I ate my wafer...

9/29/2005

So, there is a hot discussion over banned books at the Ockamist. I can't say that I have particularly strong opinions about banned book week, or the right for a community to control its library's collection. However I am a bit concerned by several of the topics touched on tangentially, namely:

Sex Ed.

While there are probably sex ed materials that I would find age inappropriate or otherwise offensive, I take a dim view of demonizing the entire process, or demanding abstinence only curriculum.

To briefly summarize the history involved, early Americans were exposed to sexual information at a relatively young age. Rural children would have been around animal mating activites, many times also living in a dwelling so tiny as to make parental privacy in such matters all but non-existent. Early American cities had extremely high (~20% of women) number of prostitutes, sometimes complete with European-style licensing. Even pornography and birth control were widely available by the civil war. For that matter, in 1830, between 30 and 40% of brides were coming to the alter pregnant. The Comstock act and demographic trends did a great deal to reduce the average American child's exposure to scientific sexual information (and probably cut severely into the abortion rate). However even then, there is little doubt from the number of teen pregnancies in, say, 1957, (double that of 1983.) that teenagers were exposed to sexual information or at least having lots of sex. (I can add more cites if anyone wants them).

This history of sexual information being known to children, seems to make efforts to shelter children from information about sex pointless and counterproductive. I know a number of conservatives that argue that children simply shouldn't be exposed to sexual information, basing this on some mythical, non-existent time in the mid-1950's where purportedly children never heard about sex, and therefore refrained from sexual activity until marriage. I simply find it historically indefensible to argue that children were or are better off not learning about reproductive biology. I do recognize that reasonable people can disagree on exactly what materials to teach children, and at what ages. Having said that, I personally have nothing good to say about "abstinence-only" curriculum.

Frankly, statistically, "abstinence-only" curriculum doesn't seem to work well. Western European nations have a radically lower teen pregnancy rate than the United States and they certainly aren't using an abstinence-based curriculum. (For that matter, the teen abortion rate in Western Europe is radically less than in the United States, which is highly interesting when compared to statistics on church attendance.) Note, I have no problem with sex ed material that includes abstinence based materials, only with material that would meet the federal guidelines as abstinence-ONLY.

Comments?

22 Comments:

  • here here Bob! :D

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 4:07 PM  

  • No no no...there there Bob. ;)

    And agreed, Bob. It is a source of fairly constant amusement/consternation to me that so many people insist on abstinence-only sex-ed, yet simultaneously say that they consider abortion to be murder. You'd think they would consider the reduction of teen pregnancy rates, and thus of abortion rates, a positive development.

    But some people have issues with their priorities.

    By Blogger Mr. Gugg, at 10:36 PM  

  • You leave out the legitimate social goal of preventing teen fornication. The goal isn't just to eliminate teen pregnancy, which mass distribution of condoms would indeed help do. There are several goals at once--one of which is to reduce teen fornication. It, along with so many other things, is an attack on traditional marriage.

    I certainly wouldn't argue for no sex-ed in schools. That strikes me as ludicrous. There needs to be education. The question is what to teach them, when to do it, and what practices to encourage.

    Jared--as a priest will you encourage a person to engage in one sin in order to prevent a more serious one? I don't think my priorities are out of wack here.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 2:19 PM  

  • bob, since you're looking for a job, I was wondering if you would consider a position as my research assistant.

    granted, I could only pay you in coconuts, cheap costa rican cane liquor, and the occasional havana puro... but on the other hand you would be free to fornicate as much as you want.

    By Blogger Krupa, at 4:15 PM  

  • *sigh* There I go, mouthing off and causing trouble.

    I don't think anything I'm about to say is going to redeem me in your eyes, David, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

    Short answer, no, of course I won't encourage people to fornicate. But yes, I would rather they fornicate with a condom than create and then kill a human being--even though I believe that marriage is the only legitimate context for the sexual act. There's a world of difference between the two sins. And yes, this means that I consider one sin to be worse than another from at least one point of view. One does more damage.

    The above has little to do with what I will teach my children, or what I will teach as a priest, regarding sexual behavior. It's simply a fact that I consider it unconscionable that the Christian community opposes the measures which have been taken in recent years to minimize teen pregnancy and, thus, the abortion rate.

