Watch How the Right Lies About Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

This is a perfect example of how the Religious Right spins the news in a way that deceives people.

They know their followers are gullible and will believe what they are told. They know their followers won’t bother doing research to factcheck what is being reported. They know they can get away with it within their own community.

Thankfully, the rest of us can call them out on their bullshit.

Take a look at this lede from a OneNewsNow article on abstinence-only sex education:

An abstinence advocate says a new report by the Centers for Disease Control shows that abstinence education is delaying sex among teens.

They quote Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. What does her group’s press release say?

CDC Data Shows Abstinence Education Works

Abstinence education is delaying sex among teens. Data from an analysis conducted by the CDC shows positive evidence that abstinence education is delivering an effective message. These positive findings should be incorporated in any policy designed to reduce teen sexual activity in our nation,” noted Valerie Huber, Executive Director of NAEA. “This is a time to assess what is working and capitalize on solutions that make a difference in the lives of youth.”

They say that abstinence education works because it delays sex among teens… as if having sex a little later in life is going to fix everything. Notice they don’t mention anything about diseases or pregnancy or the overall effect of abstinence education.

So let’s go to the source — the report that is being referenced, a meta-analysis of CDC data (PDF). Note that the emphasis is theirs, not mine:

What follows represents our minority opinion as members of this study’s External Partners consultant panel and does not represent the views of the CDC or the Adolescent Sex Behavior Coordination Team.

The Task Force has made public its Recommendation Statements without also making available to the public the full set of study findings upon which the recommendations are based — both supporting and otherwise. The reason given for this decision is that the data from the study has not yet been scientifically cleared by the CDC for release to the public.

I wonder if there’s a more reliable source that will tell me what the CDC actually had to say about abstinence-only sex education…

Let’s go to WebMD’s Daniel J. DeNoon, who says something quite different:

Experts Find “Insufficient Evidence” for Abstinence-Only Programs

Nov. 6, 2009 — There’s no evidence that abstinence-only sexual education programs cut teens’ risk of sexually transmitted disease, HIV, or pregnancy, a task force of public health experts finds.

The CDC will publish the findings in a scientific journal in about a year’s time. But the task force today released its bottom-line recommendations:

  • On abstinence-only strategies: “The task force concludes that there is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of group-based abstinence education delivered to adolescents to prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

“The finding of insufficient evidence [for abstinence-based sex ed] really means that based on the evidence available, the task force could not come to any conclusions,” Randy Elder, PhD, the CDC’s scientific director of systematic reviews, tells WebMD. “It is really a big question mark, with the implication being we need more research in this area before we can make any determination whether this intervention does or doesn’t work.”

So while it may delay sex for a bit, it does little to help in every other area. Isn’t that a strike against abstinence-only sex education? Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach abstinence along with information about birth control and condoms?

I mean, what’s more important: having safer sex at a younger age or having unsafe sex at a slightly older age?

My money’s easily on the first option. I’m not advocating sex for minors, but if people are going to have it, better to do it safely.

The Washington Post quotes Elder once again:

Randy Elder of the CDC, who works with the task force, disputed [the minority] argument, saying the critics’ case was flawed.

“All of those points were considered by the task force. They reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of a systematic review process,” he said. “The whole point of what we are doing is to aggregate data from as many studies that are critical to answering the question. What they were doing was chopping up the evidence into very fine subsets to poke holes.”

So there are two people in a large panel who think abstinence-only education works because of results in one area. The panel itself says when all the data is considered — not just a select handful of studies looking at one factor — there’s insufficient evidence in favor of abstinence-only sex education.

Moral of the story: the conservative media says abstinence-only sex education works like a charm.

You see how this works?

It’s gotten to the point where I just assume whatever the religious right says is a lie. Then I do 10 seconds of research to find the truth.

  • http://web.utk.edu/~bvanderf/ Hazor

    … to prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

    Got to love English. I know I’m not the only one who read that as babies being an STD.

