Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescent Sexuality, Bad Ideas, Cultural Traits, Culture, Denialism, Ethics, Human Nature, Life, Living, Memes, Morality, Morals, Sex, Sexuality, Society, Values, Village Idiots

Sex Education in the World Today

(About a 2 minute read)

I am of the alarming opinion that American and United Kingdom sex education is rather on the deficient side, crazy as my opinion might sound to this blog’s typically well-informed readers.

Nevertheless, even if that is so, there is fair and just cause for joint UK – USA pride.

We both beat India.

Continue reading “Sex Education in the World Today”

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Apathy, Art, Attachment, Bad Ideas, Belief, Boredom, Cultural Traits, Culture, Happiness, Human Nature, Humor, Ideologies, Impermance, Irony, Knowledge, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Memes, Oppression, Poetry, Quality of Life, Relationships, Science, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Society, Subjective Verification, Teacher, Teaching, Thinking, Truth

Late Night Thoughts: Scam-Sharks, Poetry, Blogging, Rebirth, and More

(About a 9 minute read)

Grey skies, greyer rain.
We shelter our hearts
Together you and I
Beneath our bright
Yellow umbrella.

◊◊◊

Where are the best blogs?  I’ve come across several in the past few weeks, but not nearly enough to slake my depraved thirst for other folk’s  pleasantly twisted, often unique, vibrantly creative, or revealingly truthful perspectives on all things life.

If you know of any great blogs that fit any of those descriptions — or for that matter, are great and snerklesome in any other way — please link me to them!  I’d love to check them out!

 ◊◊◊

A young man, about 20 I would guess, recently told me that we know we are right when “the voice within” confirms we are right.  He was responding to another person’s question, “How do we know when something is true?”

I think, from what I’ve heard and read, that the notion we can discern the truth or falsity of an idea merely according to whether or not some “inward voice” tells us that it sits well with us, or feels right or true to us, is a popular one these days.

Frankly, I also suspect it is evidence of a disturbing lack of a competent education.  If that young man honestly didn’t graduate from high school knowing how — at least in principle — to sort what is true or from what isn’t true, he should consider suing his school board for negligent injury and malpractice, and name his teachers as co-defendants.

He should go for blood, too!  Settle for nothing less than hundreds of thousands.  It’s arguable that part of the foundation of any decent education is to learn what makes something true or not.

Whether the law will actually allow him to file such a suit is almost irrelevant to the fact that he does honestly deserve compensation — if he was not himself somehow to blame for being left ignorant of how to judge whether or not something is true.

He deserves it because he’s almost certainly going to pay for it again and again in the currency of messed up life decisions until he does learn.

Every politician and scam-shark out there can already smell his blood.

◊◊◊

I confess.  As you probably suspected, I just now cheerfully made up the newborn word, “snerklesome”.  I have no idea what it should mean.  Do you?  Suggestions, please!

◊◊◊

Without You

If I had this day to own
I think I could sit here for an hour
With nothing more important
Than coffee and this pen
And how much better living’s been
Without you.

I don’t do a lot these days —
It’s so crazy, but it’s fun
Just recalling what I’m missing
Without you.

It ain’t about good or bad
Or anything so grim —
I remember well your beauty —
But the mornings still have been
Lighter now without you.

◊◊◊

Is the desire for rebirth, renewal a human universal?  It seems ubiquitous enough: It’s found in every culture and society that I myself know of.  Perhaps it really is a universal, or nearly universal, trait of humans.

◊◊◊

I really do need more blogs to read.   “Please, sir, I want some more.”

(Silence)

“What? More?  The boy wants more?” Said the master bloggers in unison and disbelief.

“That boy will be hung”, said the author of a science blog. “I know that boy will be hung.”

◊◊◊

The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.  — Kenko, Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa).

Sometime around the age of 50, I began to notice how predictable, repetitious, and boring life was becoming for me.  The weariness took hold gradually, but steadily grew over the next several years until it reached something of a crisis in that I was becoming lethargic and dissatisfied under the weight of it.

Ironically, those years were still the happiest of my life up until that time.  Yet the boredom rose and began to threaten that happiness.  What to do?

I would prefer to tell you now that I found the perfect solution, but I didn’t, and I still haven’t.  I have, however, managed to greatly reduce the problem through more than one means, most of them commonsense (“Try new things”, “Break at least some of your routines”,  “Turn to the arts and sciences for fresh ideas and ways of seeing”,  “Start a guerilla war with the kids on your lawn”, etc.).  Some of them, however, are perhaps a little bit more than commonsense.

When I came across Kenko several years ago, I was struck by two things.  First, the novelty of his view of uncertainty.  Most of us, I think, are annoyed by uncertainty.  We even seem to run from it.  For instance, how often do we embrace all too tightly beliefs about the world that we cannot possibly — if we were honest with ourselves — be that certain of?  And how often do we cling to old, outdated, now worthless habits and routines for no better reason than they make our days more predictable?  We are usually inclined, I believe, to view uncertainty as anything but “precious”.

So Kenko’s view of uncertainty first struck me for a view I’d never come across before.  And in the second place, it struck me for a view I didn’t understand.  Why did he think uncertainty was so precious?  Was he really seeing something?  Something I myself had never seen before?   If so, then what could it be?