    Put it this way--prevention of murder is the government's job. Even though it doesn't define abortion as murder, our government has taken measures to minimize abortion. That doesn't fix the problem of teen fornication, but still, less murder is good. Besides, teen fornication isn't the government's problem.

    Rather, it's ours. Because we're the ones (pretty much exclusively) that have a problem with it. Therefore, it is our job to demonstrate by the way we live our lives that the Christian Faith is more than a psychotic fringe cult and that the moral code to which we hold is more than an outmoded set of legalistic inanities. Just because our job is very difficult right now does not excuse us from doing it--and it most especially does not justify trying to bring the state in to do our work for us, particularly when we have mis-spent so much of our time in trying to gain control of the state, while neglecting our lives.

    Please note that, to the best of my knowledge, the Church has but one responsibility: to save souls. And souls are not saved when they are forced to live a moral life. Souls are saved by faith in Christ. Our political involvement smears Christ's name in the eyes of the massess (particularly when our political platforms are compared to our way of life), and drives those who most need to be saved away from Christ. Therefore it must stop!

    The Christian Church is not a government. It has no social goals divorced from the above imperative to save souls. We look to another Kingdom. Therefore, judging by the fruits of our political involvement over the past 20 years, and indeed the past 17 centuries, I think I am justified in asserting that the imposition of Christian moral standards upon society at large constitutes a betrayal of the most fundamental vocation of the Christian Church.

    Like I said--didn't help, did it?

    By Blogger Mr. Gugg, at 5:08 PM  

  • If over 50% of the people in America self-identified as Christians then it wouldn't really be "imposition on the masses" would it?

    Obviously we're into the deep waters of the relationship between church and state. I don't really think your "non-overlapping spheres" view can work. It ignores the the political reality that laws contribute to the shaping of character. This is why Reformed and Lutheran Protestants agree on the second use of the law--to restrain wicked men.

    And, actually, what you said did redeem you in my eyes :) "Souls are saved by faith in Christ."

    But, do we really want to say "[the church] has no social goals divorced from the above imperative to save souls."

    Likewise, no political? I mean, don't you think Paul would have voted? How would he have voted? Is there anything normative here? I just can't believe it would stop at, as I've told you before, some nebulous, non-spiritual thing called "harm."

    So I'll agree with you that we should put our Pro-Life agenda ahead of our abstinence only sex ed agenda. But, will you agree that abstinence only sex ed should still be on the agenda? I just don't see how you can say otherwise. I mean, I don't think we should be surprised when unbelievers fornicate--but don't we discourage it when we have the chance. Don't we say "hey--you--that's not a good way to live. You shouldn't do that." and why shouldn't basic ethical instruction be part of public schools? These are the sort of questions that need answering.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 11:29 PM  

  • Hmmm I don't want to be contentious and incoherent (I have had my ears boxed more than enough for that over at the Ockhamist) and I usually stay out of religious discussions ... But...

    Mr. Talcott,
    My understanding is that all that self-identifying Christians universally agree on is that Christ was the son of God, born of man, to a mother that was a virgin at the time of conception.

    So, while you may make an argument that Christian moral standards are not an imposition upon the masses, if over 50% of the population is self-identifying as Christian, I must ask which Christian sects' moral standards do you wish to enforce? Would enforcing the moral standards of Mormans* not be an imposition on Roman Catholics, and vice versa? Would enforcing the moral standards of Episcopalians on Southern Baptists not be an imposition, and vice versa? Or even comparing more closely related groups would enforcing the moral standards of Roman Catholics on Episcopalians not be an imposition, and vice versa?

    * please note that I am not even touching on the whole polygamy thing ... I am talking about things like the societal position of women, views on homosexuals, and views on birth control.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 10:11 AM  

  • I, also, am with bob.

    teaching abstinence-only sex education is a bad idea for one reason: it won't work. it has never worked. it never will work. kids will always fool around, no matter how hard you try and make them stop. abstinence-only sex education will not stop people from fooling around, it will just stigmatize it and encourage them to hide it.

    sex education policy should be a matter of practicality, not good intentions.

    oh, and, talcott, I don't think you should care whether or not unbelievers fornicate, because since we're going to hell anyway, what's the difference? stop meddling.

