Rounding the bases: Why sex education doesn’t work

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Strib columnist Nick Coleman wrote recently about the sex ed provision that Gov. Pawlenty forced DFLers to axe from the education bill:

In a last-minute piece of strong-arming that went almost unnoticed, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty forced DFL leaders of the Legislature to drop a comprehensive and moderate sex-education proposal from the $14 billion education bill that passed on the last day of the 2007 session. The sex-ed proposal — backed by educators and the public — was blocked by the extremist conservative forces that Pawlenty has pandered to in his quest for the national limelight. At their insistence, Pawlenty threatened to veto the entire education bill if the sex-ed provision wasn’t dropped. The DFL majority caved, removing the measure and clearing the way for the education bill to pass.

A couple of weeks later, NY Times columnist David Brooks had a column titled When Preaching Flops (subscription required or available via this blogger here).

A little while ago, a national study authorized by Congress found that abstinence education programs don’t work. That gave liberals a chance to feel superior because it turns out that preaching traditional morality to students doesn’t change behavior. But in this realm, nobody has the right to feel smug. American schools are awash in moral instruction – on sex, multiculturalism, environmental awareness and so on – and basically none of it works. Sex ed doesn’t change behavior. Birth control education doesn’t produce measurable results. The fact is, schools are ineffectual when it comes to values education. You can put an adult in front of a classroom or an assembly, and that adult can emit words, but don’t expect much impact. That’s because all this is based on a false model of human nature.

I’m inclined to agree with Brooks but I don’t know what Rice County or the Northfield schools offer in the way of sex education programs. Anyone have a link?

And speaking of our sex-drenched culture. How about this t-shirt, available in a downtown store? I’ve been, um, watching for a Northfield woman brave enough to wear it. If you know of someone who wears it, ask her to contact me my wife.

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12 thoughts on “Rounding the bases: Why sex education doesn’t work”

  1. It’s been a while since I was in Northfield Public Schools-proper, so I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. As far I know, though, they still do have Project SIGHT volunteers in the classes, but I don’t think the abstinence push goes much further than that.

    PS: More on that congressional study here.

  2. Thanks for those links, Sean. Too bad the Project Sight web site is so out-of-date. It’s hard to know if anything is current since the page you linked to is not linked from the home page and there’s no contact page/info anywhere. I had to laugh at the footer:

    http://nco.northfield.mn.us/projectsight/
    © Copyright 1999 Project SIGHT

    And no, my post title is worded correctly. Brooks is saying “None of it works…” and I’m inclined to agree.

  3. In a related story there was (on Friday, 29 June 2007) a sub-text story story about a $20M study by the Federal gov’t to test the hypothesis that if we just put healthy food in the schools, increased the phys. ed. component, and really pushed a healthy life style, we could produced skinnier kids. Bad new was, IT DID NOT WORK ( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11606653 ). Oooops. The guest on the show said that when she contacted the author of the report describing the study, he said that his article was uniformly not cited by anybody. No one wants to hear the harsh truth, which is that 6-8 hours in schools 182 days a year simply cannot overcome the cultural effects that lead to these problems. Hear this story and weep, if you are of the ilk who hope to save the world through social re-engineering. And in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food and sex are at the same level ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs ). Talk about pushing water uphill.

  4. Found the cite, this was the Pathways project, even the abstract is self-indicting. They said

    The intervention resulted in no significant reduction in percentage body fat.However, a significant reduction in the percentage of energy from fat was observed in the intervention schools. [emphasis added]

    Not only did they not get what they hoped for, they then reported excitedly that if you give kids a diet low in fat then a significant reduction in the percentage of the energy they get from fat is observed. Double duh. Lower percentage in means lower percentage out.

  5. Griff said:

    “And no, my post title is worded correctly. Brooks is saying ‘None of it works…’ and I’m inclined to agree.”

    Works to what end, though, Griff? You can’t stop teenage promiscuity, but I won’t believe that legitimate, truthful (not abstinence-only) sex-ed doesn’t make things safer. Remove all sex-ed and you will see a rise in teen pregnancy and STD rates.

    And since Bruce did a tangent I want one too: Speaking of the need for legitimate, truthful programs, how about a legitimate, truthful drug education program?

    On to Bruce’s comments… I’m listening to this story now. I’m only half-way through, but I’m not sure how convinced I am. And maybe it is just that I don’t want to believe the truth because it’s disappointing, but she seems to dodge the question, “Why are other countries thinner?”

    Yes there are heavy people everywhere, but it’s not 2/3 of the country there. Are Americans really genetically predisposed to being fat? And why is it then when American food culture seeps into other countries (most notably, McDonalds and Burger King) that they become fatter? Are we just sneaking our bad genes in?

