-{Cross-posted from Not a Potted Plant}-

ThinkProgress cites a study that points out that Evangelical kids have premarital sex in similar numbers to everybody else: 80% for Evangelicals, 88% for heathens.

Both ED Kain and Russell Saunders, along with TP itself, cite the study as a case against Abstinence-Only education (AOE). As a practical matter, I am not a big fan of AOE. My wife Clancy and I do not intend to go that route and if our local school does, we will fill in the gaps ourselves. The only real area of disagreement between us, really, is how in depth we want to get (do we stop at the mot proven methods, or do we go over everything?). The clinical stuff will be hers; the psychological stuff will be mine.

Having said all of this, I don’t see this report as necessarily being more than just a poke in the eye of the self-righteous. There is also the assumption among many that we can count on the religious folks to forgo contraception either due to (a) lack of sex-ed and (b) the religious implications. It’s an assumption that is not foreign to me. Putting my mind in that of a religious person (I am a half-lapsed Episcopalian, a weak version of weak sauce), I can easily imagine an aversion to bringing a condom along or taking contraception because that makes the sex worse than just sex, it makes it premeditated sex. It might be easier to ask God for forgiveness for the heat of the moment, but might be harder to explain to God why you were so prepared for it. Also, Catholics and contraception (though the more Catholics I get to know, the less I find that this is really an issue – even among the devout). I don’t even have to imagine much of this because I can draw on my experience living among a fair number of these people.

However, the data doesn’t necessarily support that conclusion. According to the Add Health Study, very religious teens are within 10% of being as likely as the irreligious when it comes to using contraception (58% to 65%). If we consider the 8% difference between those who have sex and do not have sex to be on the irrelevant side of things, we have to view the 7% differential on contraception in the same light. The difference between those who use contraception the first time is only 1% different.

Now, the Add Health numbers and the numbers in the original article are not exactly measuring the same thing. For one thing, Add Health is looking at religiosity more than what the brand of religion is. So a self-described Evangelical who only attends church once a week would count as irreligious but a Unitarian who attends every week would be considered very religious. From the perspective of what we’re looking at, though, neither source is much more valuable than the other. Anybody can call themselves an Evangelical. The numbers for self-described Evangelicals is not necessarily indicative of the devout ones that keep their children sheltered. The TNC numbers are also looking at young adults while the Add Health numbers are looking at teenagers. If the discussion is sex ed, I think the latter numbers (which show a 15% differential in sex among whites) are probably more valuable.

However, even if we assume that there is relative parity between the religious freaks and the heathens, whether sex has occurred is really only part of the story. When did it occur? With what frequency? It’s entirely possible (and reasonable to believe, given the two sets of numbers we’re looking at) that the religious folks are starting later. It’s also not necessarily unreasonable to believe that they might have fewer partners are fewer instances, which can have other benefits down the line.

Sex is not necessarily a switch that one turns on, inviting a torrent of potential negative repercussions all at once once flipped. Just as contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy, so do partner reduction and instance reduction. Now, maybe this reduction is not occurring at all. Maybe they’re just a bunch of hypocrites. But the TNC numbers do not shed might light on this. Instead, we (and my initial response was no different) look at the numbers and assume a sort of boolean variable with all other things being equal (except contraception, which we assume is not equal because we know how those religious freaks are about contraception).

None of this is to say that Abstinence-Only education is a good idea. I am rather skeptical of the notion that a middle-aged teacher putting a condom on a banana is going to make teenagers all hot and bothered (I actually question the degree to which kids would listen in any event, because they are much more savvy than we, the ones who “just don’t get it”). I do think that an opt-out is reasonable, and I think the resistance to Abstinence-Plus is based more on philosophical tribalism rather than real pragmatism.

