Abstaining from Government Abstinence Education

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One of the latest salvos in the eternal culture wars seems to be federal funding of abstinence education in government schools, and the usual suspects have been lining up either to support or oppose both the education and government funding. Even though I have found the government "sex education" curriculum for public schools to be quite offensive, in this matter, I say a pox on both their houses.

Before going further, however, let me say that I think teen sex — and especially the stuff that currently has filtered down even to middle schools — is abominable. Furthermore, adults, both in government and in the fashion industries, have egged on this destructive behavior. (Yes, I am a libertarian and, no, I don’t believe government should regulate the Calvin Kleins of this world. However, a view that something might be offensive yet also protected in a free society is not inconsistent.)

Furthermore, much of what is called sex education in schools is nothing more than government agents attempting to encourage youngsters take part in the sexual revolution long before they are emotionally ready for this activity. The troubled tenure of former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who recently wrote the forward to a book that legitimizes sex between children and adults, is a not-so-eloquent example of the state taking the lead role in encouraging children to engage in sex, and people of all political and social stripes should be against this.

That being said, one might wonder why I oppose federal government funding of an education program that tries to undo some of the damage government schools have been doing for the last three decades. I know some people who are involved in abstinence education, and I prefer them to the sexual predators who have dominated the sex education industry, and who have worked hand-in-glove with school officials to circumvent the wishes of parents. Moreover, I realize that many parents support abstinence education and having four children, I can understand why they may feel that way.

There are many reasons, however, to be against Washington being the agent to promote virginity pledges, the first being that such policies coming from the nation’s capital must set a record for hypocrisy. Washington is not only the tax-and-spend capital of the world, but surely must also be the global leader in adultery. In other words, the same lawmakers in Congress that now want youngsters not to be having sex at an early age (after encouraging the opposite for many years) no doubt must schedule their votes for this program around all of their dangerous liaisons.

Even if one can stomach the rank hypocrisy of members of Congress, along with the army of education bureaucrats, trying to lecture students about sex, one should wonder where this sort of thing is found in the U.S. Constitution. Granted, most of what the federal government does these days cannot be found in the Constitution, but it is always legitimate to raise these questions. (The Wall Street Journal once argued that since leftists had already trashed the Constitution, there was nothing wrong with conservatives wanting their own nationalized pet programs. Thus, we get unconstitutional federally-funded abstinence programs as an antidote to traditional sex education, another version of the "everyone’s doing it" syndrome.)

In fact, many religious conservatives have been as guilty of undermining the principles of true federalism as the left. In both cases, we get people trying to nationalize their agendas by using the power of the state to enforce them. Furthermore, in an attempt to make themselves "relevant" and important, principals in all three branches of government from the President of the United States to members of Congress to the lowliest federal judge have sought to expand their own power by expanding the reach of Washington. Thus, we get both "anything goes" sex education from Joycelyn Elders and now the "true love waits" agenda from the Bushies.

There is also a practical reason to oppose government-funded sex education: all too many times, the actual results are far from what was intended. For example, in order to keep their "technical virginity," more and more youngsters are engaging in oral sex instead of sexual intercourse. (Another unintended consequence has been that many children who engage in sex are also coming down with sexually transmitted diseases. The current wave of oral sex has resulted in young girls receiving STDs in the mouth and throat.) Furthermore, issue education of the past such as anti-drug "education" has often resulted in youngsters doing the opposite of what their teachers are telling them.

No doubt, religious conservatives would like to be able to blame Bill Clinton and his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky for the rise in the practice of oral sex, but my guess is that kids already knew how to do it long before Clinton gave his first denials and Ken Starr found the infamous semen-stained, blue dress. The immoral lifestyles that once were the purvey of the very rich and the very poor has moved through Middle America like a scythe through wheat. That youngsters who are bombarded with sexual images from an early age would act like their parents and others who they admire should not be a shock.

That being said, let me emphasize that youngsters should be taught about sex, virginity, and the real dangers that the Sexual Revolution has created. We have churches, synagogues, religious schools, and the home, and at last report it still was not illegal for parents to teach their children about the birds and the bees. Granted, a number of liberal Protestant churches have gone to the other side in the Sexual Revolution, encouraging "safe sex" and the like for teens, even though the "safety" aspects cover only the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and not the real emotional damage that teens incur when they jump into unwise sexual relationships.

Furthermore, there is something simply awful about government schools handing out condoms to children, keeping information from parents about their children’s sexual practices, promoting abortion, often against the wishes of parents, and generally being the Great Enabler of dysfunctional relationships between youngsters. While I do not doubt that some good might come from government schools teaching sexual abstinence to children, I do think that this is part of a larger destructive pattern of the continuing breakdown of our constitutional republic.

My most fervent wish would be for the government at all levels to get out of the education business all together. If that wish cannot be granted, I at least hope that the state will stop trying to propagandize about sex in the ongoing attempts to brainwash children.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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