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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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20 Responses

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin February 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm |

    It’s a very simplistic means to solve some perceived “problem” that doesn’t take into account the whole picture. I could say the same thing about teaching intelligent design/creationism.

  2. preying mantis
    preying mantis February 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm |

    Haven’t most studies shown that medically-accurate, thorough sex-ed full-stop delays the onset of sexual activity by a few years, though?

  3. ipens
    ipens February 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm |

    I’m not an HTML expert, but hopefully this will work. href=”http://blog.thenationalcampaign.org/pregnant_pause/2010/02/gamechanging-research-on-absti.php” title=”Interesting commentary from the National Campaign.”>

  4. ipens
    ipens February 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  5. melancholia
    melancholia February 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm |

    Glad you posted this, interesting stuff. The study in question definitely does NOT conform to the moralistic “just say no!” stuff I got in school.

    I was trying to forward this study to the site when it broke but couldn’t figure out how.

  6. james
    james February 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm |

    I don’t get the focus on evidence and study design. Whether it works isn’t really the point is it?

    Suppose a perfectly designed study came out tomorrow showing that an abstinence-only program was 100% effective and got everyone to delay sex until marriage. We wouldn’t see a post from Jill saying ‘Who’d have thought it, let’s change the curriculum’, would we? This is a moral disagreement, not a factual dispute. If anything you’re all very lucky there aren’t any good studies on the abstinence side, because you’d have a real time of if your bluff was called and you had to argue the case based on your principled disagreements with abstinence-only, rather than by googling medical websites.

  7. Ens
    Ens February 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm |

    @james:

    There are more than one fronts to fight on. I agree that you have to fight using your arguments about what’s right on the long-term. However, given that we understand that we are not going to convince everybody overnight, and the alarming statistics posted on here the other day about the beliefs of members of one of the two major political parties in the US, it’s helpful to have quicker short-term pragmatic arguments that can help millions of teenagers until we get everybody on the same page. I’m not willing to throw — once again — millions of girls and boys under the bus for the sake of the ontological purity of my argument (to be clear, I’m not saying you are — you could disagree about whether it really is effective). I won’t outright make shit up, but I will make and support true and valid arguments that are beside the greater point if I feel that they are potentially helpful.

    The fallacy here is that just because somebody is making one argument for something, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in another argument. Besides which, from skimming the article, it looks like Jill did make some of those arguments too.

    Part of the problem is you cannot in principle prove your notion of morality is better, even if it really, really is. But you can prove that their method of enforcing that morality does not work.

  8. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl February 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm |

    James, I’ve got a better idea – we could just teach girls that sex with boys or men leads to pregnancy; therefore lesbian sex is encouraged until a pregnancy is desired. That way we could avoid all those nasty legal pitfalls associated with marriage, etc.

  9. Dana
    Dana February 5, 2010 at 6:46 pm |

    They’re both the “point”, James. The fact is, this approach to sex education is exactly what I support (sex when you’re ready), I just cannot understand why they would not include how to be safe once you do have sex!

    This programme works because it teaches self determination, not arbitrary rules about an institution that children do not even begin to understand and many adults have zero interest in (beyond the financial and social benefits).

    Strangely, people who support comprehensive sex education do in fact have a big problem not just with the concept everyone should get married to a person of the opposite sex and have children, but also the fact that these kids are learning that they should always say no, so how do they have a gauge for their ability to stop sexual activity at their own comfort level when they’re taught it’s all wrong? And people thinking they’re safe from STDs because they’ve only had one sexual partner, they’re not gay, whatever reason… it is indeed also about the physical and mental health of these young people. They deserve better on a lot of levels.

  10. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. February 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm |

    “Suppose a perfectly designed study came out tomorrow showing that an abstinence-only program was 100% effective and got everyone to delay sex until marriage. ”

    Suppose it did. Then what, James? Are you of the belief that it is absolutely the best thing for everyone to delay sex until marriage? What about people who have no intentions of ever marrying, like me? Are you of the belief that teenagers absolutely shouldn’t have sex ever? If so, what are your arguments to support the above statements?

