Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Who is abstaining anyway?

The first year of college is kind of like a geography and sociology lessons, mixed into one.

“Tennessee borders Georgia?” incredulous Californians ask me.

“You’ve never been to a mall?!” We exclaim at the girl from New York City.

Soon, we become each other’s reference. I am the one who knows everything about barbeque, but the girl from Buffalo is the one to go to if you need to find out about winter weather.

But there was one place where I didn’t expect to become the expert.

We were sitting around one day at lunch, when the subject of sex ed came up.

“Yeah,” I say casually, “In my high school it was all pretty bad, but the guy who talked about the Diamond Zone was the worst.”

“The Diamond Zone?”

“He told us that ‘too far’ was anything that was in our Diamond Zone - the area from your chest to your hips. And if a boy touched you there, he was stealing from your husband.” I assumed that while my friends may have not ever met Diamond Zone guy, they had surely been exposed to similar speeches.

“WHAT?!” I looked up from the cafeteria’s excuse for meat loaf into the shocked stares of kids from California, New Jersey, New York, and Colorado.

“Oh… yeah. We never actually learned about condoms.”

I quickly found myself in the minority.

Suddenly, I became the girl with the abstinence-only stories. Later that week, I sat down at the table and a girl looked at me and said, as if asking for a particularly horrific ghost story, “Tell me more about the Diamond Zone.”

Apparently, in some parts of the country there aren't abstinence speakers talking about saving your carnal treasures. Kids don’t get in trouble for handing out condoms before prom. And it’s down-right weird to be asked to sign a virginity pledge when you’re in the eighth grade.

But at my all-girls private school, this was all normal. And if the well-funded groups fighting for abstinence-only prgrams were to be believed, it is also necessary.

Indeed, these groups can produce evidence to show its effectiveness. Recently, a group of health experts testified on sex ed before congress. Also on the panel? Two experts arguing against comprehensive sex education and for abstinence-only until-marriage programs. One oft-cited study used to combat the facts about comprehensive sex education comes from the right-wing Heritage Foundation. The report claims that abstinence-only sex ed was working, due to the evidence that abstinent teens are more successful in life than non-abstinent teens.

One of the sources for the Heritage Foundation report was this study about abstinent teens being better students and generally more successful. To believe abstinence groups, abstinent teens come from abstinence programs, because, after all, “sex education programs… focus, almost exclusively, in encouraging youth to use condoms.” This fact is simply untrue.

So wither the abstinent teens? I cannot turn to my own studies, being an under-funded eighteen years old and an abysmal math student, but I can turn to my own experiences.

You see, I realized a funny thing when I was forced to rehash my high school sex “ed” horror stories. A lot of these kids, from Berkeley, California to New York City, were virgins. Never forced to make an abstinence pledge or told to protect carnal treasures, they were healthy, happy students in a good college, pursuing business, law, or health, blissfully unaware that groups such as the Heritage Foundation would see students given condoms, as they were, as sexually deviant high-school drop-outs.

In contrast, whykNOw abstinence, the delightful panderer of fear and misinformation at my school, produced a graduating class of 100 girls that, by the end of the summer, had already yielded three pregnancies. Safe sex, to many of my classmates, meant “pulling out.” In addition, girls often clingingly protected their virginity, while giving “blow jobs” to casual crushes, not realizing that oral sex carries risks as well.

In fact, the only thing I knew about oral sex in high school was that, according to my horrified health teacher, “that boy will want you to put his penis in your mouth.” That was it. I don’t even remember being told that you could catch an STD from oral sex.

The preachy fear of my high school’s abstinence program did little more than keep the ignorant in the dark and temporarily fuel promises of “purity,” the majority of which will later be broke, without contraception and with huge guilt.

When abstinence groups quote statistics, they might want to think about where their abstinent teens come from.

Marshall Bright is an undergraduate intern at the Duvall Project


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great essay. The "dimond guy" is very strange.

The "abstenance only" sex-ed should be called sex-ig. Ignorance not education.

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