Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The secret meaning of abstinence programs.

Theopublicans aren’t happy that parts of their religious agenda are being challenged. Bush got the idea from his lunatic friends in the fundamentalist Right that teens listen to government. You know teens and their famous respect for authority. It was decided that if government showered money on the Religious Right then these missionaries for morality could use the money to tell teenagers to stop having sex. And the teens would listen. It isn’t like they are soaked in hormones or anything.

But the New York Times reports that 11 states have rejected the Bush largess, and three more states appear to be passing legislation “that could kill, or at least wound, its presence in public schools.”

Of course, the abstinence-only lobby has been given hundreds of millions of dollars by the Bush administration, so they aren’t going to go silently into the night. Like every other parasitical special interest group, they don’t want the gravy train to stop.

They were not happy when a major study showed that abstinence programs had no major impact on sexual activity for teens. This report stated: “Findings indicate that youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age.” In fact, the study couldn’t find an real differences between teens who had “abstinence education” and those who didn’t.

At least that is better than anti-drug campaigns from the government, which have tended to increase drug usage

Of course, as things go, people change. Toady's teens are less sexually active than teens of a few years ago. But the theocrats in the schools can’t take responsibility for that. That trend started before Bush started flushing money down the toilet on his programs. More importantly, the number of teens becoming pregnant has decreased significantly. But studies show higher levels of condom use as the reason along with some change in what sexual acts are being used..

I find a certain level of irony in this. When the great authority figures in state education were pushing condoms, it was like pulling teeth to get a teenage boy to wear one. The government switches tactics and promotes abstinence instead, and the teens take to using condoms. Yet the government forbids these programs to teach about condoms.

Another trend noticed is that many teens who are considered virgins, due to the lack of vaginal intercourse, are anything but sexually inexperienced. Many teens use oral sex as a substitute for intercourse. One study showed that 28% of white teens, 15 to 17, had intercourse and another 19% had oral sex only. So 47% were sexually active. Among Hispanic teens 34% had intercourse while 14% had oral sex only, for a total of 48%. Sexual activity levels are similar but some apparently use oral sex as a lower risk substitute.

Bush and Co., are pushing conflicting messages, at least to gay teens. I know the fundamentalists insist that there are no gay teens. unless they were seduced--their vampire theory of homosexuality. But such teens do exist. Now think of a gay teen listening to the message that says he shouldn’t have sex until marriage. Then he listens to the Moron in Chief telling him that he should never be allowed to marry. Certainly the second message undercuts the first one. The reality is that he’s unlikely to wait for something he’s been told he can never have, so he may as well start now.

The other thing I note is that the rise in sexual responsibility that we have seen accompanied a decrease in religious sentiments especially among the young. The number of young people, who self-identify as atheists, has doubled during the Bush administration. I personally think Bush has discredited religion for an entire generation. In recent years the number of adults over the age of 25 who identify as atheists went up to 11%. Among youths 18 to 25, the number is now 20%. If these surveys mean anything, they seem to indicate that teens would rather trust a condom than a prayer. That could explain the decline in the teen pregnancy rate-- the abstinence programs don’t.

You would think that the failure of these programs would bother some abstinence educators. Perhaps it does, but some are unfazed. One of the more vocal advocates of abstinence indoctrination says she doesn’t care if the programs work or not. Pam Stenzel, a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s university, was a Bush appointee to a panel that set guidelines for installing the federal sex indoctrination program. She has made hundreds of thousands of dollars from her “abstinence courses” through the very programs she helped design.

She told one fundamentalist rally that “it doesn’t matter” if these programs work or not. She says that sex is sin and that is the truth she has to get out to young people. She sees abstinence programs as doing that. She asked her audience “to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”

She says the problem isn’t venereal disease, or even teen pregnancy or HIV-- the problem is sin. She says the problem is a child “believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence”, resulting in that child “spending eternity separated from God”. The issue is that children must not be allowed to believe they “can sin safely”. The reason the abstinence programs exaggerate risks and refuse to tell teens about alternatives is because that is what they are designed to do. They are supposed to terrify the young into avoiding “sin” -- not educate them about human sexuality. In the minds of such theocrats, the programs are not failing. They are about spreading the fundamentalist message that sex is bad unless married, and that sin can ruin your life. That is what they were designed to do. Lowering VD rates, HIV infections, or reducing pregnancy rates were never the main goal of the theocrats.

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