    Personally, I don’t hold the above beliefs. I have absolutely no objections to teenagers having sex with one another, so long as they are informed of their bodies and are using protection to reduce the risk of pregnancy and STDs.

    Oddly enough, none of the sex I had as a teenager ever caused me any harm. It wasn’t until I became an adult and started having sex with adult men that I experienced any type of harm from consensual sex. That fact alone has much to do with my personal belief that it is not inherently wrong for teenagers to have sex.

    So, long story short, even if you could prove that abstinence-only education works 100% of the time (which you can’t), I still wouldn’t support it because I have no objections whatsoever to teenagers and unwed consenting adults having sex with one another.

  11. mzbitca
    mzbitca February 6, 2010 at 9:53 am |

    I think also the important thing that even though this is billed as “abstinence only education” it would never have been approved for federal funding under the Bush rules. Which is the argument a lot of people, here included have been mentioning. They are allowed to provide accurate information about condoms if the child asks, they just dont bring it up.

    This program at it’s heart, like a lot of comprehensive sex ed programs, trusts kids to make their own decisions, they just give them the skills to get there. Instead of saying this is what your decision should be they say these are your options and what you should think about before you decide. A very different approach

  12. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte February 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm |

    james, that’s a really pointless argument, isn’t it? Even you admit that there won’t be such a study, so why argue over whether or not Jill would support something that couldn’t happen? There’s not as clear a distinction between “moral” arguments and “scientific” ones as you’re acting. The moral belief that sexuality is healthy and men and women are equal is something that most people arrive at because real world, scientific evidence causes them to question sexist, sex-phobic assumptions we all learn from the cradle.

  13. james
    james February 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm |

    “Suppose it did. Then what, James? Are you of the belief that it is absolutely the best thing for everyone to delay sex until marriage?”

    Okay, suppose you could get teens to stop having sex by calling them sluts – ending teen pregnancy and STIs. (1) I would be conflicted, getting rid of teen pregnancy and STIs would be a good thing, but scarlett lettering young girls is a bit harsh. (2) Most feminists would be appalled and think the cure would be worse than the disease. (3) The vast majority of the public would have no problem with this. Hell, the vast majority of the public has no problem calling young girls sluts even if it has no effect on teen pregnancy and STIs.

    I’m just saying the fact that the vast majority of people think (3), is what’s causing you the problem rather than the evidence base.

    On the marriage/religion/slut-shaming thing: in my view, it’s a bit like telling young kids that drugs are bad. I don’t remotely believe that drugs are bad, or that people shouldn’t do drugs as adults. But I do think kids shouldn’t be doing drugs. So I don’t really have moral problem with lying to them in order to stop this from happening. I think that’s actually the position most pragmatic adults have. Now, if it worked, would I really have a big problem with the whole sex before marriage makes baby jesus cry line? I’m irreligious, so this hurts, but I don’t see how I can say ‘Yes – I would have a problem’ and be consistent.

  14. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. February 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

    James,

    Your comment is so full of such convoluted thinking that I’m not even sure where to begin deconstructing it.

    “Okay, suppose you could get teens to stop having sex by calling them sluts – ending teen pregnancy and STIs.”

    Ok, do you believe teenage pregnancy is an inherently bad thing? Why? What evidence do you have to support the belief that teen pregnancy is inherently harmful or damaging? If so, then my mother engaged in an inherently wrong practice by giving birth to my brother at the age of 17 (she was 16 when she got pregnant with him). Given that she does not feel that she was harmed in any capacity by giving birth so young, I can’t say that I believe that.

    I fail to see the problem with teenage pregnancy so long as – again – the teenage girls are given the resources necessary to ensure that they can provide for their children should they decide to give birth. I also fail to see the problem with teenage pregnancy so long as abortion is accepted and readily available to all who decide they wish to use such a service. That isn’t to say that I think teenage girls should all go out and get pregnant and have abortions. Having children is a major decision and will have a major impact in any girl/woman’s life. It will mean that the girl will likely have to focus primarily on her children instead of other endeavors for some time. But with a proper support system in place, it is very possible for a young mother to lead a healthy and productive life, as well as raise healthy and productive children.

