I have been studying the report just issued by the New York Civil Liberties Union regarding sex education, and, even as I blush to the roots, I take no stand on this vexing subject.
The NYCLU wants to teach kids how to have sex without making babies, since they figure kids are going to have sex anyway, and it finds a lot of school districts coming up short in that department. A lot of school districts give too much emphasis to not having sex, in the NYCLU’s opinion.
My own view is that we got into trouble when our lives became so complicated we decided we had to postpone mating for several years after we became physically ready for it. This happened when we needed not only to chip arrowheads and make a fire but also to drive a car and calculate insurance premiums.
We’re the only species that does such a thing. Among deer, when the female goes into heat and the male into rut, their gray-haired elders don’t nag them to cool it for a few years until they can better establish foraging grounds. The same with turtles, the same with blue jays.
The NYCLU found that “44.5 percent of New York’s male high school students and 39.6 percent of female students are sexually active — but a third of sexually active boys report that they don’t use condoms, and nearly 80 percent of sexually active girls say they don’t use oral contraceptives,” from which they derive the lesson that teachers ought to teach them how to use condoms and how to take the pill.
The kids are doing it anyway, is the idea. The least we can do is help them avoid making unwanted babies.
And they quoted a study from the Journal of Adolescent Medicine to the effect that “teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to get pregnant than those who had abstinence-only education.”
“Comprehensive Sex Education” is the official name for teaching kids how to use birth-control, along with other matters related to sex. “Abstinence only” is the standard name for simply telling kids not to do it, though the abstinence people sometimes prefer the heftier “Sexual Risk Avoidance.”
That was the term used by the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which a few months ago issued a report of its own under the title, “A Better Approach to Teenage Pregnancy Prevention: Sexual Risk Avoidance,” which it described as showing that “SRA is the better approach … it is consistent with the latest research on teenage behavior and it fosters healthy development among adolescents.”
I was unable to access that study, but I noticed that the publicity for it didn’t claim abstinence-only was more effective in reducing pregnancies, only that it was more in line with the approach taken to other problems like drinking-and-driving and drug-taking, that is, it’s best not to do it in the first place. I didn’t see anything to contradict the reported 50 percent differential in pregnancy rates going the other way.
I also noted that Rep. Joe Pitts, the chairman of the subcommittee that issued the report, is a stalwart of the Christian right, and since such persons often disparage science in favor of ideology, I will withhold endorsement of his report until I can actually read it.
The Schenectady sex-ed curriculum is one of those strongly weighted in favor of abstinence, with birth control explained only “in the context of a combined decision a mature couple in a marital relationship” might make, according to the curriculum guide. The lesson “in no way implies that it is appropriate for adolescents to engage in sexual relationships.” Indeed, “the decision to abstain … is a sign of responsible decision making.”
So teachers are supposed to teach what condoms and diaphragms are all about but are supposed to make clear that they are only for married people, which reminds me of the beer-making-supply store in California I used to know that, in accordance with state law, had a sign posted on its wall that nothing in the store was intended for making beer.
The NYCLU dislikes the nagging abstinence language very much, figuring it “implies that the choice to be sexually active is both shameful and irresponsible.”
It’s not just the emphasis on abstinence that the NYCLU finds offensive but also the ignoring of homosexuality and other less conventional sexual orientations, and here I admit I had some catching up to do.
I had about gotten used to “gay” as a synonym for homosexual, when along came “gay and lesbian,” which I thought was redundant but which I finally reconciled myself to.
Then came “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” or LGBT, which reminded me of a sandwich or maybe a military agency in the Pentagon. I refused to use it, but I finally did get used to seeing it.
And now comes this report with a further enhancement, not just LGBT but LGBTQ, with the “Q” standing for “questioning.”
Still not satisfied with the completeness of their taxonomy the New York civil libertarians go yet another step with “LGBTQ and Gender non-Conforming” students, who it complains are “stigmatized or ignored” in sex ed materials though you could argue that it stigmatizes them itself just by refusing to dignify them with pure initials. LGBTQGNC students — what could be wrong with that?
Anyway, I don’t believe our troglodytic ancestors had any of these problems.
Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.