JMBzine.com
17Feb/084

Is “abstinence only” sex ed actually causing abortions?

PeaceArena.org:Women's reproductive rights severely limited in Oklahoma

Rena's post got me thinking about a wacky ad I've seen recently on TV about abstinence. Well, actually the ad itself is ok, but rather it is the website that the website is pitching that I find to be pretty ridiculous.

The website itself is a pro-abstinence education website put out by the federal government. In an of itself, abstinence is a good message for high schoolers. I don't think most folks that age are ready for sexual activity, and promoting monogamy is a decent public policy I suppose (certainly from a disease control perspective).

However, no matter how you much promote abstinence, most kids are going to get it on before they are married, either sooner or later. I did (well I never have been married), and I'm certainly not alone. Certainly I was well aware of the ideal taught by church and family and that kept me a virgin in high school, but by the time I was in college the hormones won out. --- But when I did go ahead and have sex, I am very grateful that I knew about condoms and used them. Sexual experiences are an incredible thing and the emotions associated with them were difficult to navigate, but I am so, so glad that I didn't have to deal with being thrust into the world of parenthood at the same time.

So, what does this have to do the 4parents.gov website. Well my beef with it is that it uses statistics in a false and misleading way to parents and educators from talking to their kids about birth control.

In fact, you have to go down to the Sex and risky youth behaviors page on the website to find out information about birth control, where you'll find a link to their page on birth control.

On this page, they provide statistics on the "typical use failure rate" (percentage of females who experience an unintended pregnancy during the 1st year of typical use) for different birth control methods, such as a failure rate of 15% for male condoms.

This of course sounds pretty bleak, until you compare these statistics with the odds for having unprotected sex. According to WebMD website, 20 year old females have a 90% chance of getting pregnant within one year if they are not using protection (scroll down on the page to see the age-based results). While this isn't a perfect comparison (the "typical user rate" of the 4parents.gov website doesn't factor in age, as far as I know), it would sound like that users of condoms improve their odds of not getting pregnant within the first year of sexual activity by 75%.

Are these odds perfect? No. But are they compelling? Yes. And young people should know about them.

And this takes us back to the abortion issue. Most folks will have sex before they are married, either in their teens or early 20's. It certainly is good to encourage young people to wait, but we need to be realistic about the fact that most folks will only manage to maybe push back sexual activity by a few years. So, if most folks are going to get it on, then why not give them the knowledge and encouragement that they need to act responsibly? And why not do everything we can to prevent unplanned pregnancies? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes. This seems like a no-brainer to me.

And this brings back to the initial issue. It seems strange to me that conservatives who oppose abortion (a view I share with them by the way. I don't favor going back to abortion being criminalized, but I do think it is morally wrong and we as a society should do all we can to support women who chose to not have an abortion) also are opposed to comprehensive sex education? It just doesn't make sense to me.

Comments (4) Trackbacks (1)
  1. One more thing on the “typical failure rate” — this is based on real world statistics, which include anyone who buys a condom (or other birth control devise) and tries to use it. Many people buy the wrong size of condom or don’t put it on right, which causes most of the failures. The “typical” failure rate is just that, typical. If a person knows how to use their chosen birth control method (preferably learning from a knowledgeable health care provider), then those odds will be much, much better.

    This is yet another problem with “abstinence-only” sex ed. Even though kids may learn about birth control on their own, they are going to have to try to figure out how to use without help, and that sounds like a recipe to make that failure rate higher.

  2. How come such lukewarm terminology on your approval of monogamy as a good public policy? (in paragraph 2). Seems like a winner on all counts, not just disease…why the hesitation?

  3. My lukewarmness is because I have hesitation with the government being in the bedroom at all. Part of the magic of sex is that is special, that is private (at least between the parties involved), and to me bringing the government into the bedroom violates that sacredness.

    I agree though, that there are other positive arguments in favor of monogamy, the strongest for me being that of family stability (both economic and emotional).

    As for moral arguments, I don’t find them to be germane to the governmental policy perspective. It is not that these issues aren’t relevant at all, but I think those issues are issues of religion/philosophy that are outside the domain of government.

  4. I always found it interesting that conservatives will raise hell about getting government out of peoples lives when it comes to social spending, taxes, and regulation but concerning the most personal of areas (religion, sexuality, culture, etc) their hardcore government interventionists. Oh, and the government can’t do anything right save for all areas concerning the military and you can’t trust government but Bush is untouchable. Etc, etc.


Leave a comment