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No Sex For You

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    No Sex For You Stephanie Coontz November 06, 2006 http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/11/06/no_sex_for_you.php The Bush administration s recent decision to
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2006
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      No Sex For You
      Stephanie Coontz
      November 06, 2006
      http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/11/06/no_sex_for_you.php


      The Bush administration's recent decision to fund programs urging
      unmarried 19-to-29 year-olds to abstain from sex has unleashed a storm
      of indignation around the country. When I was asked to comment on the
      policy on two radio talk shows, I was surprised to find that I was
      actually less offended by this right-wing initiative than were my
      conservative hosts and their audiences. Callers overwhelmingly
      expressed their outrage at the idea that the Feds should be paying
      people to advise grown adults on how to conduct their sex lives.

      My own reaction is, in the words of our president, "Bring `em on."
      Here's why I welcome the attempt to target older men and women with
      the abstinence-only message: It's so ludicrous it's almost harmless.
      I'm even willing to offer the religious rightists who have gradually
      taken over America's sex education and reproductive health programs
      some free advice.

      Wade Horn, the Bush administration's point man on family issues,
      argues that the focus of abstinence-only campaigns needs to shift
      toward older singles because more births are occurring among unmarried
      women aged 19-29, and "the only 100 percent effective way" to reduce
      such out-of-wedlock births is to practice abstinence until marriage.
      But Horn is behind the curve on this issue.

      If he wants to target the age groups where unwed childbearing is
      increasing the fastest, he should drop the 19-year-old category and
      raise the upper end of the age range even more. After all, the
      percentage of babies born to women 24 and under dropped by nearly 6
      percent between 1991 and 2003, while the number of older unwed mothers
      has been climbing steadily. Today, nearly 30 percent of unwed mothers
      are between the ages of 25 and 29 when they give birth, and the number
      of unwed mothers aged 30 to 44 has risen by nearly 20 percent since 1991.

      So I would urge the administrators of abstinence-only programs to get
      out there and tell those unmarried women in their late twenties and
      thirties to abstain from sex until they find a husband. And I wish
      them lots of luck.

      No society in history has ever been able to convince young adults
      living on their own to remain celibate. Furthermore, many births to
      women aged 25 and older are not accidents. Such women don't end up
      with kids because condoms or diaphragms failed. They have kids while
      still single because they haven't yet found a worthy life mate. There
      are many reasons why women who want a child in today's world may feel
      that entering motherhood outside of marriage beats marrying a man who
      can't or won't offer them a firm emotional and financial commitment.
      Among the different reasons that women choose to go it alone, or not
      to marry even if they are living with someone (40 percent of unwed
      births are to cohabiting couples), are the declining job prospects of
      young men with a high school education or less; high incarceration
      rates in African-American communities; and the ticking biological
      clock of more educated women who have postponed marriage and
      motherhood and then find themselves with a failed relationship on
      their hands.

      Whatever we think of their decisions, the greater willingness of women
      to have children on their own is part of an ongoing, worldwide
      revolution in gender roles and the place of marriage in personal and
      social life. We might be able to increase some couples' willingness to
      marry by providing men and women with better educational opportunities
      and living wage jobs, or by lessening the strains on couple
      relationships through family-friendly social policies. But a certain
      amount of unwed motherhood is clearly here to stay, and preaching
      abstinence will not change that.

      So I welcome the diversion provided by this campaign. For if preaching
      abstinence to adults is ludicrous, targeting teenagers with
      abstinence-only propaganda is downright dangerous. Indeed, it often
      backfires. Look at the teen virginity pledges promoted by many of the
      very same religious groups pushing abstinence-only sex education
      programs. A long-term study at Yale and Columbia compared teens who
      took virginity pledges with those who did not. They found that nearly
      9 out of 10 of those taking the pledge ended up having sex before
      marriage. The pledgers generally began having genital sex several
      months later than the non-pledgers, and they had fewer partners before
      marrying. But before losing their technical virginity, they were six
      times more likely than their non-pledging peers to engage in risky
      practices such as unprotected oral and anal sex. And once the teens
      started having sexual intercourse, males who had taken the virginity
      pledge were much less likely to use a condom than males who did not
      take the pledge. In consequence, there were no statistically
      significant differences in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases
      among pledgers and non-pledgers. In fact, in communities where
      abstinence-only values were so prevalent that 20 percent or more of
      teens took the pledge, the rate of STDs was higher than in more
      permissive communities where less than 7 percent of teens took the pledge.

      We have many examples of how, in the real world, moralistic "values"
      campaigns interact with ignorance and denial to produce the very
      opposite results of what their proponents hope to achieve. Divorce
      rates and unwed childbearing are higher in the Bible Belt than in more
      liberal parts of the country. And although Americans as a whole
      (including teens themselves) are much more disapproving of teen sex
      than people in Canada and Western Europe, on average, U.S. teens begin
      sex earlier, have more partners, and are much more likely to get STDs
      than their counterparts in countries where acceptance of teen
      sexuality is widespread and teens have easy access to comprehensive
      sex education and contraception.

      Yet the right-wing stranglehold over policy-making on these issues has
      been so effective that in many regions, so-called "faith-based"
      programs threaten to replace scientifically-designed programs to
      improve the sexual and reproductive health of teens. In 1988, only 2
      percent of American students received "abstinence-only" classes as
      their sole source of sex education. Today, this is true for more than
      a third of all students. When a congressional committee examined these
      abstinence programs in 2004, nearly 80 percent were found to present
      incorrect information, such as the false claim that condoms fail 31
      percent of the time, or that "sex outside of marriage increases [the]
      risk of mental illness, depression and suicide."

      The abstinence-only movement does not protect the reproductive and
      sexual health of American teens. And when it is incorporated into
      international policy, as in the attempt to promote abstinence instead
      of condoms in programs to fight AIDS and curb unwanted pregnancies in
      the undeveloped world, the abstinence crusade directly threatens the
      well-being of millions of people. Calling this movement "faith-based"
      is an insult to the majority of religious Americans who combine their
      faith with respect for scientific study. These are not "faith-based"
      programs. They are fantasy-based programs. If we can't awaken their
      proponents to reality, by all means let's encourage them to focus
      their efforts on the least vulnerable population: the millions of
      unwed American adults who have the maturity and self-confidence to see
      these programs for the shams that they are.


      Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen
      State College in Olympia, Wash., and is director of research and pubic
      education at the Council on Contemporary Families. Her most recent
      book is Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage (Viking Press).


      NOTE: It might be useful for those truly serious about promoting
      abstinence among the unmarried to study those cultures who are
      relatively successful in convincing young people to wait until they
      are married. Clearly, creating an economic basis where marriage is
      possible for young people would have to be the key. An example would
      be a shift of social values to where young adults would be encouraged
      to get married and move into the home of their spouse's parents.
      -WVNS

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