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Posts Tagged ‘abstinence education’

This article is one of the best things I’ve read on the subject of abstinence-only sex ed, and is a fantastic display of Cracked’s power as a force for awesome in the world.

Rather than attempt to summarise or make any of my own points, I’m just going to quote some highlights and urge you to go revel in the full fury of Luke McKinney’s sexy wrath.

Abstinence-only education starts with the idea that teenagers listen to adults and manages to get even stupider.

Abstinence-only education doesn’t work, doesn’t work, lies, doesn’t work and doesn’t work.

If trying to restrain your sexual urges means thinking of a squad of burly rugby players, you are one important revelation away from cutting the legs off your jeans and being much happier.

People buying pewter collectibles warning against sex are like a nuclear submarine crew warning against sunburn: They’ve already gone to a dark place beyond such problems, and for the sake of all humanity, we pray they never get the chance to deploy their payloads.

When you won’t even refer to genitals without infant talk like “no-no square,” you may be ill-equipped in a battle against boning. There are aliens with a better understanding of hu-man mating ports because they found the Pioneer plaque and know “triangle” would be better.

Recommending that teenagers shouldn’t have sex until they know what the hell they’re doing is a great idea. Refusing to teach them about the cheap, widely available products that can prevent them from ruining their lives when they do something hormonally stupid — which is a teenager’s entire biological function — is generational manslaughter.

This is how you write a fucking article.

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I wrote a whole post for tonight on some head-scratching moral analysing of questionable situations, then realised I’d been really boring.

So here’s another thing. I liked this quote from Dr Marty Klein in a recent post on abstinence-only education:

We know how we would describe a parent who’s uncomfortable about his own teeth, and therefore refuses to teach his kids about brushing, flossing, and soda. Imagine that this parent also prevents his kids from learning anything about oral hygiene, and forbids them from going to the dentist.

We’d call this parent neglectful. I’d add irresponsible and unforgiveable. And if this parent got in the way of my kid learning about toothpaste, I’d say he’s dangerous. That perfectly describes adults who desperately need to live in a world without teen sexuality – and selfishly fantasize that they can.

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Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP in England, wants teenagers to be taught that it’s “cool” not to have sex.

Good luck with that.

She’s proposed a bill requiring that girls (and only girls) be taught about the benefits of abstinence at school – in particular, that they should learn “how to say no”.

Of course, everyone’s completely on her side. If teenage girls’ mouths and vocal cords are truly incapable of forming the phonemes of this important syllable, it is vital that schools address this problem with urgency.

Sorry. I’m being frivolous. That’s not what she means at all, and people have been vehemently disagreeing with her.

A big part of the problem lies in Dorries’s often bizarre assumptions about the current state of sex and relationships education, and of the place of sex in society more generally.

She’s worried about the impact of teaching seven-year-olds “to apply a condom on a banana“, which as far as I can tell is something that’s not actually happening anywhere. It’s not on the typical curriculum for children that age, at any rate, and people I follow on Twitter have been retweeting numerous sex educators who deny having any such thing as part of their lesson plan.

But even putting aside those times when she departs from reality in plain matters of fact, there seems to be a lack of consistency between her concerns and how she seeks to address them.

“Saying no” is a thornier subject than she assumes, for instance. Taken literally, it leaves the door open for my silly joke earlier about morphemes and syllables. Presumably it’s actually intended to refer to a more complex social relationship, in which for a girl to persistently refuse to have sex with her boyfriend is socially unacceptable.

Dorries implies as much when she describes talking to teenage girls who “do not even think they have the option of saying no to boys”. It certainly sounds like she’s describing a serious problem. If any young people are feeling socially obliged to have sex before they really want to for themselves, there might be things they could learn in school which would help them. But the simple, single, isolated fact that “you’re allowed to say no, you know” isn’t going to be much more help when it comes to sex than it has been in the war on drugs.

It leads down a dangerous road if you hold up “saying no” as the ultimate virtue, untainted by context. If the message gets through that this is the most important thing for girls to learn how to do, then whatever would they think of girls who ever dare say yes? Particularly if they actually enjoy it?

