Abstinence-only courses sponsored by US representatives

11 Nov, 2007
 None    Politics

education to pleasure not allowed yet

Sexed A few days ago, the US House of Representatives agreed to increase money for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million, to a total of about $200 million a year. Yes, you read correctly, the United States, supposedly a beacon of progress and freedom, is spending $200 million a year on trying to prevent teenagers from having sex. It's the kind of news you would expect to be coming from some obscure Middle-Eastern theocracy rather than from a modern country. But that's not all, abstinence-only courses are actually the only form of federally financed sex education in the US. Nothing on contraception or protection against sexually transmitted diseases, the only message is “no sex before marriage”.

Apart from being an irresponsible waste of financial resources in a country in which 50 million citizens are without health coverage, this would just be another laughable matter for foreign observers if the consequences were not so disastrous. The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world (more than 10 times higher than Japan, South Korea or many European countries), as well as one of the highest abortion rates (over 3 times higher than Western Europe). In addition, sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia are rising at alarming rates among American teenagers.

One could legitimately ask why would an advanced country make such a bizarre use of taxpayers' money. It's not uncommon for a government to try to influence its citizens' behavior, but in a free society, such government actions are expected to be guided by universal values (as opposed to values from one particular religious or political ideology) like human rights or caring for people's health and well-being.
For example, many governments encourage people to quit smoking so that they can live healthier lives, as it is a medical fact that tobacco use increases the risk of cancer and other diseases. But what could drive a government to promote abstinence from sex? Is it the desire to protect people from infections by sexually transmitted diseases? If it is, then it's clearly not working, teenagers are having sex no matter what they are told. And the logic would be questionable, as we can see in the following examples: If you wanted to reduce the number of fatal car accidents, would you try to prevent people from driving cars, or would you encourage them to wear seat belts and to abstain from drinking alcohol before driving? Or if you were concerned about hearing loss, would you ask people to stop listening to music altogether, or would you advise them to only avoid high sound levels? The questions seem stupid, but why would it be different when sex is considered? Why would anyone want to prevent people from the activity instead of informing them on how to enjoy it by protecting themselves against possible dangers?

In fact, it seems that the government's motivation is not the health of the country's teenagers (since it is increasing the funding despite clear indications that the program causes a worsening of health conditions) but rather the promotion of some dubious “moral” values. Interestingly, from a scientific, medical or humanist point of view, there is evidently no moral superiority in abstaining from sex compared to enjoying it. It's actually the opposite: many studies have shown that lack of sex can result in depression, violent behavior and other mental imbalances. On the other hand, some religious ideologies are known to condemn sexual pleasure and to teach guilt and fear about everything sexual that is not aimed at procreation. Could it be that the US government is trying to impose moral rules that are based on some irrational religious beliefs instead of universal human rights and scientific knowledge? The question is worth asking (and sadly, easy answering), because the promotion of particular religious beliefs is officially prohibited by the law of separation of church and state.

Without even going into legal considerations, the use of taxpayer's money to try to force some particular religious beliefs into the country's classrooms is clearly unworthy of a modern country that prides itself in defending freedom. Even worse, when those religious beliefs have no scientific basis whatsoever and are actually detrimental to people's health, it's an insult to reason and human rights.