Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"You Could Call Them Technically Virgins"

Seems to me this abstinence-only thing is kind of backfiring in a weird way.
...a study released this week in the journal Pediatrics found that one in five high school freshmen had had oral sex, while almost a third said they intended to try it in the next six months. The teens, drawn from two public schools in California, told researchers they considered oral sex to be less risky than intercourse and don't see it as a particularly big deal.

While the study was a small one, with about 580 participants, it echoes the findings of a larger federally funded study the Urban Institute conducted with more than 3,000 boys a few years ago. Two-thirds of 15- to 19-year-old respondents had experienced oral sex, anal intercourse or masturbation with a female.

But few respondents were aware that the first two behaviors put them at risk for such sexually transmitted diseases as herpes, chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis. Most interviewed said that none of these acts actually constituted "sex." Some even told researchers that oral sex qualified as "abstinence," a sign that abstinence-only advocates might want to add the definition of "chastity" to the curriculum. Parents and kids need to talk as teens redefine sex

Ooch! Of course: chastity. How were we going to tiptoe around that one, anyway?

Because that's the point, isn't it, I mean, really? It's not that the holier-than-thou crowd wants teenagers to stop having vaginal sex in particular, they're supposed to stop everything.

But how do you say that in a classroom? Like, is open-mouth kissing okay? How about touching a girl's breast while you're kissing, is that ok? Oral sex? Uh, well, these kids think it's okay. How about playing spin the bottle, where you have to kiss someone at random -- is that okay? How about mooning strangers while you're cruising Central -- okay?

Aw, come on, you know what the answer is. NOTHING IS OKAY!

What we've got here is one of those Pandora's Box, genie-back-in-the-bottle, cat-is-out-of-the-bag situations. If I may be so bold as to say, the problem is that sexual intimacy is a good thing. And no matter how many times you tell teenagers that you shouldn't do it, they're going to find out on their own. Somebody'll give them a kiss, or they'll start daydreaming about a movie star or singer or classmate, and the warmth of it, the immediacy of it, instantly disproves, to their young minds, all the boring blah-blah-blah that grown-ups have been telling them.

I have teenagers, and I don't like thinking about this any more than you do. But I got to adulthood by passing through adolescence, and I have some dim memory of what it was like. And girls were a big part of it.
Though abstinence-only programs now receive $170 million a year in federal funding, they have only been shown to postpone the onset of first sex by about 18 months and to make teens less likely to use contraceptives when they do engage in intercourse.

The newest findings published last month in the Journal of Adolescent Health report that in spite of these programs, most young people aren't waiting for marriage to have sex, regardless of whether they've signed a pledge to do so. In data from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 88 percent of chastity pledgers ended up having premarital sex, compared to 99 percent of non-pledgers.

Ah, and don't forget, that 88 percent is the percentage who have vaginal sex, strictly defined -- that's what this whole issue's about. So twelve percent of people who take abstinence vows don't have "sex sex," y'know?

I wonder how many people actually do make it to marriage without having had sex, including oral and anal sex, and other things, like, is there a term "manual sex?" It's one percent, they say, of people who don't try to hold out, and ... well, we don't know about the others.
Of the small minority of 18- to 24-year-olds in the study who haven't had intercourse, chastity pledgers were six times more likely to have engaged in oral sex, while male chastity pledgers were four times more likely to have had anal sex than their counterparts.

Says the Yale sociologist who co-authored the study: "You could call them technically virgins."

What does this mean for the MCPS health curriculum? Well, first of all, those people who think the schools should push "abstinence until marriage" harder might want to define their terms a little more precisely. It would just make their case sound a little stronger, if their abstinence role models weren't engaging in ... uh ... alternative sexual behaviors ... at a rate many times that of the non-abstinent kids.

Or, how about this? How about teaching kids what forms of sexual behaviors are out there, what the risks are, and what are known to be the safest methods for practicing those things?

Because it does not look like telling them to wait till they're married is really working like it's supposed to.


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