Abstinence Only Sex Education Does Not Work; Christian Right Says, “We Need More!”

25 March, 2009

Pete Seeger has little toleration for fools.  And, from his writings and his songs, his definition of fools includes those who feel that any problem, any war, any idea, can succeed if we only have enough determination.  One of the best was one called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an anti-Vietnam War song as appropriate today as it was 45 years ago.  The most powerful verse?

Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

The American Family Association (three very frightening words when used together) is, apparently, run by a bunch of big fools.  A recent government survey, published by the CDC, notes that the rates of sexually transmitted diseases is on the rise.  The big fools at the AFA think that

“It’s just very appalling because the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis and Chlamydia now are continuing to rise,” [Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America] notes. “And Chlamydia is at an all-time high, an historical high, with over a million new cases a year, which is an increase over last year of some seven percent.”
Since many of the new reports involve young people, Crouse says the figures suggest comprehensive sex education — which she believes encourages young people to be intimate — is not working.
“We have said to a whole generation, almost two generations now, of young people, ‘Just be careful and use a condom,’ and that’s the only advice we are giving them,” she adds, “and I think that’s so unfair and it’s so misleading for our young people because we’re downplaying the consequences of casual sex.”
The only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy, says Crouse, is abstinence. 

The Great State of Texas (genuflect when you say that, ya’ll94% of all Texas school districts teach abstinence-only sex ed, with only 3% teaching abstinence-plus (abstinence plus condoms and other forms of birth control).   So here is a state which has heartily embraced the idea of AOSE.  How’s that working for Texas?

• Fifty-sex percent of high school students in Texas report having used condoms at last intercourse. Only three states have lower rates of condom use among students.

• Texas’ teen pregnancy rate of 101 pregnancies per 1,000 girls ages 15-19 is significantly higher than the national rate of 84. Only four states have higher teen pregnancy rates than Texas. Since 1990, Texas’ pregnancy rate has dropped by 18 percent, compared to a 24 percent drop nationwide.

• Texas’ teen birth rate of 62 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19 is the highest in the nation – significantly higher than the national rate of 41. Since 1990, Texas’ birth rate has dropped by 21 percent, compared to a 34 percent drop nationwide.

• Texas’ AIDS case rate of 13 cases per 100,000 people is the tenth highest, worse than 40 states. Among 45 states with HIV reporting, Texas has the third highest number (24,699) of people living with HIV.

• Young people ages 15-24 comprised twenty percent of Texas’ new HIV cases in 2006.

• Texas’ youth, especially young women, are at risk for STIs:
          o Youth ages 15-24 experienced 73 percent of the total number of Chlamydia cases in Texas in 2006.
          o Youth ages 15-24 experienced 61 percent of the total number of Gonorrhea cases in Texas in 2006.
          o For all youth in this age range, young women were most at risk for STIs, experiencing 83 percent of Chlamydia infections and 60 percent of gonorrhea infections.

Go ahead, conservatives and Christians, cherry pick those numbers!  I dare you.

Faith-based governing does not work.  W had faith that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  W had faith in Brownie.  Conservatives have faith that abstinence only sex education works.  It works if your goal is to punish people for having sex (teenagers have sex, AOSE just denies them the knowledge of how to fuck with minimal risk of pregnancy and STDs).  It works if one’s goal is to merge government with religion.  Abstinence does prevent pregnancy and STDs (assuming, of course, one does not saddleback to create the illusion of abstinence).  But Abstinence Only Sex Education does not promote abstinence.  It promotes unsafe sex.  AOSE does not work as a valid public health measure.

Of course, the radical Christian and political right, lead by a bunch of big fools, keep saying to push on.  All we need is a little determination and we’ll soon be on dry land.  More of a failed policy will create success.

It hasn’t worked in Iraq.  It didn’t work in Vietnam.  It didn’t work with supply-side economics.  And it doesn’t work when it comes to educating our children about their bodies and how to protect themselves.

(Hat Tip to Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars)



  1. and some frackin’ idiots wonder why we rant against the religious. Those stats from Texas are proof enough.

