January 30, 2009

If it turns out teenagers aren't having that much sex, does some credit go teaching about abstinence?

The NYT reports that most high school kids these days are virgins.
Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.

A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.

The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys....

As for that supposed epidemic of oral sex, especially among younger teenagers: national statistics on the behavior have only recently been collected, and they are not as alarming as some reports would have you believe. About 16 percent of teenagers say they have had oral sex but haven’t yet had intercourse....
Judith Warner — the NYT's women-and-children columnist — processes the information:
[T]he overblown focus on messed-up kids affords parents the possibility of avoiding looking inward and taking responsibility for the highly complex problems of everyday life....

Certain kinds of children have certain kinds of vulnerabilities that make them particularly susceptible to the toxic elements of our culture. This is true of those who do or don’t fall victim to stress and anxiety, and it’s true of those who do or don’t engage in too-early, too-risky sex. Certain kinds of policies can help children. (Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.) Certain kinds of parenting can help or hurt, too.

Having a family life that’s so atomized and disconnected that children have the physical and emotional space to upload nude pictures of themselves onto the Internet, and lack the self-esteem and self-respect to know better is obviously undesirable. Being a stressed and frantic, frazzled and depressed parent is harmful, too....

[W]e – the adults in this society – are “a mess.” I think it’s time to stop projecting our dysfunction onto our children.
I think that was mainly about why adults believe myths about kids and then how adults are pretty screwed up. But the news was good: Kids aren't having so much sex. Shouldn't we give ourselves credit for teaching them well, and shouldn't we give the teenagers credit for conducting themselves well? How did this turn into another occasion for hand-wringing? Is that a liberal disease? If there isn't one problem, quick, see another problem, because programs will be needed to solve them?

Now, the only mention of abstinence education was in the context of preventing pregnancy. And there — hey, I'm impressed that the NYT hot-linked to the Washington Post — we've seen a slight upturn in teen pregnancies after years of decline. Do we know enough about the cause-and-effect to say that abstinence education "clearly does not help" with this? I don't know, but it would seem to me that if teenagers are keeping abstinent, one reason might be that adults are successfully presenting abstinence to them in a positive light and teaching them the social skills to avoid sexual activity when they prefer abstinence.

***

I must say that, reading Warner's column, I had this image in my head — it may be just my Myth of the Stereotypical New York Times Reader — of an upper middle class, middle aged woman reading the column and enjoying tingles of resonance with her own life: Yes, I'm so busy, I'm frazzled, I'm stressed, and frantic....

I spend less and less of my news reading in the pages of the NYT over the years, and one reason is that I feel that more and more the paper is written for that reader. Ironically, I am an upper middle class, middle aged woman, but I'm not her... especially if she's the kind of person who wants the newspaper written to resonate with her exquisite emotions.

88 comments:

Henry said...

(Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.)

Judith Warner links to a data point and with no other evidence asserts her predefined world view.

That's pretty standard fare for the New York Times.

Never let go your preconceptions.

sean said...

I wonder if there is a paper written for Prof. Althouse. Probably not.

As a middle-aged, married corporate lawyer, there used to be a newspaper written for me, i.e., The Wall Street Journal, but it seems to have deteriorated since Murdoch took over. It now seems to be mostly written for people much lower down the income scale and much further to the left politically.

rhhardin said...

Ironically, I am an upper middle class, middle aged woman, but I'm not her... especially if she's the kind of person who wants the newspaper written to resonant with her exquisite emotions.

It's only 40% of women. A minority, but a big enough minority to be the target audience in the news biz business model.

No other group is reliable enough to pay the daily bills.

Donald Douglas said...

"Judith Warner links to a data point and with no other evidence asserts her predefined world view."

Naturally...

rhhardin said...

The WSJ has always been to the left in the news pages, and to the right in the editorial pages.

What changed is the female target audience.

More fluff and lifestyle.

Lem said...

Juno's parents upon learning about the teens pregnancy..

Mac MacGuff: Did you see that coming?
Bren: Yeah... but I was hoping she was expelled, or into hard drugs.
Mac MacGuff: That was my first instinct too. Or a DWI... anything but this!

Juno (2007) its now playing on HBO btw.

Henry said...

Here's the bigger quote from Warner:

Certain kinds of policies can help children. (Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.) Certain kinds of parenting can help or hurt, too.

Three assertions -- two affirmative assertions that are so vague as to be undisprovable. One negative assertion that is definitive with no evidence.

This isn't thinking. It's echoing.

An honest person would say "You know what? We don't know. We don't know what policy works or what doesn't. We particularly don't know what works with poor black and hispanic girls."

Oberon said...

Not to upset anyone, but what's wrong with teenagers having sex? It seemed to me to be the best time to engage in that behavior - everyone is built for it at that age. Let the kids have some fun. Our responsibility shouldn't be to tell them not to do it, but to teach them how to do it safely and responsibly. And, no, I don't think we should encourage it, of course, but to treat a report that teenage sex is down as some sort of positive in the news is not, in my mind, rational.

vet66 said...

Nothing says 'abstinence' like self-absorbed, narcissistic and obsessed parents. Modesty as opposed to instant-gratification is becoming the norm for most young people.

Teaching abstinence will work for some and cause a majority to reaffirm their priorities. The only losers in this scenario are vapid Hollywood types using sex, single-motherhood, and rehab, the feminist movement pushing abortion as birth control, makers of "Girls-gone-wild" videos, and media who give secularists a platform to objectify females as in the recently banned PETA ad from the Super Bowl.