One of the reasons I do think that AOE is a losing battle, though, is because whether sex is in the classroom or not, it’s virtually everywhere else in as public a spectacle as the FCC will allow. This is one of the reasons that devout Christians often try to pull a curtain to the rest of the world. When I lived in Mormonland, I sort of rolled my eyes at the cottage industry of avoid-secular-society movies and entertainment that they lined up for their kids. But really, that has as much to do with my religious inclinations than good parenting or bad. Evangelicals and Mormons have a sub-culture to retreat to. We don’t. If we did, it might not be all that unattractive an option.


Category: Bedroom, Church, Newsroom

About the Author


12 Responses to A Sea of Pins & Feathers

  1. ? says:

    I think the resistance to Abstinence-Plus is based more on philosophical tribalism rather than real pragmatism.

    Exactly.

    And to be fair, the same could be said of the advocates of AO as well, although, also to be fair, those advocates are somewhat more straightforward about this: ours is a commitment to a set of values, not just behavioral outcomes.

    That said, philosophical tribalism is mostly what’s at stake here. A while back, some commentator (I think Megan although I’m too lazy to look it up) pointed out that the criticism of AO “not working” could be leveled at the entirety of sex education in general: it’s notoriously bad at getting young people to change their behavior.

    What does work (the commentator said) was keeping kids busy. Young people engaged with academics and heavily involved in extracurriculars were far less likely to fornicate and produce bastard offspring. In contrast, getting high and laid starts to look pretty good to apathetic, disengaged teenagers (and, for that matter, unemployed engineers stuck at home with their wives. Just sayin’ . . .)

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    The clinical stuff will be hers; the psychological stuff will be mine.

    I would suggest a more traditional division of labor, i.e. you handle the boys and she handles the girls

    assume a sort of boolean variable

    I don’t think that is a phrase that is used in standard written English.

  3. trumwill says:

    And to be fair, the same could be said of the advocates of AO as well, although, also to be fair, those advocates are somewhat more straightforward about this: ours is a commitment to a set of values, not just behavioral outcomes.

    In the Russell Saunders post above, he actually says that sex-ed us a moral issue with him. Others will argue that destigmatizing sex is a point in itself. I agree that it’s not equal parts for both sides, though.

    it’s notoriously bad at getting young people to change their behavior.

    I think it’s worth delineating which part of sex ed. I think the sermonizing part (“Always have safe sex”) is scarcely more effective than “Don’t have sex.” However, I think the purely educational aspect of it (here are the methods, here are their levels of effectiveness) can be helpful. Not in convincing kids to have safe sex when they otherwise wouldn’t, but knowing what the options are and how effective they are.

    My experiences suggest that kids really know these things simply from media and the like (I did, didn’t I?)… but I have run into a lot of resistance on this when I have brought it up around doctors who actually deal with young people, sex, and the pregnancies that result. And I can point to at least a couple of things I didn’t know going through that I should have. So I am far from confident on this and would prefer err on the side of more information rather than less.

    What does work (the commentator said) was keeping kids busy.

    Incidentally, this is actually an argument in favor of Title IX in 7-12. It’s also something that the Mormons seem to do pretty well with their exhaustive socializing programs.

  4. trumwill says:

    I would suggest a more traditional division of labor, i.e. you handle the boys and she handles the girls

    Our division is based on our respective strengths. The clinical stuff is part of her profession. The psychological/emotional stuff is something I give inordinate thought to.

    I don’t think that is a phrase that is used in standard written English.

    More’s the pity.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    Phi: What does work (the commentator said) was keeping kids busy.

    That is only because kids who are virgins are ignorant of how enjoyable sex is. The only reason more of them DON’T fool around is that their parents don’t like them fooling around under the same roof they are under. If that taboo was lifted, high school sports would end. (I am exaggerating. Slightly. Luckily I was able to fit both into my schedule, but if I HAD to choose, then bye bye sports)

    Our division is based on our respective strengths.

    You are overstating your weaknesses. Unless she is a robot, or a virgin on her wedding night, then she has more than enough experience with the emotional side of sex to talk to her daughters.

