Showing posts with label sex education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sex education. Show all posts

Thursday, September 18, 2008

sexual education

At the risk of sounding like the kind of liberal Herzog dislikes, I don't think it's unreasonable for parents to want to complicate their children's sexual choices, even if that means delaying them. When my 8-year-old son asks me why Jamie Lynn Spears, the star of one of his favorite shows, is having a baby at 16, I'm genuinely torn in how to respond -- not wanting to condemn and not wanting to endorse, either. It's the same discomfort many parents felt at seeing the topless pictures of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair. How do we accommodate our children's sexuality? And how far?

The religious right was able to shape this dialogue only because the dialogue was already happening -- and is still going on today, even in the most progressive quarters. It says something about the ideologues on both sides that we can no longer have that conversation without being called ideologues ourselves.

That purring engine has become the prime mover behind "abstinence only" sexual education -- perhaps the religious right's most lasting contribution to mainstream society. Where traditional sex ed programs attempted to give teenagers the knowledge to protect themselves in sexual encounters, Herzog writes, "new abstinence advocates use the fear of disease to frighten kids away from sex entirely."
Consider this classroom exercise: "Boys and girls are invited to chew cheese-flavored snacks and then sip some water, after which they are to spit the resulting 'bodily fluids' into a cup. After a game in which the fluids are combined with those of other students, ultimately all cups are poured into a pitcher labeled 'multiple partners' sitting adjacent to a pitcher of fresh water labeled 'pure fluids.' In the final segment, each boy and girl is asked to fill a cup labeled either 'future husband' or 'future wife' with the contents from one of the pitchers."

The Georgia-based program behind all this expectoration received more than half a million dollars in taxpayer dollars, and it is by no means the only such program to benefit. At every turn, the abstinence-only movement has been abetted and advanced by the Bush administration. As recently as 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services was offering grants for programs that teach "the potential psychological side effects (e.g., depression and suicide) associated with adolescent sexual activity" and that instruct students that "non-marital sex in teen years may reduce the probability of a stable, happy marriage as an adult."

"May reduce"? According to whom? Pro-abstinence forces have never been too rigorous in their scholarship; the categorical assertion is their preferred vehicle. (According to the Abstinence Clearinghouse, virgins "invariably do better in their professional and personal lives than nonvirgins.") And when they fail to persuade with fear, they dangle the carrot of future sex. As Herzog summarizes it: "Only those women who have been premaritally abstinent will be truly, deeply, and consistently desired by their husbands in the long years after marriage ... Have no sex before marriage and you will have outstanding sex after marriage."

Once again, a religious argument is being advanced on strictly secular grounds (in this case, the language of women's mags). Fortunately, it can also be refuted on secular grounds. According to a recent Yale-Columbia study, some 88 percent of adolescent virginity pledgers fail to keep their pledge. And while they tend to have sex later than their peers, they are one-third less likely to protect themselves when they do.