The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Abstinence or Bust!

Over at Pandagon, Amanda has applied herself to the weird reasoning that some anti-choice people seem to have, specifically that those who perform abortions are in it for the moolah.

It's a great post, and I strongly encourage you to read it. Amanda points out that most of those who perform abortions also deliver babies, and that, in the USA at least, they receive much more dosh for deliveries than for abortions. Amanda also argues that they are often foremost amongst those advocating wider access to contraception, to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, which would be against their financial interests if they were all about making money off abortions.

It seems to me that those who promote abstinence-only sex ed, which seems to be my latest obsession, are fundamentally undermining the chances of reducing the number of abortions. Ampersand has a post at Alas on a US study showing the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only sex ed. The aforementioned Amanda has the graphs too, and more comment of her own. Idiot/Savant has a brief post on it too, including the killer quote:

...half of the sample given abstinence-only education displayed exactly the same
predilection for sex as those who had received conventional sex education in
which contraception was discussed.
I want to make it clear that I have no problem with abstinence, and I have no problem with promoting it as an option in sex ed programmes. It's a choice I respect. I hope servant is going to post about this soon, as he has indicated.

But what I don't respect is those who want to make abstinence the only "choice" available, by actively encouraging ignorance of sex, ignorance of our own bodies, and ignorance of how to stay safe when sexually active. Ignorance that has extremely negative consequences.

I have particularly noticed that abstinence is promoted to girls and young women, but not necessarily so agressively to those of the XY persuasion. To me this speaks volumes about the true motivations of many of those who seek to educate on abstinence alone. I believe it is fundamentally an anti-woman agenda, based on a belief that female bodies should be controlled by men - first their fathers and later their husbands. In my humble opinion, purity balls are a clear manifestation of this viewpoint.
Not only does it not work, it's also incredibly stupid. People are going to "sin"* and have sex when their prime motivation is not baby-making. If they don't know about contraception, or they think it's an even bigger sin to use it, then they are going to get pregnant from time to time. Trust me, I went to a Catholic girls school. Which sin are you more likely to commit - the one that's enjoyable (that would be the sex) or the one that you're a bit unsure about, it's embarassing to mention and the guy isn't keen on (that would be the contraception)?

And then they face difficult decisions about what to do about that unwanted pregnancy**. Decisions made harder by the labelling of children out of wedlock as products of sin, and abortion as "the ultimate child abuse". It is the XXer who faces the choice, the social judgement, and the taint of sin upon their soul.

If people truly want to bring the rate of abortions down then they need to front up to reality; people will have sex and if you don't encourage them to use contraception there will be unwanted pregnancies. If you believe that abortion is a sin (and I don't) then perhaps you're going to have to decide you're ok with preventing conception as the lesser of two evils. Because just trying to control women's bodies for them isn't going to do the trick.

* I want to make it clear here that I don't have much truck with ideas of sin. I think you can make moral and immoral choices, and you can do right or wrong. I understand the difference between good and evil. But my thoughts on this don't match the religious concept of sin.
** Not to mention the risks of STIs.


Hewligan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hewligan said...

I have particularly noticed that abstinence is promoted to girls and young women, but not necessarily so agressively to those of the XY persuasion. To me this speaks volumes about the true motivations of many of those who seek to educate on abstinence alone. I believe it is fundamentally an anti-woman agenda, based on a belief that female bodies should be controlled by men - first their fathers and later their husbands. In my humble opinion, purity balls are a clear manifestation of this viewpoint.

I think you might be seeing conspiracy when it's actually incompetence.

Most sex education programmes - both good and bad are targeted at women. That seems to be a result of the rather simplistic thinking that "Well, boys don't get pregnant..."

Of course, the results of an unintended pregnancy can be bad for a boys future as well - just not as bad. Besides, pregnancy is hardly the worst thing that can happen from unprotected sex.

Still, I really don't think that most (though given the source of many of the abstinence programmes, I'd be reluctant to say all) of them are deliberately anti-women, even if I'm sure they are unintentionally so.

Span said...

So should I see incompetence or conspiracy in your double-posting of this comment and then deletion of the first H? ;-)

I'm sceptical that there are any abstinence-only sex ed programmes that aren't coming from a religious angle. But I don't doubt that they think they are very pro-woman. In the same way that some of these people also think that women would be better off at home with children (if they are childless and/or have a paid job), married (if they are single), or heterosexual (if they are not). I do see that as anti-woman, despite "best intentions", because it fundamentally denies that women can make choices for themselves and instead dictates that someone else is in a better position to choose for them.

David said...

What annoys me the most ATM with issues such as this one is that Christianity is promoting a 2000 year old cover-up about what sin (according to the bible) actually amounts to.

Jesus christ said that whoever beleived in him and followed his example would have their sins forgiven. He's the guy who's suppose to be in charge of the pearly gates nowadays letting people in based on whether they did what he asked, not what the old testiment, or the apostle paul, or any other prophet said.

