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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Immorality of "Abstinence Only"

There is no question that our country is preoccupied with sex. Not just prettied up white-wedding sex. Christina Aguilera dirty sex, too. Sex, as they say, sells and in America it’s all but a brand name. Somehow Madison Avenue has managed to associate it with everything from sport cars to chicken wings. It has become a commodity bought and sold with such ubiquity that it appears in the most conservative investment portfolios. Yet for some reason, we still approach the subject with a certain amount of shame, if not abject fear.

What was once alluded to in the cryptic allegory of the Birds and the Bees is now the subject of entire aisles at Barnes and Noble, but only the most brazen can peruse these stacks with head held high. Most glance awkwardly left and right, pretending to have gotten lost on their way to find Oprah’s latest book club offering or perhaps the new South Beach diet guide. Our species has been driven by curiosity to explore the depths of the sea, to escape our planet’s atmosphere, and to split open the atom just to see what fell out. But when it comes to placing our own sexuality under the microscope, many would prefer as low a magnification as possible. It is not surprising that this brand of willful ignorance has found its way into our classrooms.

Public education has provided the background for most if not all of our culture’s greatest moral skirmishes. From racial desegregation to Title IV sports, if the battle can’t be won in the streets, the smart tactician takes it into the schoolhouse. Comprehensive sex education isn’t the only source of conflict inside the halls of academia, but it certainly is the most central to our existence. This simple biological act is at once highly coveted and greatly maligned, and has as a fortunate byproduct the continuation of our species. It is as natural as eating and breathing, and like those functions carries with it potential hazards to balance its obvious rewards.

Western civilization has always had a love/hate relationship with knowledge. It may have gotten us kicked out of Eden, but it sure makes for a fancy lifestyle. Because of this, we have learned to lay the blame for its misuse at the feet of its handler and not with the information itself. We happily teach particle physics, knowing full well that it can lead to the destruction of the atom bomb. The atrocities of the Holocaust are taught in graphic detail, though they may serve as a convenient manual for would-be genocides. The acquisition of knowledge is not intended to license behaviors, be they good or bad. It is designed simply to provide a foundation for informed decision making.

A reasonable predictor of a group’s success lies in how it handles the welfare of its youngest generation. By necessity, we invest a tremendous amount in our young people, and it is in the best interest of everyone to see them safely through danger. Topping the list of landmines they may encounter are those stemming from a lack of accurate sexual education. Teen pregnancy and STDs are the tip of the iceberg, creating nearly insurmountable obstacles to success and contributing to the cycles of poverty and general hopelessness that form the ugly dark side of the Land of the Free.

For opponents, this is a moral issue. They feel premarital abstinence has been clearly prescribed to us by our Creator, and that it is the only guaranteed preventative for the aforementioned social ills. This desire to transform personal morality into state mandate would be forgivable if it were effective. Fortunately for public policy makers, reliable information gathered through peer-reviewed studies shows that “abstinence only” proves a miserable failure on multiple levels. When these guilt-based programs fail and the graduates do engage in sexual relations, they do so without the knowledge required to be safe and responsible. Even if premarital virginity is miraculously preserved, the potential risks of sex do not end at the wedding alter. Biology, it seems, is largely unimpressed with human cultural tradition, as unwanted pregnancies and disease occur inside of wedlock as well.

As our nation’s ongoing obsession with sex continues, we have a simple choice to make. That decision is not whether or not to teach our children about sex, but rather who will be the instructors. We either equip our schools with open, honest, and medically accurate sex-ed curricula, or we continue to allow our children to learn the facts of life from Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said. We have an obligation to inform our youth of all that sex involves - both positive and negative. Now, I would assume that in this discussion, when it came to birthcontrol and staying STD's, we'd start with abstinence and then work our way through all the various information from conception, through abortion and the various effects, through STD's of all kinds to all the different forms of birth control. You're correct about needing to provide information but my experience is we either do one, abstinence, or the other, various forms of birth control and STD's, instead of taking a middle ground and providing complete information and discussing the effects, without being alarmists or fear-mongers, of sex. In order to allow you youth to have the best possible chance, we need to give them all the options, discuss them and provide options so that they can make their lifestyle choices with, hopefully, having a good knowledge of the consequences and, if necessary, the information to seek help if the need arises.