    In the same vein, you have enough knowledge of the clinical part of it to teach it to your son if you have to. If your wife is at 100, then you are at least at a 95. Retards literally figure out how to make babies.

    There are just some conversations children should not have with their opposite gender parents. For his sake, I hope Dr. Ruth didn’t discuss sex swith her son.

  6. Samson says:

    However, even if we assume that there is relative parity between the religious freaks and the heathens, whether sex has occurred is really only part of the story. When did it occur? With what frequency? etc.

    I’m glad that you acknowledged this, in light of your recent post about misleading titles and headlines. I never take this sort of study at face value anymore; it reminds me of the articles claiming that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else, but then it turns out that the Christians who are actually sincere don’t.

  7. trumwill says:

    The only reason more of them DON’T fool around is that their parents don’t like them fooling around under the same roof they are under.

    if anything, being out and about makes for more opportunities rather than fewer to have sex outside the home. It’s the kids who do nothing that have to do more explaining about why they’re not going to be home tonight.

    I agree that “no sex under our roof” is a pretty big deterrent. Without it, there’d be no hope.

    You are overstating your weaknesses.

    She has experiences, but not as wide first and immediately second-hand as I do. And she’s not as articulate about such things.

    And I’m not good with the clinical stuff. I can certainly teach the basics, but there is a legitimate fear that I would get some things wrong. Plus, she and I have different ideas on what should be taught. That’s a debate she is likely to win.

    I don’t know what your issue is with opposite-sex instruction. Neither Mom nor Dad gave me “the talk,” but Mom was more generally vocal on the subject than Dad. Uncomfortably so, at times, but I’m not sure it would have been all that less uncomfortable with Dad.

  8. trumwill says:

    I never take this sort of study at face value anymore; it reminds me of the articles claiming that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else, but then it turns out that the Christians who are actually sincere don’t.

    It’s certainly problematic when you go purely by self-labeling. Asking how often they actually go to church strikes me as a very important thing to ask when comparing religious people with irreligious ones.

  9. ? says:

    Asking how often they actually go to church strikes me as a very important thing to ask when comparing religious people with irreligious ones.

    I agree with this up to a point, but this question, too, is something that’s easy to exaggerate. The question is usually put, “How often do you . . .” A more objective question is, “How many times did you . . .” which is less easy to fudge.

    As I recall, the GSS asks both questions, although the second one was issued more recently.

    That is only because kids who are virgins are ignorant of how enjoyable sex is.

    I don’t have many fight-with-the-devil stories, but I do have a couple. The issue was pretty straightforward at the time, but looking back on it . . . yeah, it would have been much more difficult if I had known exactly what I was turning down. So much the better.

  10. trumwill says:

    I agree with this up to a point, but this question, too, is something that’s easy to exaggerate. The question is usually put, “How often do you . . .” A more objective question is, “How many times did you . . .” which is less easy to fudge.

    Tangential, but in college I was asked to take part in a study/survey about using the gym. I was asked how often I used the gym on campus and then signed a waver so that they could watch my future usage.

    I later found out that the point of the study was to see if men were more likely to exaggerate their gym usage when talking to one type of questioner (attractive, friendly, young) compared to another (older, overweight, taciturn, etc.).

    Other than the obvious (yes, guys are more likely to tell an attractive young woman that they more often go to the gym than the opposite), the results were actually kind of interesting.

  11. Scarlet Knight says:

    I don’t know what your issue is with opposite-sex instruction.

    That’s why God wants you to have opposite gendered parents. Some tasks are for mom, others are for dad.

    And [Clancy]’s not as articulate about such things.

    It seems like your wife has zero femininity about her.

  12. trumwill says:

    That’s why God wants you to have opposite gendered parents. Some tasks are for mom, others are for dad.

    Indeed. We just divide our labor differently.

    It seems like your wife has zero femininity about her.

    Neither she nor I are particularly stereotypical of our respective genders, but the Mars/Venus stuff still comes up pretty regularly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.