The Dallas News speaks out on the abstinence-only sex education issue, since it’s been brought out front and center by the presumptive Republican V.P. choice. Columnist Steve Blow has some very interesting points to make. I feel he has a very common sense approach to this important issue:
I agree completely that the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s daughter shouldn’t be politicized.
But politics is one thing, and policy is another.
It seems to me we’d be foolish not to use this moment of incredible public attention to examine our policies on sex education.
Especially in Texas.
One of the first factoids I heard about Gov. Palin is that she’s a strong supporter of abstinence-only sex education.
And that made me think of a jarring news story a month or so ago about sex ed in Texas.
Abstinence-only is the only approach permitted in Texas schools. Contraception is taught only in terms of failure rates and lack of protection against disease.
The gist of the July news story was simply this:
Texas spends more on abstinence-only sex education than any other state – and has more teen sex than any other state.
I’d say that’s a situation worth discussing.
Texas spent $17 million last year on its just-say-no approach. Meanwhile, federal studies reported that 52.9 percent of Texas high school students have had sex, compared with 47.8 percent nationally.
Now, at my house, any high-schooler is going to hear an abstinence message.
But as for public policy, I’m a big believer in doing what works best. And that seems to be sex education that emphasizes abstinence but includes some basic, reliable information on contraception.
This is known as comprehensive sex education, and it’s what most experts support.
A congressional committee held hearings on the debate in April. Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed comprehensive sex ed.
“Abstinence-only programs are not only ineffective but may cause harm by providing inadequate and inaccurate information,” Dr. Margaret Blythe testified on behalf of the nation’s pediatricians.
Marilyn Morris heads Dallas-based Aim for Success, the nation’s largest provider of abstinence-only education. Her speakers give more than 2,000 school presentations a year.
She believes students interpret contraception instruction as a go-ahead for sex.
“We don’t think it’s OK for teenagers to be having sex, and we don’t want to give them that nod of approval,” she said.
For the record, I sure don’t favor schools passing out condoms or lining the halls with safe-sex posters. That does become tacit approval.
But if the research shows that the comprehensive approach works best, I think Texans should be paying attention.
Let’s also turn, however, to Bill Albert for a dose of reality. He’s with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
He laughs at the debate over abstinence-only vs. comprehensive sex ed. “It’s like we’re arguing over which road to take, and the kids aren’t even in the car,” he said.
He supports sex education in schools but says none of it changes kids’ behavior much. They have way too many other influences in their lives.
But among those, he said, the one thing affecting sexual decisions most is parents.
The research is clear. Teens do best when parents talk to them openly about sex and make their expectations clear.
A lot of parents would probably prefer to just wave the flag for abstinence-only classes.
But Mr. Albert doesn’t let us off the hook that easy.
“Be a parent,” he said. “Have a point of view and don’t be shy about sharing it with your kids.”