Tag Archives: Sex education

Abstinence, Antichrist and teen births

I’ve written before about the abstinence-only problem in sex education. The short answer is it doesn’t work to promote abstinence or prevent pregnancies among young people. The long answer goes all the way down to Hell and back.

The announcement that teen births hit a record low in 2010 offered a chance to revisit the curious pattern in which states that require abstinence-only education have higher rates of teen births than those that do not. The ThinkProgress post that got tens of thousands of “likes” just mentioned the top and bottom of the list. But using the list of state policies put together by Guttmacher, and the birth rates from CDC (I used the “final” data from 2009, instead of the new 2010 data, but it doesn’t seem to matter), here’s the complete breakdown:

Those that require that abstinence-only be “stressed” in any sex-ed classes average 9.9% of births to teenagers; those that require it be “covered” average 9.0%; and those with no requirement average 7.3%.

This pattern was verified by a much more rigorous analysis in the peer-reviewed journal PLosOne last year. The authors broke the laws down somewhat differently, into four levels (no provision, abstinence covered, abstinence promoted, abstinence stressed), and plotted them against state teen pregnancy rates, like this:

Their conclusion:

…increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates. This trend remains significant after accounting for socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, ethnic composition of the teen population, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state. These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.

In any event, the rates in the U.S. are much higher than in most European countries, as I wrote on last year’s report.

Googling Antichrist

So, abstinence education may be the cause of teen births — or just a very ineffective response to them. But what role does the Antichrist play in all this? According to Google search patterns, a big one (this statement has not yet been peer-reviewed). States’ percentages of all births to women under age 20 (left) are correlated at .87 with their searches for “the antichrist”:

Whenever I can correlate a real-world pattern of social importance with search behavior, I like to seize the chance. So I took the top 100-most correlated-with-teen-births Google searches and broke them into 9 categories, ranked in order of their interest to me. All of these were correlated with the teen birth percentage at the level of .84 or higher. Your interpretations of these are as good as mine. (Background and previous Google search posts are here.)

Christian stuff

  • antichrist
  • bibles
  • book of enoch
  • christ jesus
  • christian graphics
  • end of times
  • friday quotes
  • hagee
  • hagee ministries
  • john hagee
  • john hagee ministries
  • mark of the beast
  • obama antichrist
  • obama the antichrist
  • satanist
  • the anti christ
  • the antichrist
  • the book of enoch
  • the trinity
  • where in the bible does it say

Health

  • abortion pictures
  • blood pressure high
  • blood pressure symptoms
  • dna testing
  • fever blisters
  • high blood
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood pressure symptoms
  • high pulse rate
  • prescribed
  • std pictures
  • walking canes

Violence

  • 40 cal
  • 40 caliber
  • caught on tape
  • fighting videos
  • fights caught on tape
  • girl fights
  • glock 40
  • street fights

Relationships

  • love poems for him
  • poems about love
  • poems for him

Food

  • banana nut
  • banana nut bread
  • banana nut bread recipe
  • nut bread
  • vinegar diet

Dogs

  • american pit
  • chihuahua puppies
  • doberman pinscher
  • doberman puppies
  • english bulldogs
  • english bulldogs for sale
  • german rottweiler
  • kill a dog
  • miniature doberman
  • parvo
  • pit bull terrier
  • pit bulls
  • teacup chihuahua
  • teacup chihuahuas

Cars

  • 07 mustang
  • 2006 mustang gt
  • 2008 mustang
  • 2011 camaro
  • 2011 camaro ss
  • 2012 dodge challenger
  • f150 truck
  • gt mustang
  • mustang accessories
  • mustang body kits
  • mustang gt
  • trucks for sale by owner

Entertainment

  • bieber games
  • cheat codes for xbox
  • cheat codes for xbox 360
  • codes for xbox
  • codes for xbox 360
  • directv.com/myaccount
  • ed hardy purses
  • free music.com
  • funbrain.com all games
  • jeepers creepers 3
  • justin bieber games
  • music .com
  • music videos.com
  • my yahoo account
  • myspace.com login
  • pictures.com
  • spongebob videos
  • tattoos of
  • tattoos pictures
  • tattoos.com

Misc

  • anticipation loan
  • get a degree
  • money card
  • nuvell
  • search for people
  • water hose

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Boys get less sex education

Two-thirds of 15-19-year-olds have had formal instruction in methods of birth control. Seems like we should do better, but anyways.

