What the hell is this country coming to?

In a report done in early September of 2005, Ed Bradly of CBS News’s 60 Minutes reports on the country’s current “abstinence-only” sex education, and the fact that almost $1 billion dollars worth of federal funding (that’s YOUR tax dollars, folks) have gone into a faith-based educational black hole that actually teaches today’s youngsters that condoms are ineffective and unsafe.

You can watch the report in its entirety over at One Good Move. It’s a real eye-opener. The full transcript is here.

Some of the highlights:

Amy and Rick will be taking their virginity pledge at a music and light sex-education show called Silver Ring Thing. In the last few years, Silver Ring Thing has received more than $1 million in federal and state subsidies. Its aim is to encourage young people to put on a ring and promise to abstain from sex until marriage.

You really need to see these “Silver Ring Thing” shows to believe them. Imagine a nightclub for kids, only with bad Christian rock and a Christian youth minister haranguing kids about the dangers of condoms — and little skits about how BAD sex is unless done in the context of marriage.

Hitler-youth-rally-esque gatherings like the Silver Ring Thing are the reason I’ve been seeing all these “promise rings” popping up on younger women in the past 5 years. We’ll return to those promise rings in a moment.

[Denny] Pattyn [Christian youth minister and founder of Silver Ring Thing] doesn’t just preach the virtues of sexual abstinence. His show is full of negative messages about condoms – messages warning that condoms won’t protect kids from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases…

“My own daughter, my 16-year-old daughter, tells me she’s going to be sexually active. I would not tell her to use a condom,” says Pattyn, “I don’t think it’ll protect her. It won’t protect her heart. It won’t protect her emotional life. And it’s not going to protect her. I don’t want her to get out there and think that she’s going to be protected using a condom.”

Wow, that’s great, Minister Pattyn, and you know what, you’re absolutely right — because you taught your sweet little 16-year-old daughter that, last night I fucked her raw and she contracted HIV from my gold-plated big-swinging Player Dick (which incidentally has been places you don’t even want to imagine).

You’re right. A condom didn’t protect her. I wasn’t wearing one. She said she didn’t believe in them.

Now she’ll have to deal with the social stigma and health issues of having an STD for the rest of her life.

How do you feel about not telling her to use a condom now?

Columbia University’s Peter Bearman co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality. He says, “Sex education doesn’t cause all these negative outcomes. What causes these negative outcomes is kids who are having sex and aren’t protecting themselves.”

It was a $45-million project, funded by 17 separate federal agencies. Bearman’s investigators interviewed more than 20,000 young people about virginity pledge programs — and there was some good news.

“Pledging will help them delay sex for, say, 18 months — a year and a half….The downside is that, when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex,”

And that is exactly why predatory men like me just LOVE this whole Promise Ring movement — we get an entire new crop of fresh-faced, ripe young girls who have “saved themselves”; they think they’ve been saving themselves for marriage, but as it turns out, they’ve been saving themselves for US.

So when we seduce one of these Promise-Ring sporting chicklets, we can be pretty sure that, if we hit them at the right time,

A) they are probably relatively free of STDs, compared to women with some sexual experience
and
B) they will not ask us to use a condom.

Our protection from disease is virtually guaranteed by their increased abstinence, and their protection from *our* potential diseases, that we may have acquired from a lifestyle of promiscuous unprotected sex, is virtually nil.

In other words — spending $1 billion in public funds to generate a new crop of 1 million fresh-faced virgins that don’t believe in using condoms? Hell yeah! Now that’s what I call government!

There’s another little ancillary side-benefit:

“Adolescents who take virginity pledges – who remain virgins, that is, who don’t have vaginal sex, who technically remain virgins, are much more likely to have oral and anal sex,” says Bearman.

As social commentator Bill Maher remarked famously, Abstinence Pledges Make You Horny.

Based on those interviews with more than 20,000 young people who took virginity pledges, Bearman found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage.

And, not only are they highly likely to break their Promise, but they are ALSO likely not to tell anyone about it:

“They’ve taken a public pledge to remain a virgin until marriage. The sex that they have is much more likely to be hidden,” says Bearman. “It’s likely to be hidden from their parents. It’s likely to be hidden from their peers.”