    Is your problem largely that teenagers are unmarried? Does that mean that I should not have given birth to my two children starting at the age of 20 as an unwed mother? Do you believe my home is “broken” or dysfunctional because their father isn’t present? Because my quite healthy and quite happy children say otherwise.

    As for STDs, they can be almost completely avoided through the use of these handy dandy little contraptions called condoms. Not to mention educating people on the dangers of multiple partners so that they can make the determination for themselves as to whether or not the risk of contracting a disease is something that they are willing to take.

    “I’m just saying the fact that the vast majority of people think (3), is what’s causing you the problem rather than the evidence base.”

    Inaccurate. What causes me the problem with slut-shaming is that evidence not only supports the fact that it doesn’t work, but that it causes significant psychological harm and sexual dysfunction in females.

    “Now, if it worked, would I really have a big problem with the whole sex before marriage makes baby jesus cry line? I’m irreligious, so this hurts, but I don’t see how I can say ‘Yes – I would have a problem’ and be consistent.”

    It would be helpful if you would give an explanation for why you apparently believe that teenagers and unwed individuals should be having sex or babies instead of just saying that you don’t.

  15. Andrea
    Andrea February 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm |

    Umm, telling young kids that drugs are bad is NOT the same thing as telling a little girl (and never a little boy) that her very worth as a human being is bound up with maintaining her virginity, because if she doesn’t, she’ll be dirty, diseased and fallen. And the guy? Gets off scott free. I’m confused about what exactly your point is, James. It seems you’re quibbling over semantics and are upset because women are sick of being slut shamed, so you’re making up some weird hypothetical in which abstinence only education actually works. This is silly beyond belief. The thing about abstinence ONLY education is that abstinence is billed as the ONLY choice (see how that works) and facts are withheld from people. Abstinence has it’s place, condoms have their place and the pill does too. The fact that this is even controversial makes me want to cry, then throw up, then move to Europe.

  16. Faith
    Faith February 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm |

    It would be helpful if you would give an explanation for why you apparently believe that teenagers and unwed individuals should be having sex or babies instead of just saying that you don’t.”

    Clearly that should read “shouldn’t be”

  17. preying mantis
    preying mantis February 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm |

    “So I don’t really have moral problem with lying to them in order to stop this from happening. I think that’s actually the position most pragmatic adults have.”

    Which is fucking hilarious, because it’s pretty much the opposite of a pragmatic stance.

    “but scarlett lettering young girls is a bit harsh.”

    Reinforcing and doubling-down on a two-tiered system of citizenship is “a bit harsh”? Seriously?

  18. Natalia
    Natalia February 7, 2010 at 9:44 am |

    “a bit harsh”

    “mistakes were made”

    “stuff happens”

  19. wiggles
    wiggles February 7, 2010 at 7:34 pm |

    I could never figure out what sex is supposed to do with morality. As long as all parties are legitimately, happily, consciously consenting, there’s no morality to it. Sex and morality are only linked if the person having sex is female or gay, despite all dishonest and hypocritical protests to the contrary. It’s like, “that girl did the exact same thing a guy did right there with her at the exact same time! She’s a horrible person!”

  20. southern students for choice-athens
    southern students for choice-athens February 8, 2010 at 3:26 am |

    Good commentary, Jill, and all the better that it’s in the UK press, but a couple points could be added that would be of special interest to UK readers. It would be great if some of the critique of sex education curricula, and studies like this which purport to show whether or not a given curricula is effective or not, would consider (1) critiquing the supposed desirable outcome of the education program, and (2) the difficulty, if not near impossibility, in these studies of adequately comparing the “control group” to the experimental group to determine if differences are statistically significant or not.

    On (1), what is the desirable outcome of sex education for middle school and high school students? Is it abstinence until marriage? Well, no, at least that’s not likely be realized by most young people, and over the long run most of them will have no regrets about not being abstinent until marriage. Is it (for women) not becoming pregnant or (for men) not impregnating a women before marriage? Maybe, but it should be obvious on an economic argument alone that choosing/planning/timing pregnancy to occur after marriage, after some personal economic resources and career goals, etc are established is desirable, and in as much as marriage is part of that it shouldn’t be very controversial to teach that. Or is it to help young people who choose to be not be sexually active to have satisfying intimate relationships with partners without “sexual” activity, and to help sexually active young people have satisfying relationships if and when they occur, whether it is at 15 or 16 or 20 or 25? Try to make the latter argument and you’ll be laughed at or run out of school board meetings across the country, by pro-comp-sex-ed supporters as much as the antis. The avowed goal of sex ed may be to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (and almost conflating the two, as if teen pregnancy itself was some sort of disease), but in practice it’s about getting minors to delay sexual activity and pregnancy as long as possible, at least until they become legal adults, and to minimize the money spent on them through public health and social welfare programs.

    That’s where (2) comes in, the difficulty, if not near impossibility, of making scientifically valid comparisons to a “control group”. Scientific studies like these proving correlation or causation attempt to control for differences in factors like socioeconomic status, race, religion, and geography. But one factor which doesn’t seem to be accounted for is the difference made to sexually active young people by affordable, accessable comprehensive health care services, including birth control and at least information about abortion.

    How could an experimenter know or even begin to measure that without asking subject participants in depth about what kind of relationship they’ve had with health care providers to get birth control information, how far do they live from that health care provider, whether or not they have easy access to comfortable means of public transportation, etc? Race, religion, socioeconomic status, the zipcode/postal code of one’s residence are all “facts” which the census, for example, can inquire about and evaluate. But evaluating one’s access to health care, or even describing all of the factors involved in determining that is not as quantified or evaluated.

    There’s a lot of young adults who know the basics of what a comprehensive high school school curricula would teach about birth control, namely that it exists, and there’s stuff like “pills” and “condoms” and maybe “implants” that can help prevent pregnancy. But many young people who know that in the abstract are apparently unable if not unwilling to put that knowledge into practice and use contraception reliably, because as is obvious (citations available on request) there are numerous examples and studies of young adults and older teens who have the knowledge but are unable or unwilling to use contraception effectively at anything close to the effectiveness claimed for “perfect use”. Part of this may be ambivalence or unwillingness to communicate with one’s partner about this or to get their cooperation and support, but part may likely also be the increasing difficulty – especially in the USA, especially in conservative states and communities — of even accessing health care providers who provide contraceptive services, making time to speak with them in their clinics, and bringing one’s partner into the picture, like a woman bringing her boyfriend in with her, which isn’t unreasonable to imagine as possible if there’s some sort of ongoing relationship to make that relatively comfortable for them to do together.

    Maybe some of the controversy and concern over sex education is misplaced. It’s definitely possible to have a bad curriculum, full of myths and bias against women, but the limits of even the most comprehensive curricula likely to be able to accommodated in high schools or even colleges isn’t well appreciated. More good could be done by arguing it’s less important whether and how comprehensive sex education is given to high school students than it is to support clinics that offer comprehensive health care services, and to support and encourage young and poor people to get care from them and to better communicate and cooperate with each other (which of course means changing the behavior of men as much or more as it does changing the behavior of women). The latter point though is a lot less politically popular for at least one reason, it would cost a lot more money to increase subsidies for services like that than to simply argue for a more progressive revision of sex ed curricula, which is usually revised more or less annually as textbooks, for example, are discarded and new ones published.

    These points would be of special interest to readers in other countries, where there is much more public support for subsidized basic health care services, including contraception and even abortion. It would address some of the concerns of people who posted in comments to the Guardian article saying they agreed but wondered why this story is being published in the UK press about issues we’re dealing with in the USA. This story is relevant to them because the USA tends to set precedents for other countries to follow, by the images we put out in the media and by the services that foreign aid supports. Readers in countries with a better history than the USA in supporting comprehensive health care services that are accessible to young and poor people maybe need to be reminded that their low teen pregnancy rates and overall high standard of health care provision and wellness depend a great deal on how their society and government supports accessible health care services, maybe more than on how comprehensive their sex education curricula is. Or maybe they don’t need to be “reminded” of that so much as we need to learn from them and do more here of what obviously works well for young people in other countries.

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