Thursday, April 14, 2005
Suppressing Information Doesn't Work
Kids, particularly those in a peer group hitting puberty, know some things about sex. They can't help it. Their bodies are changing and hormone levels are doing a chacha. Even if you could lock them in a room with no contact with other people, they would probably still figure a few things out. This isn't quite a priori knowledge but it's certainly rooted in body awareness, sensation, response, and innate desires, not in intellectually gained information. Trying to keep certain information away from kids cripples their decisionmaking abilities. Teenagers already sometimes don't make the best decisions about sex in some situations; hormones and arousal often trump knowledge and good judgement.
It's not as if kids can't spread misinformation about sex themselves. If accurate information isn't available at schools or in libraries, they'll look to other sources: peers, pornography, etc. In high school I counselled some of my peers, male and female, about birth control. What did I, a shy teenaged boy with practically no sexual experience, know that they didn't? I owned a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and actually read it. I don't remember ever getting any information from school or my family on sex. I didn't consider myself a paragon of sexual awareness but I did feel it was important to share accurate information about sex. Did knowing this information hurt any of us? I don't know for sure but I do know I helped prevent some pregnancies.
Anyway, the following comes from Misleading.gov by Chris Mooney.
And even as 4parents.gov demands rigorous proof of condom effectiveness for every individual sexually transmitted disease, it simultaneously celebrates abstinence on completely idealized grounds. Cynthia Dailard of The Alan Guttmacher Institute has observed that abstinence advocates frequently contrast theoretically perfect use of abstinence with actual real life condom failure rates, thus comparing "apples and oranges." 4parents.gov is no exception. The site refers to abstinence as "without question, the healthiest choice for adolescents." But as a method of disease prevention, abstinence -- just like condoms -- only works if you actually use it properly. And there's abundant evidence that despite the best of intentions, "abstinence" fails because many teens just don't stick to it.
For instance, 4parents.gov lists a "pledge of virginity" as a "protective factor" against risky sexual behaviors. It does not bother to cite actual research on how virginity pledgers behave. In a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Yale sociologist Hannah Bruckner and Columbia sociologist Peter Bearman found that teenagers who took these pledges -- promising to abstain from sex until marriage -- delayed having sex for longer but did not have correspondingly diminished STD infection rates. That's because most pledgers didn't actually keep their oaths all the way to marriage, and those breaking them were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex. Moreover, the minority of pledgers who actually managed to abstain from vaginal sex until marriage were more likely to get it on in other ways -- such as trying out oral or anal sex -- in the meantime.