We’ve done this “rodeo” before and round and around the teenage sexual merry-go-round we go, again and again.

Country Music’s Verne Gosden was singing about martial fidelity, or its mirror, infidelity.

Academia; our government are reprising a similar old song about teens, sex, and mores.

Another study has just late last week been published repeating much of what’s been said in the not-so-distant past while our cousins from across the Atlantic have been busy repudiating one leading verse of America’s tune about how to control a teen’s sexual drive.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States says approximately three million teenagers become infected with an STD every year
According to Campaign for Our Children, one million teenagers become pregnant annually, and approximately 40 percent of girls in the United States become pregnant at least once before the age of 20.

Students who participated in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to this recent study ordered by Congress.

Students, who attended one of the four abstinence classes reviewed, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes.

And they first had sex about the same age as other students — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The federal government spends about $176 million a year promoting abstinence until marriage. Critics have repeatedly said they did not believe the programs worked.

Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study, saying the four programs were some of the very first established after Congress overhauled the nation’s welfare laws in 1996.

Officials said one lesson they learned from the study was that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years.

“This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines,” said Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the federal Administration for Children and Families. “You can’t expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth’s high school career.”

Christian comedian Keith Deltano has been performing at a number of high schools in Loudon County, Virginia this year with the intent of pushing abstinence-only education through comedy. How does he do this, do you ask? He dangles a cinderblock over a male students’ crotch to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of condoms against HIV.

Because what’s funnier than a brick possibly dropping on your dick?? Ha! Ha! Ha! Heh!

In 2004, Sexual Intelligence noted: Texas educators are now debating the content of new high school sex education books. The Board of Education is choosing among four books, all of which passionately praise abstinence. Three omit contraception completely, while one barely mentions condoms.

Not surprisingly, federal data show Texas once again among the top five states in the country for teenage pregnancies and STDs

Then Governor of Texas, George W. Bush pushed an abstinence-based sex education curriculum.

America’s supposedly “conservative” governments–national, state, and local–have spent trillions of dollars intruding on citizens’ private lives with relentless wars on pornography, contraception, sex toys, strip clubs, and other forms of alleged “indecency.” There’s nothing “conservative” about that–just good old-fashioned hypocrisy and repressed voyeurism, ordered by too-big government and paid for by tax dollars.

Across the Pond, on the other hand, real conservatives are talking with integrity about an approach to teen sexuality. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary-in-waiting for UK’s opposition Tory party, has unveiled a plan that would encourage teens to take more control of their sexual lives to combat a recent increase in STDs and HIV..
The plan is a big departure from years of right-wingers demanding that children be taught to abstain.

Dismissing calls for US-style programs that encourage teens to remain virgins until marriage, Lansley told the London Observer, “I’m not talking about abstinence, I’m talking about something designed to empower young people to choose. It’s feeling one has a greater sense of control over what one does with one’s body, and being able to resist peer pressure or pressure from boyfriends.”

British research has consistently shown that teenagers delay starting sex and are less likely to get pregnant when they are taught both the mechanics of contraception and about self-esteem and how relationships work.

Of course, the English have more experience as conservatives, founding the Tory party back in 1689. How nice to see that they’re combining this with respect for science, attention to reality, and compassion for people’s lives and choices.

That’s how far America’s sex education policies have sunk–compassionate conservatism would actually be an improvement.

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), at least 80 percent of college students have engaged in sexual intercourse,

Again, we’re back on the sexual merry go round and let us look at 2005, the American Midwest, the State of Illinois, Chicago to be exact.

Three phrases stand out in large, white letters on the long blackboard: “To abstain,” “sexual activity” and “subliminal seduction.” Close to 50 freshmen shift in their desks, watching the teacher or talking to their peers in the crowded, windowless classroom at Kenwood Academy.

Elaine Jones blows on a whistle around her neck to gain the students’ attention and launches into her lesson on subliminal seduction—how teens are bombarded with images of sex every day, and how they can resist those seductions and abstain from sexual activity. Not just now or in the near future, she says, but until marriage.