Interesting that this conversation is taking place after Ann Coulter's release of her book GUILTY condemning Single Motherhood.

I am most certain that with the growing popularity of morals, values, and ethics in our young the number of career criminals inhabiting our prison system will decline with the drop in single motherhood popularity.

hdhouse said...

Henry said...
"Judith Warner links to a data point and with no other evidence asserts her predefined world view.

That's pretty standard fare for the New York Times.

Never let go your preconceptions."

Oh Henry! and later Oh Donald!...http://www.openeducation.net/2008/09/10/teen-sexual-abstinence-education-statistics-say-it-doesnt-work/

Perhaps Judith thought that her readers didn't enter the page with the mountain of preconceptions exhibited by you two. You decry the NYT. What news paper is better or more highly regarded (and please don't trot out the WSJ which if financial news)? and as to abstinence only teaching..it DOESN'T work and that finding, at least until I stumbled upon your assessments, was widely known.

So I thought.

Michael H said...

What I take from the article is Judith Warner saying: "Teen-age sex is down. What does this mean for me? I just don't know. It could be good or not good. I just don't know, but I'll include it in the list of matters surrounding me about which I have the luxury of obsessing."

Freeman Hunt said...

I've seen a lot of people citing birth rate statistics to argue against abstinence education lately. Wouldn't one need to use pregnancy statistics for that? Could it be that teens are just having fewer abortions, which is, in my opinion, good?

EDH said...

I'm not even sure what "abstinence-only" education is.

Is it either: (1) instructing that abstinence is the only completely effective method to prevent pregnancy and STDs, or (2) the only instruction given is to abstain?

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

"Abstinence-only" has been far less effective than might otherwise have been the case because as taught is focused on the wrong part of the issue.

"I'm gonna stay virgin until marriage" is functionally useless.

That issue is won or lost far earlier in the continuum of sexual arousal, and our youth have not been encouraged to think about the early beginning stages of sexual activity.

"I will not be alone with someone of the opposite sex" solves the problem for a 14-year-old just as well as it addresses adultery for that 14-year-old's parents.

Instead, you have adults and youth alike, in the name of sexual 'freedom' and 'liberation,' seeing how close to the edge they can get.

If celibacy outside of marriage is the goal, then believing that normal people will be able to resist at the very last moment because of some promise made in Grade 9 -- or at their wedding nine years ago -- is a certain pathway to widespread failure.

Harsh Pencil said...

Oberon,

I believe there is a lot of research that says that early sex is not a good thing, mentally, for teens, especially girls. (Sorry, no link). The basic idea is that it affects their ability to have truly intimate relationships later.

Also, it probably causes them to make bad choices. All of us, but probably especially girls, are programmed to either fall in love, or close to it, with people we have sex with. That's one reason to have sex. It brings us closer to someone. But it can also cloud vision. One can argue it is better to make decisions about with whom to spend one's life without all the hormones caused from having sex blurring one's brain.

Deirdre Mundy said...

The book "Predictable Irrationality" had a really good chapter on this.

He found it wasn't enough to teach teens about contraceptives, because in the heat of the moment, they decided not to bother.... so even kids with comprehensive sex ed get pregnant .

His solution? Teach teens how to avoid the situations where they won't be thinking clearly....

Which sounded suspiciously like the 'avoid occasions of sin' *I* was taught in CCD.......

JAL said...

Bren: Yeah... but I was hoping she was expelled, or into hard drugs.

Didn't see the movie, but that statement is just plain stupid.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Hdhouse -- Yours is good data.

But it isn't what Warner linked to. She linked to a Washington Post article that referenced a statistical report -- not a sociological study.

Sloppy stuff.

The Drill SGT said...

(Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.)

Vet66 said...Teaching abstinence will work for some


It worked for me. I remember being an Army Recruit. They didn't bring the Chaplain in to preach. hey showed us some extremely graphic VD films, then brought a young Doc in to answer questions abut antibiotic resistant strains of various nasty SE Asian bugs

A very early version of "Scared Straight"

Remember those films Vet66?

Henry said...

Perhaps Judith thought that her readers didn't enter the page with the mountain of preconceptions exhibited by you two.

Actually I just read the piece and attempted to see how Warner supported her arguments.

Note that I didn't say her predefined world view was wrong -- I just said she asserted it without evidence.

Meanwhile, she hedges her affirmative beliefs in soft, undisprovable ways.

JAL said...

Anecdote alert: I had the misfortune of reading some of my then high school daughters online journaling exchanges with a couple of her close friends.

One friend went to the prom (think pretty, fluffy, all dressed up) with the Boy of Her Dreams. They left, and had sex in his car. (Think pretty, fluffy and all dressed up.)

First time for her. She did not want to and it was not a pleasant experience and she felt terrible, but she still loved him you see.

So their dating pattern then became a series of him having sex with her. (At his house -- (Parents, parents where art thou?). Them breaking up, them back together, them breaking up ....

I am sorry guys, I know it is thought that our culture is unrealistic in suggesting that abstinence is a good thing. Tell me how this behavior, which I speculate as a professional counselor and a mother, is quite common, is a good thing.

Someone tell me (in a believable way) how having young women going into adult hood processing what amounts to date rape as a good thing makes their lives more manageable, healthy and normal?

Sexual relations are one heck of a complicated thing, especially in a culture where there are no clear boundaries.

We expect kids to be able to navigate this emotionally and actually lower the bar for them so they don't feel bad (Read: So the screwed up adults and professionals in their lives don't feel bad). These kids go to college and into adulthood relationships with crappy baggage. No wonder girls think of themselves as objects.

