“It’s a waste of time; they’re all going to do it anyway.” That was the response to a comment I made to the woman next to me about the then-new abstinence instruction in high school sex education classes. We were at a civic meeting in a West coast city several years ago and struck up a conversation. She was an officer of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. It was soon clear to me she was committed to the belief that all teenagers rut like weasels.
I assumed that a bell curve would be at work in the matter of teenage sex, as with most other human activities. That is, perhaps 15 to 20 percent of the students would be persuaded to abstain as a result of the teaching (aided by parents), about 15-20 percent would ignore it and regularly indulge their raging hormones, and the rest would fall in between.
Abstinence education is about a decade old now and has expanded from its modest beginnings. The Planned Parenthood lady and her colleagues don’t much care whether the kids are having sex (inasmuch as they think it is universally inevitable); they concentrate on preventing babies. They campaign tirelessly for free condom handouts in high school and, if the condoms fail, there is always abortion.
Though Planned Parenthood would no doubt deny it, teenage sex has declined as abstinence programs have increased. The American Enterprise Institute, which has been tracking data on this for over a decade, recently reported a University of Chicago study showing that the percentage of high school students who had ever had sex dropped from 59 percent to 46 percent between 1989 and 2001.
Not surprisingly, the teenage birthrate has dropped steadily over approximately the same period. In 1991 it was 62 per 1,000 teenage girls (ages 15-19); by 2004 it was down to 41.
Several months ago two researchers affiliated with the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, presented their findings at a conference on sex education. They compared two groups of Georgia middle-school students. One group, of some 200 students, had taken an interactive, multi-lesson abstinence course called Choosing the Best. The other group of 140 received only four state-approved abstinence lectures in class. The Choosing the Best students scored much higher on abstinence knowledge than did the control group. More importantly, the researchers revisited the same students a year later to find if they had had sexual intercourse. The results: over the year 21 percent of the control group students had sex, but only, 11 percent of the Choosing the Best students had.
Despite this encouraging news, believers in the all-teenagers-rut-like-weasels school of sex education continue to try to impose their views on school curricula. In a landmark case in May in Montgomery County, Maryland–a blue county in a blue state, a Clinton-appointed federal judge granted a restraining order to a parents’ group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which had sued to prevent the board of education from launching a controversial new sex education program. Among other things, the program included a seven-minute video to be shown to 10th graders featuring a young woman putting a condom on a cucumber.
Judge William Alexander ruled that the one-sided Montgomery County program represented “viewpoint discrimination” and thus violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The success of the CRC group’s effort has encouraged a number of like-minded parent groups to spring up around the country.
After the ruling, the Heritage Foundation’s social welfare policy analyst, Melissa Pardue, was quoted as saying, “What this really illustrates is that parents have a particular set of values. They work hard to instill those in the home, and they don’t want (them) undermined in the health class.”
Will the zealots of Planned Parenthood and their allies admit the evidence of their eyes and applaud the drop in teenage sex and pregnancy? Don’t hold your breath.