This is Why "They're Going to Do it Anyway" Safe Sex is a Lame Idea

Many of those who say that abstinence education doesn't work advocate the use of safe sex measures such as condoms because, supposedly, "they're going to do it anyway." Wrong. Besides the fact that children aren't mature enough to know how unsafe the results of sexuality can be, the worst and unavoidable fruits of "they're going to do it anyway" are poverty and the illicit sanctioning of predatory sex and sexual abuse. Parents and other role-models should know that their example can enforce the importance of abstinence before marriage and fidelity thereafter, and that that reality makes for a much more healthy society.

The family is

Of course abstinence education won't work if we, as a result our politically pre-conceived notions, don't want it to.
Of course it will fail if parents and other should-be role models teach their children to behave like dogs!!

the fundamental unit of society. When children are taught that sex is a recreational activity, the family unavoidably breaks down. When children are taught to simply follow their urges, society can hardly complain when (a) boys follow their urges even when girls don't want to, (b) sexual abuse is no longer recognized as such by either perpetrator or victim, and (c) legions of single-parent families are mired in poverty.

David K. Shipler, in his book The Working Poor, noted that
A surprising number of women at the edge of poverty turn out to be survivors of sexual abuse. Like huge financial debt, their trauma weighs them down long after it occurs. cannot be erased by declaring bankruptcy. Their future is crippled by their past.
Even more surprisingly, Shipler mentions that in not one instance during his research for the book did he bring up the issue of sexual abuse with those he interviewed.
Even though I never posed the question, sooner or later, most of the impoverished women I interviewed mentioned that they had been sexually abused as children.

When a woman discloses such intimate humiliation to a stranger, she reveals its magnitude.

The Working Poor, pg. 143
Several studies

What we can't prevent if we pander to our baser urges is a social destruction that no one should be surprised about-- poverty, parents who don't know how to raise children, and an increase in all forms of abuse.

claim that abstinence education does not work. Well, of course it's not going to work if we, as a result our politically pre-conceived notions, don't want it to. Of course abstinence education is not going to work if a plethora of parents and other should-be role models teach their children to behave like dogs!! What these free-sex advocates can't prevent as a result of their pandering to their own urges, as well as to the urges of the upcoming generation, is a social destruction that no one should be surprised about--social destruction that includes poverty, parents who don't know how to raise children, and an increase in verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

Get an abortion? That doesn't work either. The emotional scars faced by any woman who receives an abortion are no longer felt only because her survival mechanism finally kicks in. I don't suspect that there's a single young woman who thinks cavalierly about getting an abortion. How could she think happy thoughts at a time when her body is being invaded? With the advocacy of sex as a recreational pastime, though, what is being considered far to cavalierly is that meant-to-be-sacred act whose unintended result subsequently compels the sober contemplation of taking a life. If abstinence education doesn't work, it's mostly because of familial breakdown as a result of engagement in cavalier sex and because parents and other role models aren't doing their jobs--in many cases because they don't even know how to.

When we advocate sex as just another thing to do, we can't be surprised at stories like the following:
The ten-year-old girl sat on an idle swing, chatting with the caseworker on the swing beside her. "How many times," the little girl asked [the caseworker], "have you been raped?"

The question came casually, as if it could merely glide into the conversation. The caseworker, "Barbara", tried to stay composed.

"I said I hadn't, and she seemed surprised," Barbara recalled.

"'I thought everybody had been,'" she remembered the girl saying.

The Working Poor, pg. 142
Abstinence is not working? It's only because not enough people care about the results of not advocating its importance.

It's about time we do start respecting the overwhelming power of misused sexuality to cause harm to society.

Abstinence education has to work.


  1. There is a fundamental flaw in your argument here. Throughout this essay you're assuming - even accusing - that the alternative to abstinence-only education necessarily teaches students that sex is a "recreational" activity and that such an approach teaches our kids to "behave like dogs."

    This is, in my view, the number one problem with the whole sex-ed debate. There's often an assumption made that anything beyond abstinence-only education is the equivalent of teaching that sex should be a recreational activity, that we're implicitly encouraging promiscuity, and that teenage sex rates will rise as a result.

    There is, however, literally no objective evidence to back up this assumption. No objective studies that I've seen (and I'm rather well-versed on the topic) have shown any correlation to the teaching of safer-sex practices and an increase in the sexual activity of students.

    Let is be known that I'm not against abstinence education - teenagers should know that many people look back and wish they had waited to have sex, and that the risk of suffering a negative consequence rise if one is engaging in casual sex versus engaging in sex within a committed relationship/marriage. These are proven facts and therefore should be relayed to students in any sex-education course.