Sheesh.

Do I think teen sex is inevitable? No. It is not. Does it occur? Yes it does. But instead of making it the center piece of every adolescent TV show and normalizing it as a terrific cool experience that we can all laugh about it, or occasionally feel a teensy bit bad, maybe we need to back off.

The emotionally and relationally compromised adults who smile knowingly need to grow up, get a grip and act responsibly, and stop projecting their fantasies onto the kids.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Didn't see the movie, but that statement is just plain stupid.

As was the movie.

Lem said...

Didn't see the movie, but that statement is just plain stupid.

Dark humor people!

fcai said...

Hold it, wait, what? Having sex in a car is a bad thing? Glad I didn't know that 40 years ago...

Henry said...

My own belief is that there's not much government can do. Family and culture is more important than policy. Interestingly, what is often highlighted as the "failure" of abstinence-only education is that its results are no better than contraception-based programs.

Hdhouse, do you see what I'm getting at? Warner takes a soft stance toward the nonfunctioning programs that she likes ("Certain kinds of policies can help children") and a hard stance toward the nonfunctioning programs that she doesn't like ("Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help").

She's not really challenging herself or her readers.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Hold it, wait, what? Having sex in a car is a bad thing?

It can be in a car with manual transmission.

jdeeripper said...

Ole Lady Althouse - Ironically, I am an upper middle class, middle aged woman, but I'm not her...

You're not "middle aged" either. You wont make it to 116.

Middle aged is 35 to 45. If you're past that YOU'RE OLD.

Sorry. But at least you still have your hair unlike some of us.

Zeb Quinn said...

Not to upset anyone, but what's wrong with teenagers having sex?

Have you had a 15 to 17-year old daughter?

JAL said...

Hold it, wait, what? Having sex in a car is a bad thing? Glad I didn't know that 40 years ago..

Think I've got Hoosier pegged, but are you a guy fcai?


Dark humor, right?

Host with the Most said...

I spend less and less of my news reading in the pages of the NYT over the years,

YES!.

My work here is actually paying off.

Happy Day!!!!!!

Lem said...

Jacy: [to Duane, as they're leaving motel room after having sex] Oh, quit prissing. I don't think you done it right, anyway.

The Last Picture Show.

Richard Fagin said...

From a 1993 piece by Peggy Noonan, who quoted an official in the Clinton Administration as saying in all seriousness that "f***ing is an entitlement."

Once you understand that mindset, everything else that comes out of it makes sense.

Oberon said...

@HarshP: I have read that a chemical/hormone is released in females when they have sex with someone that attaches or makes them more likely to feel attached to their partner. I agree that that isn't optimal. But I think that our culture hurts, far more than it helps, in this regard - romantic comedies kill any youth's perception of love/sex. It is unrealistic to fall in love like in the movies. We'd be doing a much better service to our youth if they saw more realistic experiences in pop culture (probably better represented in music)

I guess what I'd like to see is a report that says teens are making more informed decisions about sex, whether they have more or less of it. Which brings me to:

@JAL: I can unequivocally say that female teens who are uncomfortable with sex/sexuality are the ones who experience the pseudo-date rape you're talking about. That's not an excuse and I don't mean it to be. But let me ask this: are we, as adults, more likely to affect teenagers' behavior in a way that can make that experience a good one, or to end those experiences altogether? And, as a follow-up, which is more desireable?

I would posit that we have exactly zero chance of ending the situations you described. Whether your daughter's friend was trying to please her boyfriend or was trying to supplement her self-esteem (I'd argue the former) doesn't matter. Both are impossible to get rid of. Teenage girls are always going to want to sacrifice for their boyfriends. Teenage girls are always going to try and boost their self-esteem. Both are dead-ends.

However, if we teach our teens that sex isn't taboo - that responsible people can have a lot of fun with it and the world isn't over if "things don't work out," we have a chance at solving the problem. This starts with the taboo of masterbation, of course, and ends with teen couples feeling that they have to have sex in cars. Think of all that negativity surrounding that seemingly beautiful, and potentially very pleasurable, event.

The other side of the debate (US "conventional" wisdom) has always boggled my mind.

Zachary Paul Sire said...

The reason teens aren't having as much sex is because they have unfettered access to porn on the internet. The mystery and excitement surrounding sex and "what it's like" isn't there anymore.

fcai said...

A manual transmission is not a problem. A floor mounted shift lever might be if there is no back seat in said automobile.

I had someone else's 17 year old daughter, if that counts for anything, Zeb...

Pogo said...

A critical difference in the approaches towards teen pregnancy is answered by one question:

Is teenage pregnancy a good thing or a bad thing, or do you plead neutrality?

Your answer to that will predict your policy preferences, 100%.

If you are unable to say "it's a bad thing" without hesitation, then you can 100% predict the author of a related article cannot abide abstinence teachings.

And I agree, teaching folks to avoid the occasions of risk/sin is more than half the battle. But unless there's a reason to aim for that, some moral imperative, why bother teaching abstinence?

hdhouse said...

Zachery...that's an interesting gambit. I would think there is some statistical evidence in that regard. The relationship may not be linear but it certainly could be in the mix.

Good observation. something is happening. perhaps this administration/surgeon general et al will take a look and we the people will listen to science.

traditionalguy said...