    By Blogger Krupa, at 10:26 AM  

  • I think that Amber makes a worthwhile point--once we decide to start imposing this or that moral principle on society, it's difficult to determine which one, and how far it should be taken. But you and I have discussed that before elsewhere, David.

    I wish you would read my last sentence above one more time, just to clarify where I stand. Even if 90% of society self-identified as Christians, even the same kind of Christian, to impose specifically Christian morality on them by means of the law would constitute a betrayal of our Christian vocation. Morality on the part of an individual, or on the part of a society, means nothing to God, divorced from a genuine faith, which is the one thing that cannot be legislated. Thus, from a ministerial point of view, I would contend that morality laws do more harm than good, in a supremely practical sense: they either anger those upon whom they are imposed and turn them against Christ, or they foster a sense of self-righteousness in those who see that they are already fulfilling all the external requirements of divine law, due to the coercion of the state. People are most prone to repentance when allowed to experience in themselves the full consequences of their own sinful nature, free of external coercion. My own observations only, but tell me if your experience has taught you any differently.

    Hence, while I don't deny that laws contribute to the shaping of character, I am deeply disturbed by the "character" that is shaped by Christian moral legislation. It is not a character conducive to salvation.

    Thus yes, I do want to say that the church has no legitimate social goals divorced from the imperative to save souls. That doesn't mean we can have no social goals at all, but simply that our involvement in society must be predicated upon that fundamental imperative. For instance, my more or less "libertarian" theory of church/state relations is driven by my understanding of the ideal context for the Christian Church to operate within in order to best fulfil Her calling. That is to say, I am convinced that we will be the best Christians and have the greatest ability to minister Christ to the world around us when all the excuses and crutches and rabbit trails are removed from us, and we are left simply to be the Church in society, left to stand or fall purely on the merits of the degree to which we allow Christ to be manifested in us. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't vote or run for political office. It does mean that we need to recognize that our Christian duty does not end at the ballot box. If I may paraphrase, "Even the heathen vote." Our calling is higher than that.

    Let me be blunt. If there is such a problem in society that sex ed for the purpose of decreasing teen pregnancy becomes necessary, then the Church has failed, historically, corporately and personally. If teen promiscuity is a problem, then the blame rests on our heads: mine, yours, our parents', and the Church's since its founding in this nation. It is our fault, not according to any standard of the world (for as Bob points out, promiscuity is the norm historically), but according to our own claims. We preach the power of the Gospel, the glory and majesty of Christ, the Faith's capacity to change the world. And we betray it. In my mind, the attempt to fix the problem with the machinery of state coercion is nothing more than an attempt to salve our own conscience, to continue to pretend that everything is alright, that we live in a Christian nation and can continue to relax and enjoy life without accepting the yoke that Christ offers.

    So indeed, we should say, "Hey--you--that's not a good way to live. You shouldn't do that." But we should say it ourselves, and not hijack the State to do our work for us.

    I've said this before, but it forever surprises me that those who so strongly emphasize the Law in modern society are the same people that insist that we are saved by Faith alone. In a lot of ways, I seem to be a better Protestant than you are. Not an attack, mind you, but the more I think about it, the more contradictory it seems to be.

    On a tangential note: in a hypothetical society where teen promiscuity was at a much lower level, I can see a decent argument for teaching abstinence--it might actually work. Such a society is, however, more or less completely hypothetical. I doubt that such a society has ever existed, or ever will. In our society, that method is like trying to stop a flood with a single bucket. Abstinence-only can work only in a context which is not constantly throwing sex in the face of young people. Therefore I will teach my children to abstain (while teaching them also the biological facts of sex), because they will be removed, at least for a time, from that barrage. But I consider it foolhardy to attempt it in the public schools. Only once society has changed radically would such be remotely prudent--and that change will not be, indeed cannot be, effected by the state.

    Put another way, I of course favor abstinence-only sex education--in the sense that such is and must be the "method" of birth control taught by the Church. But I would not currently favour imposing that on the state's schools.

    Incidental apologies to Bob for hijacking his blog with a facet of the discussion that is purely religious in nature, as opposed to his post. If you'd like us to move, Bob, just say the word.

    By Blogger Mr. Gugg, at 12:51 PM  

  • Oh Mr. Gugg, you rock my socks.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 2:38 PM  

  • Nice posts all around, and everyone is more that free to keep going, I certainly do not mind the "hijacking".


