Abstinence by Any Name is Still Silly

by Jeff Siegel

In 1597, a fellow named Shakespeare published a play called Romeo and Juliet. I mention this not to plump up my academic credentials (it’s actually one of my least favorite of Shakespeare’s), but to suggest that those in the Bush Administration who are responsible for the president’s teenage abstinence policy read it. Alternately, if the language is a bit difficult for some of them, I’d suggest the Franco Zeffirelli film version, with the absolutely ravishing Olivia Hussey.

If they do, they’ll discover something that has apparently escaped them until now: Teenagers want to have sex, and they want to do it as often as possible. In addition, telling them not to have sex doesn’t really mean a whole lot.

I realize this should not be huge news, especially to everyone who used to be a teenager. In fact, a just-released study says the same thing, making it one of the first, rigorous scientific studies of the abstinence policy. But the Bushies, in that cute way they have of firmly refusing to believe anything they don’t want to believe, have dismissed the study. Harry Wilson, a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services, told The Washington Post that that the administration has no intention of changing funding priorities in light of the results.

This would be funny, of course, except for the money we’re spending on a failed policy: $176 million in federal cash annually and millions more in state and local matching grants. That money would go a long way, for example, in adding more than 100,000 Texas children to a federally-sponsored program called CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which provides health insurance for working class families and which some GOP legislators seem to hate as much as they hate pointy-headed liberals.

This is not to say that sex education is not important, because it is. Teenagers need to know about making babies and condoms and sexually transmitted diseases. But telling a teenager not to have sex wasn’t productive in Shakespeare’s time, it wasn’t productive when I was that age (though wanting to have sex was not the same thing as having it), and it’s not any more productive today.

Teach kids to make intelligent decisions, and they’ll make intelligent decisions. Tell kids what not to do, and they’ll do what they’re not supposed to do every time. Isn’t that one of the first rules of being a good parent?

(Promotional photo of Romeo and Juliet from Paramount Pictures.)

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Anonymous said...

The American culture is a fascinating subject but I just cannot piece together how we have devolved to the current situation.

My girlfriend of 5 years was Italian so I have some insight to this and I have lived in England and Italy for years.

Europeans have very low teen pregnancy rates yet the teens are probably having about the same amount of sex as American kids.

Kids here are not taught that sex is dirty. Not sure how to explain it but I would try to state that it is seen as a natural human need about which one should feel no guilt but should take seriously and act responsibly.

Second. Kids are taught openly both at school and by parents how to get birth control and encouraged to use it.

Italy is by the way is a nation that is unabashedly Catholic with a Pope constantly preached the merits of abstinence but somehow common sense manages to rule.

I think American culture is heavily influenced by the old English puritan culture, irony is the English moved on from that decades ago and have nothing resembling the foolish American naive moralist approach.

I remember when drunk driving used to be normal in the USA and we enacted cultural change that made it cool not to drive and drink so if we can achieve that we certainly can change our view of sex and save a lot of kids and parents a lot of agony.

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