A Public Policy argument based on a Truther type of arguement that sex has no restraints possible, also means that it is useless to restrain child pornography and child seductions by internet predators or Teacher predators, or...the list goes on. The restraint of sex is always subject to the little darling's consent, but the value to the public from that restraint is so high, that Public Policy should award and encourage Abstinance instead of announcing that "we expect you to do it like rabbits, have fun". We may seem hypocrites by urging conduct we failed at ourselves, but if 1/3 of the kids are saved the damage from bad decisions by our cheerleading, then what's wrong with that? Evan just waiting until 16 improves the chances for surviving hormonal enslavement. You could also argue uselessness of Seatbelt laws and Helmet laws which are disobeyed by "free" people too, but if as much as 1/3 obey, then the public policy goal may be worth it.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Zachery...that's an interesting gambit. I would think there is some statistical evidence in that regard. The relationship may not be linear but it certainly could be in the mix.

Hey maybe this is the answer to Nancy Pelosi's fubar suggestion for government funded condoms. Instead we can all receive a tax credit for subscribing to internet porn. That reduces state costs for unwanted children!

Brilliant!

Ann Althouse said...

"If celibacy outside of marriage is the goal, then believing that normal people will be able to resist at the very last moment because of some promise made in Grade 9 -- or at their wedding nine years ago -- is a certain pathway to widespread failure."

I don't think it's about making a promise and trying to keep it. It's about seeing the good in abstinence and maintaining some standards about whether having sex will be good for you. And also, for many girls, I think it can be hard even to know that you're allowed to say no and how to say no successfully and still have a happy life.

traditionalguy said...

The real world "reason" for a decrease in teen pregnancy may be as simple as increased sophistication of the internet generation peer pressure to avoid sex that seems demeaning instead of glamorous in the Porn they now can freely see. Curiosity about the unknown doesn't lure as many sheltered kids as once was the case. And they also know so much more about Bill Clinton's sex methods, and the newly acceptable homosexual sex methods, neither of which cause pregnancies.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Oberon: that hormone is oxytocin and it creates a deep sense of bonding.

One very real problem with sex too early in a relationship is that the female especially can develop hormonal bonding to a male who turns out to be an abusive jerk, or worse. At which point she doesn't want to let him go ...

Far better to find out who he really is before the oxytocin starts to flow.

William said...

Teen age pregnancy is unequivocally a bad thing. When I was younger, I knew a young lady who declined to have sex. She claimed that her mother had gotten pregnant and married while still in high school. She thought that this was the cause of her mother's subsequent unhappy life....Life is so unfair. I had to pay for the sins of that girl's mother.

Christy said...

Hold it, wait, what? Having sex in a car is a bad thing?

It can be in a car with manual transmission.


I still get hot 35 years later just remembering that little round knob on the stick of a certain '69 Triumph Spitfire.

Oberon said...

@Ann

That's exactly the problem, IMO. You have come to the conclusion that abstinence has some good, which I find very odd. The idea of abstinence (which seems to me to be to abstain from sex until one is married) has very little good about it. True, it has some benefits if abstinence will prevent "very bad decisions" like the pseudo-date rape described by JAN. But to not have sex for the sake of not having sex is silly and, frankly, not in our nature.

As for your comment on girls understanding that they can say no... wow. If you believe that is the case (and it may be) then we have some terrific hurdles as a society to overcome. My God, what kind of parents do not impress upon their children that they have the ability to say no to "XYZ" and leave a happy life. Wow.

Methadras said...

It works like this. Abstinence is a religious point of view, George Bush who supported abstinence training and funding was a Christian. On it's face abstinence is the abstention from having sex, hopefully before marriage. Leftists who reserve no judgment on things like teenage sex, much less anything else, hate religion, specifically Christians, and more to the point GWB. Therefore, they detest abstinence training and funding. Use their media outlets to completely discredit it. Have their blogging mouthpieces and tv puppet heads to denounce it and viola, the left proclaims it doesn't work. They've taken religion, non-sex, and GWB wrapped them up in a nice burrito that plays to their hatreds and have used their powers of media to evaporate the 'lie'. So, what about those statistics that say they don't have a leg to stand on?

Who cares, we are leftists, we are liberals and 2+2=5 because it makes us feel good about ourselves and our chakras and our feelings and [fill in any other emotionally based tripe you can think of]... Leftists love to use the NIH (not invented here) label because they have nothing relevant to offer other than other peoples money.

Oberon said...

@Bart: Thanks for the info. I agree that people shoudl get to know their partners before getting too involved. But handling the effects of oxytocin is clearly something people can do - shouldn't we be training our kids to handle that, rather than "handling" sexual desire? Tough issue...

Ann Althouse said...

Oberon: "The idea of abstinence (which seems to me to be to abstain from sex until one is married) has very little good about it. True, it has some benefits if abstinence will prevent "very bad decisions" like the pseudo-date rape described by JAN. But to not have sex for the sake of not having sex is silly and, frankly, not in our nature."

Abstinence isn't permanent. It's just a matter of holding out until your standard for having sex is met. Your standard doesn't have to be marriage. Face it, there is a lot of bad and pointless sex going on. Having a good awareness of that is important, especially for women.

"As for your comment on girls understanding that they can say no... wow. If you believe that is the case (and it may be) then we have some terrific hurdles as a society to overcome."

I didn't understand this when I was young, not in a deep, confident way. I thought in certain circumstances you had a tacit obligation. I wasted a lot of mental energy feeling bad about not living up to my obligations.

"My God, what kind of parents do not impress upon their children that they have the ability to say no to "XYZ" and leave a happy life. Wow."

I think our whole culture throws it in our face that sexual activity is tremendously important and expected of everyone.

Pogo said...

"I think our whole culture throws it in our face that sexual activity is tremendously important and expected of everyone."

Dead-on true.
Well said.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"As for your comment on girls understanding that they can say no... wow. If you believe that is the case (and it may be) then we have some terrific hurdles as a society to overcome. My God, what kind of parents do not impress upon their children that they have the ability to say no to "XYZ" and leave a happy life. Wow."

But that's exactly it. That's what happens when kids absorb their understanding of sexuality from pop culture instead of from their parents or other responsible adults.

Some time back I heard a news story on the radio about a 15-yr-old boy who had an affair with a female teacher. At first he thought it was the bees' knees, of course, but then she started putting all this emotional baggage on him along with the sex. No one should be surprised by this, of course - what kind of mentally healthy grown woman would risk prison to have sex with a boy when she can go to a dang bar and get picked up? If the sex act alone is what she wants, there's nothing the 15-yr-old can do for her that a grown man can't.

Anyway, the kid put up with it for WAY too long, thinking that the fact that he was just about suicidal from the pressure she was putting on him to fulfill her emotionally must mean there was something wrong with HIM, since any normal male would be happy to be in his shoes. Finally he broke down and told his dad, who hit the ceiling and then called the police.

We tell our kids about stranger danger when they're kindergartners (and scare the crap out of them needlessly if we're not careful) but there's an entire range of sexual predation that they need to know about. To be fair, the boy in that awful prom story most probably didn't see himself as a predator, or his acts as anything out of the ordinary.

Freeman Hunt said...

My God, what kind of parents do not impress upon their children that they have the ability to say no to "XYZ" and leave a happy life. Wow.

The same who say this:

You have come to the conclusion that abstinence has some good, which I find very odd. The idea of abstinence (which seems to me to be to abstain from sex until one is married) has very little good about it. True, it has some benefits if abstinence will prevent "very bad decisions" like the pseudo-date rape described by JAN. But to not have sex for the sake of not having sex is silly and, frankly, not in our nature.

kimsch said...

I haven't seen yet in the comments the age old male to female plaint:

"But if you loved me, you'd let me boink you in the back seat of the car"

and I just thought of another:
"If you won't have sex with me I'll just break up with you go out with Janie."

I wish I hadn't given my virginity up so easily. It seemed like the whole school knew. Friends were all sure I was pregnant immediately.

Oberon said...

@Ann: If abstinence as it relates here is only about waiting for your standard to be met, then I have no problem with abstinece as a concept. However, that seems to be a difficult concept (one could argue that the standard is always met with consensual sex).

re: bad and pointless se - sure, there is a lot of bad sex going on. Hence the need to practice. /kidding

I find it strange that one would feel an obligation to have sex. If it is true that our culture says "sex is good - it's great - it'll make you happy, etc" and you are convinced of this, it isn't an obligation so much as wanting to do something that might be fun/beneficial, right? And why would it be any more or less an obligation than other cultural messages about what is good and fun? I know "it's different." But is it different?


@ Freeman: saying no to sex for the sake of saying no, when all other factors say yes (desire, comfort, maturity) is lunacy. My experience with parents who press that position only drive their teens further away from them and their desired result. Kids aren't stupid - the less we present them with reason, the less they'll buy what we're selling.

Pogo said...

"...and frankly, not in our nature."

It's also in our nature to defecate like other animals, wherever the urge should arise. Just watch an infant or small child.

Civilization is meant to delimit nature's tyranny. It is the barbarian who demands we accede to every instinctual urge as if it were a command from the gods, and cry that any proscription for our better nature is merely a fraud.

Gross individualism has always had its defenders, most especially Rousseau, but the real-life application of such beliefs has always ended in tears.

"My experience with parents who press that position"...is a poor indicator whether the avoidance of sex is good for the young.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Face it, there is a lot of bad and pointless sex going on.

Then they're not doing it right.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Or maybe its not abstinence and they're finally using birth control? I mean it's not hard to put on a condom it just takes the effort.

In a manner of speaking of course. It has to be hard or the condom won't go on.

Freeman Hunt said...

Pogo provides the reason. Also, I would add that I've yet to see any evidence whatsoever that unfettered sexual mores leads to greater happiness and fulfillment.

Bissage said...

Years ago I knew a girl whose thoughts on the subject paralleled those of Oberon.

She had all the opportunities one can get from an affluent, loving, intact family.

Yet, if she had as many sticking out of her as she had stuck in her she would look like a porcupine.

She ended up with an abortion and herpes and drug addiction and God knows what else.

Last I heard she’d joined a cult . . . EST or The Forum or something.

Just saying.

kimsch said...

Young girls want love, they need love. Some boys take advantage of that. Some girls, to get that unconditional love, get pregnant on purpose so they can have that little baby who will love them because babies love their mommies...

That may be a reason that pregnancies went up slightly even with teen sex going down.

Remember the girls in Mass? With their pregnancy pact?

Der Hahn said...

Nobody's obligated to smoke but teens do it anyway. Why shouldn't teens have fun smoking?

But anti-smoking advocates don't want 'safe smoking' classes. They want smoking abstinence. They find all sorts of inducements to smoking in advertising and popular culture, and pass laws to eliminate them. They make supplying tobacco to teens illegal and organize police sting operations to punish people supplying teens with smoking materials.

Why treat smoking differently than sex? How about because if even a teenager can control an elemental urge like procreation, then the whole 'if it feels good do it' fa├žade is going to start crumbling?

Joe said...