Something I’ve become acutely aware of is how we tend to turn to stone over the years: To ossify in our beliefs, daily activities, relationships, and self-identities and images.  Indeed, I’ve written about how and why our self-image can become our greatest tyrant and oppressor here.  The problem is that it does very little good to merely say to ourselves, “Don’t do it!”  That’s about as effective in practice as “Just abstain until marriage” sex-ed.

What has worked best for me to solve the ossification problem is to look for uncertainties in my self-images or self-identities.  Seeing how uncertain my notions of myself are has significantly helped me to hold at least many of those notions tentatively, lightly.  It even seems to me now that a lightness of heart or spirit begins with a lightness of self-image.

Thank you, Kenko.  You got me to barking up the right trees, sniffing the right crotches, for an at least partial solution to my problem.

◊◊◊

Is there an absolute reality?

That’s a bit different from asking if there’s an absolute truth.   Ideas are like maps, reality is like the terrains the maps refer to, and truth is a quality of the relationships between the maps and their terrain.  So when we ask, “Is there an absolute reality”, we are not really asking if there is an absolute truth.

Without an absolute reality, the notion of ever knowing all there is to know about the universe becomes impossible, even in theory.
Yet, would that be a good or a bad thing?
◊◊◊

Artists of all kinds so often think they must seek out new truths.  Perhaps their most vital service to us, however, is to make old, solid, and well-known truths once again visible to us.

For such old truths have become clichés, and few of us see much beyond the surface of a cliché, see it fresh, and as if for the first time.  Consequently, old truths so frequently have less impact than they should (for our own sake) have on our views, actions, and attitudes.

◊◊◊

Recently, I saw a man in anger destroy nearly at once several friendships that only moments before were important to him.  He did it because he felt slighted by two or three individuals, and to retaliate, he entirely broke off relations with a whole small group of people, and not just the two or three members of the group who he felt had slighted him.

“A man can only take so much”, he said.

But it was not the man who suffered the slights, it was the ego in the man who suffered the slights.  A more rational thing to have done might have been to look more deeply into the matter, for when someone slights you, they either do so accidentally, or with just cause, or with injustice.

If accidentally, forgive them.  If just, apologize and forgive them.  If with injustice, dump them and forgive them (Forgiveness is not for their sake, but for yours.  It’s unhealthy to carry around a grudge).  But whatever you do, don’t lose friendships valuable to you over such slights.  The poor fool was a puppet of his pride.

◊◊◊

We make too much of beliefs.

We are taught to make too much of them by our cultures, and then we never seem to get around to de-programming ourselves of such an insidious notion.  We are even taught that we are our beliefs.  That they are the very substance of our selves.  But a self made out of beliefs — no matter how profound those beliefs are — is a shallow, superficial self.

For beliefs — even when true — are no more than the maps we use to negotiate reality, and just like paper maps, they are not at all the reality they refer to.  A person who thinks his or her beliefs are their selves is like a hiker who thinks the trail map they hold in their hands is the trail itself.  You can’t lose your virginity by reading a textbook in biology, and you can’t really know yourself if all you know are your beliefs about yourself.

Beliefs should be worn lightly, tentatively, hesitantly.  They should never become balls and chains on our ankles.  How, then, can we dance light-heartedly through life?

◊◊◊

I Remember

I remember
Laughing under summer skies —
Would have thought we could fly —
And the winds pass on by.

I remember
Holding hands while the river flowed —
Came a time to let you go —
And the waters pass on by.

Now for all that I know
You have a good life
Filled with the stars,
The sun, and the trees.

But all that I do know —
It’s the life you should have,
So beautiful
You were to me.

Abortion, Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Bad Ideas, Class War, Conservative, Creativity, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Economic Crisis, Ethics, Homeless, Humor, Idealism, Ideologies, Infatuation, Invention, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Love, Memes, Morality, Morals, New Idea, Political Issues, Politics, Poverty, Quality of Life, Reason, Relationships, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Society, Talents and Skills, Values, Village Idiots, War on Drugs

Late Night Thoughts: Infatuation, Invention, Creativity, Pragmatism, and More

(About a 9 minute read)

It snowed last night.  Not a light, romantic snow either, but a heavy wet snow that piled up to seven inches on some of the tree branches, bowing them, sometimes breaking them.  Now and then a mass of snow would fall from one of the trees overhanging my cottage and land on my roof, sounding like some large animal had pounced on it.

◊◊◊

Most of us in America have been taught the difference between infatuation and love is a matter of duration.  If an attraction endures for a long time, then it’s love, but if it’s fleeting, transient, then it’s infatuation.  But even when I was in high school, I knew that was a greasy idea.

Because of Janet.

I met Janet the second semester of my freshman year, and I became infatuated with her the day after I met her.  That infatuation lasted five or six years, but I never mistook it for love.  I knew almost from the first moment I noticed it that it was infatuation. What I didn’t know was how to shake it off.

◊◊◊

Some years ago, I made a genuine, serious count of the most profound insights and creative inventions I’d discovered up until that moment in my life.

I went at it in earnest, left nothing out unless it was too minor, insignificant to include in the count.

There had been about a dozen.

Yet everyone of the ideas had been discovered by someone before me, someone whose work I was ignorant of until after I re-invented the idea myself.

And each of the inventions had, each for its own reasons, come to nothing.

