Monday, May 23, 2005

Abstinence Only 

I know it's a point we bring up often here, but I was watching 60 Minutes last Sunday and was reminded what a bad President George Bush is and what a bad job the Republicans are doing at running this country. There was a report on good old abstinence-only education - and it's terrible. The federal government is spending upwards of $100 million a year to fund programs that lie to kids. There is no other way of phrasing it. They lie about the effectiveness of condoms and birth control. They lie about the correlation between sex and depression. Furthermore, they are overtly religious.

The report focused on one such program - Silver Ring Thing - and oh shit is it weird. Basically, they somehow get kids to attend rock-concert like church services about sex. The kids then get an opportunity to put on a ring, and promise that they will not have sex (again, in some cases) until they are married. A minister talks about what Jesus would like us to do - and apparently, according to the Bush administration, this is OK as long as some non-religious programming is offered as well. (60 Minutes didn't show us the alternative - my guess is the production values weren't quite as good.)

You should read the 60 Minutes report, but the story on the web doesn't fully capture how fucking weird the Silver Ring Thing event was. At one point, a group of people on stage start screaming "SEX... IS... GREAT!" Later, the head cult leader/minister said something along the lines of "and one day, I want you take this ring off, and give it to your husband or wife, and tell them you've waited for them, and then tell them LET'S GET IT ON!" Then, I shit you not, porn-like music started playing.

Said cult leader/minister of the Silver Ring Thing also had this to say:
[If] my own daughter, my 16-year-old daughter, tells me she’s going to be sexually active... I would not tell her to use a condom.

But surely this is just a program that gets some federal funds but that happens to have some over-zealous folks working on the ground, right?
Claude Allen is President Bush’s domestic policy advisor and point man on abstinence-only education.

"The message is very important, not just for the Bush administration, but for the country. Parents are concerned about what’s happening to their kids," says Allen. "Young people in this country are contracting sexually transmitted diseases at an alarming rate. And therefore it is a high priority for the Administration as well for American families."

"What’s wrong with telling kids, 'You should be abstinent, abstain from sex. But if you are going to be sexually active, use a condom?'" asks Bradley.

"If I were to say to that same group of teenagers, you know what, don’t drink and drive, but if you do drink and drive, make sure you wear your seatbelt," says Allen. "In the case of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, the only 100 percent prevention message is to abstain."
Really? Because that's the stupidest fucking comparison I've ever heard in my life. In fact, what telling kids to abstain from sex but to use protection if they do have sex is EXACTLY like is telling them not to drink but that if they do drink not to drive. And I'd bet there are some people who think that's wrong as well - and they are all crazy fucking lunatics who have no business teaching children anything.

Per the 60 Minutes report, a teacher in one federally-funded, abstinence-only programs is required to report condom rates as a failure rate - not a success rate. And if a student asks how to use a condom? The teacher is not permitted to tell them. Again, awesome.

I know this is an immature, obscenity-filled post, but I can't emphasize enough how embarrassed and ashamed my Republican friends should be about the fact that this garbage is being fed to American kids with tax dollars. I can't emphasize enough how embarrassed and ashamed I am that Bill Clinton allowed the Republican Congress to fund such programs. I can't emphasize enough how depressing it is that the government is funding overtly religious, cult-like gatherings.

ADDENDUM: I've been a bit hard on Silver Ring Thing, so I should give them a chance to respond. If anyone has any questions about SRT (as I believe the kids are calling it), the Q&A section of their web site is here.

And I did have some questions. For example, how are they able to talk about sex without getting too graphic for the kiddies?
[W]e are careful not to speak in "graphic" terms for three reasons, (a) the age differences in the room, (b) this is basically a parent's role, (c) this kind of information is better explained one-on-one and not in a group setting. We focus instead on the emotional, mental, and relational results of engaging in pre-marital sex.
OK - I agree with that. As a teenager, if I want to know the basics about sex, I'll turn to the folks at Silver Ring Thing. But if I want to know the logistics of exactly how a penis enters a vagina, what sort of thrusting is appropriate, what positions are most favorable, etc. - I'll turn to my parents in a one-on-one setting. Makes sense to me. And if I want to know how to put on a condom, I'll just turn to Satan.

Moving on, how does SRT keep the kids interested?
Humor and technology are the two main vehicles used for communicating the message. Humor is used to get everyone comfortable about being there and talking about sex. Humor is also used to make a point. comedy skits explore the ways teens relate to each other and the careless way they make decisions about their lives and their sexuality. The kids may be laughing but they get the message that there has to be a better way.
Oh, God bless you "comedy skits." Nothing spells funny like a bunch of evangelical Christians doing skits about the careless way teens make decisions about their sexuality. Although, in fairness, this would most likely be funnier than 90% of the garbage Saturday Night Live is subjecting us to these days.

Make sure to click on the Silver Ring Thing site - so you can answer any questions you have on your own.
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