman's right to choose" abortion.

Why are they against a "woman's right to choose" abstinence?

And the reason is, they think that they are smarter than everybody else. And, intelligence being the most highly valued of all human character traits by them, that arrogance is behind most of all of the cultural and moral disputes being waged today.

Katherine Kersten: A new study on the effectiveness of abstinence education made headlines last week. Folks who advocate "safe sex," or comprehensive sex education are already assuring us that it marks the death knell of federally funded abstinence programs.

We Minnesotans have a special stake in this debate, because our Legislature is considering a bill to require sex education in grades 7-12.

What was the drastic finding that discredited abstinence programs, according to critics? The study assessed results from four abstinence-based programs around the country. Kids entered the programs in 1999-2001, at age 11 or 12 on average, and participated for one to several years. In late 2005 or early 2006 they completed a follow-up survey, when they were nearly 17 on average. About half the kids reported remaining abstinent, the same as a control group. Those who had sex did so first at the same age as those in a control group, and had as many sexual partners.

But anyone who wants to make public policy based on this study should think again. Its sample was small and unrepresentative, says Dr. Gary Rose of the Medical Institute of Austin, Texas, a research organization that supports abstinence education.

The study included only four of the more than 900 programs that have received federal support, he says, and three were in communities made up largely of single-parent households.

In fact, there is good evidence that abstinence programs do work, especially when a school-based message is reinforced throughout a community. In 1996, says Rose, President Bill Clinton signed a bill authorizing federal funding for abstinence education precisely because the "safe sex" curricula in use for years were proving woefully ineffective.

But the debate over sex education is about more than dry statistics. It's about the emotional and physical well-being of our kids, who are growing up in a world where 6-year-old girls dress like vamps and 10-year-old boys hear rappers dehumanize women as "hos."

Our kids are telling us that they're having sex too early. Nearly two-thirds of teens who have had sex regret their early activity and say they wish they had waited, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Our kids are crying out for socially supported ways to say no.

Does "comprehensive" sex education help them here? Far from it, says the Heritage Foundation, which compared nine comprehensive sex ed curricula and nine abstinence curricula in 2004.

Comprehensive sex ed and abstinence curricula teach markedly different views of sex, according to the Heritage report. Comprehensive curricula tend to depict sex as essentially a physical process and source of pleasure. They generally teach that sex is OK for teens so long as they decide they're "ready" and use contraceptives.

Comprehensive sex education's primary goals are to teach teens how to obtain and use contraception, and how to persuade their sexual partners to use it. "Many curricula instruct teens that condoms are 'fun' and 'sexy,' " says the report. Some advise kids to keep condoms with them at all times, implying that "sex can take place at a moment's notice" so "teens should always be prepared."

What kind of sexual relationships is a young person likely to form if he or she views sex this way? Short-term "hook-ups" that use others as vehicles for one's own pleasure. Increasingly, young men and women come together, in author Wendy Shalit's memorable phrase, "like airplanes refueling in flight: not just unerotic but almost inanimate."

Not surprisingly, advocates of comprehensive sex education often seek to broaden their programs' appeal by labeling them "abstinence-plus." But this is usually a serious misrepresentation, according to the Heritage report. The comprehensive curricula it studied merely paid lip service to abstinence, portraying it as just another way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Authentic abstinence curricula take a very different approach. They view sex not primarily as a source of pleasure or self-expression but as a deeply significant act with moral, emotional and psychological dimensions. As a result, they focus on teaching students about the differences between love and sex, and encouraging them to view sexuality as part of a lifelong process of developing intimacy that will culminate ideally in a faithful marriage.

Today, the hook-up culture beckons our kids. But many are yearning for romance and true intimacy. Abstinence education can help them. StarTribune

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