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May 23, 2005

Comments

Hugo

Well, goodness, I don't know that it's hypocritical to warn people against what one knows by experience. I used to self-mutilate in my youth with razors and cigarettes; I think that gives me MORE right, not less, to talk about the problem of self-mutilation.

Tony Vila

Sure, there's an argument to be had about whether hypocrisy makes an argument any less valid. Many of those liberals don't bother to listen to saintly conservative preachers either. Still doesn't mean it isn't upsetting.

I think in particular it's upsetting with emotional narratives and stories about how fulfilled they are. If one is making a cold, well-researched essay about the best and most logical public-policy, I don't care if you're a drug-using thirteen year old. But the more often you use first-person pronouns in your arguments, the more relevant your own personal choices are.

Anyway, the point was that Storm wasn't criticizing youth, she was criticizing people who use youth as a scapegoat.

Emily H.

I keep thinking about this, and for me in some ways it comes down to the difference between the credibility of Lauren Winner as an individual and the credibility of chastity advocates as a group. I mean, it IS absolutely valid to warn people about what one knows by experience; it's absolutely valid to try something and realize the error of your ways and say that avoiding that is the best thing.

But. When you realize that about 95% of the people telling you not to have sex before marriage, had sex before marriage themselves, that points to a few conclusions--
Hypocrisy, possibly. I don't want to accuse anyone of that. There are more things at work.
Possibly, that it is virtually an impossible standard not to have sex before marriage, and many people aren't capable of coming up to that high a standard; I find it likely that many people aren't capable of coming up to that standard while also having open, positive, and honest attitudes about sex. It's surprising how misogynistic some virgins are.
Possibly, that the people who are advocating chastity for marriage (not, generally, having upheld that standard themselves) overlook whether there might be negatives to living that out in practice: lack of sexual compatibility, too-high expectations for sex, difficulty transitioning into a life as a sexual being, residual anxiety or disapproval of sex.

The "I had sex before marriage and I regret it" narrative is very common. The "I didn't have sex before marriage and I regret that" narrative, much rarer. And the "I didn't have sex before marriage and I have no regrets" narrative is virtually nonexistent. (Hey, maybe these people just don't want to talk about their sex lives). In that context, isn't it natural to wonder whether chastity is a good idea, or even realistic?

Emily H.

That should be "chastity BEFORE marriage" in my second paragraph, obviously.

mythago

Any consequences are your deal.

Except your broken heart, which is a common fate for men who have persuaded themselves that they don't have real feelings, only a penis.

Well, goodness, I don't know that it's hypocritical to warn people against what one knows by experience.

As Emily says, there's a big difference between "I did that and I'm sorry; don't do it" and "Well, that was fun while it lasted, but there rest of you should refrain!"

Because, goodness, it is very unpersuasive to tell a bunch of teenagers that all that stuff you wrote about being an "evangelical whore" is now ixnayed, and although you haven't really suffered any consequences except a little angst, everybody else should keep their pants zipped.

Stephen

Mythago – “I would sure like to see what studies find that evangelical Protestant women have more sexual satisfaction than women of any other faith (or lack thereof). As long as you're pulling up studies, you might look at peer-reviewed studies about abstinence-only education and how effective it isn't.”

Studies that indicate abstinence education work:
Michael Resnick, M.D. et al, “Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 278 (September 10, 1997)

L. Kahn et. al, “Youth Risk Behavior Survey – United States 1997.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, Vo. 47, 1998

Elaine Borawksi et. al, Evaluation of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs Funded through the Wellness Block Grant (1999-2000). Center for Health Promotion Research, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, Marsh 23, 2001

Peter S. Bearman and Hanna Bruckner, “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse, “ American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 106, No. 4 (January 2001) (The effects of the virginity pledge were shown to be statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level.

I have at least half a dozen others studies of abstinence only programs which indicate statistical significance in reducing sexual activity or postponing the onset of sexual activity. These programs are different from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights League which give a nod to abstinence but with a wink indicating – “but we all know kids will be active.” See Dawn Eden’s “Hot Wired” – an author cited in Amanda’s post.

_________________________


Mythago – “Whether shame and sex-negativity are a 'necessary' part of the message about chastity, they certainly seem to be a very, very common part of that message.”

Based on what? anecdote, hunch, supposition, logic. Other than anecdotes, do you have studies? Have you spoke to 10 evangelical Christians re: how they view and teach sexuality?

