Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Two new studies are showing the dangers of abstinence-only sex education. Both are reported here. Because abstinence-only programs are forbidden to even mention that condoms can help prevent pregnancy and STDs – it is literally illegal for them to mention anything about condoms other than failure rates – teens who take abstinence-only classes tend to use condoms far less when they become sexually active. Surprise, surprise. Here’s the result:

Teenagers’ risks of pregnancy and disease are also affected by what they think about sex, contraception and pregnancy, researchers reported. According to a study just published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the more positive sexually experienced teens’ attitudes about birth control, the more likely they are to use it and the less likely to become pregnant. But sexually experienced teens’ attitudes toward pregnancy are not associated with whether they become pregnant. The authors–Yale University’s Hannah Bruckner, Ph.D., and Columbia University’s Peter Bearman, Ph.D.–conclude that programs promoting positive attitudes toward contraceptive use, rather than ones focusing solely on the negative consequences of becoming pregnant, may be most effective at reducing teen pregnancies.

Dr. Bearman also reported on an analysis of young adults who had pledged as teenagers to remain virgins until marriage, a type of program that is supported by federal policy. The researchers found that young adults who took virginity pledges as teenagers had the same rates of STDs as other young adults once they became sexually active–even though pledgers had shorter periods of sexual activity and fewer sexual partners. Virginity pledgers are also less likely to know their STD status–increasing the chances they will infect a partner or suffer long-term health consequences. This is of particular concern since nearly nine in 10 virginity pledgers have sexual intercourse before getting married.

Dr. Bearman noted that young people’s views are increasingly shaped by programs that teach them they must stay abstinent until marriage, while discussing contraceptives only in terms of failure rates. Federal law prohibits government-funded abstinence-only programs from providing information about the health benefits of using contraception, including condoms. “It’s truly shocking how little medically accurate information teens are getting about how to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease,” he said. “The scare tactics and negative messaging used by today’s abstinence-only sex education programs put young people in harm’s way.”

Abstinence-only education simply does not work. Studies show that while it delays the average age at which teens become sexually active a bit, it also makes them much less likely to use contraception when they do have sex. The result is more STDs and more teen pregnancy.

Comments

  1. #1 flatlander100
    January 24, 2005

    The result is more STDs and more teen pregnancy.

    And so, more abortions.

  2. #2 Ben
    January 24, 2005

    Why are there no lawsuits over abstinence only ed that are positioned along the same lines as the Cobb case? Surely the second prong of the Lemon test is violated in the same way? Why else would they neglect to mention contraception, given that it does save lives (albeit not souls)?

    Also, read the Waxman report for the various lies, distortions, half-truths, etc found in abstinence ed programs.

  3. #3 Wesley R. Elsberry
    January 24, 2005

    So, is it mandatory to tell the kids the failure rate of virginity pledging?

  4. #4 ACW
    January 24, 2005

    For the fundamentalists and cynical exploiters of fundamentalist sentiment who are behind the abstinence-only “movement”, increased rates of pregnancy and STDs are beside the point. Their callous arithmetic goes like this.

    Suppose of 100 well-educated, savvy teens, 90 will have sex before marriage. Let’s say 70 will use a barrier method; the other 20 will risk early pregnancy or an STD. (These numbers are entirely hypothetical.)

    Now take a similar 100 and use all the scare tactics of the abstinence-only curriculum, and withhold all positive information about contraception. The scare tactics work on a tiny minority; where only 10 would have delayed sex until marriage anyway, perhaps a total of 20 will now wait. Of the other 80, only a small fraction, say another 20, learn enough outside class to use contraceptives responsibly: the other 60 are exposed to risks of pregnancy and STDs.

    Now let’s compare these hypothetical scorecards: with good sex education, we 10 safe abstainers, 70 safe contraceivers, 20 at risk. With abstinence-only, the numbers change to 20:20:60.

    To us, this is clearly a worse situation: the number of teens at risk has risen from 20 to 60.