    I think there might be a bit of confusion over WHAT is taught in the average public school sex ed class. Virtually all of the ones I'm familiar with are mostly biology, i.e. organ A does B. This is pretty morally neutral, since it also is completely applicable to marital sex. The same goes for any discussion of the various forms of birth control and their advantages and disadvatages.

    Certainly a decent sex ed program will mention abstinence as having very low risks, and, oh, promiscous anal sex as having high risks, but that is about as far as Christian morality can usefully intrude into the discussion.

    Oh, and specifically, to Talcott:

    I don't think abstinence-only should be on ANYONE's agenda, Jared's. christians in general or otherwise, for the simple reason that it doesn't work. If it worked to reduce the societal burden of teen pregnancy and sexuality related health care, I'd be willing to discuss it as a possibility (assuming that it was construed in a church-state neutral manner). As it is, it strikes me as embarassing for conservatives to support it. If anything, it smells suspiciously as if they're looking for a governmental handout of a captive audience + funding for a message that simply is irrelevant to the great unwashed masses.


    Oh, and Krupa's right, why not let the heathen's go to hell with as little burden on taxpayers as possible?

    By Blogger Bob, at 11:40 PM  

  • Being of an age that I can actually recall when sex education was not in schools (the fact is that it was optional when taught in the Flagstaff public schools, and I with written parental permission opted out), I would like to put forth the following:

    A. Abolish public education altogether.

    B. If A cannot be fathomed or tolerated, remove all social education from the premises. Teach mathematics, writing, languages (dead ones are the best) and basketball.

    Please do not think that sex education is a requirement! The best marriages are those in which the applicants check "none" in the experience box.

    By Blogger Dan, at 2:47 PM  

  • Dan,
    May I ask what, specifically, it is that makes no expirience prior to marriage result in better marriages?
    Or, conversely, what is it about having expirience prior to marriage that causes such obvious flaws in marriage?

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 3:05 PM  

  • I've taken it upon myself to shake things up a bit.

    Bob and Amber, couldn't we decrease teen pregnancy even better if we not only taught contraception but also non-pregnancy inducing sexual acts (I'm going to leave this to the imagination of the reader)? Just trying to throw you from the frying pan to the fire ;)

    David, what do we do with this, "My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the rightous one." (1 Jn. 2:1)

    If we only teach what one ought to do ideally we run the risk of failing to instruct how to take responsability for mistakes when they don't follow what we have taught them, when to do it, or in the manner they should do it.

    Mr. Gugg, Cannot the church also be a witness unto instiitutions as well as individuals? I'm not saying the church should (even if it could) impose policy but cannot it at least give a witness for or against a policy (Such as the witness of the orthodox patriarchs against the Iraq war or the U.S. conference of catholic Bishops witness for economic oppertunity, Rev. MLK's witness against segregation, etc.)?

    Dan, western mathmatics of hindu monism?

    By Blogger Dan, at 4:11 PM  

  • Hmm, well, I have to say that I've never heard of a sex ed class that offered experences. Frankly, I see no connection between mere information and experences in this area. In fact, there is a correlation between sex ed (the non-absinence only kind) and DELAYED initial sexual intercourse with fewer average partners.

    Take a look at: http://www.infoforhealth.org/pr/j41/j41chap4_1.shtml

    By Blogger Bob, at 4:17 PM  

  • Daniel,
    I am not sure what you mean. Fellatio and cunnilingus were given the same sort of clinical explanation as sexual intercourse in my High School Sex Ed. class. Is that the kind of thing you are referring to?

    If that IS what you are referring to, I must say that I was unaware that those topics were not part of most Sex Ed. classes. I find the idea that Sex Ed. would be taught without reference to sex acts other than sexual intercourse appalling. There are disease risks associated with ALL sex acts which students should be apprised of.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 5:04 PM  

  • LOL Daniel. I am not in the least supposed to the witness of the Church against this or that immoral act. That sort of involvement I find entirely legitimate, and indeed necessary. In particular, when the leader of a nation, or the people thereof themselves, self-identify as Christian, it is certainly fitting that the leaders of the Church advise them regarding the morality of any action. I laugh, though, because, as you know, I personally disagreed with the statement of the Patriarchs, or whatever Orthodox consortium it was that issued the statement. That being merely my opinion, though, it has little to do with what is probably the best attested manner of Church interaction with the State: that is, if you will permit me to use the popular catchphrase, speaking truth to power.

