Sunday, May 04, 2008


From National Review Online:

Remember, too, the infamous Skittles Incident, in which a New Haven eighth-grader suffered various punishments, including suspension, for buying a pack of Skittles candy from a fellow student in violation of the school’s draconian “wellness” policy. So when it comes to beer and Skittles, our schools preach total abstinence and practice zero tolerance; when it comes to sex, they hand out condoms. As my colleague Kevin Williamson wrote recently: “Why is the Left libertarian on sex but authoritarian on practically everything else?” Perhaps someone should point out to them that sex often leads to smoking.

The idea that the STD statistics prove that “abstinence education doesn’t work” is based on the notion that if anything less than 100 percent celibacy results, it’s a failure. But by the same token, “safe sex” education must be considered a failure, since even those who know better often practice sex unsafely (including Eliot Spitzer, if the news reports are to be believed, unless he thinks socks will do the trick). By any more reasonable standard, though, there are signs that abstinence education is working.


I've been meaning to write this post about abstinence, but I just haven't gotten around it, and as long as we're on the subject I thought I'd write a few lines of my thoughts.

One of the things that I do not see in the talk about abstinence is the notion that abstinence cannot be purely an individual pursuit.

It's a collective effort.

Kids cannot rely on their own willpower alone to keep themselves from temptation. Their lives must be programmed so that it's actually difficult to engage in sexual activity. In our culture, preserving one's chastity by oneself is an enormous responsibility. Consider all the ways in which teenagers are exposed to sexual activity, and have the opportunity to engage in sexual activity. To expect growing children to just rely exclusivel on their own willpower is naive. I'm not saying that a teenager will jump at every opportunity to be unchaste. But they don't always know what the boundaries are (given that adults don't tell them) and even when they know what the boundaries are, they're willing to cross them just a little for what they think is a stronger show of love (in the moment).

In order for abstinence to work, kids can't go at it alone. They have to live a life that makes it hard for them to have sexual activity, and if adults don't contribute to that, kids are far more susceptible to fail in this quest. It's more than just a question of telling them "keep your legs closed". It's like telling a fat person to stop eating junk. There are powerful psychological and cultural forces that compel a kid to do what he knows is wrong in the heat of the moment. I don't know that we've addressed that. In any case, I don't see that. I see a lot of people saying kids should stay abstinent-- which I agree with-- but not a lot of adults saying that a teenagers' environment should be programmed so that it's hard for them to engage in sexual activity. The impression that I get is that adults feel it's entirely the kids' responsibility, not theirs-- even though we're talking about children who have not yet finished growing. That's probably too big a responsibility to lay on them by themselves.

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