You Make Me Feel So Young

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

Just when I was starting to feel like I was getting old, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services comes through and treats me like a kid again:

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

Up to 29? Heck, even if we don’t take the usual tactic here of focusing on the endpoint, the average age of the cohort they’re including is 24. Most unmarried 24-year-olds are going to be either in the workforce or higher education – presumably at that point they’ve merited a little autonomy?

For twenty-somethings, it’s not really an abstinence only program any more, because as far as I’m aware there’s no centralized, government-funded source of sex education for us. There is not as yet any law against turning on my TV and watching Sue Johansson on cable, or going to the library and checking out books on the subject, or going online and (unless I’m on Buffalo’s heavily filtered municipal wireless, where I can’t read half my usual blogs because they’re afraid someone’s going to lure a kid into an unmarked van with promises of Pandagon posts) reading about any imaginable variation.

In addition, many of the abstinence arguments for teenagers simply don’t apply in the same way. Telling a 15-year-old that he or she should wait to have sex is very different from telling a 25-year-old to wait. The message to the kid is more “wait until you’re older” than “wait until you’re married,” although the assumption is that they will follow the approved life script and marry in their late teens or twenties. For the adult, it’s all about marriage – nobody has a problem with his or her married peers being sexually active – and an adult has a better idea of the likelihood of their getting married at some point than a teenager does.

So I suspect “abstinence only” isn’t really aimed at gutting sex ed like it is for the kids; it’s about funding a propaganda campaign.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.

Wait, I thought that women were supposed to have children in their twenties. Isn’t that what the panic about career women who wait until later in life to have kids is about? Oh, right, we’re talking about unmarried women here. (I suspect we’re also talking about women of color here when we mention “identifying groups” at risk.)

“The message is ‘It’s better to wait until you’re married to bear or father children,’ ” Horn said. “The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence.”

This is flatly untrue. Given that (as of now) abortion and contraception are both legal, for folks with access to them (which sadly isn’t universal), that’s pretty much a 100% effective way of not bearing children you don’t want. Ironically, the statement is a lot more true for men, given that they have to abide by their partner’s decision. So why does “abstinence only” ignore contraception for does every form of abstinence only treat men’s behavior as an afterthought?

Furthermore, I’m not sure how my marrying someone would make either them or me a better parent. The only thing I can think of is that they could get the benefit of my health insurance. It’s not going to make us better off financially or make me want children.

I think this shows what the “abstinence only” movement is really about: it’s less about helping people than social control. (I suppose that when enough arguments get leveled at the pregnancy rationale, they’ll switch over to STDs as the reason.) Abstinence-only education, the ire over gay marriage, it all boils down to the idea that we should all be good little Christians and adhere to the script; if we’re not good little Christians, we should at least have the decency to hide it.

More at Pandagon.

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This entry was posted in Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics, Sexual Health. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to You Make Me Feel So Young

  1. SunlessNick says:

    Isn’t an important element of Christianity predicated on abstinence *not* being effective?

  2. Virgin&Proud says:

    Granted, we should have the right to do what we want with our bodies, at least as far as the government is concerned. (note that I said OUR; I am pro-life and am advocating abortion in any way.) However, I do believe that abstinence is not only better in preventing “unwanted pregnacies” and overall a safer and more responsible way to live your life, but waiting until marriage to have children, and raising them in a two parent home has been shown to be better for the wellbeing of the child, in many ways. I think people should abstain, if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our shildren. I’m out of college, and it hasn’t been a problem for me. For many people, it’s like smoking– if you don’t start, it’s not hard to stop.

  3. tekanji says:

    Granted, we should have the right to do what we want with our bodies, at least as far as the government is concerned. (note that I said OUR; I am pro-life and am advocating abortion in any way.)

    I’m just curious — you say that you support people’s rights to do what we want with our bodies, but are pro-life. Does that mean that you believe that people should have bodily sovereignty, except when it comes to a woman’s pregnancy, or that you support a woman’s choice to dictate what happens to her own body, even if it goes against your morals, but you yourself are against abortion and don’t think it should be encouraged?

    but waiting until marriage to have children, and raising them in a two parent home has been shown to be better for the wellbeing of the child, in many ways. I think people should abstain, if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our shildren.

    Um, you realize that you just erased me from the face of the planet, right? I’m childfree, which means I don’t want kids, ever. So, what? I should just abstain because other people don’t like the idea that people are having sex outside of marriage? Or that we have reliable and pretty darn safe ways of preventing pregnancy?

    Abstaining “for the sake of our children” isn’t going to cut it with me. It happens that I was lucky enough to find a doctor who would sterilize me, but plenty of people (women and men alike) have not been as lucky as I was. Some were told they were too young, some were told that they needed to be married, some were told that they needed at least three children… and, though it was covered by my insurance, it’s not covered by all insurance all over the world and some people simply can’t afford it.

