Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why abstinence programs don't work

The Administration, hand-in-glove with a number of other psychotic Christian organizations, is pushing abstinence as the only way to prevent teen pregnancy, spread of AIDS and other STDs, and some general but unspecified supposed moral descent that always seems to go along with sex people are having because they want to. Many scare tactics are being used, too, not to mention a good dose of fundamentalist guilt. Talking about condoms, talking about birth control, talking about almost anything factual is forbidden, or, more appropriately, verboten.

I always thought that this was pretty stupid on their part--not surprising, but definitely stupid. But here's a wonderfully quelling argument against abstinence-only sex ed: Up until maybe 300 years ago, the consequences for unlawful carnal knowledge were HUGE. Not only could you get all kinds of STDs that would kill you slowly and horribly and risk unwanted pregnancy, but there was the very real risk of social condemnation, physical punishments (the stocks, for example, or prison), and even social expulsion or possibly transportation on a prison ship to a colony elsewhere. And after you died, you could be pretty well assured of an eternity burning in Hell for your immorality. (Yeah, you could actually get people to believe in that bullshit back then. Barbara Tuchman, in her classic book, A Distant Mirror, described Europe in the 14th Century as one big madhouse in which the entire population was locked up.) Remember, we're not talking about prostitution here, we're just talking about having unmarried/adulterous/gay sex. All of these consequences were very clear and to a large extent guaranteed.

Up until 100 years ago, the social condemnation had lessened somewhat, but there was still the chance of terrible STDs and unwanted pregnancy.You were less likely to believe in the torments of Hell and the stocks fell out of fashion, but you can't have everything in the way of a threat, I guess.

In the 20th Century, we saw the development of cheap and effective condoms for preventing pregnancy and diseases both, birth control devices and medications that work pretty well, and medications that are effective against a lot of the diseases that ravaged the population before. Morning-after pills and the possibility of safe, cheap, and effective abortion where not limited by legislation from moralists with too much time on their hand made pregnancy even less of a concern, although nobody should ever think of abortion as an alternative to birth control (not that many do, I'm sure--it'd just be dumb).

The thing is that, even with the myriad threats of disease, pregnancy, shame, calumny, expulsion, and an eternity of being burned and tortured lined up against people, they still chose to get laid. A lot. You couldn't stop 'em from screwing like minks because that's the way people are built. It's not a need to "dominate man's animal nature" or whatever bullshit phrase is being used these days, it's that you can't get people to stop having sex.

So in the 21st Century, we're left with exactly what in the way of threats you could make to scare someone into not having sex?  AIDs and herpes are still very real problems that need a big solution, but syphillis and gonorrhea were actually much more infectious and possibly even more unpleasant to have, although I wouldn't want any of 'em, I grant you. And condoms can prevent ALL of them pretty effectively, no matter what the liars have to say about them. People aren't worried about Hell and you'd have a hard time standing up and saying "Blasphemer! Whore of Babylon!!" at anyone for having sex outside of marriage without people treating you with the contempt and mockery you deserved. Folks are free to talk about sex these days and even admit that they (gasp!) like it!

But if you couldn't stop people from screwing by threatening them with the terrors of the Here and Now along with the terrors of the Hereafter, why anyone would get worried about what's left as a possible danger is a mystery. Yes, AIDS is a problem, unwanted pregnancy is a problem, but we know how to prevent them effectively and safely, and what are they compared to the threat of a red "A" on your clothes and Hell for eternity? Pfffft!

Every moralizing jackass has been pitching this doom and gloom approach for the last two thousand years or so, trying to get people not to mess around, scaring 'em with God/Gaw-ud/Ju-HEE-zus, threatening them with incurable STDs, unwanted pregnancies, social condemnation, and just plain hellfire... and it hasn't worked. People want to get laid and no-one seems to have come up with a good-enough argument that will convince them they shouldn't.

For the last 2000 years, we've tried:
  • threatening people (Hell)
  • offering them rewards (Heaven)
  • 'reasoning' with them (having sex years later is better than sex now? yeah, I don't believe it either)
  • just telling them 'no!' (Nancy Reagan's approach didn't do squat for drugs, either)
...and guess what? None of it worked. Now, with 2000 years of data, we can state emphatically that abstinence-only education is a failed experiment. So we're done with that. It was a dumb idea to begin with. Let's have sex-ed programs that actually tell the truth. It's the one thing that nobody ever thought of when trying to tell people not to have sex before they got hitched because it points out that there's no good reason not to have safe, responsible sex when the opportunity arises. Not the message that the abstinence-only people want to get across, but shoot, I've seen a lot of them and there's a reason they don't want people to have sex: nobody's likely to want to have sex with them in the first place.

So once again, the Administration and the fundamentalist Christians have got it completely wrong. Yeah, like there's a fuckin' surprise....

No comments: