Kelly Marcum is Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Federalist on February 20, 2018.
The Trump administration is bringing back sexual risk avoidance, or abstinence-based, education, and many on the Left are not happy. When the administration’s 2018 budget proposed cutting former President Obama’s ineffective and expensive Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP), which uses the comprehensive sex education model of sexual risk reduction, the mainstream media predicted an apocalypse signaled by unplanned pregnancies.
Now, after the release of President Trump’s fiscal-year 2019 budget, which proposes increased funding for sexual risk avoidance education programs in addition to cutting TPPP, left-wing groups are once again succumbing to histrionics. Debra Hauser, the president of the Advocates for Youth, has accused the administration of “refusing to put the health of our youth over their own outdated ideologies.”
Yet whether Hauser wants to admit it or not, America has a sex problem. Our post-sex-revolution culture has not merely eroded, but utterly demolished, the mores that governed our sexual behavior for centuries. Forget about sex being reserved for marriage, now if a man pays for a first date many expect the clothes will come off later that night, or even without needing a date first. If no real date is to be found, or if dealing with a living, breathing human is too inconvenient, there’s always the computer or the cell phone.
We Do Realize False Expectations Hurt People
Pornography appeals to an ever-more commitment-phobic society addicted to instant gratification. However, as noted by a recent New York Times article, the ubiquity of pornography may be blurring the lines of sex even more, especially for America’s youth.
Young men and boys are seeing male aggression in pornography, and quickly realizing that the women on the screen seem to be enjoying it. Girls learn that if they want to please a male they need to enjoy this aggression, or at least pretend to do so. It’s not a hard leap to realize how this haze of glorified sexual aggression could be contributing to the onslaught of sexual misconduct allegations that created the #metoo movement.
The Times’ article, although graphic, provided a brief hiatus in the narrative of the sexual revolution, one in which more sex is always better. The people interviewed noted that maybe, just maybe, watching explicit and oftentimes violent pornography could harm a young man or woman’s knowledge of what sex should look like, especially if that is how they are conducting reconnaissance missions to educate their future relationships.
Unfortunately, that’s where the lucidity came to an end. The solution offered by those interviewed was to teach students “porn literacy.” That’s right. Their answer to this problem is teach adolescents to make sure they are learning from “ethically sourced” pornography.
Ross Douthat, in a characteristically incisive column responding to the article, called this “solution” what it is: an admission of defeat. Sex educators are forfeiting the idea that kids can learn about sex in a constructive and healthy way, and instead are passively accepting that most of them will learn about the procreative act on their own and in front of a screen. The author of the article even takes a swipe at sexual risk avoidance education, blaming such programs for students turning to pornography for instruction.
Young People Deserve So Much Better
Frankly, students deserve far more than an anatomy lesson in female pleasure centers and an instruction manual of how to access fair-trade pornography. They deserve more than a defeatist attitude that presumes young men and women can’t strive for more than learning about sex by watching a two paid strangers on a screen, even if the actors are “ethically sourced” and not trafficking victims, as is often the case.
That’s why, despite a few naysayers, President Trump’s return to an emphasis on sexual risk avoidance education should be, and in many cases is, a welcome relief to students and parents.
For eight years under former President Obama’s administration, comprehensive sex education programs, including TPPP, received millions of federal funds, while abstinence-based education programs were defunded (although later given a paltry amount of federal funds). By FY2010, comprehensive sex education programs received $930 million, and abstinence programs received $53 million. This amounts to one federal dollar for risk-avoidance programs for every $16 sent to comprehensive sex ed. Even when the administration knew that these programs had unimpressive, and even unsuccessful, results, they continued to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into them.
Efficacy aside, these programs are not what Americans want in our schools. Young men and women want to know that there are alternatives to the comprehensive sexual education model. A 2010 national survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 62 percent of adolescents support the idea of reserving sex for marriage. Far from feeling empowered by comprehensive sex ed classes, 40 percent of teens reported in 2015 said these classes made them feel pressured to have sex.
Parents Overwhelmingly Want Better Info for Their Kids
Parents also do not want sexually explicit messages forced on their children. A recent Barna study found that 71 percent of parents supported a sex education model that prioritizes teaching their children to wait for sex. Despite some clamoring on the Left that conservatives are trying to force an unwanted agenda about sex education, the issue of sex education is not partisan. A 2012 survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research found that 60 percent of Democrat parents and more than 70 percent of Republican parents opposed the Obama administration’s defunding of what was then called “abstinence education.”
Parents have also proven that they are willing to put these beliefs into action. In North Carolina, a comprehensive sex education program called “Get Real,” developed by Planned Parenthood and funded by the TPPP program, focused on teaching children about sexual preferences and contraception usage. After a storm of livid parental complaints, the program was suspended. In Massachusetts, parents confronted state legislatures asking for the removal of a program for middle schoolers that teaches, among other things, about anal sex.
These men and women are right to fight for a sexual risk avoidance model for their children. The Center for Disease Control reports that adolescents who abstain from risky sexual behaviors perform better in school and are less likely to participate in other risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use. The Brookings Institute published a study stating that the surest way for youth to escape or prevent poverty in their adult lives was to follow a “success sequence” of finishing their education, marrying, then having children, a message sexual risk avoidance education reinforces
The answer to keeping the health of our nation’s youth at the forefront of our nation’s priorities is not increasingly graphic and pornographic sex ed classes. The answer is in teaching students that their worth and empowerment is not calibrated by their sexual activity. If they are unwilling to admit that, then one must ask whose ideology is truly a threat to our public health.