“Thank you for writing up your proposal, Paul.  We appreciate the hard work you put into it, but we decided yesterday in an executive meeting not to pursue your idea.  Frankly, we don’t see a major market for it.  People will never purchase in droves a plastic card allowing them to make long distance calls from any phone”.

Two years later.  “Hey, could you tell me what these things are?”

“Oh, those are something new.  Seven-Eleven just started carrying them a couple days ago.  We call them, ‘Phone Cards’.  Buy one! They allow you to make long distance calls from any phone.

“Why are you crying, Sir?  Can I get you a towel?  Um…maybe a few…?”

“No. no. It’s too late, my shirt is already soaked.  It’s just that…that I’m so happy for you!”

“Sir?  Sir, I’m going for those towels right now!”

◊◊◊

I once thought creativity was a by-product of intelligence, but someone emailed me links to a few articles on the subject a couple years ago in what turned out to be a rather creative attempt to open the way to romancing me.

Seems creativity has been a subject of scientific study for a bit over 30 years now, and that it has little enough to do with intelligence.  There’s a kind of minimum threshold of sorts, but it’s not high, and if you’re smarter than that, then you might or might not be a creative person.

One of the scientist’s major findings: Especially creative people have brains hard-wired for it.

The woman who emailed me the links, by the way, ended up after a few back and forths, emailing me one of the most lengthy, vicious, and creative attacks on my character and life-choices that I’ve ever read the first few lines of before deleting.  Seems she was a wee little bit peeved to learn I was really, genuinely committed to celibacy.

◊◊◊

A month back, my young, 22 year old friend Sophie asked me “Why is sex shameful?  Even though I know in my mind there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I still feel shame.  Why is that, Paul?”

“Why are you asking me, Sophie?”

“Because you know everything, Paul.  You’ve told me so yourself!”

“Oh, that’s right!  Yes, I did.  But I forgot to mention to you that by ‘know’, I meant ‘I have an opinion about it’.  For me, you understand, those are the exact same things.”

“You’re such a real man, Paul.  Such a real man.”

“Thank you so much, Sophie!  Your lavish praise is so annoying.”

“Just get on with it.  What’s your opinion?”

“Well, I do know there used to be an hypothesis in anthropology and evolutionary psychology.  Maybe it’s still current.  According to it, sexual shame evolved in us as an instinct in order to facilitate male bonding, which allowed us to live in larger, more survivable groups.”

“Figures.  It’s always about you men, isn’t it?”

“This time it’s about you women, too.  You see, the notion is that our evolving feelings of shame meant couples quit having public sex.  And that meant male friendship bonds were not as often broken by the sight of another male getting it on with a delicious, desirable female that every other male jealously wanted.  Obviously, the anthropologists had you in mind, Sophie, because you’re so delectable!”

“I am NOT loaning you my money, Paul! Not a dime!”

“Delectable. Kind. Compassionate. Caring…”.

“Shuddup Paul!”

◊◊◊

It is so often necessary to see less truth in order to see a deeper truth.

 ◊◊◊

A few days ago, I was on my way to the corner store when a homeless man approached me with a smile on his mostly toothless face, and a whiff of alcohol on his breath.  “You look just like Arlo Gutherie!” He said.

Truth, it was he who looked like Arlo.  You could see the resemblance despite how his face had been warped over the years by the occupational hazards of long-term homelessness.

We carried on a lively back and forth for twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes.  It was a real conversation, too.  I made a point of that.  When I myself was homeless, the one thing I missed the most was being treated like I actually existed.

◊◊◊

It seems to be an American cultural trait to address problems pragmatically, except for human problems.  Back in the 1930s and ’40s, fatal, crippling, and maiming automobile accidents were almost as common as women in a coffee shop are today.

The problem was tackled with scientific precision.  Hundreds of studies were done.  Then change was brought about by dozens upon dozens of innovations.  Guard rails installed at key places.  Road curves redesigned to make them safer to negotiate at normal speeds.  Seat belts made mandatory.  Driving tests required before licensing.  Air bags.  Child safety seats.  And so forth.

None of the innovations was, by itself, anywhere near to being a solution to the problem.  But each innovation reduced the problem by perhaps as much as 1% or 2%.  And like drops of water filling a bucket, they began adding up.  Today, tens of thousands of people still die on the roads — there is much that remains to be done — but the carnage is not even close to what it once was.

That’s how Americans, at least until recently, tended to approach most problems.  Pragmatically.  But the exception has always  been “human problems”.  Then the Puritan rears up in us.  We become, not pragmatists, but moralists.  Not rationalists, but irrationalists.

Unwanted teen pregnancies, substance abuse, rape, homelessness, poverty, joblessness, scientific illiteracy, declining middle class incomes — these are all problems that could be solved almost overnight in relative terms.  Solved, or at least ameliorated, reduced to their lowest possible frequency, if only we would approach them with sustained, pragmatic efforts to solve or ameliorate them.

And some of us wish to do exactly that.

But apparently, not enough of us to matter all that much.  The Puritans, the moralists, for the most part have the upper hand in America.  We put men on the moon within a single decade of pragmatic effort, but we can’t even get effective comprehensive sex education taught in most Southern public schools, and all too many public schools in the rest of the country.

It isn’t sex that’s shameful.  It’s moralism.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescent Sexuality, Celibacy, Dr. Karen Rayne, Education, Health, Political Issues, Politics, Sexuality

What’s Wrong With Primarily Teaching Kids Abstinence?

Earlier today, I was visiting Karen Rayne’s thoughtful blog, Adolescent Sexuality, where she had a post up on the follies of abstinence only sex education.  I think her post prompted me to articulate my own views of teaching kids about abstinence a little bit better than I normally do.  Because I want to give Karen’s blog a shout out (It’s very much worth placing on your schedule of blogs to regularly visit), and because I wish to prompt you to share your own views on the matter, I will quote the  comment I made there:

As someone who has been voluntarily celibate for years, I guess I would be a hypocrite if I did not support abstinence. And, indeed, I wish for a world in which no one — especially young people — is pressured into having sex when they don’t feel or intuit it’s right for them.

At the same time, though, I have increasingly come to the belief we should raise kids to anticipate that they will become sexually active at sometime in their late teens or early twenties, and, of course, to be prepared for it if and when it happens. In other words, I’m no longer of the opinion, if I ever really was, that we should tell kids their first choice should be abstinence and that having sex is only plan B.

For one thing, it’s my understanding that the average age of first sex in the US is currently somewhere around 17 or 18. For another thing, I recall that only one in ten people wait for marriage to have first sex. And, if those and other things are the real facts of the matter, then I find it a bit off to pretend — as so many of our leaders do — that most kids can benefit from being taught that abstinence ought to be Plan A.

I would turn it around. Responsible sex is Plan A, abstinence is Plan B, and Plan C is to take responsibility for neither and become a fool.

Of course, given the current politics of sex, I believe there is no way any public school system instructor in the US could get away with telling kids, “You should pretty much expect to have sex by your late teens or early twenties, and if you don’t, then that’s alright too.”

So, Karen, am I a nutcase for thinking the primary emphasis should be on preparing for sex, rather than on preparing for abstinence?

I will ask you the same essential question I asked Karen: Should the primary emphasis in sex education be on teaching kids to prepare for sex, rather than on teaching kids to prepare for abstinence?  What do you think?

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Abuse, Adolescence, Children, Culture, Education, Health, Late Night Thoughts, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society, Values

The Two Most Popular American Attitudes Towards Sex?

Popular American culture seems to be dominated by two contrasting attitudes towards human sexuality.

On the one hand, you have the attitude that manifests itself in the stupid sexualization of youth.

It must seem to any neutral observer that America’s media, with surprisingly few exceptions,  is absolutely obsessed with sexualizing ever younger and younger children.  What else can you make of such nonsense as thongs and fishnet stockings made for preteens?  Yet, the science is in on this absurd practice: Studies show that such sexualization has numerous negative consequences and few or no benefits.  So what is the attitude — the thinking, as it were — of the people who perpetrate this blunder?

I believe what underlies the sexualization of youth is pretty murky, rather than clear cut.  Surely, some people are promoting sexualization in order to exploit kids for financial and business gain.  But what attitude or thought process encourages the mother who puts her eight year old daughter in fishnets?   That mother cannot be said to be doing it for financial or business gain.  But if not, then what is she thinking?  That puzzles me.

On the other hand, in American culture you have the attitude that manifests itself in the equally stupid abstinence only sex education movement.

I think the attitude that underlies abstinence only sex education is more clear cut than the attitudes that underlie the sexualization of youth.  That’s to say, underlying abstinence only sex education is a peculiar blind and obstinate prudishness.   There may be other attitudes mixed in with that one, but I will wager that prudishness is predominant.

Abstinence only sex education is only the sharp tip of that prudishness.  The same prudishness also manifests itself in a pervasive fearfulness towards sex that at times is indistinguishable from wretched hysteria.  That astonishing fearfulness is often accompanied by ignorance,  unrealistic expectations, squeamishness, and even outright rejection of ones sexuality.  We often make fun of prudishness in this country, but it is perhaps equally possible to think of it as crippling.

Both of these popular American attitudes towards sexuality — both the attitudes that manifest as the sexualization of youth and the attitude that manifests as abstinence only sex education (among other things) — are dysfunctional. 

In my opinion, Americans could not have picked two attitudes towards sex more stupid than those two.  Indeed, the fact those two ideas are the predominant ideas about sex in American popular culture severely argues against the notion that our country is, or has ever been, blessed by a deity.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.  So what have I overlooked here?

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescent Sexuality, Behavioral Genetics, Biology, Culture, Environment, Family, Genetics, Health, Learning, Nature, Psychology, Science, Sexuality, Society

Your Genes Could Influence When You First Let Someone in Your Jeans

Over the last few years, I’ve been deeply impressed with the understanding of human nature that is emerging from behavioral genetics.  When I was growing up, folks would passionately debate whether one or another behavior was inherited through our genes or simply learned.  There were many people who took the position that all human behavior was learned, and that only “lesser” animals inherited some of their behaviors.

Yet, nowadays, it seems behavioral genetics and related fields are demonstrating that nearly every major human behavior has both some basis in our genes and some basis in our learning.  The question seems no longer whether a behavior is genetic or learned, but how much it is one or the other.

If a recent study of twins proves to be reliable science, then our genes somehow influence the age at which we first have intercourse.  I don’t have access to the actual study, though, so I am only repeating here a little bit of what’s come out in the media.  Always a risky business.

At any rate, the study was conducted on 59 pairs of twins — some of them identical, and some fraternal.  I assume each pair of twins had been raised apart, which would provide the researchers with evidence of whether an individual’s behavior was the result of her genes or the result of the social environment that the individual was raised in.

The study found that about a third of the variation in ages at which individuals first had intercourse could be explained by their genes.  If that’s true, then genes have a much more modest influence on the age of first sex than they do on such things as height and intelligence.

I should note the study is not the first to find a link between genes and the age at which people first have intercourse — at least one earlier study found something similar — but this new study seems to be the first one to specifically focus on  how much of a role genes play in the timing of first intercourse.

Another thing to note is the study does not necessarily imply there exists a gene or genes that determine the age at which we lose our virginity.  Instead, it’s quite possible that our genes influence the age we lose our virginity in indirect ways — such as making us relatively more adventurous than others, which might then lead to our losing the Scarlet “V” earlier than others.

I wonder if this new study has any implications for abstinence only sex education?  What do you think?

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Children, Education, Family, Health, Liars Lies and Lying, News and Current Events, Politics, Sexuality, Values

How Texas Helps Its Teens Get Pregnant

Year after year, the United States maintains the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world. In 2006 — the most recent year for which data is available — the U.S. teen birth rate was 41.9 births per 1,000 teens aged 15-19. According to statistics gathered by the United Nations (.pdf), this was substantially higher than any other industrialized nation:

international-ten-birth-rates-06-reduced

However, the overall U.S. teen birth rate obscures the fact that some individual states have substantially higher teen birth rates than others.  For instance: In 2006, the Texas teen birth rate was 63.1 births per 1000 teens age 15-19 (.pdf p.1).  This extraordinary rate made Texas third in the nation in teen births.

Clearly, the United States has a problem with teen births.  But why is that?  Over the years, an increasing body of evidence has suggested that a scarcity of comprehensive sex education for children and teenagers is in large part to blame for America’s unwanted leadership in sexual problems of all kinds — very much including teen births. Now a remarkable report has come out Texas that adds incredible weight to that hypothesis.

The 70 page report (.pdf), released last week by its sponsor, the Texas Freedom Network, is primarily the work of two courageous researchers: David Wiley and Kelly Wilson. Both are professors of health education at Texas State University. In the preface to the report, Wiley writes (.pdf p.vii):

“We knew we were entering uncharted waters. To our knowledge, a study of this magnitude had never been undertaken on this controversial topic. We also knew that such a study could possibly open us to criticism on both personal and professional levels. But two thoughts settled our resolve to proceed. First, Dr. Wilson and I are both the parents of daughters who have attended or will attend Texas public schools. And second, we live in a state with one of the nation’s highest teen birthrates and a population of young people who rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors. In the end, the stakes were just too high to remain on the sidelines.”

Wiley and Wilson used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the sex education curricula from 96% of Texas’s school districts.  They then analyzed the curricula to reach the startling conclusion that an overwhelming majority of Texas schools are utterly failing to teach comprehensive sex education to their students and are instead substituting irrelevant, false or misleading information in place of medically accurate sex education.  Or, put bluntly and without political correctness: All but a tiny minority (3.6%) of Texas schools are helping their teens get pregnant either by lying to them about sex or by teaching them irresponsible, proved-to-fail sexual practices.

What makes this news especially difficult to swallow is that “An August 2004 Scripps Howard Texas Poll found that 90 percent of Texans support ‘teaching students with age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education that includes information on abstinence, birth control, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases'”(.pdf p.3). Thus, the Texas schools are going against the wishes of the vast majority of Texans in providing kids with irrelevant, false or misleading information on sex.

The report, which is titled, “Just Don’t Say Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools”, relates several specific findings, including the fact that “most Texas students receive no instruction about human sexuality apart from the promotion of sexual abstinence”.  Abstinence only sex education has time and again been demonstrated to fail, yet it remains popular purely for political reasons.  It consists of teaching children the only way to deal with their sexuality is to abstain altogether from having sex.  Ninety-six percent of Texas schools teach abstinence only.

To make matters worse, “materials used in Texas schools regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs” (.pdf p.17).  Many of the lies and distortions can be traced back to two specific organizations: The Heritage Foundation and The Medical Institute (formerly The Medical Institute for Sexual Health).  Both are polically involved, socially conservative organizations (.pdf p.22) whose credibility outside of conservative circles is widely questioned.

The sort of lies being told Texas school children include (in varying school districts):

• “A young person who becomes sexually active at or before age 14 will contract an STD before graduating from high school. This is no longer the exception, but the rule.”

• “Out of 100 sexually active women, if a condom is used, 14 of the women will experience an unintended pregnancy during the course of one year.”

• “Although lab studies have demonstrated that latex condoms block the entry of the AIDS virus, there is no scientific evidence that they do so during intercourse.”

• “Ladies, you contract chlamydia one time in your life, cure it or not, and there is about a 25 percent chance that you will be sterile for the rest of your life.”

• “The divorce rate for two virgins who get married is less than 3%.”

• “If a woman is dry, the sperm will die. If a woman is wet, a baby she may get!”

Wiley and Wilson found that over 40 percent of Texas school districts teach “factually incorrect” information (.pdf p.25).

As if it were not bad enough for Texas schools to teach abstinence only sex education and then, in many cases, proceed to substitute lies for truths, Wiley and Wilson also found that “Shaming and fear-based instruction are standard means of teaching students about sexuality” (.pdf p.27).

Notably, many of the curricula materials seek to link sex to death:

• “FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN SEX NOW IS LIKE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH ALL BUT ONE CHAMBER FULL” (emphasis in original).

• “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH” (emphasis in original).

• “You’ve found this girl you love, I mean this is it, all those other girls, they were just messing around. This is the real thing. Pull out that diamond, look her in the eyes, if you’re really cool guys you get on your knees, you say marry me, by the way I’ve got genital warts, you’ll get it too, and we’ll both be treated for the rest of our lives in fact you’ll probably end up with a radical hysterectomy, cervical cancer, and possibly death but marry me.”

When not equating sex with death, some of the materials used in Texas schools attempt to denigrate sexually active youth:

• “Destructive behaviors such as violence, dishonesty, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity arise from a common core—the absence of good character.”

• “‘No one wants food that has been passed around. Neither would you want your future husband or wife to have been passed around.'”

The poor quality of sex eduction in Texas comes with several price tags.  Perhaps the most obvious is the economic cost of an exceptionally high teen birth rate.  According to an analysis (.pdf) by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teen childbearing in Texas cost taxpayers at least $1 billion in 2004.  Fifty-five percent — or at least 550 million dollars — of those costs were picked up by the Federal Government.  That is, paid for by all American taxpayers.  It seems ironic that a deeply conservative state is, in effect, on the public dole largely because of its irresponsible educational practices.

When all is said and done, Texas was not the worse state in the nation for teen births in 2006, but only the third worse.  However, Wiley and Wilson’s extremely thorough study has put Texas in the spotlight.  At the very least, Texas is now the textbook case for the failure of abstinence only sex education to prevent or even significantly reduce the teen birth rate. For no matter what else can be reasonably concluded from the Just Don’t Say Know study, it can be reasonably concluded that abstinence only sex education doesn’t work.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Children, Family, Health, Sexuality, Sexualization

TV Sex could be Linked to Real Teen Pregnancies

According to a study scheduled to be published today in Pediatrics, adolescents who watch a lot of TV “featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes” are slightly more than twice as likely to become involved in a pregnancy than are adolescents who don’t watch as much TV sex.

The study tracked 718 sexually active 12 to 17 year olds for three years, between 2001 and 2004, and found the likelihood of getting pregnant, or getting someone pregnant, increased steadily with the amount of sexual content a teen viewed.  About 25 percent of those who watched the most sexual content (90th percentile) were involved in a pregnancy compared with about 12 percent for those who watched the least (10th percentile).

“[Other] studies have found a link between watching television shows with sexual content and becoming sexually active earlier, and between sexually explicit music videos and an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. And many studies have shown that TV violence seems to make children more aggressive. But the new research is the first to show an association between TV watching and pregnancy among teens.” (Washington Post)

Ninety-one of the 718 teens, or about 13%, were involved in a pregnancy during the course of the three year study, which was conducted by researchers led by Anita Chandra at the Rand Corporation.  The researchers suggest that “Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of [TV] sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex.”

Although this is only a single study — as well as the first of its kind — I find it interesting for at least two reasons.  First, it adds to a huge and growing body of evidence that suggests TV viewing can have all sorts of undesirable consequences — especially for children.  In many respects, most societies have treated television carelessly.  But it does not seem at this point that TV programing and advertising are quite as benign as we might wish.

Second, the study took into account factors such as wanting to have a baby, having only one parent, or engaging in risky behaviors, but it unfortunately did not take into account the possible influence of sexuality eduction on the teens.

By “sexuality education”, I mean comprehensive sexuality education.  We already know that abstinence only sexuality education does not work under any circumstances.  But it would be interesting to learn if comprehensive sexuality education, which has been shown to be generally effective in reducing pregnancies, remains effective even with teens who view a lot of TV sex.  If it does, that is all the more reason to make comprehensive sexuality education available in an age appropriate manner to every child and adolescent.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Blog Awards, Child Sexuality, Children, Courtship, Dr. Karen Rayne, Education, Family, Health, Love, Marriage, People, Relationships, Science, Sexuality, Sun Mountain Award, Teacher, Wisdom

A Sun Mountain Award for Dr. Karen Rayne at Adolescent Sexuality

As many of us know these days, the United States leads the Western world in nearly every category of adolescent sexual problem, including unwanted pregnancies, abortions, out of wedlock births, partner abuse, rapes, and STD infections.  It’s a disturbing picture.  Moreover, it’s pretty much up in the air at this point whether anything meaningful will be done about it.  That’s largely because there is strong ideological and cultural opposition in the US to implementing the solutions that are already known to work best.

Surely, those solutions do not include telling adolescents little more than to abstain from having sex.  In the first place, only a quaint minority of teens will take that advice.  In the second place, the majority of teens who don’t will all too often behave unwisely because we failed to share with them our knowledge and wisdom.  Yet, despite all that, abstinence only sexuality education remains a very popular pseudo-solution to dealing with adolescent sexual problems.  It is highly controversial in many parts of this country to teach teens anything else.

Indeed, abstinence is so highly praised in the United States that even those of us who oppose only teaching teens to abstain from sex are usually quick to say teens should still be taught abstinence as the preferred method for dealing with their sexuality.   “Abstain first, and have sex only as a last resort.”

