04 February 2010

Time to Take Another Look at Abstinence

from Catholic Online

A recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania came to an unwanted conclusion regarding teenagers and sex. Unwanted, that is, if you're Planned Parenthood or any other proponent of “safe sex” education. The study found that, as it turns out, abstinence just might be possible after all. In fact, those abstinence programs just might work.

As reported in the Washington Post this week and published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, the study involved 662 African-American students in grades 6 and 7. The students were divided into different groups: one group went through an 8-hour abstinence only program, another group through a program that taught safe sex, a third group through a program that taught both abstinence and safe sex; and finally a fourth group of students were taught healthy eating and living habits.

The result was that after two years, 33% of the abstinence-only group of students were sexually active, compared with 52% of the safe-sex group. 42% of the comprehensive group were having sex, as were 47% of the “healthy living” group. So who was the least sexually active? That's right – the abstinence-only group.

Abstinence educators are rightfully saying, “Well, duh! We've been saying this all along!” As expected, “safe-sex” proponents are arguing the whole study is bogus and has been misrepresented and is basically irrelevant. Obama's administration, of course, has eliminated funding for abstinence-only programs, preferring to pour more than $100 million dollars into programs that have been scientifically shown to work, they say. So naturally, the scientific validity of this study will be attacked, lest someone suggest abstinence is worthy of funding again.

There are so many opinions regarding the meaning of this study, the significance of it, and of course, the validity of it. But amidst all the blah blah blah, a few points grabbed my attention. First this, by James Wagoner from Advocates for Youth, in his article regarding the flaws of this study:

“Further, shouldn't we respect young people enough to provide them with all of the information they need to take personal responsibility for their sexual health?”

There are so many things wrong with that sentence I hardly know where to start. First, let's emphasize that word young, and remember we're not talking about adults, but our children. We have adopted a very warped definition of respect when it comes to sex education and our children.

It may sound very academic and open-minded to say that we should respect our young people and let them take responsibility for their sexual health, but it's really an indictment on our society as parents and grown-ups who should know better. What is lacking is parenting, not respect. We've confused parenting with simply giving information. We've abdicated our own responsibility to shape their character by teaching right and wrong in favor of “respecting” their individual choices. We've shrugged off the burden of formation and left our young people to figure it out for themselves according to popular opinion and momentary preference, guided mostly by hormones.

My kids would most likely choose not to eat fruits and vegetables if it were up to them. I regularly give them all the information about how they need to eat veggies for their health and explain all about the vitamins and good stuff veggies contain, yet their inclination is not towards their health. But if they eat nothing but candy and become overweight and undernourished with rotting teeth, at least I can say I gave them all the information and then respected their choice. I gave them the responsibility for their own good health because I respect them so much.



What is needed is for the adults to be adults and stop burdening the children with the “responsibility” of sex, because we're not actually teaching responsibility; we're just shoving condoms in their hands and telling them how to use each other “safely.” We simply reinforce the notion that sex is just physical and recreational and if they have sufficient pubic hair then it means the choice is theirs and there isn't much more we can say.

And seriously, Mr. Wagoner, are we really giving them all the information they need? Are we telling young girls that condoms make it even more likely that a guy will use her for sex because he thinks the magic latex spares him from any obligation to her? If she gets pregnant, well, it wasn't him-- he used the mighty rubber! Are we telling them that sex is about love and love is about self-sacrifice, not self-satisfaction? Are we telling them that sex has emotional consequences that condoms won't protect against? Are we teaching them to see each other as human beings and not sexual objects? Are we telling them that even if they use the magic latex they could still get a disease or become pregnant?

Are we teaching them to think with their brains and not their genitals? Are we teaching them to exercise self-control, or to use common sense? As you downplay the feasibility of abstinence, do you enumerate the many benefits of unmarried sex? No? Oh, that's right – you can't because there are none.

Are we telling them what it's really like to realize you've just gotten naked with someone you don't know very well, don't really love, swapped intimate bodily fluids, and no matter what you do, you can never, ever take it back? And don't forget you've just risked getting chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, or herpes, and most serious of all, pregnancy. And then are we telling them that they can completely avoid all of this, protect their futures and their lives and guard their own dignity by saying NO to sex? Are we telling them that, Mr. Wagoner?

Finally, I was struck by this comment from the authors of the study, John and Loretta Jemmott:
“The target behavior was abstaining from vaginal, anal and oral intercourse until a time later in life when the adolescent is more prepared to handle the consequences of sex. The intervention did not contain inaccurate information, portray sex in a negative light, or use a moralistic tone.”

At the risk of sounding like I'm attacking the good guys here, I'm not so sure that the best approach to abstinence is one that doesn't “use a moralistic tone.” It seems to me the problem is the specific lack of morals when it comes to sex.

I get what the study authors are saying, that there are compelling reasons to abstain from sex that aren't based on a moral or religious code, and often those reasons alone are effective in convincing teens not to have sex. No problem; I'm all for letting the medical facts speak for themselves because the science is on the side of morality. When it comes to sex, logic and reason are on the side of morality.

But as Catholics, we need to champion abstinence education that tells the whole story of human sexuality and the dignity of each person. I'm glad the study didn't portray sex in a negative light, cause guess what? God made sex and sex is good! The Catholic Church has never said that sex is bad or negative in any way. Quite the contrary, and that's the greatest lesson abstinence can teach.

Sex is exquisitely good and beautiful and like everything exquisitely good and beautiful, it is meant to be handled with great care and reverence. Would you set a flawless diamond in a cheap aluminum band and then use it to scrape dog poop off your shoe? Yet we demean and cheapen God's priceless gift of sexual love, and we cheapen and demean each other in the process. Abstinence equals respect for something holy and precious – for someone holy and precious. We cannot go wrong by telling our young people that truth.

And one final thought for the Jemmotts: there is no such thing as an adolescent who is “prepared to handle the consequences of sex.” Isn't that the whole point?

from Catholic Online


1 comment:

Allison said...

This is a very good post!

Very very well said!

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin