Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Just Say No

Six years ago I wrote an op-ed for our school newspaper. I was tired of seeing our students mauling each other in the halls, dry-humping against the lockers and sticking their tongues so far down each other's throats that they had to be licking tonsils. When approached by the paper's editors to write a column on any topic I wished, I chose that one--and, since my article was clearly satirical, I called it A Modest Proposal. In the aftermath, before my view ultimately prevailed and our campus became (and still is) relatively sex-free, I was told that we can't or shouldn't stop the students from making out in the halls, as they're going to do what they want to do anyway. Yes, this view was expressed by my fellow teachers. And experience since that article shows such a belief is wrong.

Similarly, I've heard too many times to count that abstinence-only programs are not sufficient to keep teenagers from having sex before they're socially, mentally, and financially ready; that we must teach "safe sex", ceding the ground of morality, decency, and common sense to the hormones of teenagers. A recent study puts the lie to that belief as well:

An abstinence-only education program is more effective than other initiatives at keeping sixth- and seventh-graders from having sex within a two-year period, according to a study described by some as a landmark.

The study, published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, indicated that about one-third of the preteens and their young teen classmates who received an eight-hour abstinence lesson had sexual intercourse within two years of the class.

By comparison, more than half of the students who were taught about safe sex and condom use reported having intercourse by the two-year mark, and more than 40 percent of students who received either an eight- or 12-hour lesson incorporating both abstinence education and safe sex reported having sex at two years.

Among students who received instruction on overall good health, but not having to do with sex directly, nearly 47 percent had sexual activity in the two years after the class.

I frequently hear, in reference to academic standards, that students will rise to the standards we set for them. I assert that the same is true of standards of behavior. This study would seem to validate my belief.

Update: Here's the Associated Press version of the same story. Keep in mind, the AP is no conservative mouthpiece.

14 comments:

maxutils said...

Great. So, let's have a sex education program that scares children into having a non-pragmatic view of sex, and of not knowing how to protect themselves when they eventually do. That's definitely worth preventing the onset of sexual activity for a few years.

I would rather the schools eliminate sex ed programs altogether than provide incomplete information.

Ellen K said...

Our campus restricts student contact to holding hands, period. Several students have been expelled for sex on campus, usually in the alluring confines of a campus bathroom. Seriously, there is something very wrong in the head of a kid who sees a high school bathroom as a fitting place for love in the afternoon. While I don't think it is necessarily our place to lecture kids as to morality, I don't think we have to make it easier for them to engage in sex on campus. But too many campuses are spread out, with hidden corridors and remote campus areas that are largely undersupervised. If folks are really serious about preventing such activities at school, we need smaller student bodies and smaller campuses.

MiaZagora said...

Wonderful post, Darren!

Darren said...

Max, you set up a wonderful straw man and *clearly* did not read the linked article to find out what the successful programs taught.

Soctt McCall said...

has anyone ever thought that parent influence may have a factor as well?

Ronnie said...

The problem with the excerpt you posted is that it ignores what I would call the 2 most important statistics in this entire issue: teen pregnancy rate and the proportion of safe sex. Without those 2 vital statistics, the size of the study, the diversity of the study, and other such factors I don't see this study changing any thoughtful minds on abstinence-only education.

Darren said...

I don't know, Ronnie. I thought you "progressives" like science--perhaps, though, that's only when it conforms to your preconceived views *and* it's already settled :) Come on, "thoughtful" minds? Nope, no preconceived notions there....

And Scott, parental views, beliefs, and actions are most important. This involves what we should teach at school.

Darren said...

Scott, from the article:
"It is unreasonable to expect any single intervention, curriculum or program to solve the teen pregnancy problem," the nonprofit organization said. "True and lasting progress requires not only good programs in schools and communities, but also supportive norms and values, informed and active parents, good health services, a positive media culture and more."

In other words, if we set high behavioral standards, there's a better chance that more teenagers will meet them than if we don't set high standards.

Ronnie said...

"The study looked at 662 African-American sixth- and seventh-graders recruited from four public middle schools that serve low-income communities in an unidentified city in the northeastern United States. The adolescents were recruited between September 2001 and March 2002." 1 part of the country, 1 racial group, 1 economic group, and 1 less than a year period, not exactly representative of the entire teen pregnancy issue. My point was a reduction in those having sex doesn't necessarily reduce teen pregnancy or increase safe sex behavior. I like scientific studies that actually study the relevant variables of an issue no matter what their findings, sadly I don't believe your quoted study did that.

maxutils said...

Well, Darren, you're right -- I didn't read the linked article. I assumed, correctly as it turned out after I did read it, that I knew what "abstinence only" meant, and that you weren't using it to mislead. Yup -- no mention of use of birth control as a preventative measure. It's not the morals that I object to -- it's the omission of important information. When we teach kids about colds, we teach them to wash their hands and not share drinks. That doesn't mean they won't ever get sick if they do that. I don't see why the same standard shouldn't apply to sex. If they are old enough to learn about it, they are also old enough to learn how to mitigate unwanted consequences.
If you're not comfortable teaching that in the schools, then it shouldn't be there at all.
I fail to see how my argument is a straw man . . .

mazenko said...

I agree, Darren, that it is precisely this sort of ethical and moral education that has long been the foundation of society, and a willingness to establish and model and expect this behavior is a noble goal of society. That is conservatism, and that is the essence of a country that is clearly moderately conservative.

Darren said...

Max, you were one of the teachers who 6 years ago told me that we couldn't change the behavior of the students. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now.

But we're still buddies :)

maxutils said...

Gotcha. Okay, I will admit to being wrong . . . if we give them a program that deals in half truths, we can scare them into being abstinent for a few more years. Yet another triumph for public education . . .

Sailorman said...

What does "abstinence based education" mean in this context?

You may want to read this:
http://www.guttmacher.org/media/evidencecheck/2010/02/03/EvidenceCheck-Jemmott-Study.pdf

basically, THIS program and the general federal "abstinence based education" programs are two completely different animals.

If the right wing could get behind this type of program (which, for example, doesn't lie about the efficacy of condoms, or make moral judgments, or a variety of other things which are in the federal versions) then that'd be great. We can find some common ground.