Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is there any federal funding for comprehensive sex education?

When I use federal budget figures, I get all of them from the federal budget: I download the HHS budget and search the PDF for the programs I'm interested in, and I add up the numbers that come up in the search for "abstinence." That's how I got $204 million as the figure for abstinence-only sex education, for instance. Other media cite $176 million, but that excludes some of the funding mechanisms that go to abstinence.

I have never seen any indication that there was any federal funding at all for comprehensive sex education, so I have been continually confused by claims of the abstinence-only folks that comprehensive sex education has some big money pot dedicated to it. I figured that they were counting some portion of Title X funding as "comprehensive sex education" --- Title X is family planning, used primarily for teen pregnancy prevention. (Of course in the past several years they were required to follow the shutting the barn door after the horse escaped approach by teaching abstinence to their patients coming for pregnancy and STD tests.) But because I saw it repeated so often I thought maybe there was a grain of truth in their claims that there was federal funding for comprehensive sex education.

It turns out that as I had originally suspected the claims about federal funding for comprehensive sex education seem to be out of context, counting Title X as sex education funds even though they don't go to schools and are intended primarily to pay for reproductive health care for millions of women. (About 5 million, if I recall correctly.)

I'm disappointed by this distortion. Like many others, I agree with the goal of the abstinence movement to encourage delayed sex and fewer partners, (though it's much more complicated than just that!), and there are plenty of real balanced reasons for those goals, making it all the more disappointing that some in the movement distort budget figures and scientific research (e.g., the famous condom effectiveness.)

Parental monitoring and virginity pledges

A new op-ed about my paper written by an evangelical motivational speaker in the Christian Post and I actually agree with it. He says that parents give their children too much privacy in which to be sexually involved, and they are deluding themselves to think their children are not taking advantage of the privacy, and being lured into false complacency by their children's involvement in church activities. Definitely, parental monitoring is more important than any program that a school or church can run. As for the specifics of what parents' policies should be, it's of course up to the parents. Banning teenagers from being behind closed doors with the opposite sex is one approach, but of course far from fool-proof. Some parents would say that their teens are eventually going to be behind closed doors, and they would rather it be in their house than being somewhere else without parental back-up in case they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

I once met a woman raised in one of the most right-wing Chassidic groups where boys and girls never interact at all, where they are thrown out of school if they are seen together in public, where everyone in the neighborhood knows everyone else, and are certainly never allowed to be behind closed doors, and somehow she managed to have premarital sex when she was 16. Her first language was Yiddish, and her English was not terrific, so I never found out exactly how she circumvented all the controls, but she did. So it's not clear how often the op-ed writer's strategy works, and he may not know himself.

Also, his logic that it's better to keep teens from dating one person consistently because that leads to emotional ties that leads to sex assumes that teens become physically intimate only with people that they have emotional ties with. Many parents would say it's better to learn to have emotional intimacy with the opposite sex and have sex with at most one person, than to prevent emotional intimacy and risk that their child would become physically intimate with more than one person.

None of these questions have easy answers: there are positives and negatives for all parental policies, and mistakes are inevitable no matter what. But it is good to see such a frank discussion of the importance of parents and parental monitoring.

Best quote.

I am stunned at how blatantly stupid some Christian parents seem to be when it comes to sexual things. They let their kids watch all kinds of blatantly sexual images in movies and on television with little thought of how those images and messages can affect them. I know of a pastor friend who allowed his young daughter to see the movie Titanic at least 11 times. This same pastor was all worried about anything she saw that he deemed to be satanic, like Harry Potter, but not at all concerned about his 14 year old daughter learning the lessons found in a movie like Titanic. And the lessons are very simple: If you really like a boy you can let him see your boobies and he can draw pictures of your boobies, and if you really like him, you can have sex with him two days later…

Look, the chances of your teenage daughter wanting to jump on a broom and fly around the room are pretty low. But, the chances that your daughter’s boyfriend will want to touch her boobies, well… I’d give that a pretty big chance, wouldn’t you? Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel! We need to get our priorities straight.

What's wrong with the word "breasts"? I think that's a far less objectionable word choice than his.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How many teens in the US are abstinent? Nearly 500, apparently.

The Catholic News Agency has the following headline: Nearly 500 teens to mark Abstinence Day at U.S. Capitol.

There are over 300 million people in the US. I would think that they could find at least 1000 abstinent teenagers.

Imputing meaning

Abstinence-only education doesn't work and many curricula have information that is objectively inaccurate, but some of the criticisms I've read seem to come from imputing meaning to their statements. For example this critique calls an abstinence education curriculum puritanical and sexist for saying that men and women may look differently at women's dress: women may think they're wearing a fun and trendy outfit, but men are thinking sex. Let's put aside the fact that all generalizations are false, as they say, as well as any concerns about wording because certainly it's a touchy issue, and acknowledge that obviously rape is rape and we all know that dress has nothing to do with rape.

Looking at (what I'm pretty sure is) the intended meaning --- think about how others view your dress and err on the side of conservatism --- it's not controversial at all, and is the same point made in articles about professional dress and manners.

Oddly the editorialist says that these curricula are asking women to "dress like Puritans". Which is funny because as far as I know the standard in evangelical circles is just no cleavage or midriff or very short skirts, which still leaves a lot of room for clothes that many mothers still wouldn't want their children leaving the house in. I've posted to the right a picture of some girls at a purity ball in spaghetti strap gowns. That hardly looks puritanical. Except I can't get the picture to work. It's here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abstinence in Licking County.

This article is entitled
"Abstinence programs do help in Licking County."

That depends, of course, on whether oral sex counts as sex.