RISCOL: Bush Versus Smart Sex

SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Morality politics are bad for your sexual health. Minors are especially harmed.

Like a pimply teenager smoking his first pack of Marlboros despite its warning label, President Bush has soundly rejected the U.S. Surgeon General's latest advice.

Just one week after Dr. David Satcher issued the Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior, which aims "to begin a mature, thoughtful and respectful discussion nationwide about sexuality," Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary announced $17.1 million in new abstinence-only funding.

By ignoring America's top doc, Bush must have impressed his conservative buddies. What a rebel! Ignorance of health options is so cool. Comprehensive sex education is, like, so five minutes ago.

Only a moron could think that Dr. Satcher's scientifically rigorous report would confirm abstinence-only-until-marriage as THE remedy for today's sociosexual ills. If it had, Dr. Satcher would have run afoul of his duty "to provide the best available science-based information ... to assist in protecting and advancing the health and safety of our Nation."

Yet Bush dutifully pooh-poohed the report's recommendation to help young people prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy with "thorough and medically accurate sex education" and, instead, reaffirmed his pledge of allegiance to the Big-A.

As do we taxpayers. Despite polls showing that most parents support a more comprehensive approach to sexuality education, our government funds an abstinence-ONLY curricula. Period. Conservatives erroneously lump support for HIV/AIDS prevention and family planning services under Sex Ed, then bellow for equity in abstinence-only-until-marriage pep rallies. The latest slice of federal chastity dough will fatten primarily Catholic Charities, pregnancy crisis centers, and other Pro-Life and Christian-based groups bent on illustrating the damnation of premarital sex and singing the praises of a white wedding.

My "Sex Ed" twenty years ago involved an afternoon in health class suffering through something about sperm and fallopian tubes. Today, my 16-year-old niece, Elaine, recently survived her sex education. It reviewed more of the same dry reproductive anatomy, plus multiple slides showing close-ups of festering venereal sores. See what happens when you have sex? A retired minister, married 50 years to the same woman, drove the chastity theme home by confirming marriage as the only safe place to perform the dirty deed. My sister gleefully recounted Elaine's gross out in the car on the way home from school: "I'm NEVER going to have sex. Yuck! Ewww!"

"In preventing so many of today's sexual health problems, it is clear that choosing abstinence is the surest protection against disease and unintended pregnancy," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson says. "These grants will help create an environment that supports teenagers who choose to postpone sexual activity."

What's clear is that denying these young people, from 12 to 18, basic information on health and safety options, resources, sexual values and decision-making skills, does NOT help them choose abstinence.

Brainwashing lasts only for so long. National, European and World Health Organization stats show that sexuality education does not prompt premature, out-of-control humping, but stimulates healthier choices when someone does decide to kick it. Or make love. The latest abstinence-only results show that both original and secondary virgins engage in riskier behavior when they break their pledge. They also define "virgin" in ever more Clintonian terms, allowing for oral and anal sex, along with other new-millennium necking techniques, while maintaining said purity.

And what about those who don't choose to postpone sexual expression until their honeymoon? With the current conservative backlash, young gays and lesbians might as well just forget about it. More than 80 percent of Americans have sexual intercourse before they hit twenty. No telling how many of us actually save ourselves for marriage without ever having sex outside of it. But I bet few can be found among the Congressmen signing abstinence-only-until-marriage legislation or the morality blowhards insisting on abstinence as official U.S. sexual policy, scientific findings and common sense be damned.

Attacking the Surgeon General's report on CNN's Crossfire, a Family Research Council spokeswoman said, "We don't sell [children] short when it comes to saying 'no' to alcohol, drugs and tobacco, but boy, somehow when it comes to the sex area, we think they're animals. Having sex is not rocket science ... We don't need any more education on sex. What we need is context, morality." She continued with a study finding that young people are "crying for" instruction on "how to say 'no' to [their] partner[s] without hurting their feelings."

Who are these people? And were they ever teenagers? The moral context needed in our sexually plagued nation is what Dr. Satcher calls an open dialogue on sex "with respect for diversity" and "respect for what science shows is effective," not absolutes. And despite the Bush Gang's abstinence fetish, "what's clear" is that a person's ability to think and make conscious choices throughout his or her sexual life is the surest protection against disease and unwanted pregnancy. Not abstinence pledges that break far more often than condoms.
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