Politics & Policy

Abstinence and the Left

Why does the New York Times hate teen abstinence?

Alarmed by a recent well-publicized study showing that abstinence education succeeded while “safe sex” and “comprehensive” sex-ed programs failed, the Left has abandoned its “abstinence doesn’t work” claim and drawn up a new line of defense.

Consider what the New York Times had to say. According to its editorialists, the newly evaluated abstinence program succeeded because it was “freed from the moralistic overtones and ideological restrictions” of prior abstinence education.

You can bet that anyone who pontificates about “moralistic overtones” in abstinence education has never held an actual abstinence curriculum in his hands, let alone read one.

Why does abstinence education come under unending, if completely uninformed, attack? In part, because abstinence was strongly associated with the Bush administration — and anything tied to Bush has always been fair game to liberals.

In addition, real abstinence curricula teach three things that are anathema to the sex-education lobby running things in Washington, D.C.

First, abstinence programs teach that teens should abstain from sex until they have at least finished high school. Ninety-one percent of parents agree. But the “comprehensive” sex-ed programs promoted by House Speaker Pelosi and President Obama teach that it’s okay for teens to have sex as long as they use a condom. Only 9 percent of parents agree.

Second, abstinence curricula teach that sex should be linked to “love, intimacy, and commitment” and that these qualities are most likely to be found in marriage. Again, 90 percent of parents support this message. But the Left is appalled at “privileging” marriage over casual relationships, cohabitation, or “hooking up.” The “ideological” message of abstinence has to go!

Finally, abstinence education teaches (with special emphasis for poor, at-risk youth) that marriage can be beneficial to children, adults, and society. The black out-of-wedlock birth rate in the U.S. now hovers at 70 percent; the overall out-of-wedlock birth rate is nearly 40 percent. Non-marital births overwhelmingly occur to the least-educated parents, and out-of-wedlock childbearing is the strongest cause of child poverty in the United States. Therefore, one might think that mentioning the benefits of marriage to at-risk youth would be good idea.

Wrong! Nothing outrages the Left’s sex-ed advocacy industry more than telling at-risk youth that healthy marriage might be a good thing for them. (Safe bet: No sex-ed curriculum funded by the current Congress will say anything positive about marriage.)

Now, to return to the Times editorial, it’s true that the recently evaluated abstinence program urged abstinence but apparently did not contain the three themes outlined above. However, there is no reason to assert, as the Times does, that this abstinence program succeeded precisely because it lacked these themes. There had been eleven prior evaluations documenting the success of traditional abstinence programs, which the Times neglected to mention to its readers.

The bottom line: The sex-ed industry’s successful effort to kill federally funded abstinence education was about liberating teens from “ideological” and “moralistic” messages. The dilemma for the Left is that parents overwhelmingly approve these messages and condemn the core values of the “comprehensive” sex-ed programs currently pushed by Congress. Teaching teens that “hooking up” is a fine idea so long as you use a condom just doesn’t fly.

Hawking a product no one wants, most left-wing sex-education advocates conceal their agenda with smoke and mirrors. Since most liberal pundits have never read the actual curricula they condemn or applaud, it’s no surprise the pundit class sometimes ends up deceiving itself.

– Robert Rector is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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