Friday, September 26, 2008

Do virginity pledgers feel hip?

Somehow the financial markets are stealing attention from sex education, so the only article on abstinence today is from the Marietta College newspaper. The editorialist begins by combatting some stereotypes about pledgers:

[P]eople who choose to remain abstinent aren't always considered the most fun. Sure, they're great to take home to meet Mom and Dad, but they're probably not the people you'd want to go out with on Saturday night... But maybe, just maybe, the people choosing to wait for sex are actually smarter than they're given credit for.

"Virginity pledgers: they're smarter than you think"? (Never mind smart is not the opposite of fun. The stupid and boring are so unfortunate, but they do exist.) She also mentions the Silver Ring Thing as if it is new, when it's had hundreds of thousands of participants over several years. And a (successful) ACLU lawsuit against its receipt of federal funds.

The virginity pledge movement was designed to give a hip new face to virginity. The new chic for virginity has had fantastic mainstream media exposure, including a front page article in the NY Times's Sunday Style section in 1994, a year after the first virginity pledges. Evangelical music is now taken seriously by music journalists, and there are evangelical Christian rock music festivals and hipster magazines. A secular journalist who explored evangelical youth culture found it reasonably compelling, as she wrote in her book, which is an evangelical version of the chassidic Boychiks in the Hood. There are even reasonably sex-positive, non-sexist dating books for evangelical young adults that make the realistic assumption that many of them are having sex, reviewed in this blog a few months ago. And parody rap songs, like my personal favorite Baby Got Book.

Evangelical youth culture seems vibrant and fun even to skeptical on-lookers, so it is surprising to me that would someone who (I'm guessing) favors virginity pledges feel the need to defend pledgers, and defend them so faintly. This editorial may be exceptional, but I wonder if it's an indication that evangelical youth culture isn't well-disseminated, or if it doesn't reach its goal of instilling confidence in evangelicals that their culture is fun and viable. As large as the evangelical youth population is, the creative class which creates the culture is obviously much smaller than the mainstream media and I'm sure many have day jobs, so they just can't be even close to as prolific in producing quality films, music, and TV shows. (Are there any hip evangelical TV shows?) Baby Got Book is 4 years old (according to the copyright on the official youtube version), and as one commenter says, their camp plays it constantly, so they almost have it memorized.

Evangelical youth culture won't lure adolescents simply on hipness and some adolescents will be religious even if they do feel stodgy, but those on the border may need to be convinced that they aren't missing out on fun. The editorial indicates that --- questions of adolescent libido aside --- virginity pledgers have a stodgy (but smart) image in the view of the editorialist.

Is this view more widespread?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why faith-based marathon training might delay teen sex

I was half-joking in my previous post when I said that marathon training might delay teen sex more than abstinence programs. Of course, that would not hard to do because the definitive study of abstinence programs finds they don't delay teen sex at all.

Marathons fit in with the question of how people who don't intend to run marathons admire those who do, and I wasn't thinking about it as a potential intervention. The reason marathon training might delay teen sex is that the studies by the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy show that comprehensive lifestyle programs are the most effective programs of all: these are the programs which involve the adolescents in some kind of activity, improve support systems, and take a lot of time.

The half-joking reasons why marathon training might delay teen sex are that they will be too tired and scheduled to find a partner and find time alone with the partner. But in the ideal case, first, it could create a close-knit and supportive group that meets regularly for long periods of time, so the group will reinforce its norms more strongly than a more loose group. Second, setting a high goal and working towards it may raise participants' self-efficacy, the confidence that they can accomplish their goals in general. Self-efficacy may be particularly important in the case of religious teens that have sex even though they think they shouldn't. Third, working towards a big goal may make that goal more salient in their minds, and may make sex slightly less salient. The endorphins wouldn't hurt. Plus, as one commenter said, maybe it would delay puberty, though I'm not sure if marathon training is safe so young.

This is assuming the maximal best case where all of the participants are super into the idea. Obviously in the real world, most would drop out, and only the most risk-seeking kids would stay in the program so it would be hard to find the right control group to test whether it works.

Casual team sports take up some time, but might not have enough intensity to raise participants' self-efficacy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Abstinence at MTV music awards

This article came through my Google keywords, originally from a pro-life website:

Jordin Sparks, last year's American Idol winner, has high standards and at this year's MTV video music awards (VMA), she fearlessly made them public...

The host of the VMAs, Russell Brand, a British comedian ... took shots at the Jonas Brothers, a group of three brothers who are well known in the entertainment industry for wearing chastity rings and for being vocal advocates of premarital chastity.

"I'd take it a little more seriously if they'd wear it on their genitals," said Brand about the boys' promise rings. Brand then joked that the brothers' decision not to have sex before marriage was "a little bit ungrateful because they could have sex with any woman they want. That is like Superman deciding not to fly and go everywhere on a bus."

A few minutes later, however, Sparks shot back from the podium: "I just have one thing to say about promise rings. It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody - guy or girl - wants to be a slut."


Sparks comment at the VMA's was met with an audible cheer from the crowd and elicited a sheepish apology from the show's host.

"I didn't mean to take it lightly," Brand said about purity rings. "I don't want to piss off teenage fans."

However, Brand could not resist a parting shot, observing that, while he supported chastity rings, "a bit of sex, it never hurt anybody."

The editorializing makes it not a strict news story, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Assuming that the facts about who said what are correct, though, I think it's interesting that the host made the second remark about abstinence. If the article is accurate, it comes off as a little defensive.

Before I comment, I want to be clear that taxpayer-funded public policy and individuals' personal choices are separate issues. Public policy has to be evidence-based and so far the evidence for abstinence education and virginity pledges is simply not there. Even if there were evidence, it is unprecedented and contrary to conservative political thought for the federal government to promote a specific curriculum.

Individual choices to deny themselves are often applauded, even by people making different choices: so many times I've heard people sincerely say to a vegan or marathoner, "Wow, I could never do that." Even if they don't personally see the value of veganism or marathoning, per se, many people want to eat less meat or get more exercise. And just as an interpersonal issue, it's nice to tell someone that you value their choices.

Sexual abstinence seems like it should be similar. Even people who don't believe in premarital abstinence have been in situations requiring sexual restraint --- being in any committed relationship or avoiding a relationship with an inappropriate partner --- so disparaging remarks like this really puzzle me.

You can admire marathoners while opposing federal grants to marathon-training programs. Though, completely seriously, marathon-training programs could be more effective in delaying adolescent sexual initiation than abstinence, or perhaps any classroom curriculum.

Where are all the church-sponsored adolescent running groups?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin supports abstinence-plus, but doesn't call it that

The LA Times reports that Sarah Palin supports teaching condoms in sex ed. Although she declared herself to be a supporter of abstinence-only sex education, Palin said during a debate in 2006, "I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues."

The political orthodoxy is that teaching any contraception cancels out any message of abstinence (e.g., the Abstinence Clearinghouse's statement in the article), but Palin seems not to believe that. It's possible for a conservative Evangelical Christian to agree that it's important to make sure all kids have accurate information about contraception.

Much has been made of the "small town values" and "common sense values" discussed during the Republican convention (see the third segment of Friday's Daily Show for an attempt to define them).

Is it possible that one of the "common sense values" is a pragmatism about the limits of values in affecting behavior?