    On a more serious note, I honestly think that most of them do not realize that they are misrepresenting the truth. I would be more willing to wager that it is confirmation bias or suchlike over intentional lies. That is not to say they are above lying, as a missionary kid I know at least as well as anyone just how hypocritical even the most pious can be.

  • http://www.belovedspear.org Beloved Spear

    Good points, but a quibble:

    I think, my atheist friend, that this is an issue with conservatism and its tendency to reject all data that does not conform to preconceived notions. It isn’t really religious, though. Yeah, I know, the Lynchburg Mob buys into the “abstinence only” hooey, but so does much of nominally secular conservatism.

    Just don’t let presuppositional thinking get to you, too. That second to last sentence is getting to sound awfully close to the thing you most dislike.

  • Angie

    The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs
    http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf

    Sex Education in the Sunshine State: How Abstinence-Only-Until Marriage Programs are Keeping Florida’s Youth in the Dark
    http://www.siecus.org/_data/global/images/FL%20Report%20-%20Sex%20Education%20in%20the%20Sunshine%20State.pdf

    Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education on Texas Public Schools
    http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/SexEdRort09_web.pdf?docID=981

    Sex, Lies and Stereotypes: How Abstience-Only Programs Harm Women and Girls
    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/pihhr/files/SexLies_Stereotypes2008.pdf

  • mikespeir

    So while it may delay sex for a bit, it does little to help in every other area. Isn’t that a strike against abstinence-only sex education?

    Not according to people who believe that the “sin” of premarital sex incurs a worse consequence than any temporal unpleasantness.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    It’s gotten to the point where I just assume whatever the religious right says is a lie.

    I wouldn’t say this for all of the Religious Right but OneNewsNow deserves this kind of treatment. I recieve ONN’s e-mails everyday and almost every story has a distortion, omits a major detail or just flat out lies about something. The only “news source” I can think of that is worse at this is WingNutDaily. You’d think that Christians would have qualms about being so dishonest all of the time.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I’m a bit skeptical of WebMD’s take on it, too. The article leads with this:

    There’s no evidence that abstinence-only sexual education programs cut teens’ risk of sexually transmitted disease, HIV, or pregnancy, a task force of public health experts finds.

    But that’s not what they found at all. What they found was that

    there is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of group-based abstinence education delivered to adolescents to prevent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

    “Insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness” does not mean the same thing as “no evidence that it’s effective.” The story’s lead is asserting that there is no evidence that it is effective, while the CDC’s statement is asserting that there isn’t enough evidence to make a judgment call at all.

    In other words, the story is beginning with a base assumption of “it isn’t effective” and saying that there isn’t any evidence to refute the assumption, while the CDC is saying there isn’t evidence either way.

    Frankly I’m surprised that the CDC was unable to find enough evidence to make a determination. Just look at abstinence-only education programs in places like Texas, for example; they’re unambiguously causally linked to increases in teen pregnancy and STD rates.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    I hate abstinence only education. It does not work. Studies–that is, reliable, valid, methodologically sound studies–have shown time and time again that abstinence only education is a failure. Kids learn nothing from it except scare tactics, and it only increases rates of pregnancy and STIs. Comprehensive sex ed not only gives teens the knowledge they need to stay safe, but it does not increase rates of sexual activity in teens. It only make you more likely to use contraception if you’re already having sex.

    Although religion isn’t the only factor behind abstinence only education, it is still a major component. Part of abstinence only education is to encourage people to remain “pure.” Because The Sex taints you and somehow decreases your value in god’s eyes. It has particularly devastating effects for young females, coupling bad science with religion’s morbid obsession with the Almighty Hymen.

    This is obviously one of my hot buttons, so thanks so much for posting on it.

    And as I like to say to proponents of abstinence only education, keep your goddamn rosaries off my ovaries.

  • CatBallou

    I have to echo MikeTI’s comment:
    “Insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness” doesn’t mean that abstinence-only education has been found to be ineffective.
    Is there life on other planets? We don’t have enough evidence to draw a conclusion either way. That doesn’t mean there is no life out there.
    Please reconsider your conclusions, Hemant–I don’t think they’re entirely supported here.