“What is a sex act?” Jones asks the class, pointing to the “sexual activity” portion of the blackboard. One student, who has been tossing out jokes throughout the class, raises his hand from the corner. “Say, if I was a virgin,” he asks. “If I had oral sex, I’m not a virgin?”

The students look expectantly at Jones. The guidelines of the abstinence-only curriculum certainly do not consider oral sex acceptable behavior for unmarried persons, but it is an act Jones says the teens are curious about.

Jones explains that technically, if a girl engages in oral sex, “she is still a virgin. But, in her sexual abstinence, she is not a virgin anymore.”

Along with other sources, Jones teaches from an abstinence-only curriculum called Project Reality, created by an independent organization of the same name and used in 525 middle schools and high schools in Illinois, including 130 in Chicago Public Schools.

But abstinence-only curricula like Project Reality are coming under increasing fire. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois recently sent a letter to some 1,300 school superintendents across the state, warning that abstinence-only programs often include false or misleading information about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—for instance, that condoms are not effective in preventing the spread of STDs.

According to the ACLU, recent studies show that abstinence-only programs do not prevent teens from engaging in premarital sex and may deter young people from using condoms or from getting tested and treated for STDs.

Yet under policies put in place by the Bush Administration, schools that want federal funds for sex education can only receive grants if they agree to teach solely from abstinence-only curricula, says Lorie Chaiten, director of the reproductive rights program at the ACLU of Illinois.

Jobi Peterson, executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and a former CPS administrator, says very few students receive adequate information in health classes because schools lack the resources to pay for comprehensive sex education programs.

The caucus is lobbying legislators to provide federal funds for comprehensive sex education curricula, which the group notes would include a strong message in favor of abstinence but also medically accurate information on reproductive health, STDs and pregnancy prevention.

“Teachers really do want to give more information to young people but they just don’t have the curriculum or materials,” Petersen says.

The issue is particularly critical in Chicago, where teen birth rates have declined in recent years but remain higher than the averages—in some communities, more than double—for the state and surrounding Cook County suburbs.

In the classroom, however, sticking to a strict outline of “abstinence only” is not always practical. Teens bring questions and experiences that fall outside of these rigid parameters. And while students recognize the wisdom behind abstinence-focused teachings, they are also the first to point out the irony of such instruction in schools filled with pregnant students and teen parents.

“Every time you look up, someone’s pregnant,” says Kiyona Jackson, a soft-spoken senior at Hyde Park Academy in Woodlawn, which has a teen birth rate of 19 percent. “I don’t think they get pregnant on purpose. They listen to [sex education], but they go against it or whatever.”

Even though she knows not all students will listen to the sex-can-wait message, Kendra Thomas, another Hyde Park student, says she believes that it’s an important viewpoint for students to receive. “They tell you that [sex] can cause you to do things you don’t want to do, and emotional stress,” she says.

According to Denise Everhart, one of Hyde Park Academy’s physical education teachers, the school supplements its health education program with lesson plans from ABJ Community Services Inc., an agency that trains instructors to teach abstinence-only materials, and Project VIDA, a group founded in 1992 to address the rising number of HIV and AIDS cases in Chicago’s black and Latino communities.

Everhart supports this combination.

Students are getting the facts now,” she says. “Oftentimes, they misunderstand the whole reproductive process—for example, some think that they can’t get pregnant standing up. They don’t understand conception, and that’s something they definitely understand by the end [of the course].”

Najamusahar Muneeruddin, a sophomore at Lane Tech High in North Center, says some students might rebel against the Project Reality curriculum taught there.

“Some kids that take the sex ed class get angry, thinking ‘Why are they telling me what to do?’” she says.

Classmate Rex Libunao agreed. “If we are going to have sex, we might as well have choices,” he says. “At least you’d know about condoms, but they never told us about that.”

Abstinence-only supporters believe Project Reality and other such lessons arm students with information they need to refuse sexual activity until marriage.

But detractors claim that message is realistic only to a handful of students in today’s classrooms.