  6. Sorry Griff, my digression was that when science tells us something we don’t want to believe (like that abstinence-only programs fail) then we should question our beliefs (unless the science is bad). Which means we better learn how to tell good from bad science. Unlike religion, we do know how to tell good from bad science, it’s called validation. Subsequent studies are designed to test specific hypotheses, like a hypothesis that says that if you teach well-rounded sex ed. you get positive results. The fat story was about how science works and politicians/people ignore the findings.

  7. Good grief, this is becoming the urban legends site. There is no epidemic of teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy rates have declined 36 percent since 1990. Most unmarried women who become pregnant are 18 or 19 and are impregnated by older men who have taken advantage of them. The women, often trying to escape bad homes, believe the men will marry them or that the babies will provide the love they don’t have at home. Sure, there still are some prom night accidents, but this is largely about poverty and lack of choices and role models. Bottom line, a scholarship to Harvard is the best birth control.
    Birth rates decrease as health, education and work opportunities for women increase — look at population rates in Europe and the U.S. compared to developing countries, although the U.S. continues to have higher pregnancy rates than other developed countries.
    Kids always have experimented with sex, it’s just that they married at 15 or 16, and now there is a gap of a decade or more between puberty and marriage — and much more opportunity to get caught. There is an issue now with oral sex and general promiscuity, but that seems a sad reaction of kids of divorce who feel sex and love have no real connection.
    As for obesity — and alcohol — and most other issues, the single strongest determining factor is the behavior and beliefs of parents. Kids want to be like their parents and parents use their kids to reinforce and justify their own behavior. That means fat parents have fat kids. They don’t even see themselves as fat, but as normal (look at all the fat people in revealing clothing, seeing themselves as attractive).
    And Sean, as countries take on western cultural patterns — driving, fast food, office work instead of farming — they develop western weight problems.
    There’s a TV show, called “Honey, We’re Killing our Kids,” where nutritionists pick families and show them how their lifestyle is making their kids fat and unhealthy. Even with all the evidence, including computer-generated photos of their kids as sick adults, the parents often resist change.

  8. And Sean, as countries take on western cultural patterns — driving, fast food, office work instead of farming — they develop western weight problems.

    Exactly my thoughts! But this woman more-or-less denies that being the cause. DId you listen to the interview?

  9. “Most unmarried women who become pregnant are 18 or 19 and are impregnated by older men who have taken advantage of them. The women, often trying to escape bad homes, believe the men will marry them or that the babies will provide the love they don’t have at home. Sure, there still are some prom night accidents, but this is largely about poverty and lack of choices and role models. ”

    And that is why teen pregnancy rates in 55411 (North Minneapolis) continue to RISE despite a national decline. 55411 is the ONLY zip code where the rates are rising.

    And funding cuts to North Minneapolis programs continue.

    North Minneapolis is in crisis, the current suspected solution? They are waiting to see how many people move after all the rentals foreclose, the rest will be “pushed” out gently in the name of “redevelopment” and “good” (they mean white) people will be moved in with “incentives” from good ol’ RT. Institutionalized racism at it’s most covert. Heritage park was just the first step. There is much more to come.

    Divorce has nothing to do with the rising promescuity or the oral sex thing. The oral sex explosion is a construct of abstinence only education, kids don’t think you can get STDs from oral, and they don’t think you can get in “trouble” with oral. They don’t see it as sex, it’s more an extention of “making out”. Abuse and not knowing what a healthy relationship looks like or what communication skills even are – those two things lead to the high divorce rates and to an inability to form healthy functioning adult relationships. Many kids – and adults think that you can get love by having sex. So sex and love are connected, but not in a healthy way!!

  10. ShanaLee- You hit the nail on the head with this conclusion, “So sex and love are connected, but not in a healthy way!!” in your post. I have heard this expressed this way, also: women give sex in return for security; men give security in return for sex. This seems to be foundational in our human nature. Is there any other way, or are we to assume there is no hope for getting out of this vicious cycle? From the studies cited, it would appear that education, in itself, does not bring change. As long as we continue in our post modern appraoch to thinking, and do not regognize that there is an absolute truth by which things can be judged, then I don’t see any hope for change. I found, with my own children, that they COULD learn self control, especially if I backed up my words with my life. Unfortunately, the hope that is the foundation for this kind of life is not allowed to be taught in our public schools. That is why parenting is so very important.

    It is a struggle, today, to stay on top of things. I dare say that young people are being faced with things in middle school that I never had to face until I was in college. And I don’t presume a simplistic answer. We are all different, and, therefore, we need different approaches to understand. But this does not negate the need for a basic, foundational, universal truth. I taught each of my children the same things, but not using identical methods. There is a way that each of us are made, and if we parents can find out the way our childen are made, we have the battle half won. Unfortunately, in our mobile, frenetic society, the time it takes to do this costs us something. Our success depends on whether we are willing to pay the personal price.

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