    By Blogger Mr. Gugg, at 5:29 PM  

  • mission of the church: to save souls

    mission of the government: provide for the common good (i make no assumptions as to how this should be done) -- all of you seem to be arguing in favor of some good; which good will prevail?

    By Anonymous tanner, at 7:41 PM  

  • Tanner,
    I am not sure how the two goods are mutually exclusive.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 9:35 AM  

  • Dan, I think somebody should point out that there is a vast deal of difference between going into a marriage with no sexual experience and going into a marriage with no sexual knowledge. No sexual experience means that what you and your spouse share is uniquely exclusive, special to you, incomparable. You share the sweetness of discovery and the particularity of love, and you can look back and tell stories that begin "remember when I found out..." at the age of fifty, because the other person involved in that story is still there, and will remember with significant mirth. I was uniquely blessed in never having a serious relationship with anybody but my husband and everything from holding hands to saying 'I love you' to our wedding night was a first I shared with him. I realize this is very rare in our society and I certainly don't blame those who haven't had that option, but it's so special to me I would certainly encourage my children to attempt it. That possibility aside, I will say simply and from experience that the wedding night of virgins is a beautiful, sweet and tender thing, and well worth the trouble it takes to acquire.
    That said, however, the wedding night of virgins would be much less pleasant if neither of them had any idea how things were to go (see Balzac). Sex ed is therefore mandatory. The question is where and when to get it. Would anyone here disagree with me that it is ideal for children to learn about sex from their parents? It seems to me that the context of the home (and, in more archaic life, farm and farm animals) is the most logical place for children to learn these things. Parents who are well aware of the rate at which their children are developing can appropriately gauge how much their children need to know and when better than classroom teachers. They can answer a four-year-old's questions in a manner appropriate to a four-year-old, without being evasive. How this is to gear into a public school system, I don't know. But it is a fact that public schools left that side of education to the parents until the last, what? fifty years?
    And in conclusion, in case anybody cares, I agree that as long as you're teaching sex ed in the schools (and by this point, where the majority of parents seem to have made over the raising of their children to the public schools, that's probably absolutely necessary), abstinence-only is absurd, though I think it's important that teachers not approach the subject with a jaundiced "of course at the age of eleven, you're going to start having sex, so here's how it's done". The assumptions of adults will influence children considerably, and this is my primary concern about sex ed in the public schools.

    By Blogger TeaLizzy, at 10:10 AM  

  • TeaLizzy,
    I totally agree. Sex education SHOULD be taught by parents. It SHOULD be taught (by the parents) without being evasive and it should be factually correct. As you pointed out, unfortunately this seems to be overwhelmingly not the case in today's society. It seems that we must resign ourselves to sex ed. in the schools and abstinance only will not work. I also agree with you that the assumptions of adults will greatly influence children. If their teachers are assuming children are having sex in 6th grade children are far more likely to percieve that as normal and acceptable behavior. Sadly, my poor little brain can not come up with a reasonable way to solve this dilemma.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 11:46 AM  

  • Now I'm worried that I'm hijacking this site...Bob please forgive me, and let me know if now is the time to stop!

    To TeaLizzy and TheAmber...

    TeaLizzy's first paragraph just now is simply sublime, and the essence of pure beauty. Thank you for so eloquently saying what needed to be said.

    However, it is my experience (twenty-six years of total delight in my spouse) that all of the "tips" and "try this-s" aren't worth the paper they're printed on, or certainly the computer screen they're viewed on. They bring only an artificiality to the relationship of unity that marriage is, and both parties know it when it happens.

    My parents taught me about sex by frequently kissing each other in my and my brothers' presence. I also remember a chat that my dad had with all of us boys when I was ten. One of my favorite memories of my mother is when she joyfully exclaimed to me how much she loved making love (I'd been married for about ten years at this point, and of course thoroughly agreed with her!). And one of the best things that my wife and I have done is to have our babies at home, where our children can experience as closely as possible one of the many joys of a healthy sexual relationship.

    Nope. I think the premise that some sex education in ANY school situation is not only permissible but necessary is flimsy at best.

    Dan

    By Blogger Dan, at 10:39 AM  

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