Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Abstinence-Only Guidelines

Damn it. Why am I so naive as to assume that reason will prevail in public policy? Don't answer that. Or do... maybe it will help.

There are new guidelines from the Dept of Health and Human Services as to which non-profits can get funding for abstinence-only education programs. Abstinence is, they've decided, "voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage." Oh for crying out loud, we're back to virginity being a commodity that one brings to the marriage bed. And lest we get any big ideas about tolerance because they included the word "voluntarily," marriage is defined as well. It, you'll be happy to know, is "a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife." The guidelines are here: HHS. So, those of us in heterosexual, legally-sanctioned unions can have all the sex we want. Or all the information we want about it, anyway. The rest of you are SOL.

Trying my best not to skew the post with unnecessary hyperbole.... here's what we know. I mean REALLY know, here. Sexually-active teenagers have the highest incidence and prevalence rates for most sexually-transmitted diseases. They have the highest rates of unintended pregnancies. And they account for almost half of the new AIDS cases each year. From hanging out with college students for..ever, I promise you that even the comparatively well-educated are dangerously misinformed. Ask me sometime about the student who thought he couldn't possibly have gotten his girlfriend pregnant because they had only had sex right on day 14 of her cycle. Ummm... right. High school students are even more dangerously clueless. Does no one but me remember the Mountain-Dew-as-spermicide nonsense? But only abstinence will be taught to these people as a strategy for staying sexually healthy.

We also know that a study of abstinence-only education programs found that 2/3 of these programs lie to students. That's not hyperbole, is it? There are things known to be untrue and they say them anyway, claiming them to be fact. That's a lie, right? A synopsis of the study is here: Planned Parenthood. Among other things, government-funded projects were teaching students that a 43-day-old fetus was "a thinking person." I know 43-YEAR-old people for whom the jury is still out on that point. A 43-day old fetus has what to think about, exactly? In fact, all that they can claim is that the cerebral cortex, which will one day allow the person to think and reason, has started to develop at 43 days. One program claimed that 41% of sexually active teen girls and 50% of sexually-active teen boys are HIV-positive. And these numbers came from where? They are shamelessly mixing incidence and prevalence numbers here; they have to know better. Half of new AIDS diagnoses in a year go to teenagers. It does NOT follow that half of teenagers are infected.

We also know that $1 billion will be disbursed to fund abstinence-only education programs, targeting people who are already tragically clueless about sexuality. And this brilliance is courtesy of the Bush administration and the religious right. Thanks, guys.

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