The Kids’ll Respond to Good Points and Respect
One wonders how the side of the culture war that proclaims itself “pro-science” will adjust its thinking in response to this finding (emphasis added):
The participants’ mean age was 12.2 years; 53.5% were girls; and 84.4% were still enrolled at 24 months. Abstinence-only intervention reduced sexual initiation (risk ratio [RR], 0.67; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.48-0.96). The model-estimated probability of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up was 33.5% in the abstinence-only intervention and 48.5% in the control group. Fewer abstinence-only intervention participants (20.6%) than control participants (29.0%) reported having coitus in the previous 3 months during the follow-up period (RR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.99). Abstinence-only intervention did not affect condom use. The 8-hour (RR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.92-1.00) and 12-hour comprehensive (RR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91-0.99) interventions reduced reports of having multiple partners compared with the control group. No other differences between interventions and controls were significant.
Having followed this sort of research over the past decade, I’ll confirm that this result really isn’t surprising. Only a smokescreen of spin and obfuscation makes it seem so. Abstinence-only education teaches children to think of sex in terms that should lead them to have less of it. “Comprehensive” sex education teaches them how to have sex. Moreover, it has nowhere been the case that abstinence represents the sum total of the lessons that children receive.
As Joseph Bottum puts it:
While the study emphasized that the abstinence-only classes “would not be moralistic,” there was an underlying assumption in those classes that the children themselves were moral beings—a striking difference between the abstinence-only and safe sex–only interventions. In the abstinence-only program, it was emphasized that “abstinence can foster attainment of future goals.” In contrast, the safe sex–only intervention concentrated on education about sexually transmitted diseases and condom use—that is, it focused on the present only. The first program assumed that children look forward, anticipate, and hope. The second assumed that, like the lowest animals, they are aware only of the here and now.
Conservatives — especially religious conservatives — tend to believe that treating children as moral beings who can rise above their lusts is a worthwhile practice, even if it has no measurable effect on their present behavior. That the other side is loath to acknowledge that it does have a measurable effect suggests that they, for some reason, prefer that children learn to indulge their basest instincts, perhaps because it makes them riper for dependency.