August 4, 2007

Abstinence Only Plans Ineffective...And Detrimental?

SOF and I spent the day doing grief through mindless yardwork. During my mowing session, I recalled my experience in California in the 80s where I led backpacking trips for a SBC camp in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. The camp was deep in the woods and that summer was dry and hot. I remember the fear that a major fire would sweep through and we would be done. Narrow gravel road+tinder dry conditions=bad outcome.

Luckily, we never experienced the fire that we feared. And we had an elder fire fighter who volunteered at the camp with his family. I liked him. He had great stories and during one scare, we all accompanied him to ostensibly fight a small fire close to camp. We had no training and no real skills. It could have been a disaster.

I remember a camp full of youth at the height of that fire concern. The camp leaders voiced the concern that kids might sneak off into the woods to smoke and start the dreaded fire. I suggested that we make the sand vollyball court--right next to the little river--our smoking area. The old firefighter had a coniption. That would be condoning sin. I suggested that we could save potential lives. He said that it would be condoning sin. I objected. But I was 22. He wasn't. I still don't remember where the camp leadership was on this, but I suspect fervently wishing they didn't have to make a choice and fervently hoping that nothing bad would happen. We did nothing and fortunately nothing happened. But I thought then, and think now, that was stupid policy.

I am reminded of that experience whenever I read about abstinence only programs. It seems like the height of avoidance AS policy, ignoring evidence, human behavior, hormones, scientific evidence on birth control, etc in favor of some idealized view of human sexuality. It's like parents saying to their kids, "don't drink and drive, but if you do, don't use the seat belts and don't you dare call us or someone you trust." Better that they experience the worst possible outcome rather than have the tools to address human error--even if it is their own. But this is the nature of our abstinence only program--something Ubub clearly identified as ideologically driven, not something there for its effectiveness.
Thought Theater: Abstinence Only Plans Ineffective...And Detrimental?: "Note that the study compared young people in abstinence only programs against similar aged individuals who were receiving no sex education. In other words, children enrolled in abstinence plans were as vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy as their counterparts receiving no counseling whatsoever.

Essentially, the abstinence plans simply consume large sums of government funding with no measurable benefit...except to assuage the moral judgments of certain religiously inclined individuals. That sounds to me to be the equivalent of utilizing the state to impose religious beliefs...a scenario which I would equate with a clear violation of the separation of church and state."
Sure glad we are spending millions on a completely useless program.
The study goes on to demonstrate that money spent on sex education, which includes providing young people the knowledge to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, is very effective. Therefore, every dollar spent on an abstinence program reduces the money that can be spent on sex education; thereby increasing the rate of STD's and the number of pregnancies.

Nice. I am curious. What do you call a policy that has results completely opposite intent? A war against terror that increases terrorists? Anti-pregnancy/STD program that increases disease, pregnancy, and abortions?

That old firefighter was willing to risk all of us dying in a horrible fire rather than possibly allow kids who were going to smoke, to smoke in relative safety. No fan of teen smoking, I sincerely hope that kids make better choices. But we weren't going to stop the teen smokers there. Not that he cared about that. His idealized sense of their behavior was his guide--not reality.

No wonder conservatives distrust government.


Tony said...

I'm thankful that my parents did a lot of their parenting based in reality. My dad always said, "Son, if you want to smoke, smoke your first one with me."

He knew that I thought that smoking was a nasty habit because he and my mom both smoke (though they are respectful smokers), but he also knew that if I was going to try it, that first time typically tends to be in less than admirable situations.

Smoking was not the point, nor keeping a rule, but my general safety was key. That kind of parenting would translate into much better policy than what we have now.

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