I never noticed this before, but boys get less sex education, at least regarding methods of birth control — which, because that lesson includes (hopefully) information about how condoms prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, seems like the most important lesson.

Interestingly, boys are much less likely to have sex talks with their parents.

This is disheartening, evidence of the persistence of the sexual double-standard, in which sex is more policed and restricted for women than for men. You might think that, if men are going to be rewarded culturally for promiscuity while women are punished, the least we could do is train men better for how to minimize its negative health consequences.

Check out Motherlode for a discussion of how Europeans and Americans talk differently to kids about sex.

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Abstinence ghost in the reform machine

Updated December 27.

Abstinence education – the curriculum to tell adolescents not to have sex instead of telling them about sex – lives on in the health care reform as it emerged from the Senate. The House version does not include it. How they will be reconciled remains to be seen.

On the subject, I wrote previously:

In the last 15 years, the public provision of real sex education has been drastically curtailed in this country. In the short period from 1995 to 2002 the percentage of adolescents receiving formal instruction on birth control methods dropped from 81% to 66% for boys, and 87% to 70% for girls. This was driven by the political movement for “abstinence only” education, abetted by $1.9 billion in federal and mandatory state matching funds.

What did we get for $1.9 billion? Nothing good. Abstinence only education has been shown to have no effect on how much teenagers have sex – none. It also has no effect on the number of partners teenagers have if they do have sex, and no effect on birth control use, pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted disease infection. Not that these programs don’t accomplish anything. Like virginity pledges, abstinence-only programs do help spread myths that discourage condom use. The opt-out provisions for sex education are intended to permit parents to raise their children according to a particular moral code, and their children’s free access to lifesaving knowledge is a secondary concern.

We also know that leaving it to parents often means adolescents don’t learn in time, or effectively enough. So the right of parents to control their children’s access to knowledge conflicts with the right of adolescents to education.

The Senate health reform bill includes “Restoration of Funding for Abstinence Education,” which is money for states to run their own abstinence-only education programs — to spread what advocates like to call a “primary prevention message.” The abstinence money was added in committee, at the request of Orin Hatch and with support of a few Democrats. “I sure do not want the abstinence education to be short-changed,” he said.

One byproduct of the hundreds of millions spent in the Bush years is an abstinence bureaucracy, with more than a hundred programs and a flourishing national association, all hoping for money from Washington.

“We’re optimistic,” said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association, which is lobbying to maintain funding for the programs. “Nothing is certain, but we’re hopeful.”

The approach that ends up in the health reform bill may be to combine federal support for states’ abstinence-only programs – as an option – with actual sex education, currently known as, “medically accurate and age appropriate programs.”

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Teaching too late

Even when parents make an effort to talk to their kids about sex, adolescents’ sexual experience is often a step ahead of them. Apart from its emotional consequences, the health implications of this disconnect are serious, and seriously unequally distributed.

A new study in Pediatrics shows that by the time many parents talk to their children about sex, they’ve already had sex. The exact numbers aren’t important because the sample was not representative, but more than a third of children had already had intercourse before their parents discussed many sex specifics with them: how to identity sexually transmitted disease symptoms, how to use a condom, how to choose a method of birth control, or what to do if a partner refused to use a condom (in the case of girls).

FYI, the government’s National Survey of Family Growth from NSFG in 2002 found that 30% of girls have had sex at age 16, 46% at age 17, and 67% at age 18.

