Kristof on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

Nicholas Kristof has a column about the Bush administration's focus on abstinence-only sex education that says the same things I've been saying for months:

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 answer is so blindingly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 8. The rate of teens having sex is about the same across the board. But only the US has this staggering problem with teens getting pregnant and getting STDs. And the US has the lowest rates of condom use in the western world. Coincidence? Nope. And the evidence is clear that abstinence-only sex education reduces the use of condoms even further. It's a recipe for disaster, but one that the Bush administration seems almost obsessed with.

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I have to repeat that the answer is only blindingly obvious if your goals (reducing teen pregnancy, abortion, STDs) are shared by the opposition, and (despite lip service) they are not.

The opposition only cares about reducing the total amount of out-of-wedlock sex. Seen in that light, abstinence-only sex education makes perfect logical sense. A moral monstrosity, yes, but it achieves its intended aim -- which is not the same as our aim.

I think ACW is right. If you conclude that out-of-wedlock sex is against God's plan, then it's only a short step to saying they deserve what they get.

ACW, I'm not firing on all cylinders today, so maybe I misunderstood, but abstinence-only doesn't even stop kids from having out-of-wedlock sex! From the linked article: "Perhaps the most careful study of the issue involved 12,000 young people. It found that those taking virginity pledges had sex 18 months later, on average, than those who had not taken the pledge. But even 88 percent of the pledgers had sex before marriage."

By Ab_Normal (not verified) on 16 Feb 2005 #permalink

You're doing fine, you just aren't acquainted with the Fundamentals of Math.

Situation 1
100 Girls
90 girls having sex
-20 have an STD
-20 end up pregnant at least once
-10 end up having a kid
10 girls not having sex

is worse than

Situation 2
100 girls
80 girls having sex
-40 have an STD
-40 end up pregnant at least once
-20 end up having a kid
20 girls not having sex

Why? Because they don't care that abstinence is not 100% successful. It results in less kids having sex, which is all that counts for them. As far as they're concerned, those that catch STDs or end up pregnant had it coming for having sex before marriage. They'd count that study as a success. 10% of kids could be frightened into not having sex! That's good news!

I don't have much use for Kristof or his columns. One thing that should be questioned is, what is supposed to be the purpose of this "abstinence." Is it supposed to minimize the likelihood of pregnancy before marriage? Is it supposed to minimize the transmission of STDs? Or is it supposed to just minimize sex outside of marriage? One significant problem that these abs-before-marriage people have is that they haven't articulated a rational reason for their abs-before-marriage. And that ignores the fact that gay kids know full well that, since there is no marriage for them, abs-before-marriage is (as the Germans would say) a Schmarrn (a/k/a bullshit).

Why? Because they don't care that abstinence is not 100% successful. It results in less kids having sex, which is all that counts for them. As far as they're concerned, those that catch STDs or end up pregnant had it coming for having sex before marriage. They'd count that study as a success. 10% of kids could be frightened into not having sex! That's good news!

But it doesn't even do that. The amount of kids having sex is the same. Still 90 girls having sex in ab-only education.
What really matters, to them, is that they are teaching what is right. From our viewpoint the results are what matters. From theirs, the means is what matters. The results are irrelevant to them as long as the means is correct.

By Matthew Phillips (not verified) on 16 Feb 2005 #permalink

But it doesn't even do that. The amount of kids having sex is the same. Still 90 girls having sex in ab-only education.

I'm not sure if you'd read that particular study. It does say that abstinence-only education works KIND OF. 99% of those that didn't take the pledge has sex, 88% of those who took the pledge had sex anyway. The STD rates in the two populations, including those not having sex, were essentially identical.

What really matters, to them, is that they are teaching what is right. From our viewpoint the results are what matters. From theirs, the means is what matters. The results are irrelevant to them as long as the means is correct.

Actually, the fundamentalist position is that abstinence only education reduces STD rates. Really. Check out what Focus on the Family says here. They're probably full of it, but they really do believe they get good results too.