  2. As I said in my own post about this lunacy, “Just say no” just doesn’t work, and it’s just plain stupid.

    You might as well claim it’s prudent to tell kids “just don’t go in the pool–and by the way lifejackets are useless”, then then blame the Liberal Left when they all drown.

  3. Oz: Can we send Texas to Australia? It would make our life easier up here.

    Buffy: I like the analogy. Good one.

    • Speaking as a proud Australian, we don’t want them we have enough of our own home grown idiots to deal with thankyou.

  4. […] (((Billy))) The Atheist added an interesting post today on Abstinence Only Sex Education Does Not Work; Christian Right Says, â […]

  5. The problem with absolutist philosophy (whether Randian, theistic, neocon, utopian, among others) is that the real world (and people in particular) isn’t so black & white. It compounds this foundational error by positing that the solution to failure is to do the exact same thing, but with more force. A square peg can fit into a round hole, if you don’t mind the splinters. Oddly, “they” commonly point to Stalin as “proof” that atheism is bad, but he shared their absolutism (even if he credited a different source).
    Harm reduction doesn’t work perfectly, but prohibition is worse.

  6. What else would you expect? The Rushpublicans from Jesusistan also continue to insist that slashing taxes for the wealthy will lead to everlasting prosperity.

    You know, it doesn’t look like that to me. Seems like my history books all say the same thing…

  7. modus, Stalin was a trained seminarian. Have you ever seen his sendoff for Lenin? He just created a new religion to replace the ones that he disliked. Kinda like the Rushpublicans elevated Saint Ronnie to Deity status.

  8. MO: Stalin’s version of communism simply replaced an unreasoning belief in God(s) with an unreasoning belief in the inevitable historical dialectic.

    JollyRoger: Thanks for stopping by. As to whether slashing taxes for the wealthy works or not, one needs to determing what, exaxctly, neocons are trying to accomplish. If they are working for a wealthy egalitarian America with an effective government, epic fail. If they are working for an oligarchical America without an effective government, it works.

  9. Didn’t I sort of say that?

  10. Abstinence only works when the teenager, of their own free will, passionately and purposely with clear conviction decide to remain abstinent. It’s just like the rare young people who say, “I’m going to study hard and take school seriously” and they get straight A’s and scholarships and admissions to Ivy League universities. However, if that conviction is not personal, clear, and developed and owned by the teenager (as opposed to forced upon them) it will not work.

    As a parent, I want my children to do what is right – not fight in school, not lie, cheat, or steal, and to grow up, get a job, avoid dangerous people, and become contributing members of our world. BUT I CAN’T FORCE THIS. All I CAN do is love and care for my children, be a responsible parent, and hope and pray for the best. They are independent people and when they become teenagers they will do what they want to do when I am not around.

    A child’s willingness to embrace any of my wants or values is grace and mercy on their part offered to me. They don’t have to, and anyone who tries to FORCE it at that point in their lives will probably fail. If a child is compliant and have no backbone, they may comply, but if they have any strength of character, then what they do is out of our control. We may influence them, but we cannot force anything.

  11. One other thing… I am not an atheist – I strongly believe in God. Reality must rule, especially with faith. So, my comments above are strongly build upon both my faith as played out in reality. One sided, arrogant, absolutist thinking about anything can prove faulty at best and dangerous at worse.

  12. MO: Yes. I was agreeing through rephrasing. Annoying habit I picked up as an interpreter.

    Fuller: Thanks for stopping by. Reality is what is, not what we wish it to be. With my kids, I figure the best (((Wife))) and I can do is equip them with knowledge and values. The decision will still be up to them.

    Again, abstinence is effective at preventing STDs and pregnancy. Abstinence-Only-Sex-Education is not effective at creating abstinence. It is effective at creating unsafe sex. The reality is, kids fuck (not all, but a significant number). To deny them the knowledge that would help them reduce the chances of transmitting STDs or getting a little bit preggers is not a reality-based program. Its wishful thinking of the most damaging kind.

  13. An interpreter? You should see the annoying habits I picked up as a mime. Seriously, you have to see them. Because they’re silent. Mime.

  14. MO: Cultural and historical interpretation. Not language interpretation. Though that was my job in the Army.

  15. *Pbbt!* As though mimes aren’t both cultural and historic.