Given that the majority is having sex before leaving high school, you might wish that schools would provide that kind of information – which they sometimes do.

But it’s not getting through to enough kids in time, as we learn from another study – this one nationally representative. It shows that, among female teenagers who reported having had sex, 38% had at least one sexually transmitted infection. The most common (30%) was human papillomavirus (HPV), which clears up harmlessly on its own in most cases. But in about 10% of cases persists, and increases the risk of cervical cancer.

(There is an HPV vaccine recommended for all girls by the federal government’s advisory committee, before they have sex for the first time. But many parents and abstinence-only proponents have opposed the vaccine, and laws providing for it, on the imagined grounds that it will encourage irresponsible sexual behavior. And, because parents’ rights trump children’s rights, the vaccine requirements proposed in some states have a parental op-out provision.)

The study also shows the teenagers’ prevalence of chlamydia (7.1%), trichomonas (3.6%), gonorrhea (2.5%), and herpes (type 2, 3.4%). Although these are curable or treatable in most cases, they do increase the risk of contracting HIV.

The lack of information or other resources necessary to protect young women’s health is, not surprisingly, concentrated among poor and minority – especially African American – women. Black adolescents are about twice as likely as Whites or Mexican Americans to have any STI (44% versus 19% and 18% respectively); and those below the poverty line had almost twice the rate of those above (34% versus 19%). This is partly because these groups are more likely to have had sex or more partners, but the race difference persisted when those factors were controlled.

To overcome the problem of sexually transmitted infection, and the disparities in its distribution, will require both real sex education and health coverage that includes vaccination, screening and other services.

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Whose right to sex education?

The principle of equality for children is fundamentally at odds with the American interpretation of the principle of equality for adults. We defer parenting to parents at the cost of equality for their children. This happens in myriad ways, lots of which involve education. Just as adults are free to donate thousands of dollars to just our neighborhood school’s PTA, to benefit our children and evade responsibility for those of our non-neighbors, we may be free to dictate the terms of the education our children receive.

The right of the parents to control their children is great when it’s great. And the denial of that right is often egregious when it’s taken away from parents who are disenfranchised or oppressed, to the detriment of parents and children alike. But when it’s exercised poorly, the right of parental control is too-often protected by law.

Take sex education. Most states let parents “opt” their children out of what little sex education is still offered. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute lists 37 states and the District of Columbia that permit parental opt-outs for education about sexually-transmitted infections (3 more require affirmative consent before any education on the subject may be delivered). And, before you think better of those without opt-out provisions – most of them only teach abstinence anyway. (Even when parents “opt in,” what do they get? Teachers may have permission to teach about contraception while being blocked from its “advocacy or encouragement.”)

In the last 15 years, the public provision of real sex education has been drastically curtailed in this country. In the short period from 1995 to 2002 the percentage of adolescents receiving formal instruction on birth control methods dropped from 81% to 66% for boys, and 87% to 70% for girls. This was driven by the political movement for “abstinence only” education, abetted by $1.9 billion in federal and mandatory state matching funds.

What did we get for $1.9 billion? Nothing good. Abstinence only education has been shown to have no effect on how much teenagers have sex – none. It also has no effect on the number of partners teenagers have if they do have sex, and no effect on birth control use, pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted disease infection. Not that these programs don’t accomplish anything. Like virginity pledges, abstinence-only programs do help spread myths that discourage condom use. The opt-out provisions for sex education are intended to permit parents to raise their children according to a particular moral code, and their children’s free access to lifesaving knowledge is a secondary concern.

The last year has seen progress toward broadening sex education, including federal efforts to break the political stranglehold of the abstinence-only movement. But even where such reforms are on the table, as in Wisconsin, more comprehensive sex education still includes a parental opt-out provision. Maybe this is politically unavoidable. But shouldn’t children have rights to real education that are not alienable?

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