Maybe We Should Outsource Our Sex Education to Mexico
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You have probably heard by now how massively the Bush administration's sex education efforts based on abstinence have failed. They have poured millions of dollars of precious funding into "education" programs which exclusively offer teenagers abstinence as a form of birth control and sexual health. This approach turns out to be more ideology than efficacy. That's the conclusion of a study by the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which noted:
"At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners."
It infuriates me that after all the work we put into gaining legal access to birth control decades ago, the information is again being withheld from young women. I remember the struggle: when I left home to go to college in Massachusetts in 1965, birth control devices and medications were still illegal for single women. I participated in civil disobedience actions led by the campaigner Bill Baird. He would speak in full auditoriums and then ask if there were any single women willing to receive contraception. When those of us working with Baird would go on stage to take a diaphragm from him, he'd be arrested, risking five years in the pokey. He fought in the courts and only in 1972 was the prohibition overturned.
The repercussions of American Puritanism and Bush anti-sex policies are clear. Teen birth rates in America are double those of Canada, and seven times higher than Japan, Denmark and Sweden.
The only thing that does work, it turns out, is education that is comprehensive, examining everything from birth control to sexually transmitted diseases to abortion to varied sexualities. These programs are not funded by the federal government, despite the report showing that:
"In contrast, the positive outcomes of comprehensive sexuality education programs included: delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use."
Meanwhile, many other countries are doing better than us. Just this week we read that Mexico City's Secretary of Education is starting to distribute 700,000 leaflets to high schools and universities that cover birth control, abortion and homosexuality, among other topics. Says Secretary Axel Didriksson:
"It's a book of prevention, teaching, and learning with respect to the development of the sexuality of young people and it addresses everything."
Shame on rich America (although we do seem to be on the edge of economic collapse) for imposing restrictions on what can be taught about such a crucial subject. Shame on the right wing for ignoring the successes of other societies and for withholding vital tools from our young people.
Sue Katz has published journalism on the three continents where she has lived; her topics range from Middle East peace movements to the impact of ageing on sexuality. Visit her blog at www.suekatz.com