For that matter, what would they end up thinking of a boy who doesn’t make any overt sexual demands for them to say no to? What would they think must be wrong with themselves if boys aren’t even making such requests? And what would they think of themselves if they ever consent to – or even enthusiastically engage in – what seems like a good idea at the time, but has negative repercussions down the line, either physical (disease, pregnancy) or social (scandal, shame)?

Dorries also claims that peer pressure is “a key contributor to early sexual activity”. And this is no doubt the case, but pressure comes from all kinds of directions. It’s more than just boys being full of testosterone and desperate for some of the action they’ve seen on RedTube.

Playground rumours and epithets ranging from “frigid” to “slag” can surely do a good deal to influence the inclinations of any adolescent who cares about the approval of their (her) peers, regardless of their basis in reality. For boys, I suppose the equivalent would be “virgin” or… well, there doesn’t seem to be a derogatory way of describing males as overly promiscuous. It’s not possible for them to err in that direction. The more female “conquests” they achieve, the better.

But if this state of affairs continues – which Dorries’s lack of interest in talking to them about sex won’t do anything to improve – then boys are potentially in an even more awkward dilemma than girls. While some girls don’t realise they have the option of saying no, boys might not realise they have the option of wanting to say no.

And this will surely only be exacerbated if you single-mindedly encourage girls to abstain, but decline to give boys any wider understanding of the role sex can play in social relationships. It reinforces the idea that sex is something men want to do to women, and women just have to know when not to let them have it.

Sex education deserves to be about more than just biological mechanics, but if this is as shallow as the social side of the discussion is going to be, then we might be better off leaving kids to figure it out for themselves.

This is all a bit thrown together and speculative. Other things which may be worth reading on the same subject include:

Education For Choice
Jessica Shepherd and Sarah Ditum in the Guardian
Heresy Corner
Ministry Of Truth (and they’ve also done some further fact-checking)
Dr Petra Boynton
Suzanne Moore in the Daily Mail

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The Liberal Conspiracy website has a better-informed and more thorough discussion of Project Prevention than I managed a few days ago. It’s increasingly clear that this is an organisation driven by a specific ideology, which doesn’t care to examine its own workings enough to question whether what it’s doing is really in its clients’ best interests. This line was especially revealing, referring to the organisation’s founder, Barbara Harris:

Harris’ interest isn’t in the long-term outcomes for the women she works with or the areas they live in. There’s no subsequent monitoring programme and no requirement that addicts sign up for treatment – Project Prevention’s involvement with these women begins and ends with their fertility.

The stated “main objective” of Project Prevention is “to reduce the number of substance exposed births to zero”, and their approach with this goal in mind is unhelpfully single-minded. The plight of infants born to substance-addicted mothers is no doubt awful, but Barbara Harris is fixated on this one solution, to the exclusion of an overall picture of providing treatment and care as best they can, based on what people need, whatever that might involve in any specific case.

No doubt a lot of people with drug problems would benefit from some of the forms of contraception and birth control that Project Prevention can provide, but they’re not looking at it in terms of providing the best and most appropriate care for their clients. As far as they’re concerned, the fertility issue is the beginning and the end.

I hadn’t picked up on the issue of the complete lack of aftercare before, but thinking about it now, this is insane. In the substance misuse centre I work at, there are constant discussions about where clients are going to move onto once their treatment with us is complete, whether medication will be prescribed from somewhere else, whether they have support in the community, whether we could look to arranging housing, whether they’re registered with a local mental health or psychological team to follow them up sporadically in the coming weeks and months.

These are all a big and necessary part of treating anyone for drug addiction, but none of it seems to be on Project Prevention’s radar. It kinda seems like it should be, if you’re going to be performing major operations on people with serious addiction problems.

Oh, and the founder of the organisation, Barbara Harris, has made her Twitter feed private, after some people started tweeting questions about her methods at her. Now, there’s no problem with having a private feed, if you only want your personal friends to be able to follow the thoughts you share on there – a lot of people go that way. But it still purports to be Project Prevention’s official feed, so this doesn’t speak well to Barbara’s approach to openness and outreach.

