Comprehensive Sex Education Wins in California

Teaching 'Abstinence Only' education is like teaching 'Just Hold It' potty training.
- Roy Zimmerman
Yesterday the San Jose Mercury News reported that the overwhelming majority of Californians prefer that comprehensive sex education be taught to their kids in school. Also known as “Abstinence-Plus” or the ABC strategy, comprehensive sex education is based on reducing the likelihood of harm to young people by educating them about the risks of sexual intercourse and how to avoid those risks. This is at odds with Abstinence Only education, which is often combined with quickly ignored Virginity Pledges and is noted for misstating the health risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases while wearing a condom.

From the article:
Almost 90 percent of California parents - no matter their politics, religion, location or level of education - want comprehensive sex education for their children, according to a first-ever statewide survey on the subject.

The results of the poll from the Bay Area's Public Health Institute, funded by the California Wellness Foundation, and to be released today , show that 89percent of parents support a sex education program that includes information about contraception and protection from sexually transmitted diseases, as well as abstinence.

What's more, widespread support for such a program crossed all sorts of cultural fault lines. Among evangelical Christians, 86percent said they support comprehensive sex education. The subgroup with the lowest support, at 71percent, were the "very conservative."
The “Focus on the Family” group have been having fits over Abstinence-only funding at a Federal level. I receive their “Citizen Link” alerts, and have noticed an increase in urgency about Abstinence-only. In their May 23rd “Daily Update” they urge their followers to reauthorize this funding, blaming liberals and Democrats for not immediately reauthorizing it. From the alert:
Linda Klepacki, analyst for sexual health at Focus on the Family Action, said liberals want to protect Planned Parenthood’s monopoly on federal sex-education funding. She cited a study by Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, that showed for every dollar abstinence education receives, Planned Parenthood receives $12.
So, it's the evil liberals fault again, with their evil family planning and belief that adults should have the tools required to take charge of their own reproductive organs.

Further from the email alert:
Sex education that encourages premarital sexual activity has proven effective in helping to spread disease, Klepacki said, including:

* 18.9 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) each year.

* 15- to 24-year-olds representing nearly half of all new STD cases in 2000.

* 822,000 pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in 2000.

“These numbers haven’t changed since I began teaching abstinence in 1979,” Klepacki said. “How many government studies do we have to have to know that being sexually active in your teen years is not safe?"
Notice the loaded wording? Abstinence-plus education in no way encourages premarital sexual activity. This is just pure bullshit. Comprehensive sex education promotes abstinence as the ideal, but recognizes that many young people will not be able to achieve that goal, as studies have proven. So, in order to reduce the possibility of harm, comprehensive sex education includes teaching safer-sex practices, and teaching about the risks involved with sex, which include pregnancy, disease, psychological trauma, and potential socioeconomic consequences.

Also notice the misrepresentation of data. First, Klepacki says that the numbers haven't changed in 28 years, which I would call progress, considering that America has increased its population by over a third during that time period. Second, the US Department of Health and Human Services study on Abstinence Education programs clearly indicates that: (PDF link)
[Abstinence-only] and control group youth were equally likely to have remained abstinent. About half of both groups of youth reported remaining sexually abstinent, and a slightly higher proportion reported having been abstinent within the 12 months prior to the final follow-up survey (Executive Summary pg xvii)
So clearly the Abstinence-only crowd must share blame (if any) for sexually promiscuous young adults.

I'm proud of California for rejecting Federal funding for Abstinence-only education in favor of comprehensive sex education. And this poll goes a long way toward drowning out the few very loud voices from those with a religious agenda. These people teach a form of sex education based on fallacious reasoning and poor analogies and they advocate unworkable Virginity Pledges. And then organizations like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family go on to quote pure pseudo scientific “peer reviewed” reports that support their beliefs.

The truth is that young people will do their own thing, regardless of Abstinence-only vs Abstinence-plus education. The difference between the two is that Abstinence-plus education is more likely to better inform a young person about the risks of sexual intimacy so that they may better protect themselves against the consequences.

1 comment:

Randy said...

She cited a study by Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, that showed for every dollar abstinence education receives, Planned Parenthood receives $12.

Even assuming the Heritage Foundation can be trusted to stick to at least the literal truth, that's a terrible apples-and-oranges comparison. Look at everything else Planned Parenthood does, the women's health, the family planning, and, yes, some of it goes towards abortions. How much of that $12 actually goes towards education comparable to the abstinence programs, though; and does PP get to do anything at all within the high schools like the abstinence folks do?