Friday, November 21, 2008

Is it Possible to Teach Abstinence?

Secular and liberal groups of various sorts like to claim that high school and college students are "going to do it anyway," so we shouldn't "waste" time and money on abstinence education, when what the kids "really need" is contraceptives. They back this reasoning up with studies showing the lack of success seen in areas with abstinence education.

My reaction has always been to just groan in annoyance at such ignorance. Of course we won't see great results from the mere fact that we put money into abstinence education. It would take years of research to find effective forms of abstinence education. Psychologists have been studying depression and anxiety since psychology (and psychiatry) began. They are better at influencing unhealthy minds today, but they still don't have a simple cure. Why should we expect it to be so much easier to influence minds in other difficult but helpful directions? It should be obvious that a teacher rolling his eyes as he says, "The state requires that I tell you not to have sex until you're married," is as likely to hurt as it is to help. So it should also be obvious that the quality of the programs is as important as the existence of the programs.

And even more obvious, is that neither abstinence education nor contraception education happen in a vacuum. How can we expect adolescents to listen to their teacher who says "no" when all their friends, their favorite celebrities, their magazines, and sometimes even their parents are shouting "YES!" If we want success, we need a comprehensive form of "wait until you're married" education that would entail sweeping changes of education, media, and who knows what else.

There is clear evidence that watching sex on TV can double teen pregnancy rates. There is also evidence that college professors promoting use of contraception makes college students 10% more likely to engage in premarital sex during their last year in school. How many other factors might be contributing to this problem?

We live in a society that is overflowing with sex. We can't just protect our kids (and ourselves) from one angle; they will just absorb what comes at them from every other angle. For now it takes a multi-pronged approach from individual parents to protect their own children. For the future we need to work toward a multi-pronged approach to protect everyone's children.

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