  • bigjohn756

    Hemant, I was going to nail you for ‘lede’, but, I learned something instead.

    Anyway, I think that abstinence should be emphasized in sex education since it is the only sure way to avoid all sexual problems (except carpal tunnel syndrome). However, since it will never work over the long run everything else that might possibly help should also be taught in detail.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Please reconsider your conclusions, Hemant–I don’t think they’re entirely supported here.

    CatBallou — Is there a disagreement? The CDC said there’s no conclusive evidence that Abs. Only Sex ed works. I’m arguing that we ought to teach comprehensive ed, which includes abstinence. That is supported by the CDC — they said a comprehensive program does make a difference. I think it’s wrong to say that Abs. Only Sex ed works when the data does not show that.

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Lyvvie

    Telling a teenager not to have sex is like telling the 4 year old not to eat the marshmallow- sometimes they just can’t help themselves. Education on prevention of disease and pregnancy is essential and if the schools won’t do it then we parents have to do it. Awkward or not.

    It’s gotten to the point where I just assume whatever the religious right says is a lie. Then I do 10 seconds of research to find the truth.

    Love that and I’m gonna quote it!

  • http://notdrjekyll.blogspot.com Mr. Hyde

    I understand the complications in finding out whether or not abstinence only education is effective. Getting teenagers to participate in a meaningful way in a study such as this is nearly impossible. They have a lot of other things more important than participating in some survey. Not to mention the honesty factor. Then there’s the variables of those who would be teaching the material. Some people just really shouldn’t be teaching it because they are completely boring and ineffective. So I think there will be no way to truly know if Abstinence Only Education is effective.

    However, I don’t think we should be feeding them the lie that there is such a thing as safe sex. There are certain practices that reduce risk, but there is no such thing as safe sex.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Mr Hyde “I understand the complications in finding out whether or not abstinence only education is effective.”
    It’s not all that complicated. Things like “When did you first have sex?” are effected by the “blush factor”, but pregnancies and STDs are harder to lie about.

    “So I think there will be no way to truly know if Abstinence Only Education is effective.”
    The consistent failure of Ab-Only versus the better but not great outcome from Comprehensive Sex-Ed lay bare that fib. Ab-Only has had ample time to demonstrate its effectiveness and has almost invariably succeeded only in failure. The best outcome it’s got is that some kids who take it delay having sex for up to 18 months over the Comprehensive sex-ed kids, if memory serves, but their lack of knowledge when they do “do it” (and they do) means that the consequences of their lack of knowledge exceed the mild benefit of the delay.
    Excuse my language (it will hopefully make sense if you read the link, which deliberately uses “loaded language”) but ignoring or hand-waving away the fact that no matter what you do kids will fuck in no way changes the fact that kids fuck. When ideology and reality conflict, it’s not reality that’s wrong, and the reality is that ignorance is a clear path to a negative outcome.

    “However, I don’t think we should be feeding them the lie that there is such a thing as safe sex. There are certain practices that reduce risk, but there is no such thing as safe sex.”
    True, but the object of Comprehensive sex-ed isn’t harm elimination, it’s harm reduction. The object of Ab-only is harm elimination, but in the real world harm elimination is, frankly, utopian and unattainable.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

    @hazor — if you think about it, this condition called “life” is, in fact, transmitted by sexual contact, and inevitably lethal.

    Life is a fatal STD.

    Joking aside, I’d like to add that comprehensive education removes the mystery of sex. It shouldn’t be this vague, mysterious, “thing that married people do.” Sex should be portrayed as a positive, pleasurable experience.

    I believe that all teenagers should know, by the age of 14, what contraceptive options are available, how each one works, and how to protect themselves from disease.

    Not so they’ll all go out and go crazy with it. But so they have the information available, and protect themselves, if or when they do decide to have sex.