    But we also must go beyond abstinence education because it is also a fact that many students - even, dare I say, a majority - will not abstain from sex until marriage. Period. The last PRAMS survey I saw (which tracks this kind of stuff) for Utah stated that 55% of high school graduates were NOT virgins on their graduation day. Nationally the rate is closer to 70%. And if you look at PRAMS for all ages it shows that a clear, overwhelming majority of Americans (I think it's in the 90s percentage-wise) have had sex outside of marriage...and this holds for all generations, including those born as early as the 40s and 50s.

    So the fact is that we're never, ever going to get all teenagers to abstain from sex. That doesn't mean that trying to get some of them, more of them, to abstain is a bad idea, but it does mean that we must embrace a comprehensive approach that teaches abstinence first, for those who will listen, but then also tells those students who choose to engage in sex how to protect themselves so they don't end up "mired in poverty" in single-parent families.

    As with most matters involving public policy, balance and moderation is the key. In this case, balance means a two-pronged approach - abstinence AND medically-accurate safer-sex practices.

    Making assumptions that are not supported by evidence hampers our ability to moderate the issue and therefore make good public policy.

  2. Sam,

    "There is a fundamental flaw in your" assumption that I advocate abstinence-only sex education. Nowhere did I say that. Nor did I say that other forms of sex education teach children to act like dogs. I support Utah's "abstinence-based" curriculum, which educates children about human sexuality in a mature way and does not give license to illicit sexuality by means of advocacy.

    What I did say was that those who think abstinence education doesn't work and shouldn't be taught are effectively encouraging children to act like dogs. You are probably right that a majority of students will not abstain from sex before marriage, but I hope you agree that abstinence IS the right thing to do.

    I think that if parents, teachers, and other role-models talked regularly about the benefits of abstinence (in a non-"Victorian" way, mind you)--instead of the fallacy that their children can't resist the urge--that a lot fewer children would be engaging in a behavior that almost invariably causes a plethora of emotional and social problems.

  3. Frank,
    You jump straight from Single Parenting to Abortion. Please remember that Adoption is also a solution to an unplanned pregnancy. A mother who places her child for adoption will not have to raise a child she is not ready to commit to the raising of, but at the same time she will not have to live with the stigma of having killed her baby.

  4. I guess perhaps the biggest question that should be asked, is whether this topic should even be taught in schools. The problem is that there are so many different views about how sex should be taught, that a one size fits all approach just can't and won't cut it.

    Personally I think that there are many benefits to teaching the choice of abstinence, but there are also negative aspects to it as well.

    If it has to be taught in schools, then the topic should be limited to the mechanics of the act itself, methods for birth control - and options to consider if things happen that shouldn't, such as adoption.

    Having a teenager who understands what sex is, what the dangers are and who is empowered to make their own decision about it is what I will be striving for with my family.

    The morality of sex however has absolutely no place in public education. This is a topic for the home and church.

    All that aside I'm not sure if I see a link between teaching birth control in schools and sexual abuse though.

  5. Frank, I agree that an abstinence based program is the best option, scientifically and morally. However, I think Sam raised a valid point. You are more reasonable, but the major conservative individuals and institutions which consider themselves the guardians of morality do indeed present a false dichotomy. Their inaccurate logic sullies their agenda. A very good example of this is the Eagle Forum's opposition to the Gardasil proposal last year.

    I believe that if The Eagle Forum, The Sutherland Institute, and other conservative organizations had their way, sex education would be very "Victorian" (Puritanical puts it better) and self-destructive, as most puritanical conservative efforts are.

  6. R & J,

    Good point. Adoption should be a worthy option. However, I was trying to place myself in the mindset of those who oppose Abstinence(-based) education. I get the impression that Planned Parenthood and the like do not advocate adoption very often.


    Whether it should be taught at all is a good question. Currently, if we stopped teaching it, I tend to think that sexual diseases and problems would go up. But a lot of problems are created initially when the schools hold themselves up as the guardian ad litem (and usurp parental authority) for the children.


    You're right. I got a bit frustrated at about Sam's response, so that I forgot to state that he does have several very good points.

    I wrote about Gardasil last year, but it was more from the perspective that Merck was hoping to make a big increase in its bottom line, and that pending state legislation to require such inoculation was misplaced.

    As I have mentioned in this article, I mentioned there that we need to have a bit more faith in our children by encouraging them to abstain, but I don't associate much with Eagle Forum anymore because of the dogmatic position that Gayle Ruzicka and others take, as you quoted in your article on your blog.