    Do you really want to say to all of us, “tough cookies, you should just be celibate for the rest of your life”?

    Not to mention that marriage is in no way an indicator of whether or not a child will be raised in a two parent household, and it has also been proven (and this is overlooked way too often) that a single parent household is much better on a child than one with two parents in which one is abusive. And, really, the only way to help stop that is to change the way that our society looks at things like sex, relationships, and how we treat one another.

    What I’m trying to say is that it’s not so simple that you can say “abstaining is the best way” because it may be for you, but it’s not for me, and it’s not for most people. Telling teenagers to wait until they feel ready — whether that be the first partner they love, their spouse, or even just someone they feel comfortable with — is great, and is actually a part of safer sex education. But telling an adult that the only acceptable option is to not have sex (which is what abstinence-only ed does)? Is just, well, condescending. It would be exactly like you taking a sexual education course that told you that told you that the only acceptable thing was to have sex before marriage — it would be overstepping its bounds as an educational tool. You’re an adult, and if your decision is that you want to wait, then it should be respected. Just as mine to have sex when I want it should be respected.

  4. Virgin&Proud says:

    Tekanji, you do have several points that are legitimate, and while I dissagree with some, I can easily see your viewpoint. This is in no way intended to be an attack, and please to not think of it that way– I am merely trying to represent the opinion of myself and many of those who agree with me.

    Firstly, my point on abortion is that women should have rights to their own body; however, a fetus is not merely part of the woman’s body. Yes, it sucks that the pregnancy load is not shared equally between men and women, and that in the case of ‘accidents,’ the woman is the one that is often left with the consequences, but a human life is in the balance, and as far as that is concerned, I think it is selfish to kill someone because of this injustice. Two of my good friends should never have existed- one was a birth control baby with a Christian mother, and another was actually intended to be aborted, and I’m sorry that women have the short end of the stick, but life is more important than “fair.” Actions have consequences. Sucks to be us.

    Yes, we all know that an abusive family is a horrifying thing, and that we shouldn’t expect people to suck it up and deal with it. However, it has been proven that children benefit more from a [stable, should have mentioned that] two-parent household in more ways than we realize. There are exceptions to everything, but that was all I was saying.

    If you don’t want children, that is a legitimate choice, and I’m glad that you have been responsible and done something about it. However, pregnancy is not the only consequence of sex. Not only are there diseases, infections, and social dangers, such as rape and abuse and the like, that are associated with this lifestyle [but not limited to it,] as well as psychological issues that take a toll on many people, especially women. Telling people that it’s ok to sleep with the first person they love or feel comfortable with is a recipe for disaster. I’ve thought I’ve loved people, later having realized that I was wrong, and have felt comfortable with loads of people, many of whom having turned out to be jerks and sometimes even abusive to later girlfriends, and I’m very thankful that I’ve waited as long as I have, seeing as how I could have made many horrible, if not dangerous, mistakes. Children aside, hooking up the way that many people in our society do is harmful in the long run. While marriage has been warped in many ways, if done thoughtfully and carefully, it can ease many of these problems. Yes, again, there are exceptions, we all know a handfull of messed up marriages, but generally speaking, if we go about it in a thoughtful, deliberate, mature way, many of the problems we face as consecutive daters and lovers are nipped in the bud.

    Our culture has changed our view of sex and marriage, and has perverted it and changed it into something that was never intended. Romance has been erotified, and we are the products of a society that is constantly pushing the limits, and then pushing it again, making the previous limit seem commonplace. I have been blessed with a boyfriend who has waited almost a year to even kiss me, and has told me that “as much as I love kissing you, I love talking to you more.” I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am, and that many guys, and girls, want to move a great deal faster than that, but if we continue this cycle, what will happen next? I am frightened for the future of our society. Pardon the drama, but I feel that we are becoming the next Rome, both in the good ways and the bad, and that we should take a step back and think of more than just ourselves and what feels good now.

    Holy crap, that was long. Sorry. Hope that clarified at least a little.

  5. arielladrake says:

    Virgin&Proud, whilst I certainly agree that marriage should be gone about in a thoughtful, deliberate and mature way, I’m honestly confused, here. Are you saying that pre-marital sex is inherently not thoughtful, deliberate or mature? Because what (I think) tekanji’s saying is that a big part of comprehensive sex education is encouraging teens to approach sex in a thoughtful, deliberate and mature way. Honestly, I’m rather insulted by your implication that anyone having pre-marital sex is less thoughtful, haphazard and immature.

    Yes, people make mistakes, but making mistakes is part of learning, and using the reality of mistakes as an excuse to say “well, none for you!” is paternalistic and rather insulting. And really, the reality of abstinence-only education is that a lot of people are still making those mistakes, they’re just making them later in their lives, when there are more risks to consider, and they’re less equipped to assess those risks because their sex education did not provide them with the relevant information and realistic strategies to deal with those risks.

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