Like a bad penny—or like an abusive ex-husband, or a public policy cancer—abstinence is back, just when we thought it was gone.
Through the 1970s, U.S. policy was to reduce teen pregnancy. In 1981 the goal was changed, to funding programs to reduce teen sexual activity. During the Bush Administration, $1.5 billion was spent trying to get kids to have less sex. These programs failed completely (other than transferring federal case to Bush supporters).
In 2009 the federal government ended most funding for abstinence (although states and school districts continued funding abstinence programs locally), and began funding comprehensive sex ed. But that was just a brief tease. Because last year, in addition to authorizing $75 million to implement evidence-based comprehensive sex education, Congress also provided $250 million over five years to implement abstinence programs. As under Bush’s abstinence regime, the money cannot be used to teach about contraceptive effectiveness or healthy decision-making.
This week, House Republicans slashed 81% of the comprehensive sex ed money, and removed language requiring funded programs to be medically accurate and supported by rigorous research.
Abstinence is baaaack.
America’s public policy goal is again to prevent teen sex, not to reduce teen pregnancy and support healthy decision-making—despite unambiguous scientific proof that this leads to more pregnancies and STDs, not less. It’s tragic that a country which used to produce the world’s finest scientists and scientific projects is now being run by tea partyers and other Republicans for whom science is just another opinion.
These people think it makes sense to systematically prepare kids for what they won’t experience—adolescence and young adulthood without sex—and to leave kids completely unprepared for what they will have: Sex. Sexual feelings. Sexual relationships. Sexual decision-making.
Abstinence proponents claim they love their kids and don’t want to abandon them to dangerous sexuality. But their behavior is aggressive and hateful. They are throwing their kids under the public policy bus for completely selfish reasons: for political gain, and to sooth their own feelings about their kids’ sexuality—their anxiety, sadness, resentment, and sense of loss.
We know how we would describe a parent who’s uncomfortable about his own teeth, and therefore refuses to teach his kids about brushing, flossing, and soda. Imagine that this parent also prevents his kids from learning anything about oral hygiene, and forbids them from going to the dentist.
We’d call this parent neglectful. I’d add irresponsible and unforgivable. And if this parent got in the way of my kid learning about toothpaste, I’d say he’s dangerous. That perfectly describes adults who desperately need to live in a world without teen sexuality–and selfishly fantasize that they can.
I fantasize about a world in which people who refuse to believe in science are disqualified from public office. In real life, Americans elect them to Congress, and beg them to be President.