Thursday, September 4, 2008

Abstaining from the Facts

By Steve Villano

The problem with teaching abstinence from sex to teenagers is that it’s based upon the premise of doing nothing. “Abstinence-only education” is, in fact, the absence of education about sex. Is it any wonder, then, that teenagers who are taught nothing about sex, know very little about it, except to follow the natural instincts of all sexually mature living beings and have it?

And when they have sex, as numerous studies have shown, without being taught to protect themselves from STDs, HIV or pregnancy, teenagers spread STDs, contract HIV, or get pregnant. This is not very complicated stuff. Teach people how to have safer sex and protect themselves by using condoms, and you can reduce the high rate of transmission of infectious diseases among the young, and the rate of teen pregnancy. Teach them nothing about sex and how to protect themselves if they have it, and they’ll be clueless about protection.

During the last decade, the federal government spent $1.5 billion of taxpayer dollars on “abstinence-only education” programs. A Congressionally mandated review found that that money was wasted since students in such know-nothing programs delayed sex no longer and had no fewer partners than anyone else. When they did have sex, which was often, they had little or no information about how to reduce the risk of disease or pregnancy. And, no one has whispered a word to them about the emotional issues they’ll have to deal with.

Abstinence ideologues have misguided government funding on this issue at home and abroad, and while, the new PEPFAR program lifted the ban on teaching sex education in Africa, Asia and other nations with a high rate of HIV infection, know-nothingism is still the rule when “teaching” about sex in communities across the U.S. A recent CDC study found that more than one in four young women between the ages of 14-19 in the US—or some 3.2 million teenage girls—is infected with at least one STD. Among young Black women that rate is doubled. For AIDS cases alone, teenage girls represent 43% of new cases reported in that entire age group.

Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter is a lucky young woman, blessed with a family that loves, accepts & supports her, whatever the consequence of her sex without protection. Not all pregnant, unmarried 17-year olds are so fortunate. For many, the absence of education about sex, and the consequences of their impulsive, youthful actions, threaten their health, and drive them into poverty, isolation from their families or suicide.

It’s too steep a price to pay for an ideology at odds with the facts of life.

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