Controlling the Beast Inside

I’ve always thought it too obvious to be a blindspot that opponents of abstinence education behave as if a quick course or two ought to do the trick if such an approach were going to work at all. As I’ve said before, the cultural movement of which such people are a part does not really believe that the safest, healthiest sex occurs within marriage; it believes that restricting sex to lifelong monogamous relationships is unrealistic and, therefore, that the act of setting such expectations is, itself, a central source of the harm that can come from sex, so the lessons it seeks to teach can only increase sexual activity. Valerie Huber offers an example on USA Today’s Web site that shows this mindset in the extreme: “one popular [comprehensive, safe-sex] program promoted graphic sexual behavior such as showering together as an acceptable ‘abstinent’ activity.”
Huber summarizes the other strategy — abstinence education — as follows:

Abstinence programs offer a holistic approach, teaching teens how to build healthy relationships, increase self-worth and set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals. Abstinence education shares the realities of sexually transmitted diseases and the best way to prevent them. Accurate information about contraception is provided, but always within the context of abstinence as the healthiest choice. The realistic limitations of condoms are shared but without the explicit demonstration and advocacy that characterizes “comprehensive” programs.

The focus on self-worth and future goals is an important marker of the differences between sex-ed approaches. Sometimes one gets the impression of a They who realize that the more the beast inside us all can be released, the more easily we can be herded. Controlling that beast can give us strength against those who would exploit us.
I, for one, do not consider it an accident that traditional religious prescriptions and the self-actualizing civilized mandate for self control overlap. That suggestions of the latter are often treated as if they must represent unconstitutional imposition of the former points to the driving force behind the opposing movement.

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16 years ago

Maybe it was my lack of knowledge of the ‘abstinence’ programs. I had thought that they could not provide ANY information about contraception. I would support a sexual education program that was like the one Huber summarized. It was those programs that denied the existence of contraception that I would be against.
Reminded me of jaw dropping experience I had reading an article some time ago about Planned Parenthood being opposed to even the mention of ‘abstinence’ in their programs.

16 years ago

There is a clear, and apparently ignored (here) difference between abstinence-only, abstinence-plus, and comprehensive sex education. A significant amount of federal money is for abstinence-only, a position that is strongly supported by the current president. In addition, comprehensive sex-ed advocates do NOT balk at the mention of abstinence, and in fact promote abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and STD’s. However, they also provide information on contraceptives, etc. without the scare tactics abstinence-only education supports.
As someone who grew up with comprehensive sex ed, who watched the “graphic” presentation of putting a condom on a banana — gasp! — I feel compelled to point out that my education offered “a holistic approach, [taught me] how to build healthy relationships, increase self-worth and set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals” along with “the realities of sexually transmitted diseases and the best way to prevent them.”
So what, again, is the advantage to abstinence only education? It’s almost like hose who promote them seek to exploit us…

Justin Katz
16 years ago

The part you appear to be missing is that (at least as far as I’ve seen in my reading) is that an “abstinence-only program” does not mean that children are taught only abstinence. Many of the programs are extra-curricular, through church or social groups, and those used by public schools generally consist of curricula that do not eat up a whole school year, much less an entire school career. In other words, the end result from the student’s perspective is at best an “abstinence-plus” education.
In this context, the reason that funding targeted at abstinence would be restricted to “abstinence-only” is easy to understand: otherwise the “comprehensive” programs would claim that their own mentions of abstinence should enable them to qualify.
My recollection, and those of others, is of public school sex ed that used the word “abstinence” in almost the same way that reporters use “alleged” — as a disclaimer, “something we have to say.” But their focus is only giving actionable information (instruction), of which there is much more to teach when it comes to actually having sex.
The emphasis on abstinence, by contrasts, makes encouragement thereof the central pillar of the larger educational strategy. My “comprehensive” education certainly never gave me extensive argumentation as to why I ought to abstain, nor as to how I ought to deal with my emerging sexuality in a way that would make such a goal plausible.

16 years ago

I’m sure I do not understand all the details of the basis for funding of sex education using the abstinence criteria.
Yet, are you saying that the public school should provide more than actionable instruction regarding sex education – as in the moral and religious arguments for abstaining? I don’t believe that a health or sex education class in the public school is the appropriate place for that. The fact that one of the many reasons for abstinence is adherence to religious doctrine should be included. But I feel a class that is devoted to dealing with sexuality with the goal of abstinence is not a health/sex education class belonging in a public school. I think such a class is a positive thing and one that could be offered as an elective under a social science or religious curricula. Yet if that is the only type class that you feel should be publicly funded as ‘sex education’, then I respectfully disagree.

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