In this issue, we bump up against different way of knowing between those who are part of a faith community and those who aren’t. In the latter, our beliefs include: humans are created by God and therefore it entirely appropriate, in fact necessary, to understand actions as “should” and “shouldn’t.” These are not terms of condemnation but rather obedience to Him who made us. It’s a paradigm that is entirely foreign to the world in which we swim and mighty difficult to see, to say nothing of live, which is why Christians adhere to it imperfectly. But nowhere in the literature or individuals I have encountered are there terms of disdain or disgust for those who are struggling with this issue.

Which is not to say it doesn’t happen but it happens as a result of the imperfections of the messenger, not the message, which is one of obedience to live fully as God intended. I do understand that this is, at best, gibberish to those outside of faith.

_____________________________

Amanda: “Actually, Stephen, people do feel bad and make wrong decisions do to pressure to behave in ways that are not right for them. I am glad, for instance, I have resisted the enormous pressure to have children, which was put on me due to a one-size-fits-all prescription, but not all who don't want children resist that pressure and the results are rarely what the people putting pressure would hope.”

Amanda, of course people feel bad and make wrong decisions due to pressure from others and I’m aware of the Christian failings in this regards. At this point, I would also hazard a guess that more individuals make wrong decisions to become sexual active due to pressure to conform to normative behavior prevalent in our culture than abstain.

Let’s also here define “wrong” decision for it really gets at the crux of the matter -- wrong from whose perspective? So, to refer to your and djw’s comments that teaching abstinence is dangerous or “very, very dangerous,” I would point to the rather stark outcomes of either directly encouraging or at least acquiescing to sexual activity outside of marriage, particularly those very young.

We have seen a generation or two of normalizing the dogma that “sexual expression when individuals “feel ready” is a good thing” and the results are less than promising. In fact, I would argue that it admits to a low view of human agency as it implies that, really, at some point all will succumb to the need for sex and encouragement to the contrary will damage a presumably soft sense of self. There may be some damage here, but I would emphasize may and would be interested to see data, other than anecdotes or anti-religious or anti-dogma bigotry, supporting the supposition. What we do know is the following:

Out of wedlock births – 1965 to 1990, an increase from 24 to 64 percent in African Americans, and 3 to 18 percent among whites. This during the increasing and widespread availability of contraception and abortion. The societal impact of this is phenomenal, impacting the poor disproportionately as it locks them in cycles of poverty. (Currently, approx. 20 percent of women with high-school education or less now has a child outside of marriage – up 7% from the 60s.) (George Akerlof, Janet L. Allen, and Michael L Kats. “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1996.)

Single parents – Tied in with the former, individuals who engage in early sexual activity are 50% more likely to divorce later in life than those who don’t. Children from divorced families are more like to drop out of high school and/or commit crimes. (National Survey of Families and Households.)

STDS – 3 million teenagers contract some form of a STD and, currently, over 25% of teens have some form of STDs. 2/3 of all STDs occur in those 25 years of age or less. (American Social Health Association.)

More spooky, there is no cure for some of these such as HIV and herpes, which take their toll on people throughout their life. Also, HPV – the leading viral STD and the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer. (American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures, 1998, www.cancer.org.) Contrary to much teaching, condom use offers relatively minor protection (from zero to some) against herpes and less from HPV. HIV is only stopped 15 to 31 percent of the time. (Dr. Susan Weller, A Meta-Analysis of Condom Effectiveness in Reducing Sexually Transmitted HIV.” Also, Department of Health and Human Services, “Summary” Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for STDs, July 20, 2001.)

Putting aside doctrine, recent social science suggests that it is and continues to be dangerous to encourage anything but abstinence. If you have evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

Stephen

mythago

Putting aside doctrine, recent social science suggests that it is and continues to be dangerous to encourage anything but abstinence.

No, it really doesn't. Because if you buy the "STDs should drive morality" argument, you should be telling married people to abstain--adultery rates in marriage being 25%-50% at a minimum, depending on which survey you read.

1965 to 1990

It's now 2005, and births to teenagers are dropping and have been. Nice try. As is your attempt to paint evangelical Christians as the only "faith community," as if everyone else was an atheist.

Based on what?

On published reports of the content of abstinence-only programs. Thank you for the citations; do you have links? In light of the latest studies finding that abstinence-only education is a mixed bag (young people wait longer but have oral sex anyway, for example) I'm not really convinced. Abstinence-ONLY also ignores the fact that teenagers will be sexually active someday, and that married people need to know about things like human sexuality.

We all remember what our parents said when we complained we didn't like algebra or French or geography, right? "You'll be glad you learned it someday." How much truer that is for education about sexuality.

davejones

"The lady doth protest too much"

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Abstinence-ONLY also ignores the fact that teenagers will be sexually active someday, and that married people need to know about things like human sexuality.