It seems very few of us want to tell teens having sex can be a positive experience.  One of those few is Dr. Karen Rayne.  For that reason, Dr. Rayne’s blog, Adolescent Sexuality, is in it’s own way among the more courageous blogs I’ve come across on the net.

Dr. Rayne is an educator who, in her off line life, specializes in teaching human sexuality to people of all ages.  She has focused her blog, however, on providing the best possible help and advice to parents in dealing with their teenage children’s sexuality.   That is, her blog isn’t for teenagers so much as it’s for the parents of teenagers.  And it is surely one of the most helpful blogs such a parent could find.

I find her advice insightful, balanced and wise.  Some of us might be scandalized by the notion that sex — under the right circumstances — can be a positive experience for their teen, but I am not.  To be sure, I might have been scandalized by that notion as recently as fifteen years ago.  But that was before fate led me to make the acquaintance of scores of teens.  Today, I am because of those teens in fundamental agreement with Dr. Rayne.   Most teens are going to have sex by the end of their adolescent years, and those teens need to know how to best manage their sexuality.

Dr. Rayne’s blog is wide ranging.  She deals with just about every aspect of adolescent sexuality, and never seems to exhaust the subject.  She avoids writing technical jargon and instead writes for a general audience. Her advice is based both on research and field experience, and seems quite practical.  For those and other reasons, I am ruthlessly inflicting on her the Sun Mountain Award in appreciation for an outstanding blog.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Children, Ethics, Family, Health, Ideologies, News and Current Events, People, Politics, Sarah Palin, Sexuality, Values

Sarah Palin and Abstinence Only Sex Education

“I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people’s families are off limits.  People’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.”

“You know, my mother had me when she was 18.  How family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics. I hope that anybody who’s supported me understands that’s off limits.”

Barak Obama

I agree with Barak Obama that Sarah Palin’s family is her own business and not a legitimate campaign issue.  However, I do think that Palin’s public support for abstinence only sex education is and should be a legitimate campaign issue. Her support for it has the potential to negatively affect millions of American teenagers.

A while back, I blogged on the dismal failure of abstinence only sex education to live up to any of its claims or promises.  That post can be found here:  New Study Damns Abstinence Only Sex Education.  Consequently, I believe it is extraordinarily unwise of Sarah Palin to advocate a policy — abstinence only — that is both radically ineffective and most likely dangerous to the health of our nation’s young people.

In my opinion, that she does indeed advocate such a policy speaks volumes about her judgment.

UPDATE:  It now appears her position on abstinence-only sex education is unclear.  At times, she has said things that seem to support it, while at other times she has said things that seem to support a more comprehensive approach to sex education.

UPDATE II:  So far, the best information I’ve been able to find appears to be this report from yesterday (8-6-08) in the L.A. Times.  I’m no longer sure, however, if Sarah Palin actually has a position on sex education.  It’s beginning to seem to me that her comments on it are somewhat spontaneous and rather inconsistent.

UPDATE III: Please note that if Palin’s position on sex education is at any time made consistent with McCain’s, then she can be expected to support the folly of abstinence only sex education.  Moreover, if abstinence only sex education becomes the norm in this country,  the evidence suggests we can expect a rise in out of wedlock teen pregnancies.  In my opinion, both McCain and Palin need to be called out on this issue and assurances sought that they will not attempt to force sexual ignorance on any children other than their own.

References:

Eagle Forum Alaska

Palin Appears to Disagree with McCain on Sex Education

The Value of Local Historians in Small Town Alaska

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Abuse, Attachment, Idealism, Sexual Abuse, Wisdom

The Dance Between Ideals and Realism

I think it’s true enough that to completely understand a thing, we must go beyond judging it.  Spinoza seems to have implicitly recognized the truth of that when he said, “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”  Most of us to some extent know  Spinoza was right.

That is, we at least know in some vague way of a tension between understanding and judgment.  I was reminded of that tension when someone pointed out to me a report released yesterday by Save the Children UK.  The report documents some of the widespread sexual abuse of children perpetrated by humanitarian aid workers and UN Peacekeepers.  My first reaction was outrage.  Judgment.

The report states, “children as young as 6 have been forced to have sex with aid workers and peacekeepers in return for food and money…”.    I don’t know many people who wouldn’t get angry hearing that.   It’s wrong on so many levels that it boggles the mind.  But what to do about it?

What to do about it.  There’s the rub.  For to see the most effective course of action, the wisest course of action, your heart and mind are usually required to do a difficult dance between understanding and judgment.  Let me illustrate that dance with a more thoroughly explored and commonplace example: the issue of sexuality education for children and teens.

It seems to me those of us who quickly and simplistically judge teenage sex morally wrong quite often advocate abstinence only sex eduction.  (Abstinence only sex education is sex education that teaches only abstaining from sex until marriage as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases, among other things.)  Yet, better informed people know abstinence only sex education does little or nothing to reduce those problems.  And such better informed people, when they are not strongly attached to any negative judgments about teenage sex, very often look for and advocate wiser and more effective ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies, abortions, etc.

Put differently, no one wants teens to have unwanted pregnancies or the other problems so often associated with teenage sex.  But it seems some of us are adamantly attached to condemning teenage sex, and consequently we look no further than abstinence to deal with it.  Unfortunately, abstinence does not work — not in the real, complex world we live in.  In a nutshell, that is the danger of judgmentalism: It produces simplistic, unworkable solutions to complex problems.