  16. MO: Mimes are hysteric, I agree. My favorite mime? Marcel Marceau. His best movie? Mel Brooks Silent Movie. He was the only character with a spoken line.

  17. I am a Christian, and if I am a fool, I’m gladly a fool for Christ.

    Abstinence works if one abstains. Of course, all the “great” safe sex education has clearly prevented the rise in STD’s. Oh what’s that? Safe-sex assumes that the person will practice it? Oh, I see. So you have to use the condom to HOPEFULLY prevent pregnancy and/or STDs? I thought that all those kids who have been told use a condom would do just that. Silly me.

  18. Safe sex works if one practices it. Of course, all the “great” abstinence-only education has clearly prevented the rise in STD’s. Oh what’s that? Abstinence assumes that the person will practice it? Oh, I see. So you have to abstain from sex to prevent pregnancy and/or STDs? I thought that all those kids who have been told to avoid sex would do just that. Silly me.

  19. Yunshui,

    Thanks for repeating what I wrote.

    You cannot, however, attribute the rise in STD’s to the alleged failure of abstinence programs. You can blame it completely on the choices that people make to have sex with whomever they want. Boy “A” is infected with syphillis. He decides to continue to have sex with multiple women and infects them. They in turn have sex with more men, and infect them. And so on and so on.

  20. B: Thanks for stopping by. Really. You are absolutely 100% correct. Abstinence works if you abstain. And that is the problem. Repeated studies have shown three things.

    First, students who exclusively recieve abstinence-only-sex-education are just as likely to engage in sexual activity of all kinds as children who recieve AOSE in conjunction with comprehensive sex education. In other words, comprehensive sex education includes the information that abstinence is the one 100% effective route to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease. And it works for the same percentage of students whether the comprehensive part is included or not.

    Second: While children who recieve exclusively AOSE are just as likely to engage in sexual activity as those who recieve the comprehensive sex education, they are far less likely to use a barrier protection method to prevent the transmission of STDs and are far less likely to use any method of birth control. This is understandable. The AOSE programs lie, again and again, about the effectiveness and reliability of barrier and other methods. Some children (who have been exposed to exclusively AOSE) are engaging in Saddlebacking — unprotected anal sex with the illutsion that, if they do not have vaginal sex, they remain virgins and are thus abstinent.

    Third: The more state uses AOSE, the higher the STD rate for teenagers and the higher the pregnancy rate for teens. Conversely, states which promote comprehensive sex education have lower pregnancy and STD rates for teenagers.

    In other words, AOSE sounds good. And, if people actually remain celibate, it does work. People are equipped with a sex drive. The sex drive is a biologically-based need to procreate. This makes sense. Humans who do not have a sex drive do not reproduce and low sex drive leaves the gene pool. Asking children to not do what nature has equipped them to do is not a winning proposition.

    In Massachusetts, during the early colonial period, almost 1 in 3 of first-born children were born before the eighth month of marriage. Until reliable birth control methods for the poor and middle-class (the rich have been using condoms since at least the middle ages) were available, pregnancy before marriage was not only common, it was considered by some young couples a viable way to ensure that the parents could not stop the marriage. If abstinence only did not work in far more restrictive times, and far more religious times, what makes anyone think it would work today?

    Abstinence-Only Sex Education is referred to as a faith-based program. And it is. The people pushing the programs in public schools have faith that it works. And no amount of actual data will shake that faith.

    The problem today, in almost all public policy, is that there is an ideological war. One side prides itself on ideology. This ideology is faith based — AOSE, taxes, health insurance — and will not allow facts to upset the ideology. On the other side, we have pragmatists. If something works, do it. If it does not have the desired effect (or, worse, has the opposite effect (such as AOSE)), drop it. Get rid of it.

    AOSE does not work. Repeated studies have shown this. No studies have shown that AOSE works. Why should we keep spending scarce resources on a program which does not work?

  21. Yunshui: I think B missed the point. Obviously, if all the kids taking AOSE had actually been abstaining, then it could be said to work. Given what has happened to STD and teen pregnancy rates, it doesn’t. I think he (or she, actually) missed the sarcasm.

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