I believe that most sex education doesn't have any effect at all. I do suspect, though, that the message that you can say no and mean it has resonated with some kids.

XWL said...

I blame internet porn more so than teaching about abstinence. Teen boys are far more likely to 'take care of themselves' on a frequent and somewhat obsessive basis than in the past given the combination of easy access to explicit pornography and a culture with a far more accepting attitude towards masturbation.

Urges satisfied alone, means less urgent need to sniff around for a willing female. As far as teen girls go, I think the constantly connected culture they've developed for themselves also acts as a bit of a prophylactic. Constantly texting or speaking with their cronies, and 2nd order friends, means that few decisions (like having sex) are made impulsively and alone, instead every move is done by committee, and as the committee grows there will always be at least one committee member who counsels against sex. Not for religious, or sensible reasons, but for more typically teenage reasons like wanting that guy for themselves, or not wanting to be the only girl not having sex, or there's always at least one girl in a group that hates every guy within a small social circle, so there'll always be someone to tell a 'friend' horrible things about a potential bedmate.

All speculative on my part, but it's rare to see women in their teen years not furiously texting away, so I imagine the usual social bullying and backstabbing goes on, but it's now supercharged and at a higher velocity.

Joe said...

Anecdote: My oldest lost her virginity at 15/16 (to a jerk she's since broken up with--she just had her first baby at 20 with a very nice man.)

However, her just younger brother is almost 18 and still a virgin. He thinks abstinence education is a crock as are anti-drug programs. He isn't remotely religious (neither are we, though we were when he was a wee child) and is quite vague, as teenagers often are, about his decisions. He once made a comment about what jerks his older sister's high school friends were. The funny thing is that the girl friend he had last year tried to get into his pants--the sexual aggression of all the girls his age astonishes me.

(Oh, and he wears his hair very long, listens to hard rock and plays drums and guitar in a band. Point being that by looks, he's the stereotypical "bad boy".)

sean said...

XWL, that is a very fascinating theory. I think you might be on to something, that modern life (meaning either urban or suburban life, as opposed to life in a European or colonial farm village) atomized the lives of teenage girls, which led to higher incidences of sexual activity, and just recently, modern telecommunications have restored the village cocoon of a constant (virtual) female companionship.

ken in sc said...

To Oberon and others, free love was a great idea to me as a teenager. As time went by, I came to realize that having sex with a lot of people I did not really know or care about was dangerous to my emotional health. Most American males never have this experience. I lived in the Philippines at a time and place in which an ordinary American could live like a millionaire. I had as much sex as I could stand. Sex as a form of recreation is not emotionally and psychologically sustainable—for male or female. Sharing the most intimate part of yourself with strangers eventually makes you feel bad about yourself. Sex and love is intended for other reasons. Take my word for it.
Btw, the idea that a man can waste his strength having too many women is mentioned in the Old Testament several times.

Oberon said...

Arg. Freeman and Pogo - If you follow the thread, Freeman seemed to say that my shock and anger at parents who fail to get their kids to understand that they can opt out of sex at any point and still have a happy life are the same parents who think "not having sex for the reason of not having sex" is silly.

I countered, basically saying (or meaning to say) that it is another kind of parent - the one that presses too hard and doesn't use reason - that likely puts kids in the position to have sex even if they don't want to.

Pogo then responded that "is a poor indicator whether the avoidance of sex is good for the young." Pogo seems to have misinterpreted what we were discussing. But now I see Freeman pop in again, citing Pogo's response.

Do I write that poorly that neither of you understood what I was intending to say? My goodness. In any event, Freeman, I did not, nor would I, argue for unfettered sexual mores. What I argued for, and what I beleive is correct, is that teenage sex is not a bad thing. Is it bad for a teen to nail 100 other teens? Yes. That's bad. But to have one, two, three sexual partners while a teen? No big deal. I think teens are missing out if they don't. But that's their choice, I think. And, I think, as adults, we need to provide them with the best information we can about sex and the potential pitfalls/benefits. That's it. No one is making an argument for teen orgies, which, for whatever reason, a few people have picked up and run with...

Larry said...

Just an observation. It seems like the commenters most vociferously opposed to abstinence here are male.

Guys, I got news for you. Sex, particularly with strangers, is a trap. There's no way to be absolutely sure that she won't get pregnant, and if she does, you can kiss your disposable income goodbye for 18 years or more.

Your hand is your friend, and if you really, really have to have it, go pay for it in Nevada. It's much, much cheaper.

JAL said...

Would be interesting to see the male / female breakdown is on the positions offered. Some of the posters I am not competely sure which they are, but I find myself speculating based on their commments.

One clue is that sexual intercourse for a woman is quite a different experience than it is for a man.

Is that right?

DADvocate said...

And also, for many girls, I think it can be hard even to know that you're allowed to say no and how to say no successfully and still have a happy life.

This, and I'd dead serious, goes for boys too. My youngest son is 15. He's athletic, and honor student, musically talented and a good conversationalist. So far in high school all his girlfriends except one have been older than him.

I remind him in a friendly way, when appropriate, that sex is great but it can make your life hell too. I tell him to have fun but don't jeopardize his youth. He has dreams of playing college football which is realistic in his case. He has other dreams too. I remind him that even protected sex can ruin those dreams or make them much harder to reach.

Now that my daughter is 12, I tell her much the same when appropriate. They usually broach the subject first. Maybe more parents are talking to their kids and offering solid guidance.

blake said...

Guess I was plugged into the Zeitgeist last night when I wrote about double-standards, though I was referring to sex in general, not just for teens.

