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02 December 2011

Repudiation: Renewed Calls for Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

Just two days ago I wrote in praise of an excellent study disproving the efficacy of abstinence-only sex education.  But facts do not appear to matter when religion dictates.

One News Now has the first part of an article by Michael Brown, the founder of a "Messianic" ministry.  (The purpose of his ministry is to bring Jews to Jesus).  Mr. Brown also has a long history of animosity toward the LGBTQ Community.

Skipping past the fiction (Mr. Brown admits he is making it up) at the start of the article, Mr. Brown writes
In October of this year, New York City announced an aggressive, comprehensive, and quite graphic curriculum that would consist of one full semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade (meaning, beginning with kids as young as 11) and again in 9th and 10th grade. Yet the age of consent in New York is 17.
This means that these schools (along with thousands of other schools throughout the nation) are giving children practical instructions on having sex even though it is illegal for them to do so. (If my suggested drug analogy doesn't work for you, then think in terms of the schools teaching 12-year-olds about responsible drinking of alcohol, since later in life, it will be legal for them but to do so at their current age is currently illegal.)
Comprehensive sex education is what works.  Again, look back at the University of Georgia study.  It is not illegal for the schools to offer comprehensive sex ed.  What is not legal is for children to participate in sexual activity as they do not fall into the category of consenting adults.  Of course, pretending that all children will wait until they are adults to enjoy sex is a fantasy.
It can even be argued that, on some level, these schools fail to do everything in their power to prevent statutory rape, since in New York, it is "second-degree rape for anyone age 18 or older to engage in sexual intercourse with someone under age 15," and that is certainly what is happening with many of these kids. Either way, the activities are illicit, be they consensual acts between 13-year-olds or consensual acts between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old.
No.  Informing students about sex is not the same as statutory rape.  Information helps students avoid rape and, if violated, empowers them to fight back later.
How, then, can the schools teach anything other than abstinence? Why are they teaching our children about "safe sex"?
Because ignorance does not work.  Comprehensive sex education has a better track record.
A New York health department report in 2005 revealed that one in ten youngsters reported having sex before the age of 13. As shocking as that statistic is, it also means that 90 percent of these kids did not have sex before that age -- begging the question: Why introduce them to all these sexually charged (and often sexually titillating) issues?
First, we are in agreement that ten percent of children having sex before the age of thirteen is shocking.  In fact, the problem may be even more serious that Mr. Brown discusses.  From page 3 of NYC Vital Signs, 2007, twenty-six percent of girls who became pregnant and boys who impregnated girls while underage had their first sexual experience before the age of thirteen.

The question is not whether to introduce children to sexual information but whether to give them appropriate information that may help them postpone sexual activity and pregnancy until they are adults.  In terms of titillation, sex education classes are not pornography seminars, despite whatever Mr. Brown might be thinking.
I am fully aware that many of these kids are anything but "innocent," being exposed to sexual issues a hundred different ways every single day, among their peers, through the media, and online. But I have no doubt that many of our schools could do a much better job of pointing them towards morality more than encouraging then to have "safe sex." (If you say that the schools have no business teaching our kids morality, why then are they teaching them immorality, or at the least, condoning immorality?)
Comprehensive sex education does not involve encouraging then [sic] to have "safe sex".  The premise of Mr. Brown's argument is flawed. 
Returning to the new curriculum being introduced in New York City, the New York Post reported that some of the workbooks include these assignments (as you read this, ask yourself if this will encourage or discourage teen and pre-teen sex; what follows is extremely graphic, even for adults):
- High-school students go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.

- Teens research a route from school to a clinic that provides birth control and STD tests, and write down its confidentiality policy.

- Kids ages 11 and 12 sort "risk cards" to rate the safety of various activities, including "intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,'' mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.

- Teens are referred to resources such as Columbia University's website Go Ask Alice, which explores topics like "doggie-style" and other positions, "sadomasochistic sex play," phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.
The first three assignments make sense to me.  These should be understood as part of a whole, not as isolated assignments.  The combination of these activities help students to understand that just using a condom is not a guarantee of not creating a baby because condoms can break, particularly if used in conjunction with the wrong other materials or if worn incorrectly.  Learning about various risks is crucial to the health of our next generation.

I've only looked at the top page of Go Ask Alice, which features Q&A for students.  This means that if a student asks a question on a topic that offends Mr. Brown, they are likely to get an answer.  In the words of Columbia University, Go Ask Alice! answers questions about relationships; sexuality; sexual health; emotional health; fitness; nutrition; alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs; and, general health.
Is it any comfort to parents that the Department of Education still encourages abstinence as the best choice? As noted by child and adolescent psychiatrist Miriam Grossman in the NY Post article, "Kids are being told to either abstain or use condoms -- that both are responsible, healthy choices." She also notes "that the [text]books minimize the dangers that pregnancy can still occur with condom use, and that viruses such as herpes and HPV live on body parts not covered by a condom."
As an educator, I am well aware that if I prohibit students from doing something there will be rebels among my students who will do that which is prohibited because I said not to do so.  Again, the data shows that comprehensive sex ed is more effective than abstinence-only.  Ms. Grossman appears to be reasonable in an otherwise hysterical article at the NY Post.
According to a staggering report released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008, at least one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, which means that, at best, the schools are teaching the students how to have less risky sex, similar to playing Russian roulette with fewer bullets.
Sorry, Mr. Brown, you have it upside down.  Not empowering students with solid information is what is similar to playing Russian roulette.  Pretending that just telling students don't will suffice is foolish.

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