  • Steven

    I invite the proponents of abstinence-only sex education to consider that complete information might be pretty effective in delaying sex. I can only imagine my daughter’s reaction when her mom and I finally have “the talk” with her. It will probably be something like:
    “The guy does what with his what?! Eww, gross!”
    Following that with a complete primer on STI’s and how pregnancy affects the body could conceivably delay sex until her 30′s.
    Forbidden fruit loses its appeal once it isn’t forbidden anymore. Anyone suffering from their first hangover can attest to that.

  • http://notdrjekyll.blogspot.com Mr. Hyde

    Steven, I think that is what really makes the difference. How involved are the parents in educating their children about sex. In the end, educators can stand up and talk until their blue in the face and it will not matter if the parents are not behind it. Sex education is an on-going process that parents must be involved in if they want their children to wait to have sex.

    Modu, I think this is why Abs-Only fails (as well as Comp.). I think sex-ed in general fails because most people live under the false assumption that we only have to tell teenagers once in a class about sex and then they’ll get it. Not only that, teenagers are frustrated because they can never get a straight answer to a lot of their questions.

    So WMDKitty is right about removing the mystery of sex. If parents would begin healthy discussions about sex and forgo their own discomforts that their child is growing up, then teenagers would have a much healthier view of sex and how to handle it.

  • Jen

    Of course abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Nor does it make any sense to promote it when 95% of people have sex before they are married. In fact, denying them information is a little cruel. Sure, information is out there, but if you are told Planned Parenthood is out to stab your baby, are you going to trust their website? And who is checking the site while in the backseat?

    In an ideal world, teens would put the banana on the condom, learn about non-straight sex, and learn about pleasure and masturbation. I am not holding my breath, though, since they are reviewing sex ed text books next year in Texas, where apparently only one text book mentions the word “condom” once. As we all know, Texas influences the rest of the country when it comes to text books.

  • Neon Genesis

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach abstinence along with information about birth control and condoms?

    Isn’t the Religious Right always saying we should “teach the controversy” too?

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Here in Utah, the rule of thumb is if “you don’t talk about it, the teens won’t want to do it” This applies to all aspects of sex education.

    These distorted facts don’t help anyone except the religious right to keep people uninformed and following their every word.

    It’s not about morals. It’s about controlling others.

  • http://notdrjekyll.blogspot.com Mr. Hyde

    I suppose I could be labeled as the Religious Right, but maybe not by the religious right ;) As someone who is religious, I can tell you the motto “if you don’t talk about it, the teens won’t want to do it” is correct. I think that engenders the opposite. The more we make sex seem like it is some thing that is completely off-limits, then the more teenagers are going to want to do it. But if we take the time to explain to them why it is better to wait until you are married, then they are more likely to take the information to heart and wait.

    So, Neon Genesis and Martymankins, I hope this is a sign of hope to you that there are religious people out there who believe we should be educating kids about condoms, birth control, STD’s, and all sides of the sex equation. They need to be taught the information so they can make an educated (and hopefully wise) decision about their sexuality.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Mr. Hyde “Modu, I think this is why Abs-Only fails (as well as Comp.). I think sex-ed in general fails because most people live under the false assumption that we only have to tell teenagers once in a class about sex and then they’ll get it.”
    Yeah, too many parents seem to say “…not my kid!” or “My kids respect my authority!” (the former because every parent’s kid is a little angel and that time he burned down the shed after shaving the cat was an accident, and the latter probably less than an hour after remarking that “…back when I was in school, children respected their elders!”).

    martymankins “Here in Utah, the rule of thumb is if ‘you don’t talk about it, the teens won’t want to do it’ This applies to all aspects of sex education.”
    It may help to remind them of the hi-jinx they got up to when they were kids. Then remind them that lying is a sin when they deny doing them.

    Mr. Hyde Says “I hope this is a sign of hope to you that there are religious people out there who believe we should be educating kids about condoms, birth control, STD’s, and all sides of the sex equation.”
    Kudos to you. Now, together, we just have to convince everybody else.


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