A lot of arguments made, not all of them I understand.

Oberon, clearly, reveals himself as an alien (King of the Faeries?), when he says I find it strange that one would feel an obligation to have sex.

Say "Hello" to my little friend, the "Teen Sex Comedy", the plot of about 80% of which is boys making a pact to get laid. And the other 80% are about the two teens in love debating whether or not to "do it".

Virginity is embarrassing. Hell, monogamy is sometimes portrayed as embarrassing.

What Oberon fails to explain is why it's tragic not to have 2-3 partners as a teen but also bad to have 100.

And how many of the guys who want to have sex with a lot of different women want their gal--the one they settle down with--to have experience with lots of different men?

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Larry - it's amazing, the number of men who put the responsibility for birth control totally on women (who are many times virtually strangers to them) and are then all SHOCKED when they get "caught" and have to pay child support.

I actually had one tell me (on a comment thread) that (a) it's up to a woman to know when she is at the fertile part of her cycle (AS IF, do you think we're all like clockwork? Do you know how many women wag around their supplies all the freaking time b/c we never know when to expect our visitor, and you think we just magically KNOW when we're about to ovulate?) and (b) he can't risk offending a woman at a delicate stage of the relationship by suggesting that he use a condom. There's a name for men like that ... it's "Daddy".

blake said...

At the same time, I don't get Pogo when he says Is teenage pregnancy a good thing or a bad thing, or do you plead neutrality? Your answer to that will predict your policy preferences, 100%. If you are unable to say "it's a bad thing" without hesitation, then you can 100% predict the author of a related article cannot abide abstinence teachings.

Abstinence teaching is a good thing. But I'm borderline pro-teen pregnancy. Heh. Didn't we just discuss how people are waiting too long to have children?

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'd like to see kids grow up faster. And not in the do-drugs, have-sex, commit-crime sense that some people mean when they talk about growing up too fast.

I mean, I'd like to see our teens holding down jobs, pursuing serious relationships, and generally abandoning this concept of "adolesence" which has caused so much trouble (and John Hughes movies) over the years.

A 17-, 18-, 19-year-old who has completed (or mostly completed) his or her education is a fine candidate for raising a child. Way better than a beaten up 40-something. (And teens could easily have college educations or be established in trades by that time. Then, if they decide to switch careers fifteen years later, they're in their early 30s and its no big deal!)

Flame on. Heh.

Pogo said...

The highest poverty rate in the US is among women who have children before age 20.

Biology loves fecundity at 17.
Economic security, not so much.

blake said...

Oh, no doubt, Pogo.

But that's because responsible women don't have children at that age, generally speaking.

It's kind of like we've taken childhood, stretched it through the teens, and then basically ended up with all these proto-adults with adult urges still being treated like (indulged) children.

So, not only does sex--even casual sex--become an entitlement, having a baby if you feel like it does, too.

Am I opposed to teen pregnancy? Not absolutely: I'm opposed to extended childhoods.

We fail to prepare kids for adulthood, encourage them to put it off for as long as possible, and then act surprise when we get a nation full of old crybabies. Heh.

Freeman Hunt said...

Oberon, I didn't miss your point. You missed mine.

If you're telling your teenager, "In my opinion abstinence is really weird. I think that not having sex for the sake of not having sex is silly. You know, you really miss out if you don't have a few sexual partners during your teenage years," and then also saying, "It's okay to say no to anything. Don't let anyone pressure you," you're sending mixed signals.

Put those ideas together and you've got, "Don't ever let anyone pressure you into sex. Now granted, it's really bizarre that you wouldn't want to have sex under certain circumstances, but you can still say no. In fact, it's just plain weird to not have sex for the sake of not having it, but if that's your bag, oh well, okay. And really, if you don't get it on a bit, you're missing out, but you should feel free to miss out if that's what you want to do." That's a pep talk that definitely leaves the teen with the impression that if he doesn't have sex, he's very odd, even irrational. What follows is a feeling of obligation to have sex.

You also mentioned that adults should talk to teens about sex with reason. I pointed out that Pogo provides some of the reason not to have sex such as the fact that controlling random natural whims is the basis of civilization.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's kind of like we've taken childhood, stretched it through the teens, and then basically ended up with all these proto-adults with adult urges still being treated like (indulged) children.

Could not agree more with that. The way we treat teenagers now is just bizarre. Almost as though some adults are channeling their own fantasies of adult life without responsibilities into their children.

XWL said...

This whole experiment of extending adolescence all the way into folks' mid twenties (just see the way college students who live on campuses are treated, not that many don't deserve being treated like large children) seems like it's failing, and seems unwise, yet it continues.

JAL said...

Freeman: Almost as though some adults are channeling their own fantasies of adult life without responsibilities into their children.

JAL: The emotionally and relationally compromised adults who smile knowingly need to grow up, get a grip and act responsibly, and stop projecting their fantasies onto the kids.


Great minds....

Get us nowhere, but maybe some of the kids have figured it out.

traditionalguy said...

Go see or rent the original Michael Caine movie, Alphie. Then report back, and let's talk again.

Oberon said...

@Freeman:

That's certainly not the message I am/would send. My impression of abstinence edu is not what Ms. Althouse's impression is. I've found that when abstinence-only edu is taught, the focus is on not having sex until one is married. But there is no answer to the "why", which is the natural response. Why not have sex as a teen, before marriage? It can be done safely. It can be done without emotional baggage (for both males and females). We have thousands of examples. True, there are many examples on the other side, but why don't we work on fixing a problem that we know has a solution rather than try to keep teems from having sex? That's what I don't understand.