    (I hope my position is perceived as a least a little less dogmatic.)


  7. To be clear, I do think that abstinence education should be mixed with the "realities of life". I'm not sure where Sutherland would come down on this issue, but I think your characterization of Eagle Forum is very accurate.

    My impression is that Utah law strikes a good balance in this regard currently. Students can learn about sexuality, associated diseases, etc., but teachers should discuss the benefits of abstinence and cannot be advocates of sexual activity.

  8. Yes, I have come to respect you a great deal for being much more rational and much less dogmatic than most people associated with conservatism or libertarianism.

    And I do agree with you that it is important to be skeptical about corporate interests in government, as in the case of Merck and Gardasil. I only objected to the fact that Ruzicka's position was founded in a very flawed perception of morality and government.

  9. Yup!

    Considering the religion that she belongs to (she's LDS, for other readers who don't know), I think that she'd be a little stronger on the "free agency" side than she is.

    I've been thinking a lot lately (maybe the subject of a future post) that many members and some leaders of the LDS church have been (not plagued, but) affected by this and a lot of other wrong, Victorian ideas that have been mainstays of much older Christian religions. Additional misconceptions include dogmatic refusal to watch any PG-13 or R movie, regardless of the spiritual or social value of the content; looking down on LDS women who work; denigration of women and vestiges of racism in some cases; and, most commonly, looking down on--and refusing to associate with--people whose views are different from our own.
    (I don't think the Church's current stance on traditional marriage is one of these issues, though, for religious and social reasons.)

  10. I think you are dead on regarding a lot of those issues. And whether or not the marriage restriction is one of them, I think there is a great deal of homophobia tolerated in the Church based on that Puritanical paradigms.

    (and the flip side of the movie ratings issue bothers me just as much as the rated-r ban; far too many people believe that g-rated or pg-rated movies are automatically wholesome and worth watching. There are plenty of g and pg movies which are still crude in ways I find objectionable, or are vacuous mental equivalents of cotton candy, and don't deserve our time. And don't even get me started on the acquaintance who was fine watching Schwarzenegger impale someone to a boiler because it was on broadcast TV, but then chastized us for watching Schindler's List...)

  11. You're right. I'm laughing hard right now.

    We have our sacred cows when it comes to movie watching: visual sex is really, really, really bad, but innuendo somehow isn't....? And if somebody says one swearword...OH...MY...HECK!!!

    One of my favorite movies, Freedom Writers, uses the F-word, but it uses it nobly to PERFECTLY illustrate the futility of one of the character's choices, and, as used, it would NEVER entice someone to use it in a vulgar way.

    I agree that "Vacuous mental equivalents" are such a waste of time!

    I've never met a Schwarzenegger movie that was worth watching (how did this guy become a state governor?) and Schindler's List is one of the most ennobling movies around.

    By the way, I just posted a reply to your Feminist Mormon Housewives post of a couple of days ago. I think I have finally been able to articulate my opposition to homosexual marriage in a coherent manner.

  12. If you wanted to teach kids to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STDs, you could get the point across in 20 minutes -- an hour at tops. It doesn't take a year or a half a year of curriculum to teach this.

    Kids that engage in behavior that transmits STDs or results in pregnancy are usually not uninformed. They are simply inexperienced and unable to comprehend the full consequences of their actions. That's not going to stop until their brains mature enough and they get enough experience. Endless hours of sex education isn't going to stop that.

    What does work are healthy, fully functional families. No amount of education is going to overcome familial breakdown. It's like putting a bandaid on a fractured limb.

  13. Reach, I think you're spot on.

    My problem with sex ed proponents is that they often ignore facts like you can still contract STDs while using a condom, 17% of abortions are performed for women who were using birth control, and sex is not just a physical act. We teach these things as if they're an impregnable shield against the consequences of sexual activity and they just aren't.

  14. I haven't had too many indepth discussions yet, but but my oldest is getting to an age, where it might be necessary soon...

    I plan on teaching him why it is best to wait until marriage, that like all other things, it's best to be in control of ourselves. I'll make sure he knows that I want him to choose to wait, and why.

    That said, I also plan on making sure he has the tools necessary to be safe should he not choose to wait. As sad as I would be if he didn't wait, I would feel even worse if through my neglect (in addition to his own choices obviously), he contracted a disease, or became a father before he was ready to.

  15. Allie,

    Extremely well said!! I completely agree. (And I suppose this is why I parted ways with Gayle Ruzicka and Eagle Forum.)

  16. Frank,
    In case you missed it, I posted a couple of comments in response to you over on Derek's blog.


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