Saturday, December 15, 2007

Take Your Abstinence "Education" Program And Shove It

This one's for my wonderful and determined friend, R., who spent last week working on this issue for Virginia.

Today's WaPo reports the good news that:

The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.

At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out.

Thank the Goddess. The only surprising thing is that anyone rational ever imagined that this twaddle could be effective.

Despite intense (and, ask my friend, R., it's really, really intense and nasty) lobbying by fundie whackjobs and xianists, the trend is likely to continue.

"This wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether," said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a Washington-based advocacy and education group that opposes abstinence-only programs. "It's a canary in the coal mine of what's to come."

"We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues," Smith said.

Smith and other critics said they hoped that if enough states drop out, Congress will redirect the funding to comprehensive sex education programs that include teaching about the use of condoms and other contraceptives.

"I think this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of continued funding of these programs," said John Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, another Washington advocacy group. "How can they ignore so many states slapping a return-to-sender label on this funding?"

I hate abstinence "education" programs for a number of reasons. First, of course, they're ineffective. Telling teenagers, with hormones coursing through their body designed specifically to make them want to have sex is about as effective as telling hungry dieters to just not eat or telling thirsty people not to drink. Sex is a natural biological function and our bodies are made to want it, just as they want air, and food, and water. Throw in a hyper-sexualized society, where 12-year-old girls dress like supermodels and sex is used to sell everything from beer to cars to, well, Viagara and you've got to be on dope to think that telling kids not to have sex = sex education. And the results show that abstinence "education" is lots less effective at preventing teen pregnancy than, oh, say, teaching kids how to use condoms and passing them out to kids every chance we get.

In addition, federal health officials reported last week that a 14-year drop in teenage pregnancy rates appeared to have reversed.

"This abstinence-only program is just not getting the job done," said Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "This is a ideologically based program that doesn't have any support in science."

Second, I just reject the notion that we should be giving teenagers the message that there's something wrong with sex. There isn't. Sex is great. Teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases are the problems. So let's teach kids how to prevent those. Consider another natural function that we're wired to want to do: eating. We don't tell kids not to eat until they get married. Eating isn't the problem; eating is great. Obesity and poor nutrition are the problems. So we have health classes and phys ed classes and science classes and home ec classes to teach kids how to eat and cook healthy food.

Third, and this is related to the second reason, the notion that sex is a problem and should be avoided (at least for now) is a religiously-based idea. My religion doesn't agree. Teaching abstinence almost always slips over into indoctrinating kids into, if not outright xianity, into ideas introduced into this culture by xianity that are directly antithecal to, say, my religion. Xians can tell their own kids, in their own homes, how terrible sex is and why they should avoid it. Public schools should provide information: if you have sex, here's what could happen and here's how to avoid that.

My own Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, in spite of being a devout Catholic, recently added Virginia to the states telling the fundie whackjobs installed by the Bush junta to go pound sand.

"The governor has often stated that abstinence-only education does not show any results," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who announced plans to give up the funding last month. "It doesn't work. He's a firm believer in more comprehensive sex education."

Anyone who thinks that state elections don't matter can simply consider whether this would have happened if Jerry Kilgore had won in 2005.

Even more conservative politicians are getting off the abstinence merry-go-round:

"Why would we spend tax dollars on something that doesn't work?" asked Ned Calonge of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. "That doesn't make sense to me. Philosophically, I am opposed to spending government dollars on something that's ineffective. That's just irresponsible."

The reasons given for passing up the federal money vary from state to state. Some governors publicly repudiated the programs. Others quietly let their applications lapse or blamed tight budgets that made it impossible to meet the requirement to provide matching state funds. Still others are asking for more flexibility.

"The governor supports abstinence education," Keith Daily, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). "What he does not support is abstinence- only education. We are asking to put the money toward abstinence in the context of a comprehensive age-appropriate curriculum."

Most of the battles on the state level are being fought by local affiliates supported by national groups. In Illinois, opponents are planning to launch a campaign next month involving more than 100 state groups to try to sway the governor and state legislature to forgo about $1.8 million in funding.

"These programs are dangerous," said Jonathan Stacks of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. "We're trying to get people across the state to raise their voice on this issue. I think once those voices are heard, the legislature and the governor won't have any choice but to back the will of the voters."

Not a minute too soon. Go, R.!


filkertom said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Was a wuss God is. What a useless, whiny, fragile, pathetic creature He must be, for His worshippers to spend so much time and effort protecting His delicate sensibilities. Alternatively, what sad, delusional, frightened people his worshippers are, struggling so to gain the approval of something/someone they have no way of proving even exists.

Gaaaaah. I try not to get cranky at religion or the religious lately. But the one exception is when the guvmint starts shoving it down people's throats. I for one do >not welcome our Puritan overlords.

Anne Johnson said...

I am so ticked off I could scream! My daughter The Spare had "abstinence education" last week in "health" class, which last marking period was phys ed class and this period is "health." DAMMIT, SHE NEEDS DAILY EXERCISE! All she needs to know about sex she can learn from me. I've done it for many years and know best how to prepare her for doing it. Actually we've made a joke about how I carp on "sensible family planning."