Yes, yes, yes! This is what drives me nuts about abstinence-only education. We all expect teenagers to grow up and have sex eventually, and all but a tiny minority of us (even among those of us who are religious) think that it's just fine for them to use birth control once they're married. So why we would want to keep them abstinent by teaching them nothing else about sex is beyond me.

My mother didn't want me having sex in high school, and she told me so, and why. I listened to her, and didn't have sex in high school. It wasn't tremendously difficult, and I was glad later to have waited. But my mother also was talking to me about sex and about birth control well before I got to high school, and had a copy of "Our Bodies, Our Selves" where I could readily find and read it. And, though my later sexual choices weren't perfect, I can't imagine they'd have been improved by not having that information.

On the other hand, I read Lauren Winner's "evangelical whore" piece in Beliefnet as already ambivalent about her premarital sex. As I recall, she said that her "church lady" friend wasn't wrong to call her to account about her sex life, but was wrong to only scold her about it - and that evangelical circles weren't helpful enough about how to make chastity really work. So, though I haven't actually read her book, I'm not surprised that she now lands on the "no sex until marriage" side of the fence. I suspect it may not be so much affirming Christian tradition against the witness of her own experience as choosing to read an ambivalent experience in a way that's consistent with traditional Christianity.

I find it likely that many people aren't capable of coming up to that standard while also having open, positive, and honest attitudes about sex. I think it can be hard to both abstain for a really, really long time and keep your attitude toward sex positive. Because that means that in your current life, sex is only appearing as a temptation. I'm not sure Christians promoting chastity always do a good job of helping people handle that contradiction. On the one hand, everyone says - and this is good - that sex within marriage is a good, positive thing, a gift from God, etc. On the other hand, a lot of that discussion gets focused on the wonderfulness of that wedding day, when you finally get to do it, with your hymen still intact. And this is: a) not too helpful to those whose hymen is no longer intact, but who still might want to go back to being chaste, and b) probably setting too high expectations for that wedding night, since the experience of finally breaking that hymen isn't necessarily the height of sexual bliss. Also it makes it sound as if the main key to making your married sex life be good is to be sure you've done nothing beforehand (and the few evangelical Christians who do address sex post marriage often do so in a way that underestimates the female libido). It would be interesting to know if Lauren Winner does a better job.

Stephen

Mythago:

I don't believe that "STD's should drive morality" -- I'm not even sure what that means. I am, however, confused as to your argument. Seems to me that the fear of contracting STDs would be an incentive to be faithful to marriage vows of fidelity, not abstain from sexuality within marriage. Regardless, it's a bit of a tangent.

"It's now 2005, and births to teenagers are dropping and have been. Nice try."

Yep, good point. Teenage pregnancy has been dropping. I've heard it's either better condom use ("oh, you actually have to put it on.") or more effective teaching re: abstience. Either way, it's a good sign -- although I would add it's a very, very slight downturn after a long run of increasing pregancies that are most often difficult for all parties.

"As is your attempt to paint evangelical Christians as the only "faith community," as if everyone else was an atheist."

Seems a bit ad-hominem to me but I can see where you might see that as I re-read the post. For the record, and I'm fairly certain the "record" is maybe one other reader, I don't see evanglical Christians as the only faith community. (I'm more influenced by my Catholic and Orthodox brethren these days than not and confess to just liking them more lately.) I respect Mormons for many reasons and often have a sense of awe of the Jewish history and current community. Of course, I think they are theologically wrong, as they think I am. Leads to a more robust understanding of tolerance and civility, don't you think?

As to the rest, you have not provided any reason for me to re-consider my belief that abstience is the best social policy. If you would like to provide a rationale (or studies or something) as to why less teenage preganancy, less divorce, less STD are/is not a good thing, I can respond appropriately.

Lynn, your thoughts are compelling. I've talked to many Christians who kinda shrug after their wedding night and say, "Huh, so that's what all the hoopla is about." Of course, these same couples are often giddily happy after they've had time to . . . learn, grow, experiement, read books, whatever. Anecdotal, I know, but possibly representative.

Your point, as I undestand it, is that abstience only education has the potential to keep people ignorant of sexuality in important ways, doing them a disservice later in life. Possibly. That said, I'm quite certain that not teaching/encouraging abstience has had quite ill effects.

Stephen

mythago

although I would add it's a very, very slight downturn after a long run of increasing pregancies

It's a significant downturn and has been dropping for some time.

