Bush’s Legacy: Decrease in Teens’ Contraceptive Use

The abstinence-only programs that were promoted and funded by the Bush administration may have contributed to an unsettling decline in the use of contraceptives by teenagers. From 2003 to 2007 condom use has leveled off but contraceptive use across the board has decreased by 10%.  This is while the level of sexual activity has stayed the same. Not surprisingly, the teen birth rate increased by 5% from 2005 to 2007. [Source here.]

President Obama has decreased funding for abstinence-only programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. I say good for him. And I am a Christian. But I have never seen the wisdom in handicapping young men and women by ignoring the very real threats of pregnancy, AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. Teenagers are in a hurry to grow up, they are curious about sex (especially when it seems like the whole world is having it) and their sexual hormones are starting to kick into high gear.  The chances are that they are going to have sex sometime before they get married. To refuse to arm them with the information they need to make informed decisions seems to be both unwise and irresponsible. [quote]

There are ways of teaching our children about sex without encouraging it, just as there are ways to discourage sex without making it seem dirty or unpleasant. Abstinence-only sex education is like teaching a person to drive but neglecting to teach him how to drive defensively. There are ways to limit tragic consequences in both instances without relying on “just say no” slogans.

One weakness of the abstinence-only programs is the reasoning they follow. For one thing, they try to convince our teens that they are not mature enough for sex. They’re not mature enough to drive either, but we allow them to.  They also teach that sex outside of marriage is unsatisfying, but teens see evidence to the contrary everywhere they look.  And when we tell teens that they will become impure if they have sex, what kind of sexual problems are we setting them up for as they travel into adulthood and marriage? If they have engaged in sex, will they feel anything but guilt ever afterwards? And even if they haven’t. will they be able to make the transition from seeing sex as “bad” and sex as “good” when society finally gives them permission to engage in it?

Another criticism I have of abstinence-only programs is that they put the greatest part of the burden on our young women. They are to safeguard their virginity at a time when being popular often means giving it up. Boys are taught to abstain as well, but they aren’t expected to have the self-control that girls have. Along with these messages is the confusing one that children are a blessing from God, even if they don’t wait until marriage to have them. (Think of Bristol Palin as a trend-setter.)

I am glad that the Bush years are over, but I’m afraid that his legacy will continue for many of our teens whose parents and teachers are unwilling to face the facts, the same facts they don’t want their children to have access to.

Are Sex Roles Good or Bad?

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are comfortable with sex roles the way they are, and those who aren’t. A woman may chafe at the idea that she has to have children. A man may feel trapped by the assumed imperative that he have the better job and be able to provide for an entire family. (It could be argued that those who like the traditional roles are either just used to them or made to feel that they should want them.)

The different ways that men and women are perceived to be successful in their roles probably go back to our beginnings as human beings. The stronger humans went out and fought and hunted. They protected and they provided. The weaker humans tended to the home and the children (who they were tied to anyway, by childbirth and breastfeeding). But do these evolutionary developments still have cachet in the modern world? And can we break away from our biological leanings anyway?

Radical feminism says that the differences are moot and that there’s no reason why the roles can’t be reversed, or done away with altogether. Other feminists will concede that there are biological differences, but that they needn’t limit a person’s growth as a human being. I happen to believe that most of our differences are socialized into us. I also believe that this socialization hurts men as well as women. If women are able to break out of their society-given (not God-given) roles, then men can as well.

Feminists believe that all persons, male and female, have trouble fitting smoothly into traditional sex roles. They may be happy with them for the most part, but privately wonder why they can’t do things that the other sex does. The father wonders why his wife won’t let him take as active of a parenting role. The wife wants to have control over her own money. The man who doesn’t get custody of his children. The woman who can’t make a living wage. And I’m not even talking about the abuses inherent in sex roles: the father who uses his position to cow his wife and children into submission, the mother who passive-aggressively uses guilt to control her family. Domestic violence. Incest and rape. All these perversions are real problems that come out of forcing people to act just one way, when they might actually prefer to be something entirely different.

Sex roles have their place, but not when they feel like strait-jackets. All people should have the right to pick and choose what they want to be like. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom (and can afford it), then she should be one. If a man wants to be a stay-at home dad (and can afford to be), he should go for it. Society needs to be supportive not constrictive. It needs to make the most of each person’s talents and abilities and not be in the business of stuffing people into roles that don’t fit them.