I hope nobody questioning her was hostile or unpleasant, and made her feel like there was no point listening to people simply being obnoxious. But @DrPetra was among those asking sensible questions of Barbara – whether she wouldn’t try integrating with existing services, for instance – and got accused of condoning child abuse for her trouble.

Speaking of Dr Petra, she just tweeted a link to a report that Canada’s teen birth and abortion rates have plummeted following better sex education and wider access to contraception throughout that country. There’s been more than a one-third decline in ten years, as a direct result of doing exactly the opposite of what the abstinence-only puritans say is best. Just thought that was worth a mention too.

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Update: The Daily Kos story referenced below has been taken down. They don’t seem to have anything directly replacing it to address the issues differently, that I can find, but it looks like this may all have been overblown, or at least premature. I still have no idea, but it’s still the politics relating to this story – what laws the Republican vice presidential candidate would or would not support regarding sex education, teen pregnancy, contraception, abortion, and so forth – that are relevant and worth addressing. However, I’m going to leave this piece of entertaining but possibly pointless speculation as it is, now that it’s here, with the proviso that it may all be utter nonsense.


I have a proper skeptical post just about set for tomorrow, but today, it’s still politics. Specifically, it’s still the Republican vice-presidential candidate, which sounds like about the most tedious and dreary topic imaginable for a whole day’s worth of blog post if your interests are anything like mine.

But man, this is better than a soap opera.

There’s been some speculation that Sarah Palin’s youngest son, Trig, is actually the child of her eldest daughter Bristol, and thus Sarah Palin’s granddaughter. There’s reams of stuff about this on Daily Kos, where they actively accuse Sarah Palin of lying about this, and provide a whole lot of stuff to back up their claim.

There are a number of photos of both Sarah and Bristol, with descriptions of how pregnant they supposedly were at the time; I’m sure there are women who would kill to be able to keep their figure as well as Sarah Palin seems to after they’ve given birth, let alone while they’re still carrying a child. Sarah Palin announced that she was pregnant while apparently seven months along, by which point nobody around her had noticed; Trig Palin was born premature about a month later, while Sarah still didn’t seem to be noticeably bulging.

There’s also the really bizarre story about the conditions of Trig’s birth. Sarah apparently went into labour earlier this year, while in Dallas, Texas. Rather than going to hospital and cancelling the speech she was supposed to be giving that morning – which I think she could have been forgiven for, having a child is a valid excuse for missing just about any prior engagement – she gave the speech, and then took an eight hour flight from Texas back to Alaska, all the while “leaking amniotic fluid” (ew). The plane landed in Anchorage, which I’m guessing is a pretty big city in Alaska – they have an airport there, at least – but maybe not big enough to have a hospital of its own, because she then drove fifty miles to somewhere called Mat-Su Valley before finally popping the damn thing out.

Wow. Isn’t gossip fun?

I still really don’t know. None of the arguments are setting off my bullshit / conspiracy theory detector – in fact, it all makes for a pretty compelling case, but I’m holding back from drawing any definite conclusions just yet. Remember, I really am just a guy with no goddamn idea what he’s talking about. It’s possible that this is all entirely untrue, unfair, and distasteful. Though it’s not stopping me talking about it. I guess I must be kind of a dick.

Though, I do think this is something that potentially matters. Sarah Palin is pro-life, against abortion, and favours abstinence-only education. Although she supports the use of contraception, she’s not keen on letting anyone know how it works. The matter of whether she’s been honest about her children has a potential relevance to her actual thoughts and feelings on these political issues, as well as her general integrity and trustworthiness.

I’m not claiming to know what the hell’s going on here, but the situation does look unusual.

Oh, and this time around, Bristol Palin really is pregnant. Definitely. That abstinence-only education must be working really well.

Oh, and apparently Sarah Palin knows less about the Pledge of Allegiance than I do. No, the phrase “Under God” was not “good enough for the founding fathers”. It was added in the 1950s, to a pledge which was written in 1892. I know this, and I’m not even from this damn country. Sarah Palin runs a good chunk of it already, and wants to be in a position where she may be expected to take over the entire thing.

Proper skeptical post tomorrow. I promise.

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