A multi-year study of several abstinence-until-marriage sex education courses has found recently that the programs have no effect on the number of sex partners participants have or the age at which they first engage in sexual activity.
The same legislative body that spends more than $175 million on these programs every year ordered the study, though proponents of the approach were swift to argue reasons for the negative results. The programs in question, they say, are some of the oldest in existence, and do not reflect the more recent advances in abstinence-only education.
That having been said, there were many differences among the programs. Some were voluntary while others were mandatory. Some took place during the school day and some were after school. All programs offered what were considered to be intensive programs (more than 50 hours), and thousands of students were tracked over a seven-year period.
No statistically significant differences between those in any of the studies and members of the control group were found.
In the interest of fairness, critics of such programs have argued for years that abstinence programs actually have a negative effect, causing more children to engage in risky sex activity than if they had received no instruction. This was not found the case to be either. So at least we can say our $175 million has had no impact, at the worst.
What strikes me as most interesting about this is not that the programs didn’t work. Instead, the most compelling point is the collective surprise demonstrated by those who believed in them. For the most part, advocates were and still are generally theologically conservative folks who believe there is a moral basis for not teaching the use of contraception, or any means of risk-reduction other than abstinence, for that matter.
It seems to me that if this group was using Scripture as the basis for their position, they’d see that there were some indicators that this approach might be less than effective.
Let’s consider the Garden of Eden. God provides a paradise for his beloved humans, and gives them one caveat: Don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge. So what do Adam and Eve do? Exactly what they are not supposed to.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that the term for sex in the Bible generally is “to know” someone. So do we really believe they were fiends for actual fruit, or is it possible that the very first morality tale has to do with sex?
Furthermore, if God batted less than a thousand keeping us in line once we were given the ability to choose our own way, what makes us think we’d be any better at it with our young folks?
Later on, King David struggles to keep his loincloth tied, and so the stories go, particularly throughout the Old Testament. Though it’s not sexually related, even Peter, the cornerstone of the Christian church, faces the weakness of his own flesh. Though confronted by Jesus himself about his denials to come, Peter says, “Come on, not me, right?”
Then, with the best of intentions, he goes and does it anyway when faced with mortal fear.
Even Paul, the fiercest defender of the faith, decries his tendency to do the very things he hates. Some role models we have! All prone to human weakness and fallibility.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling “The Tipping Point,” discusses in his book why, though America is spending hundreds of millions on teen smoking campaigns, teen smoking is on the rise. He notes that it’s in the nature of teens to rebel and even to seek out behavior they know is risky. His answer? Do what you can to mitigate risk factors, rather than focusing on the impossible task of hoping to change teens into compliant, risk-averse mini-adults.
Plenty of folks will continue to argue that talking about condoms and other protective measures is tantamount to sexual permission. However, when you’ve spent more than a billion dollars on programs proven not to work, maybe it’s time to consider the possibility your moral compass is pointing you in the wrong direction.