Cox Newspapers, December 7, 2004

We can't stop sex, but we can stop spreading misinformation


The gods of irony are dancing again. Even as the movie "Kinsey" turns up in theaters to remind us of the social shock that greeted the first comprehensive scientific survey of sexual behavior in 1948, your federal government is trying to stuff the sex genie back into the bottle.

The more things change, the more...

The film traces the pioneering work of the Indiana University -- read: heartland -- scientist Alfred Kinsey, whose nationwide survey whisked a thick cover of hypocrisy off of sexual matters. Contrary to the staid surface of the times and despite legally backed sexual repression, it turned out that premarital and extramarital sex, plus an array of practices at the time labeled deviant, were in fact widespread.

The study excited a veritable industry of denunciation and debunking whose remnant figures are still fussing on the margins, some even demanding a congressional investigation of Kinsey, who has been dead for 48 years.

But for all the controversy, Kinsey, in the end, did finally free the issues of sex from misinformation and the mire of wishful thinking, didn't he?

Not exactly. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., shows in a new report that abstinence-only sex education, an enthusiasm of President Bush and congressional Republicans, often tutors students in gross misinformation.

Abstinence-only courses indoctrinate young people against sex until marriage and limit birth-control information to its failures. This is, frankly, a silly undertaking -- silly because it is hopeless. Puberty is hitting a year or two earlier than it did a century ago, and marriage nowadays usually waits until well into the 20s. A policy promoting celibacy for a stretch of a dozen years or more, and at an age when the hormones are at their hottest, is nonsense.

And indeed a Columbia University study found that while teens who take virginity pledges may wait a little longer to become sexually active than other kids, 88 percent fall off the wagon. When they do, they are less likely to use protection than students who have had comprehensive sex education.

Its advocates argue that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy or sexual disease. Well, sure. But, then, never getting into an automobile is the only certain way to avoid a car crash and not many are going to do that, either.

Youthful promiscuity is a problem, but the effective answers lie with prudence, good judgment and knowledge -- all teachable.

Instead, as Waxman has found, students in some abstinence courses are told that touching another person's genitals can cause pregnancy, that abortion often leads to sterility, that the AIDS virus can be spread by tears and sweat. Condoms are misrepresented as next to useless in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

This isn't sex education. It's anti-sex education, trafficking in shame and dread and sometimes further freighted with anti-abortion and pre-feminist cant. Even so, Congress has just hiked abstinence-only education by $30 million, even as it was cutting the National Science Foundation, our basic research engine, by $105 million.

And compounding futility with farce, a national abstinence-only advocacy group is boosting the crusade with a T-shirt that reads "Touch your dog, not your date."

Maybe Kinsey would understand.

TOM TEEPEN is an Atlanta-based columnist for Cox Newspapers.

<< Cox News Service -- 12/7/04 >>

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