I’ve been around for 50 years, and I feel I can say — without cynicism, but merely with realism — that the problem of humanitarians and peacekeepers raping and sexually exploiting children is unlikely to be solved anytime soon.  Maybe it will, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  As the news account states,  “Save the Children is calling for a global watchdog to tackle the problem and said it was working with the U.N. to establish local mechanisms that will allow victims to easily report abuse.”  Those are small steps in the right direction, but they won’t stop a problem that is already well known to be under reported out of fear of loss and retaliation:

According to the charity, children told researchers they were too frightened to report the abuse, fearful that the abuser would come back to hurt them and that they would stop receiving aid from agencies, or even be punished by their family or community.

“People don’t report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them,” a teenage boy in southern Sudan told Save the Children.

Save the Children is clearly advocating a politically acceptable “solution” to the problem — a solution that’s likely to be fairly ineffective, but will at least have the advantage of being implemented.  The most effective actions are probably not politically acceptable at this time.

I don’t pretend to know what the wisest actions in this case would be.  I have some ideas, but I certainly haven’t looked into the matter in any way deeply enough to have a reasonable guess whether those ideas would work.  The one thing I am arguing for here isn’t any particular solution but rather that we first seek to understand the situation.   Really understand it.  And that will require us to be nonjudgmental.

So, maybe we should simply recognize, as the French Foreign Legion does, that young men will seek out sex and then provide safe traveling brothels (like the Foreign Legion) for the humanitarians and soldiers.  Will that help to solve the problem?

Or perhaps we could include in every peacekeeping force a detachment of military police — including criminal investigators — tasked with the duty of fighting these crimes against children.  Will that help solve the problem?

Like I said, I don’t know what will work.  But I have a strong suspicion that whatever does work (1) will not be the first, nor even the second thing, the world tries on to solve the problem, because the first few solutions will no doubt be more politically acceptable than effective, (2) will most likely be a combination of things, each a partial solution in itself, and (3) will shock some people — shock them just as much or more than comprehensive sex eduction for teens and children shocks some people.

Perhaps we should take inspiration from the Framers of the Constitution.  Had they been fools, they would have written a constitution that assumed most politicians are motivated by love of liberty, love of country, and respect for their constituents.  Instead, they wrote a constitution with checks and balances.  In doing so, they went far to achieve their ideals while at the same time fully acknowledging human nature.

To be as realistic about human nature as the Framers, you must somehow be nonjudgmental.  But to achieve as much good as the Framers, you must at the same time hold onto your ideals — and ideals are judgments.  It’s a dance, and a difficult one.

It is sometimes difficult to love humanity.   We are, after all, the least sane of the great apes.  We seem incapable of even so much as sending aide to one another without at the same time assaulting one another’s children.  Learning to manage ourselves so that we ameliorate the evils we are capable of has always required our hearts and minds to do a difficult dance between the ideals we aspire to while recognizing the realities of human nature.  Fortunately, we do, occasionally, manage the feat.

Naturally, I’m not sure to what extent any of this makes sense.  Am I onto something, or has my word-guzzling SUV once again slid off the cliff of truth into the abyss of bunk this morning?

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Adolescence, Children, Education, Sexuality, Values

Teaching Kids Sexual Sanity

I strongly suspect Americans are deeply uneasy with adolescent sexuality.

Indeed, that seemed obvious to me yesterday when I spent two or three hours watching the Waxman Committee hearing on abstinence-only sexuality eduction. During the hearing, it was mentioned more than once how eight out of every ten Americans want kids to stay celibate through their adolescent years.

Perhaps just as significant, every politician and witness who spoke at the hearing took pains to point out that he or she adamantly preferred adolescents to remain sexually abstinent until — at the very least — they become adults.

So, I feel almost un-American to suggest the primary goal of sex ed ought to be teaching kids to deal in a responsible and healthy way with their sexuality — regardless of whether or not that means abstinence.

I have nothing against abstinence, but I think it should never overshadow health and responsibility.

Hannah, who once lived next door to me, was 17 when she first had sex. Hannah is the sort of person who marches to her own drummer. She was not pressured into sex. Nor did she lightly decide to have sex. Instead, she thought it through and made a careful decision to have sex with her boyfriend. Then she phoned an older friend of hers — a woman in her twenties — to ask for preparation and advice.

Hannah’s friend scheduled a day off from work to take Hannah to Planned Parenthood for birth control, Victoria’s Secrets for lingerie, and lunch for coaching. Armed by her friend’s support, Hannah then “terminated her virginity”, as she put it, “with extreme prejudice.”

Hannah dealt with her sexuality in a responsible and healthy way, as did another young friend of mine. While in his mid teens, Steve passed up one opportunity after another to have sex. As he put it, he was “following his gut, not his gonads.”

When he was 19, he met a woman in her mid-twenties with whom he felt a strong sexual rapport. It turned out the feeling was mutual, though neither one of them was interested in a relationship. His gut finally told him to go ahead. She introduced him to sex, and Steve found the experience beautiful.

So far as I can see, there is nothing necessarily wrong with adolescents having sex, but there is indeed something wrong with anyone — adolescent or not — having irresponsible or unhealthy sex. I think the focus of sexuality education in the United States should be on preparing adolescents to have healthy and responsible sex lives. In other words, rather than focus on teaching sexual abstinence, I would prefer we focused on teaching sexual sanity.