Just Teach No?

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported in a 2005 study that more than 90% of the pregnancies to those aged 15-19 were unplanned.

The USA has a disproportionately high teen pregnancy rate for an industrialized nation- reckoned to be 5 times that of Netherlands and 3 times that of France as a comparison.

Polls suggest that approximately 70% of those aged 18 in America have had by that time at least one sexual encounter.

More than 90% of married couples have had pre-marital sex.

These points illustrate a culture that certainly is absorbed- obsessed?- by sex and often expresses it in ways that have a detrimental effect on our society.

Due in part to the alarming rise in teen pregnancy and deadly sexually-transmitted-diseases (STDs) like HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, schools began offering regular sex education programs. Sometimes these were soft-pedaled into general units on Health but often were specifically and openly about sex. One might conclude that a public school system that has routinely returned poor results when American students’ achievements are compared to foreign competition may not be the best provider of this instruction. Parents in all cultures had been the obvious imparter of sexual education and mores up until very recently.

If sex ed. is going to be part of the curriculum just what should it teach? Modules tend to be based on two different outcomes: Abstinence and Comprehensive. Abstinence initiatives posit the idea that abstaining from sexual activity is the only foolproof means avoiding the negative social, physical, and health risks that can result from sex. Some abstinence programs would go further to promote sex only within the confines of marriage. Comprehensive programs may hold abstinence as an ideal but also instruct about birth control methods and practices that will minimize contracting STDs.

It’s no secret that health professionals prefer the Comprehensive approach since it provides a full-spectrum of the topic. Abstinence programs have been looked at with skepticism since they appear to be incomplete and (shudder!) preachy.

Let’s look at the mechanics and precepts of the Abstinence approach. In 1996 Congress and then President Bill Clinton passed the Welfare Reform Act which contained a provision to allocate funds over a period of time to institute abstinence-only sex ed. instruction in public schools. Curriculum needed to be supportive of the following points:

Kids should wait until marriage (or at least self-sufficiency) before having sex. After marriage, remaining faithful to your spouse is the only acceptable standard of sexual ethics.

How to avoid sexual advances from peers and adult predators

Out-of-wedlock pregnancies- particularly to teens- usher in often harmful effects to the child, young parents, and society at large.

Abstaining from sex is the only sure way to avoid unintended pregnancies, STDs, and other health and mental health problems

These themes seem eminently sensible, accurate, and reasonable to this writer for the smooth running of the culture.

The supporters of Comprehensive sex education counter that polls have determined that kids that have graduated from abstinence-only programs haven’t shown any less likelihood to have avoided sex than peers who’ve not had that type of curriculum. Only by giving students the full-range of coverage of the topic can they make healthy decisions.

The problem with comprehensive sex ed is the general lack of a consistent moral voice to weigh against the “facts”. Undoubtedly some of its backers enjoy that aspect. But does it do any good to give young adults a confused ethical message? Ultimately, the take-away from comprehensive sexual education is that you ought to avoid sex unless you can’t- and if you can’t here’s some help. If we really want to treat future adults with respect don’t we owe it to them to offer an ideal first and foremost? No matter what is taught in the schools some students will fall short of it. A caring and supportive network will be needed to aid those who have problems in any event. However, a system of instruction that inherently plans for a lowered standard of conduct inevitably may get that very result.

Given that so many areas of public instruction have riled up parents it’s very surprising how many have aquiesced on the hot-button topic of sex to the schools. It’s hard to know why. Anyone who’s had awkward, confused, and perhaps even incorrect sexual information delivered from Ma or Pop (or been the one to have to give the speech) might long to be able to hand the job off to someone else especially if that person appears to have better credentials. However, this can’t excuse a parent’s responsibility to do one of the key tasks of raising their children- providing ethical lessons and moral direction for the future leaders of society. I’d move that parents and guardians can do this at least as successfully as the “experts”.

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