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Abstinence Debunked: Lessons from the Front Lines

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Regular readers are going to get a treat this morning- Freethinker, long absent, is back and she means business! As a social worker, psych major, and soon to be starting law school, Freethinker tends to get really wonky, so if you can't stand the citations get out of the library. Without further ado...
This freethinker's fired-up, and because I am not restrained by the traditional "follow the leader without questioning his authority" paradigm that many people have so entangled themselves in, I must speak out, and speak freely, the way I as an American was intended to. I've been seeing an increasing amount of public and media attention being given to abstinence-only (until marriage) education; more specifically, that it does not work. As a supporter of and worker for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU's reproductive freedom project, I have some expertise in this arena, and here is what all the experts have to say about it: WE HAVE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR YEARS!!! But since it is now clear that mainstream media, and the America it so pathetically represents, are ready to face some reality rather than blindly submit to ideology, some important facts need to be disseminated, and why not on the fabulous forum of the man I am so sinfully engaging in a premarital relationship with (oh I love the irony). Abstinence only education does not work. It not only doesn't work, it fails miserably. And the facts show it. So here's the real deal, for those of us who want the truth and not the spin. • A new report by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization indicates that between 1995 and 2003 the rate of abortions worldwide declined. The most dramatic decline occurred in Eastern Europe and corresponds with substantially increased contraceptive use in the region. In other words, condoms work! • Research has clearly shown that the most effective programs [to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS] are comprehensive ones that include a focus on delaying sexual behavior and provide information on how sexually active young people can protect themselves. (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Fact Sheet: Young People at Risk: HIV/ AIDS Among America's YouthNational Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, March 2002.) Thus, we need to teach kids how not to get HIV/AIDS when they have sex. And they will have sex. Remember how YOU were at that age. Let's get real here people. • A rigorous, multi-year, scientific evaluation authorized by Congress presents clear evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don't work. The study, which looked at four federally funded programs and studied more than 2000 students, found that abstinence-only program participants were just as likely to have sex before marriage as teens that did not participate. Furthermore, program participants had first intercourse at the same mean age and the same number of sexual partners as teens who did not participate in the federally funded programs. (Christopher Trenholm et al., Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs, Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., April 2007.) Again, for those still catching up, abstinence-only education doesn't work at all, and the legitimate evidence proves it. • Some abstinence-only-until-marriage programs include "Virginity Pledges," whereby teens sign cards promising to remain virgins until they are married. While data suggests that under limited circumstances, teens who sign a pledge may delay sexual intercourse, 88 percent still have sex before marriage. Research also shows that pledgers' rate of STDs does not differ from the rate of nonpledgers and that pledgers are less likely to use condoms at first intercourse or to be tested for STDS than nonpledgers (Hannah Bruckner and Peter Bearman, "After the promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges," Journal of Adolescent Health, 36 (2005) 271-278.) So if you only worked 12% of your workweek, do you think you're boss would keep you around, or would you be fired? • The [abstinence-only] curricula reviewed misrepresent the effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing STDs and unintended pregnancy. They also contain false information about the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, promote gender stereotypes, and contain basic scientific errors. ("The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs," Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, United States House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, December 2004.) Okay, so not only does abstinence only education fail to achieve its goals, but it lies to people in the process. And takes us backward in the evolution of gender equality. What's most appalling, and frightening, about the entire subject is its tendency, dare I say propensity, to systematically blur the line between government and religion. Most of the abstinence-only curricula or the organizations that promote it are government funded. Now granted, government has tried to get in bed with me and mine for years, telling me who I can sleep with and how I can do it so that they will not be offended. That's offensive enough as it is. But this disaster extends beyond even that, as it violates the document America is based on. Remember the Constitution? I know, W and his cronies have desecrated it practically into oblivion, but it does as of today still exist. And I as an American and a patriot cannot stand to see it further brutalized. And those are the facts...


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Mike Kuykendall is a progressive, patriotic veteran of the U.S. Air Force, fighting hard to save our democracy.

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