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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Abstinence and the Power of Human Sexuality

As congressional hearings on the effectiveness of abstinence education began a couple of weeks ago, we have been treated to a new round of pronouncements from abortion and sexual license advocates that "abstinence education doesn't work."

The "mainstream" media is, of course, ready as usual to put a microphone or pen in front of "objective" organizations like the Guttmacher Institute (the propaganda arm of Planned Parenthood) who tell of various studies proving abstinence education doesn't work.

But one thing usually overlooked in this discussion is WHY abstinence education may not be working. Another thing often overlooked in the "mainstream" media's rush to bolster it's worldview is evidence that abstinence education is working.

One factor challenging the effectiveness of abstinence programs concerns funding.

In a recent Rapid City Journal article, Kimberly Martinez, executive director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, says contraceptive-oriented sex ed programs receive 12 times the funding abstinence education receives. If you spend 12 times the amount of money teaching kids how to have sex that you do teaching them not to have sex, it stands to reason your sending the message "we expect you to have sex" 12 times more loudly than the message "don't have sex."

But what if, despite this lopsided educational emphasis, abstinence education is working anyway? The Heritage Foundation released a report on April 22 which showed that of 15 abstinence programs examined, 11 of them (or 73%) showed positive results.

Why is abstinence important in the first place? There are many reasons, including avoidance of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, better mental and emotional stability, greater academic performance, and reduction of poverty. It's difficult to obtain the education necessary to succeed if you become pregnant in high school. Single-parent homes (often the result of sex outside marriage) are seven times more likely to experience poverty than two-parent homes.

One of the programs Heritage examined was the "Reasons of the Heart" program. When compared to the standard family life education which included two videos on HIV/ STD prevention and one on abstinence, Reasons of the Heart found that 9.2% of virgins had initiated sexual activity 1 year after the program, versus 16.4% in the standard program.

"Heritage Keepers" saw 14.5% become sexually active within a year after the program, versus 26.5% for the standard contraceptive-oriented program.

"Abstinence by Choice" saw a rate of 5.9% initiating sexual activity within a year, versus 10.2% for non-participants.

Virginity pledge efforts found that early sexual activity could be reduced by at least one third, and when combined with strong parental discouragement of sexual activity, the reduction rose to 75%.

The role and effectiveness of adult authority figures cannot be understated, as the results of the virginity pledges illustrates. It makes a big difference if parents clearly and consistently stress abstinence as the expectation. When and if that expectation is reinforced by other adult authorities, such as at school, the difference can be even greater.

Unfortunately, the message is usually absent in the educational system, especially in higher education where young people are getting their first taste of freedom and real decision-making.

A piece in the Wall Street Journal today by Donna Frietas entitled "Hook-Up or Shut Up" examines the "hook up" culture where human sexuality has been reduced to "a brief sexual encounter between two partners who don't necessarily know each other before and who don't necessarily want to know each other after. And it's free."

No doubt lurid anecdote and popular myth cause us to exaggerate the actual frequency of campus hook-ups: Most college students do not share in these delights. But most students also believe that "everyone does it," even if the individual student, for some reason, cannot locate a partner. Thus an active minority sets the tone and makes hooking up a "culture." When there are no sexual boundaries, either official or informal, the standard becomes the extreme, and all students feel the pressure to appear more promiscuous than they are. The traditional double standard of sexual conduct – more restrictive for women than for men – has been replaced by the single standard of the predatory male.

For the best efforts of abstinence education, what chance does it have for success in the middle of this atmosphere? Certainly it may help some, but it will be difficult to achieve widespread success when the leaders, the ones who are supposed to be mature adults, stand aside and allow this type of culture, or even encourage it.

Any program or educational effort to promote abstinence will have a tough row to hoe when almost every other area in American culture shouts "Do it!"

Television shows tell kids sexual activity is expected, and there's something wrong with you if you aren't doing it. Movies are sending the same message ("40 Year Old Virgin"). The music industry, from the hardcore rap to rock to country, is telling kids how wonderful it is and painting the picture that they should just "follow your heart." The education system, when it promotes condoms and such, tells kids, "We expect you to have sex." Planned Parenthood tells kids in no uncertain terms they should be doing it, with websites like teenwire.com that explain every area of sexual experience with zero judgments. For years, many churches have been silent on the issue, allowing these other venues of culture to influence youth; now, some churches have even gone over to the dark side and expect kids to do whatever comes to mind sexually.

Only by developing a uniform message from our culture can we expect a dramatic reduction in teen sexual activity. It must begin at home, be reinforced by churches and schools, and viewers and consumers must demand better from the television, movie and music industries.

It won't be easy, but our children deserve better than our cowardice and sloth.

Corrie ten Boom in her autobiography, The Hiding Place, tells a story about when she was a young girl and came across the words "sex sin" in a poem, and when she asked her father about this:

And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sex sin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but, to my surprise, he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he asked.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."

When children are old enough, parents should teach them responsibly about sex. They need to know, and parents are the best ones to impart the knowledge.

But thrusting sexuality on young children as we do today, through TV and movies and music and the education system and every other corner of American experience, is burdening them with something that is too heavy for them to bear at that young age. Even in grade school, when their bodies--much less their hearts and minds--are too young for reproduction, we bombard them with sexual images and references and sexy clothing.

Human sexuality, when expressed as designed between a husband and wife, is a beautiful and wonderful thing. But it is a very powerful thing. It affects the mind and emotions in phenomenal ways, and the act contains the awesome power to create human life--with all the responsibilities and implications that come with this. It is far too much to thrust upon young children who aren't even ready to live on their own, much less create and be responsible for new life.

Were there any sense of propriety left in our pop culture, proponents of aggressive sex education should be ashamed of themselves for what they're doing to children.

And in an earlier age more concerned with the welfare of children than with sexual license, they probably would have been charged with abuse of a child.


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