Wow. Just wow.

So let me get this straight:

  1. Promise girls are actually going to have sex 88% of the time
  2. Promise girls are more likely than other girls to be open to having oral or anal sex prior to finally having intercourse
  3. Promise girls are highly unlikely to tell ANYBODY about #1 or #2

I honestly cannot think of a better set of characteristics for a young female population that is perfectly positioned to be seduced and taken advantage of by older, wiser and more sexually experienced men.

The Silver Ring Thing and other abstinence-only sex education programs not only virtually guarantees that its students will eventually have sex, it also virtually guarantees they will have MORE TYPES OF SEX in the process, and be secretive about the whole thing!

I thank you, Bush administration. From the bottom of my heart.

Political rationale for these faith-based abstinence-only programs is a little weak in the “brains” department, though:

Claude Allen is President Bush’s domestic policy adviser and point man on abstinence-only education: “If I were to say to that same group of kids, you know what, don’t drink and drive, but if you do drink and drive, make sure you wear your seatbelt.”

Worst. Analogy. Ever.

Driving a 2-ton piece of metal at speeds up to 70 mph while under the influence of a central nervous system suppressant is a little bit different than letting you boyfriend stick his pee-pee in your hoohah.

You could kill someone while drinking and driving, regardless of whether your seatbelt is buckled: I don’t think you run the risk of killing anyone as a direct result of having sex with a condom.

Plus, I bet Claude Allen lets his partner slip on a condom before railing him in the ass. Just a guess.

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Final Note

As it happens, I have a personal connection to this story:

On my bedside table, right next to my alarm clock, is a glass bowl. Inside are all the Promise Rings I’ve taken off “pledgers” over the years.

It’s better than notches on the bedpost.

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Abstinence-only sex education has not only been shown to be ineffective, it’s also demonstrably counterproductive.

What I want to talk about today is the morality that I believe underlies the political and religious motivations given for abstinence-only sex education (AOSE for short), which has in the last 5 years come to increasingly dominate our country’s sex ed curriculum.

The Science
Over the past 5 years, nearly a billion dollars in federal funds have been poured into AOSE, which typically tells teens and youngsters (up to the age of 29) that condoms are dangerous and unreliable, and they’d be better off using “the only method that is 100% effective at preventing disease or pregnancy”.

There are three problems with this.

1) First of all, condoms are not ineffective
— they are overwhelmingly effective, not only at preventing unwanted pregnancies, but also at guarding against STI/Ds and the transmission of HIV/AIDS. In fact, the only birth control methods with a higher success rate than condoms are intrauterine device (IUD, 99% effective), the progestin mini-pill (up to 99.9% effective) and other birth control pill formulations (99% effective)1.

There are two important facts about these success rate figures: first, they are the success rates if the method is used correctly — and second, they assume 3x a week frequency of sexual intercourse. If you have sex more often with these methods, your success rate will drop; have sex less often, your rate will increase. This is basic statistics, but it will be important for #2:

2) The abstinence-only method is NOT 100% effective. It’s true that if kids don’t have sex, they won’t get pregnant. But this is not how abstinence is sold. It is sold as a “100% effective birth control / disease prevention method.” In other words, every time you have sex, you should employ the abstinence METHOD to avoid pregnancy or disease. But this is clearly crazy talk: it is, in fact, an example of “Heads I Win, Tails Don’t Count” thinking2.

Couples who intend to use abstinence only as their birth control / disease prevention method, and do refrain from having sex, have obviously used the abstinence method with 100% effectiveness.

Couples who intend to use abstinence only as their birth control / disease prevention method but end up having sex have “failed” to use the method — and therefore their “failure” cannot count against AO’s claimed 100% success rate.

