Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Consequences and Causes of Abstinence

A few weeks ago, in a comment thread at Catallarchy, I made this observation:
Less teen sex = less disease + fewer unwanted children + fewer early (and often unhappy) marriages

Parents who want to protect their children therefore try to teach them to eschew sex because of its potential consequences. Abstinence -- by definition -- works better than prophylaxis and contraception.
That evoked a response in a later comment thread that I had "list[ed] only the harm caused by sex and not the benefit." Well, there were plenty of hedonistic voices arguing the benefit side. What was needed was someone to argue the cost side, and that's what I did. Moreover, my point -- which seems to have been missed in all the shouting -- was about the responsibility of parents to teach their children about the cost side.

The usual argument goes like this: Kids will do it anyway. Well, kids are less likely to do it "anyway" if they're brought up to believe that they shouldn't do it "anyway." And the bringing-up isn't done in public schools, it's done in the home by parents who teach their children not only about sex but also about responsible (i.e., moral) behavior.

The critics of abstinence education focus on the results of studies (e.g., here and here) about the sexual practices of groups of public-school students. They conclude that abstinence education in public schools is ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive in its effects on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But such studies aren't above criticism; see this, from The Heritage Foundation, for instance. Moreover, what those studies don't tell us is what happens to teens who are predisposed (by their parents) to eschew sex. Here's one bit of relevant information (from a research paper published by The Heritage Foundation):
[T]aking a virginity pledge in associated with a substantial decline in STD rates in young adult years. Across a broad array of analysis, virginity pledging was found to be a better predictor of STD reduction than was condom use. Individuals who took a virginity pledge in adolescence are some 25 percent less likely to have an STD as young adults, when compared with non-pledgers who are identical in race, gender, and family background.
More tellingly, there's this, from the National Institutes of Health:
Teens -- particularly girls -- with strong religious views are less likely to have sex than are less religious teens, largely because their religious views lead them to view the consequences of having sex negatively. According to a recent analysis of the NICHD-funded Add Health Survey, religion reduces the likelihood of adolescents engaging in early sex by shaping their attitudes and beliefs about sexual activity . . . .

Sexual intercourse places teens at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy. The information provided by the study may prove important for health researchers and planners devising programs that help prevent teens from engaging in sexual activity.
Hmm . . . isn't that what I said at the outset?

I now turn to this story about a letter published in the British Medical Journal (available only by subscription):
A letter by Australian bioethicist Dr. Amin Abboud published in the July 30 edition of the British Medical Journal notes that "A regression analysis done on the HIV situation in Africa indicates that the greater the percentage of Catholics in any country, the lower the level of HIV."

Dr. Abboud's letter comes in response to an article published in the journal's June 4 issue which wonders if newly elected Pope Benedict XVI will alter the Church's teaching on condoms in light of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic. Abboud asserts that "On the basis of statistical evidence it would seem detrimental to the HIV situation in Africa if he did authorise such a change."

"On the basis of data from the World Health Organization," reports Abboud, "in Swaziland where 42.6% have HIV, only 5% of the population is Catholic. In Botswana, where 37% of the adult population is HIV infected, only 4% of the population is Catholic. In South Africa, 22% of the population is HIV infected, and only 6% is Catholic. In Uganda, with 43% of the population Catholic, the proportion of HIV infected adults is 4%." . . .

Abboud concludes his letter stating, "The causes of the HIV crisis in Africa need to be found elsewhere. The solutions must go beyond latex. If anything, the holistic approach to sexuality that Catholicism advocates, based on the evidence at hand, seems to save lives. I would welcome an editorial on that or, as a minimum, some evidence based advice on HIV."
It all boils down to personal responsibility, which is taught by parents (especially those who bring up their children in a traditional religion) and undermined by government programs. I thought libertarianism was all about personal responsibility, but for many libertarians it seems to be all about hedonism.

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