Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More news of the obvious

Push abstinence only "education" instead of legitimate sex education, reduce or eliminate access to successful forms of birth control, and sure enough teen pregnancy rates rise:
The Centers for Disease Control released a new report today that found that Mississippi “now has the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate, displacing Texas and New Mexico for that lamentable title.” The report found that in 2006, the Mississippi teen pregnancy rate was over 60 percent higher than the national average and increased 13 percent since the year before.

While the new report does not explain why the state’s teen pregnancy rate is increasing, one reason may be the poor quality of its sex ed programs. As the Sexuality Information and Education Center explains, Mississippi focuses heavily on abstinence education and teachers are prohibited from demonstrating how to use contraceptives:

Mississippi schools are not required to teach sexuality education or sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV education. If schools choose to teach either or both forms of education, they must stress abstinence-until-marriage, including “the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining.” […]

If the school board authorizes the teaching of contraception, state law dictates that the failure rates and risks of each contraceptive method must be included and “in no case shall the instruction or program include any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.

A reporter for ABC News’s Jackson, MS affiliate explained, “The Mississippi Department of Human Services says abstinence is the only birth control that is 100 percent effective. And that’s the only message teens need to hear.” Unfortunately, numerous studies show that abstinence-only education is not effective. As one study found:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

Further, a review by the House Oversight Committee found that “80% of the abstinence-only curricula…contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.”

Pregnant teens in Mississippi face few options. Access to facilities that provide abortions in that state is extremely limited. Indeed, because of an unusually effective anti-choice campaign in the legislature, only a single abortion clinic remains open in the state.

The report also found that the teen pregnancy rate is rising fastest in Alaska, where Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is a strong proponent of abstinence-only sex ed.
If the objective is prevention of unplanned teen pregnancies, the abstinence only approach has been an abysmal failure, and those states that have pushed the approach the most have reaped the bitter fruit of going in that direction. If, on the other hand, the objective is to "punish" evil, unchaste young women with pregnancy based on a view of women tied to an Augustinian* belief regarding "Original Sin" that has haunted our culture since the early Medieval period - a view by the way that perceives women as objects of fear and revulsion - then abstinence-only education, along with cutting off access to effective birth control methods has been a howling success. My guess is that punishment is the main objective.

* You can get a feel for the Augustinian concept of Original Sin in which sex is viewed as inherently corrupt, from Arthur Silber's blog. Augustine's conceptualization seems to have built on the work of other earlier Christian theological writings going back easily to Tertullian (whose views of women places the onus of all the evils of the world squarely on the alleged corruptible nature of women since Eve) and St. Paul who privileged celibacy as the ideal, and sexuality as sinful. Personally, that's not a worldview I would ever want to pass on to my children.

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