The debate has gained momentum over the years. The Bush Administration increased funding for abstinence-only curricula to $206 million for fiscal year 2006, from $170 million for fiscal year 2005.

Most recently in Illinois, some lawmakers have proposed a measure to guarantee state funding for “abstinence-based” sex education, which would promote abstinence as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies but would also provide age-appropriate information about condoms and birth control.

The Illinois School Code specifies only that health education curricula should include instruction on “family life, including sexual abstinence until marriage.”

Caught in between are students left with valid questions and no answers to be found in their workbooks, like “The Navigator,” a text that supplements the Project Reality curriculum. “What if a girl was reading that, and was pregnant?” questions Lane Tech student Halla Karaman. “What if she wanted an abortion? Where would she go? How much would it cost? Do you need parental permission?”

“That’s the problem,” continues classmate Quetzalli Castro. “They tell you how you get pregnant, but not what to do. They tell you about abstinence, but they stop there.”

For her students, Jones has helped supply some of the answers. It was Rahkeisha Teagues’ favorite part of the class. “She gave us little cards to write questions down on. It’s fun,” Teagues says.

In aging metal file cabinets near the door of her classroom, Jones keeps several stacks of note cards bound with rubber bands. On each note card is a single health-related question written on the first day of class by a student; Jones proceeds through them as the semester progresses, answering each and every one of the students’ anonymous questions in class.

“I’m an advocate of abstinence, but I’m also realistic,” Jones says. “I try to teach to the whole class.” Usually the cards cover a range of topics, but this past year the cards shared an obvious theme, Jones says. “Every question was on sex, and they’re very detailed.”

Because many children are forbidden to talk about sex, they learn what little they know from hearsay and vulgar jokes.

As a result, many people make it as far as college knowing virtually nothing about sex or even about their own bodies. Since approximately half of all high school students are sexually active, this ignorance about sex can have devastating consequences.

Many teenagers do not realize the severity of the consequences of unprotected sex, are not aware of the available kinds of protection, are not educated about how to use them properly, cannot afford them, or are too embarrassed to purchase them.

Consequently, sexually active teenagers are at a very high risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.

According to Campaign for Our Children, one million teenagers become pregnant annually, and approximately 40 percent of girls in the United States become pregnant at least once before the age of 20.

The problem is that most children do not receive an adequate sex education from their parents or their schools.

Only 19 states require their schools to provide sex ed, and of those, only nine require the programs to include information about both abstinence and safe sex.
Many of the more conservative Christian churches believe that if children are to be taught about sex, they should only learn about remaining abstinent until marriage.

This attitude pervades a large part of American society.
For the Catholic Church in particular, all teachings about sexuality are based on the belief that sexual intercourse exists purely for the purpose of procreation.
Pope John Paul II stated in his Humanae Vitae, “The Church teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”

It is seen as wrong to derive pleasure from sex unless it is done within the act of procreation. Thus masturbation is wrong because it is not connected with reproduction.

Oral sex is unacceptable, even within marriage, because it cannot lead to pregnancy. Homosexuality is viewed as “intrinsically evil,” artificial insemination is seen as an attempt to defy biology, and even birth control is forbidden because it implies sex is being used for pleasure instead of procreation.
Many churches are very influential in maintaining abstinence-only sexual education and contend that knowledge about contraception causes more teenagers to engage in sexual activity.
Ideally, if all teenagers could be convinced to remain chaste, abstinence education would be effective in getting rid of STDs and unplanned teenage pregnancies.

Realistically, though, people are going to have sex, so teaching them about abstinence alone does not accomplish anything.

The World Health Organization has concluded that programs that teach both abstinence and safe sex are more effective than those teaching only abstinence and that sex education does not actually increase sexual activity. Studies have found that sex ed actually reduces teen pregnancy rates and that condom availability leads to safe sex without encouraging abstinent teenagers to begin having sex.

In conclusion, if a certain segment of American society has its way, this part of an old dirty joke could well apply: “…The nun, clearly confused, started scratching her head, and replied, “Gee, that’s a hard one.” And the lights started flashing, the music started playing……”




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