Wednesday, October 05, 2005

In Praise Of Abstinence.


Dear Mr. Wagoner,

In today's Washington Times you are quoted as describing the current administration's support of abstinence-only sex education as "clueless." You apparently base this on a lower average age of puberty and higher average age of marriage than in past decades and on the fact that, at least according to polling data, a greater proportion of young people approve of premarital sex than in the past.

I would be interested to know if you also believe that the legal drinking age should be lowered to eighteen (as is the case in the United Kingdom from whence I hail) and that the use of currently illegal drugs should be decriminalized. If we are to be governed solely by how the young supposedly 'feel' about an activity, then both these steps would follow, but I've noticed that many sexual health professionals seem to be much less willing to grant autonomous decisions to the young when it comes to the consumption of alcohol.

What troubles me far more is that it does not appear to occur to you that your stance on abstinence-only education is a largely self-fulfilling prophecy. If a teaching philosophy takes as its premise that many - perhaps most - young people will have sex early, then many will. No one who advocates such an abstinence-only approach pretends that it is easy or that we can guarantee a one-hundred percent success rate, any more than opponents of street violence in America's big cities believe that they are able, in a short space of time, to stop all drive-by shootings.

The message of delayed gratification is not one that any of us is naturally inclined to follow; it has to be modeled by those who teach it (do as I say not as I do has never been a terribly successful strategy for getting things done) and it has to be repeated time and again - and sometimes over generations - before it sinks in, as the drug information programs of recent years demonstrate. Abstinence-only programs will naturally work best in stable households where parents demonstrate by deed as well as by word why chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it only reinforce familial bonds rather than dissolve them. The fact that they are most successful in that environment is no justification for failing to employ them in other community settings. Just because there is less attention paid to good nutrition in poorer households is no reason for not encouraging all children to make better eating choices.

I realize that such language (which is governed by a Christian understanding of how human sexuality is supposed to be expressed) may not be of great interest to an organization such as Advocates for Youth. However, I would maintain that a belief in the philosophy of abstinence-only education need not be actuated by religious conviction. As someone born after the floodgates of the sexual revolution had opened (1970 to be precise), I have known far too many instances of friends who have suffered the consequences of the new freedoms. "Saving oneself for marriage" may seem a trite phrase to you, but it takes on a new force in an era characterized by infidelity, no-fault divorce and widespread abortion. Active _expression of one's sexuality always has emotional consequences, whether acknowledged or denied. Even a secular humanist could hardly deny that.

There is something particularly unappealing about the barely veiled sneer that seems to come into the voices of sexuality 'experts' when they refer to those who champion an abstinence-only position, implying that they are not only mistaken but either puritanical or of sub-normal intelligence. To be frank, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is already here and many of us are less than convinced that we've got the nirvana of consequence-free sex that he depicts at the beginning of his book. I've always been struck by the passage where the Savage confronts Mustapha Mond:

"[W]e've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory."
"V.P.S.?" "Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences."
"But I like the inconveniences."
"We don't," said the Controller, "We prefer to do things comfortably."
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said

I hope that when you wish to oppose abstinence-only education in the future, you will at least refrain from denigrating the motives of those who advocate it. You may FEEL that we are mistaken, but you do not KNOW that such an approach will inevitably fail.

Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner, PhD.

Here is the article from the The Washington Times that Dr. Bonner is responding to.

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