Not once did Jesus ever say that after he left we had to keep following the old rules, the whole point was to get rid of the old concept of sin, and replace it with his one and only rule, love one another as I have loved you.

And now we have the church, who's replaced that concept with meaningless ritualistic bullshit, and completely defeated the whole purpose of the crucifixion. The christian church has become the Anti-Christ, and Christians are following the teachings of Christ less and less all the time. Consequently, after wrestling with the religeon disease all my life (my parents are evangelical christians), I am now a confirmed atheist. Because there's no way in hell the son of god would have done such a bad job at getting his point across.

Apologies for the long comment :)

Span said...

That's not a long comment, this is a long comment.
(Apologies to Crocodile Dundee)

I don't think that these views are restricted to Christianity, they are definitely also reflected within some parts of Islam and no doubt other religions.

There are also sectors of the Christian church which are very liberal on issues of sexuality and feminism, and I sincerely hope those parts grow and the others wither away.

I remember once talking to my mum about whether or not I believed in God and saying that I thought there must be some fundamental truth that we could live by in the Bible somewhere. Wise woman that she is, she replied that it was simply Jesus' creed of "love thy neighbour" and I still think she is right today, even though I am not a Christian myself.

I've found when I argue but love thy neighbour with some Christians, who are of a fundamentalist bent, they respond that certain people don't count as neighbours, particularly those who aren't heterosexual. I don't know much scripture, but I don't remember Jesus making any exceptions...

Anyway, I tend to think that religions, particularly the ones I am more familiar with (ie Christian churches) are largely vehicles for social control. All this abstinence only sex-ed is just another example of that. I do have a lot of time and respect for those Christians who don't go in for all that stuff, but genuinely hold to the do unto others stuff, and live it.

Lucyna said...

I agree with Hewligan, in that I also think there's no conspiracy as such. It's just if you are going to promote abstinence, it makes sense to target it to the sex that might actually take the most notice and is going to be more adversely affected by being promiscuous.

But Span, I think what you are picking up on here is correct. There is a wrongness with just targeting girls. It could be done in tandem, thereby making abstinence more of a holistic option where either sex is not going to feel set upon or pressured by the other to have sex.

Hewligan said...

Yeah, sorry about the double post - typing and working didn't work out, so I deleted the first version and reposted it in a less imbecilic form ;)

And I think it's fair to say that none of the groups promoting abstinence could exactly be described as "pro-women." Still, I think there's a fundamental difference between saying "women can't make their own choices," and "teenage girls are very bad at making their own decisions."

I'd think that, without further evidence to the contrary, the people promoting abstinence campaigns are genuinely concerned about and making an effort to address the latter of those.

Unfortunately it is, based on the evidence, an incompetent one, and seems to be doing more harm than good.

Span said...

Hewly, are you saying "teenage girls are very bad at making their own decisions" or teenage girls are very bad at making the right choices?

On the issue of whether it makes more sense to frame sex ed at girls rather than boys, I have to say I find the idea pretty absurd. Last I checked, it took two, one XX and one XY, to get pregnant (technology aside) and if boys don't know what's going on then they are unlikely to respect the girls when they say "hang on a sec" especially as we have a lot of social pressures on boys to score, and overcome any objections from girls.

Hewligan said...

Well, I think it's fair to say that uninformed teenagers in general make poor decisions about sex (sometimes the informed ones do, too, but at least it's less often...).

The purpose of any form of sex education is to get teenagers to make better decisions. The flaw, as far as I'm concerned, with abstinence based courses is that they're littered with bad information - but it's stuff the people teaching it honestly believe.

And the logic behind focussing on girls is similarly flawed, as it does seem to be based on the premise that the girls are the ones who get pregnant.

(Now that you've brought up social pressure, though, I suspect there is also a belief that it's possible to convince a teenage girl to say no to sex, but it is not possible to teach this to a teenage boy.)

Realistically, I completely agree with you that they are wrong, and the ways in which they are wrong. I just don't see it as an anti-women agenda, so much as an anti-women effect based upon absurd, but genuinely held, beliefs.

The worst part is that, despite all the evidence, there does not seem to be any way to conince them that they're wrong.

Span said...

But where do those beliefs come from? They come from religious systems that are based on social control, in particular of women.

I think a lot of sex ed buys into really unhelpful sex stereotypes. From my recollection, and certainly what seems to still happen in the abstinence-only courses, it was very focused on "boys only want one thing" and that as the girl you had to fend them off anyway you could. It denied that girls might have sexual desires too, and portrayed sex as something XYers do to XXers. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Hewligan said...

Well, largely those views come from Victorian England, and got asssociated with religion along the way.

But, yes, I would have to agree that the fundamental problem - and this one is far from unique to conservative Christianity - is the belief that sex is just something women do to keep men happy, and that they don't really want it themselves.

Frankly, I find it hard to imagine where that one comes from, but whoever started it obviously hasn't been talking with any of the women I know.