Saying "not having sex for the endgame of not having sex is silly" does not imply that people/teens should have sex. A does not imply B, here. There are many good reasons for not having sex: your potential partner is ugly, you don't like him/her, you aren't comfortable with your sexuality, etc.

But if you're, say, 15, and you've been masterbating for a few years, your partner excites you, he will wear a condom, you wouldn't be breaking any laws, you really want to... to say no because someone (parents, government, religion) has told you that having sex at that age is not good... that's just plain ignorant.

Again, I have no idea how you jumped from one statement to you conclusory statement - I've reread what I wrote and find your logic to be lacking. No matter. Do you understand what I'm saying, now? You're free to disagree, of course. I just want to make sure you understand the point. You see, the problem, IMO, with dealing with teens and sex is that the goal adults have ascribed to (teens not having sex) is a false goal. It isn't what we should be hoping for. What we should be hoping for is teens making responsible decisions when it comes to sex. Sometimes, that's having it. Sometimes, that's not having it.

Pogo brought up civilization and how we use it to constrain our nature - sure. That's fine. But only to constrain what makes sense to constrain. Again, I feel we have this all backwards. Thousands of teens handle sex just fine. We should learn from them and impart that onto those who may not do fine with teen sex. That's going to be the key to solving any problem with this - not trying to get them to stop having it...

theobromophile said...

For those who have read some of my other comments, this comes as no surprise: I could not disagree with Oberon any more.

As Prof. Althouse mentioned, and as many other women (myself included) can tell you, men pressure women for sex. Guess what? Even if you're not having sex, getting pressured sucks. What also really sucks is to have men treat you like there is no valid reason for you to refuse. When I say no to sex or sexual activity, men treat me like I've just turned down petting a puppy dog or feeding a starving child. To them, it's utterly irrational, as no one - parents, educators, or peers - has ever let them know that some people are happier without casual sex.

Unless abstinence can be good, there is no reason to turn down sex. NONE. A lot of us aren't built that way. After a decade of the dating world, I can say that I deeply, deeply resent the imposition of your morals upon me. (Yes, your statements about abstaining and sex do change the world in which I live, and do so for the worse. I wish you would at least admit that your theories are awesome for men who like getting laid, but entirely crappy for those who cannot, even if they tried, separate sex and emotions.)

theobromophile said...

There are many good reasons for not having sex: your potential partner is ugly, you don't like him/her, you aren't comfortable with your sexuality, etc.

[Bangs head against desk, goes in search of hot chocolate to help with a response...]

Um, so if the lights are off, and you've enjoyed the person enough to go on a date with him/her, the only reason you wouldn't start shagging on the dryer during the spin cycle is that you're not comfortable with your sexuality?

Maybe it's just me, being a vegetarian and all, but a fundamental part of respecting your body is being careful and selective about what you put into it.

Oberon said...

@Thebromophile: Does no one read what is written? I offered but a few of the many valid reasons for not having sex. What I oppose is a simple notion that "Not doing X because you should not do X" is a bad thing. There is no "there" there. No reason. And that is what I've found abstinence only education to consist of - "sex before marriage is bad" followed closely by "but it's good to have it during marriage..." What? Why does marriage suddenly change that?

One reason I rarely post is that no one ever seems to respond to what others' write. They merely project some stereotype on someone else's written word and go about making their own point. Fine. But don't twist my words. Don't make things up. It doesn't suit anyone...

blake said...

"Not doing X because you should not do X" is a bad thing. There is no "there" there. No reason. And that is what I've found abstinence only education to consist of - "sex before marriage is bad" followed closely by "but it's good to have it during marriage..." What? Why does marriage suddenly change that?

Ah, I see: It's morality you don't understand.

Morality is the group's rules about good and bad. What changes about sex is that the group says it's good to do with your spouse, and not otherwise.

Quite apart from judging the wisdom of this--a great many social ills would be cured if monogamy were strictly followed, you know--there is merit to morality. Even if it seems (or maybe especially when it seems) arbitrary.

Your insistence that children (so they are deemed in our society, and so they act) should experience fleeting pleasure at the risk of emotional trauma, disease and pregnancy because you consider the risks to be small is actually more arbitrary than a religion saying "no sex out of wedlock".

It's not very convincing. And I'm basically on your side.

The group asks you to sacrifice on its behalf, and it's not a coincidence that the degradation of that sacrifice coincides with the degradation of the group.

Lee Scoresby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Scoresby said...

We know abstinence only programs don't work because studies that use actual scientific methods--like comparing kids in such programs to kids in comprehensive sex ed--show no difference in sexual activity. Some do show that kids in abstinence only programs are likely to have higher STD and pregnancy rates.

This is how you establish the causal impact (or lack thereof) of specific treatments. We care about the rate in the treatment group compared to the control group, not about overall rates.

This is not particularly complicated. One would not conclude that, for example, eating Skittles stopped lung cancer because lots more people are eating Skittles than in the 1970s and lung cancer rates are also lower.

Ann Althouse said...

"We know abstinence only programs don't work because studies that use actual scientific methods--like comparing kids in such programs to kids in comprehensive sex ed--show no difference in sexual activity."

Perhaps you didn't notice that I wasn't talking about "abstinence only" teaching. I spoke of "adults are successfully presenting abstinence to [young people] in a positive light and teaching them the social skills to avoid sexual activity when they prefer abstinence." That's not abstinence only!