There’s been a lot of political rhetoric about the role of “abstinence only” sex ed, and its relationship to teen sex and pregnancy rates. A lot of the “data” circulating is based upon the thinnest of evidence. For example, the latest stats show teen pregnancy going up for the first time in a decade. Opponents of sex-ed claim that this proves the inefficiency of the Bush-era “abstinence only” programs. Of course, the numbers do no such thing. This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy at its worst. The activists making these statistical claims have literally no basis in factual evidence to show that (a) the teens who are pregnant now ever attended abstinence only programs, federally funded or otherwise; and (b) that those who were in the programs were statistically more likely to have sex and/or get pregnant than their peers who were not.
Fortunately, there is a body of data which has emerged, a study (described by its lead author as “among the most rigorously designed and executed studies ever to examine the long-term impact of an abstinence-only program,” for whatever that’s worth) which focused on “622 mostly low-income African-American sixth and seventh graders attending four inner city middle schools.” They were divided into four groups: (1) an eight-hour abstinence-only group session, (2) an eight-hour sex education session emphasizing “safer” sex, (3) an eight- or 12-hour session combining abstinence and “safer” sex, or (4) an eight-hour health program, which did not include sex as a topic.
Two years later, Web MD (a fairly objective source, really) reports that the results are in: “Researchers found an abstinence-only program to be as effective as safe-sex education or a combination approach and more effective than nothing at all for delaying the onset of sexual activity in preteens and young teens.” Students in groups 1, 2, and 3 had dramatically lower rates of sexual activity than students in the fourth group. Turns out, most teenagers are bombarded every day with messages in the media, from their peers, and so forth, to have sex, and about how great and wonderful sex is. What most students need, then, is for someone (anyone) to sit down and tell them why sex is something worth waiting for.
Since the sex ed which encouraged (1) abstinence, (2) contraception, and (3) both were all equally effective, the next step from a governmental standpoint should be a prudential one. Lots of people – especially Catholics – have well-founded religious and moral opposition to any form of contraception. It’s viewed, based upon both philosophy and religion, as being a perversion and distortion of the sex act, which by its very nature, is intended to draw two individuals together. Beyond that, chemical birth control (“the Pill”) is an abortificant. It’s lead to countless millions of abortions, usually without the mother even being aware that she was doing this. Many of those who disagree with the classically-Catholic stances on birth control agree that chemical birth control is morally atrocious. And finally, there are a number of those (particularly women) who oppose chemical birth control because it perverts women’s reproductive cycles in ways which are often dangerous to them, can lead to increased rates of miscarriages, can make it harder to conceive children later, and so forth. Given all of this, ought the government fund programs which indoctrinate kids that birth control is not only morally acceptable (regardless of what their parents have told them), but “safe” and “responsible”?
These are questions for a more rational world, alas. The vindication seems to have come too late for abstinence only education, as President Obama slashed all funding for it last spring, favoring the morally atrocious sex-ed indoctrination instead.