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No Holds Barred?

After reading two letters to the editor (“Ignorance Rules” and “Holy Matrimony!”) about “Missionary Position” (10/25), I went back to discover what all the hubbub was about. The answer: abstinence-only sex-education programs. The complaints: What about gay and lesbian unions? asks Franklin E. Kameny. Where’s the evidence? asks Kelly Scindian.

Both Kameny and Scindian seem to prefer the more general/comprehensive sex education approach previously offered in D.C. schools. Scindian cites her concern that abstinence programs “don’t work,” her disbelief that lower self-esteem and broken-heartedness result from failed sexual relationships, and the overly censorious and frigid attitude of adults toward the sexual well-being of young people.

For his part, Kameny finds abstinence-only advocates to be “moral fascists,” unconcerned about or unaware of homosexual couples and the needs of homosexual youth. In his words, abstinence-only programs “doom gay people to lifelong celibacy,” which is “simply unacceptable.” From his perspective, anyone advocating abstinence and sex only in marriage has an ethical obligation to champion homosexual unions.

And the article’s author doesn’t really deal with the subject evenhandedly. In the title and peppered throughout are religious-connotation words, designed to prejudice the reader and suggest a stealth takeover being planned by religious conservatives.

For all of the ranting surrounding this story, there are four overlooked and essential facts.

1. The current sex-education classes, which feature some discussion and instruction regarding sexual activity and “safe sex,” are not resolving the problems associated with teenage sex activity. The article does get this point correct, but Scindian and Kameny conveniently overlook it. The fact of the matter is that comprehensive sex education is not reducing teen pregnancy. At best, much of the teen-pregnancy-prevention effort has delayed teen pregnancy a couple of years, and now we have swelling numbers of young adult women giving birth out of wedlock and without the support of fathers. It is too early to know whether abstinence programs work, but our current approach has failed demonstrably. And, while the effectiveness of abstinence programs is in question, the effectiveness of actual abstinence is not.

2. A strong marriage system is in the best interest of a strong society and fair opportunities for children. Pick your measure—any measure. Research will tell you that children raised by their married, biological parents do better on average than children raised in any other setting (including remarriage and long-term cohabiting couples). What seems to matter most for the well-being of children, families, and society as a whole is that people wait until marriage to have children. The research indicates that both children and parents in good enough marriages are healthier and happier, live longer, have better sex more often, and do better economically, academically, and socially than parents and children in nonmarried families of every type.

3. Promoting abstinence until marriage, and marriage itself, may be one of the most cost-effective approaches to the current dilemma of teen, unwanted, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Married families, and children raised in married families, derive greater economic benefits from marriage and are less reliant on government assistance. Moreover, these benefits tend to continue across generations. We don’t have enough money to pour into prevention and other programs that don’t work. The family is a program that does work when done properly—in marriage. It’s past time we made a serious investment and recommitment to marriage as an institution and public good, and to the goal of abstinence until marriage.

4. The responsibility for educating, preparing, and monitoring the sexual activity of children falls to the parents. We may grieve over the timidity and apparent negligence of some parents, but we may not usurp their role and authority in carrying out this responsibility. The schools, the governments, and newspaper readers make for poor substitutes to parents on these issues. We should stop attempting to influence, program, and steal the children of parents, given that we won’t be there to help with the mess when our latest pet

theory or political agenda item ruins some young person’s life.

As for the needs of homosexual teens and couples, Kameny fails to consider the more fundamental question: What is sex for?

Procreation. Special intimacy between a man and a woman. And, to be sure, pleasure, as he supposes. However, lots of things that are good to us are not good for us. Heroin addicts enjoy the drug, but no one would argue that using it is in their or our collective best interest. Similarly, sex—heterosexual and homosexual—is good to us but not good for us when exercised improperly. There are broader considerations than whether you enjoy sex or simply want to have it when you please. Any responsible sexual partner and adult would know that—and should advise children accordingly. We haven’t had the much longed-for public discourse about abstinence education in schools, but neither have we had a similar discourse on the appropriateness of gay, lesbian, transgender, and homosexual sex education in the classroom.

The scary thing is not that abstinence-only education has found its way into public schools but that adults seemingly consider indiscriminate sexual activity among young people an acceptable and unavoidable behavior. We have more respect for and expect more self-control from our household pets (whom we train to use the bathroom outside) than we do our young people, for whom we have no hope that they can reserve the pleasures and beauties of sex for marriage. Shame on us!

Dumfries, Va.