This is intellectually dishonest, and that dishonesty is compounded by a simple fact about abstinence that every adult naturally knows, but those teaching AOSE deliberately avoid, and that is —

3) Kids are going to have sex. The average age of first sexual contact in the U.S. is barely 173. Just telling kids not to have sex is a piss-poor way of discouraging them; they are going to have sex anyway. Trying to scare kids into not having sex by telling them that “condoms are unreliable” just means they’ll have unprotected sex, or have anal and oral sex, and be at increased risk of pregnancy and disease. The data show that even kids who go the hardcore route and get “Promise Rings” end up having sex before marriage at a rate of eighty-eight percent4.

The Religion

Problem #3 is partially linked to another big problem with AOSE: religion.

Some, though not all, AOSE efforts are linked to faith-based program like Silver Ring Thing, Free Teens, True Love Waits, some of which have been given generous funding by the U.S. Federal government, despite the fact that this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (separation of church and state).

(In fact, Silver Ring Thing lost a $75,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services after the ACLU successfully sued the DHHS for violation of the Establishment Clause (SRT no longer receives money from the Federal government).)

Bringing religion into the equation conflates religious feeling and public health: kids are encouraged to pledge to abstinence because of religious reasons, not out of enlightened self-interest. This makes it easy for them to renege on the pledge, or even deny ever having made it5; if they stray from the religious values originally linked to abstinence, they will stray from abstinence itself.


The Morality of AOSE

The majority of “promise” or “purity” movements are started by some religious organization — mostly evangelical Christian churches. A good example is Silver Ring Thing, which was started by Denny Pattyn, a youth minister,

…as a way to combat what he saw as rising rates of STDs and pregnancies amongst teenagers, as well as a way to protect teens from what founders saw as American culture’s unhealthy obsession with sex, which, according to Pattyn, was a byproduct of the “promiscuity [of] the sexual revolution of the ‘60s”.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not that Pattyn and Co truly believe condoms don’t work: it’s that Pattyn and Co have a problem with the 60’s. They’re disgusted by the “free love” movement. They’re reacting against the science and intellectualism that has set biological sex free from its inherent risk, danger, and consequences.

They’re furious at the idea that the intellect can produce free love in a more concrete way than their old social and religious values.

Evangelical Christianity, and the religious right-wing, are not forming these movements for religious reasons; they are forming them for social reasons.

Evangelical Christianity, and the majority of the Religious Right, come from very old Conservative roots. Victorian roots, in fact — the people who built New York City, the same people who got obscenely wealthy in the wake of the American Civil War, the first American robber barons.

The important thing to understand about Victorianism and Victorian morality is that it is social. It is based on a social caste system, in an imitation of old-world European society; it is based on social graces, and it is judged by social perceptions (that is, “What would the neighbors think?”)

That is why so many Evangelical Christians — and Victorians, in retrospect — appear to be so hypocritical. All they care about is surface, appearance, social grace, social cues, status — surface, surface, surface. A Promise Ring is a symbol for society — not a fuckin’ NuvaRing. It doesn’t release hormones, it doesn’t prevent pregnancy, it doesn’t irritate the fallopian tubes into forming scar tissue, it doesn’t do anything except signal to other teenagers and your parents that you “promise to wait”.

The fact that 88% of teens break their promises doesn’t matter. The fact that these kids now refuse to use condoms, and as a result get STDs and pregnant at greater rates, doesn’t matter. What matters is to get these kids up in front of everyone and have them make a public pledge to be pure. What matters is making our society look better.

The Promise Ring is a Victorian idea based on Victorian morals that has been snuck into the modern world dressed up as political and religious value. The only way it could be a more regressive idea is if it were an actual chastity belt.

So promise rings, and AOSE, are really an attempt at social reform. They’re only religious to the extent that Christianity is associated in some vague, threatening way (“God wants you to be a virgin”) and only political to the extent that the vaguely threatening evangelical Christian church is associated with the Religious Right.

Oh, yeah — and the reason America has an “unhealthy obsession with sex?” Because the historical foundation of our country’s morals are Victorian and Puritan — and those folks were hella repressed.

References
1. http://www.4woman.gov/faq/birthcont.htm
2. http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hanson_24_2.htm
3. http://www.newstrategist.com/productdetails/Sex.Samplepgs.pdf
4. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/05/20/60minutes/main696975_page2.shtml
5. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/05/08/MNGPHIN8IF1.DTL