I don't get why you found it "a bit ad-hominem" when I pointed out that you conflated 'faith-based' with a particular kind of faith. I'm glad that you respect other religions, but when you speak from the perspective of a Christian and differentiate "between those who are part of a faith community and those who aren’t"--do you really not get that you were, bluntly, referring to anyone whose beliefs did not match those described as not faith-based?

less teenage preganancy, less divorce, less STD are/is not a good thing

Let's not play move-the-target, please. You're presuming that abstinence-only education --> less teenage pregnancy, less divorce, and so on, as a direct causal relationship. That's a big presumption, and not one that is in fact supported by the available evidence. If you have a rationale or studies or something showing that abstinence-only education in fact leads to less irresponsible sexual behavior by teens, I'd like to hear it; the latest studies show a definite mixed bag.

I don't believe that "STD's should drive morality" -- I'm not even sure what that means.

That people should not make choices purely based on fear of catching STDs. For one thing, people who are ignorant about how STDs really are spread (perhaps because their 'abstinence-only' education was, well, only about abstinence) will not understand that, for example, you don't get HIV through tears and that you can catch STDs from an unfaithful spouse even if you have been monogamous.

Jeff

I think it's also telling that even this wider "faith community" is still exclusively Judeo-Christian, and doesn't differ all that widely on the issues we're talking about here.

Stephen

Mythago:

You are wrong re: how I view other faith communities.

I showed you five studies; I have more. You have provided nothing.

Stephen

mythago

You have provided nothing.

My last response included a link to a CDC report showing adolescent births are dropping. You have an odd definition of "nothing."

It's good to provide studies, as long as they actually support your point. (For example, you cited a study showing that out-of-wedlock births rose from 1965 to 1990, which tells us what teens were doing as of 1990. That was, um, 15 years ago.) I'm still waiting for studies showing that abstinence-only education is as or more effective than comprehensive education that combines solid, complete information with encouragement to refrain from early sexual activity, especially that it's effective in the way you suggest it is--reducing STDs and unplanned pregnancies and divorce. It's a very mixed bag, as I said earlier. You can read an abstract of thse studies for free here--the whole study requires you to pony up.

Interestingly, one finding was that adolescents who make a 'private pledge' to remain abstinent are more likely to delay both vaginal and oral sex. Public pledges, a la True Love Waits, had no effect.

The problem with "abstinence is best" is that it is silent on the issue of education. There's no conflict between telling kids how condoms work, and telling them "this is information you may need when you are an adult, because right now it is very risky for you to be having intercourse." Trying to scare them with photos of advanced syphillis or warnings about unplanned pregnancy has as much effect, as Brian pointed out, as horror films in Driver's Ed do on teaching kids not to drive.

Stephen

Mythago:

First, the reference for the study showing evangelical women have greater sexual satisfaction than women in other faiths or those not of a faith community is: Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina Kolata, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little Brown 1995), Chapter 6. (You had asked about this much earlier.) There’s not link – you gotta get the book.

I agree that it is best to provide studies that support your point. You rightly point out that teenage pregnancy has been dropping since 1995. (I was surprised. On this point, I am wrong -- you are right.) Moreover, I am pleased that teenage pregnancy is dropping. Why it is dropping is, as you might imagine, hotly contested. My primary point was not that teenage pregnancy is on a never ending march upward (though my post did have a bit of the strident chicken little tone) but rather that teenage pregnancy is, on the whole, not a good thing and abstinence is the best way to avoid teenage pregnancy. I’m not sure the study I cited is counter to that point.

You requested “studies showing that abstinence-only education is as or more effective than comprehensive education that combines solid, complete information with encouragement to refrain from early sexual activity, especially that it’s effective in the way you suggest it is – reducing STDs and unplanned pregnancies and divorce.” I refer you to the study you provided me: National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

I’ll grant you that the decrease in STD’s is not “statistically significant,” supporting your earlier point that abstinence-only education may delay intercourse but not all sexual activity. (I would note that STDs are not greater amongst this group which one might expect if abstinence-only education spread ignorance as much as it is claimed.) Of greater import, I point out “non-pledgers” were 50% more likely to become pregnant than “strong pledgers.” This is a fairly compelling data-point, don’t you think?

In summary, it is axiomatic that the best way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy (and all the ills associated with this) and STDs is abstinence. How to achieve that end, and whether it is achievable, is not clear. Studies do show that abstinence-only education is quite good in reducing pregnancy, a good thing I would think. But, I am now aware that STDs are not impacted by abstinence-only education.

You’ve modified my belief very slightly on this mythago and helped me clarify my position. For that, I am grateful. I have a rather different position (and rationale) for church-related teaching on the matter but that is for another debate.

Stephen

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