    But here is the point we (on this side of the culture wars) often miss. To our opponents, the same numbers represent an improvement. In their cynical worldview, good sex ed produces 10 good teens and 90 bad teens. Abstinence-only produces 20 good teens and 80 bad teens. And they don’t give a damn what happens to the bad teens. The bad teens are going to Hell anyway.

    This is the detestable logic that the Religious Right calls “moral values”.

  5. #5 SharonB
    January 24, 2005

    ACW:
    You hit the nail on the head. The RR’s attitude towards those outside the fold is “their blood be upon their own heads.” Unfortunately, they also shoot their own wounded.

    Religion panders to the worst in humankind; I really think the RR has forgotten that the Christ came to save the lost. The religious of this day are just like the religious of Christ’s day; then they were called the Pharisees. They forget that Christ had special words for their faction.

  6. #6 Guitar Eddie
    January 24, 2005

    “But here is the point we (on this side of the culture wars) often miss. To our opponents, the same numbers represent an improvement. In their cynical worldview, good sex ed produces 10 good teens and 90 bad teens. Abstinence-only produces 20 good teens and 80 bad teens. And they don’t give a damn what happens to the bad teens. The bad teens are going to Hell anyway”

    In other words, the Religious Right’s bottom line is that they don’t want young people to be having sex outside of marriage for nonprocreative reasons; and they don’t care how many lies they have to tell or who has to die to promote their sociopolitical agenda.

    That is, indeed, a very cynical world view and it’s dangerous to the entire world, not just a few “bad teens.”

    I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always thought that fundamentalist religion is a sociopathology. It puts dogma ahead of reality.

  7. #7 Matthew Phillips
    January 24, 2005

    Thanks for the link Ben. The stuff about the blurring of religious and scientific information in the curricula is especially disturbing. Like this:

    “Fertilization (or conception) occurs when one of the father’s sperm unites with
    the mother’s ovum (egg). At this instant a new human life is formed.”69

  8. #8 Matthew Phillips
    January 24, 2005

    I don’t agree with the commonly held belief that people should wait until marriage to have sex. While this is regarded as a requirement to those on the abstinence-only side, even those who are in favor of real sex education seem to agree that waiting until marriage is a good idea. I reject that. The vast majority of people don’t wait, and I don’t feel they are any worse of a person because of it. It’s a personal decision. All that is important is that people are safe about it, as to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy. Whether or not you have a marriage certificate isn’t important in the least, in my opinion.

  9. #9 CPT_Doom
    January 24, 2005

    Given that the supporters of abstinence-only “education” also tend to be opponents of Planned Parenthood and other programs to provide family planning assistance to adults (and I don’t mean abortions here) – exactly where do they think people will get information on birth control when they actually need it – like, after they’re married? Although Catholics are theologically opposed to birth control even for married people, that does not seem to hold for most other fundamentalist “Christian” religions.

    So if married people can use birth control, where are they supposed to learn about it? From doctors who spend 7 – 8 minutes tops with each patient? From family members?

    We teach kids geometry and calculus in high school, but no one expects them to be designing machinery with their new-found mathematical knowledge – why is that not the same for birth control?

    Oh, I remember, it’s all about the symbolism for these folks, I’m afraid.

  10. #10 Guitar Eddie
    January 25, 2005

    ” don’t agree with the commonly held belief that people should wait until marriage to have sex. While this is regarded as a requirement to those on the abstinence-only side, even those who are in favor of real sex education seem to agree that waiting until marriage is a good idea. I reject that. The vast majority of people don’t wait, and I don’t feel they are any worse of a person because of it. It’s a personal decision. All that is important is that people are safe about it, as to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy. Whether or not you have a marriage certificate isn’t important in the least, in my opinion.”

    I agree. Especially when one considers the fact that people are tending to get married in their mid to late twenties and early thirties. It is improbable that young people en masse are going to wait another 10 to 15 years to have sex when they are married.

    It is simply unrealistic.