Thursday, July 30, 2009

So we're the majority, now what?

Now that it's official that there is no money allocated to abstinence-only sex education, reproductive health advocates are firmly in the majority. Two articles that came up on my news alert email show contrasting approaches.

The first criticizes the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which is a moderate organization that summarizes research on which sex ed programs are effective. They don't rule out that there might exist abstinence-only programs that work, but they say simply that there's no evidence that they work, and that moderation is why almost everyone trusts them.
This article doesn't see that moderation as quite so benign, saying they are not much better than the abstinence-only camp, calling them sex negative and saying they engage in "slut shaming", and that relationships don't turn out better if you wait to have sex until the 50th date instead of the 1st. That last question is an interesting one; as far as I know, there's no academic research on it, but I'd love to see the grant entitled, "Maximizing romantic returns: An investigation of the optimal time in a dating relationship until young women should put out." (Naturally to avoid confounding, the project would need to use matched sampling.)

The second articletalks about how complicated young women's sexualities are now, perhaps summarized as too much information without enough knowledge and wisdom. Women who initiate sex early do so under coercion, even without actual coercion many adolescent women don't feel comfortable saying no, and that when they say yes it is hesitant; she puts this well, so I will quote her:

The "yes" to sex and sexuality I hear young women often express sounds like the way many of us who took other languages in high school and trying to speak them in the country of their origin in our later years. Like asking with a feigned confidence where the drivel is when we wanted to ask where the bathroom was.

BGLT culture is more available to BGLT teens, yet only in certain places; women's bisexuality is accepted only as men's entertainment; and transgendered teens feel pressure to transition young, before age 18. Uniquely, she also emphasizes that teens' relative lack of responsibility compared to past generations (e.g., delays in moving out and getting a job) does not prepare them to take responsibility for their sexualities when the stakes are higher. Overall a fantastic summary: lots of questions, few answers other than the suggestion of communicating to teens that we understand that things are complicated.

When reproductive health advocates are in the minority, we show the status quo's failures. Even if it were right, the first article is not constructive; engaging in such divisiveness is a waste of a valuable opportunity to improve the situation. By contrast, the second article is constructive by laying out current problems of teen sexality in all their complexity. Now to move on to address them.

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