Colson plays the numbers

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, there’s been a new study done on different approaches to sex education.

The study followed 662 African American sixth and seventh graders for two years. Some were placed in the abstinence program, others in a comprehensive course that included discussion of abstinence and condom use. Another group participated in a program that dealt only with safer sex, and a final group of control subjects did a workshop on nutrition…

Of 95 students who said they were virgins at the start of the abstinence training, 33 percent reported that they had sex within the next two years.

By comparison, 41 percent of the virgins in the comprehensive course went on to have sex in the two-year window. For the control group, the figure was 47 percent.

In a sample this size, the difference between the comprehensive class and the abstinence class – 33 percent vs. 41 percent – was not statistically significant, said Jemmott, so it is accurate to say they performed comparably.

And here’s Chuck Colson reporting the same story:

A landmark study on sex education draws a surprising conclusion. Well, you and I aren’t surprised, but the media and the educational establishments are. The study found that abstinence-based sex education works better than any other form of sex ed.

He’s right. I’m not surprised at all.

All right, I admit, what fails to surprise me is the disconnect between the facts of the story and the smugly triumphant way Colson tries to spin the story. But Colson wants to make it sound surprising that a scientific study actually produced evidence supporting (or allegedly supporting) abstinence-only sex education. And in a way he’s right: there have been a number of studies done, and they’ve all consistently failed to support the idea that abstinence-only sex ed does much good, if any. So it would be surprising if this study showed a result that was inconsistent with all the others.

What’s “landmark” about this study, then, is the fact that it’s the first time Christians like Colson have found one they can actually twist to suit their own purposes. The sample size is small enough, the margin of error large enough, and the difference in scores has the appearance, at least, of making abstinence ed look better. These days Christians like Colson are desperate enough that they’ll take any excuse they can get, jumping to the conclusions they favor, and ignoring the caveats of the professionals.

And that’s not all they’re ignoring. The author of the study, Penn sociologist John Jemmott, reports that what made his abstinence-ed program unique was that he deliberately removed the sect-friendly elements found in the abstinence programs pushed by evangelicals. According to Jemmott, the abstinence program he followed

would not have qualified for federal funding during the Bush administration. Those programs required an emphasis on abstaining until marriage, whereas Jemmott’s involved no preaching and no denigrating the effectiveness of contraception…

The abstinence class included a number of interactive exercises, Jemmott said. For example, the students were asked to think about their hopes five and 10 years in the future. Then they had to consider the consequences of a pregnancy on their plans.”It’s designed to be fun,” Jemmott said. “There are games where they can win points, and role-playing and other upbeat activities. There’s no preaching, and it’s not moralistic.”

Wow, a reality-based abstinence program? I like it myself (as long as it’s not the only material offered). The program wisely avoids the common evangelical trap of trying to persuade kids that they have to wait for marriage, and focuses instead on the much more realistic goal of convincing kids to merely delay sexual involvement. Not because sex is “sinful” or because some spoilsport deity wants to hold it just out of reach, but because the kids know what the consequences are, and decide for themselves that waiting will make them happier.

Of course, you’ll never hear Colson report that the study found a significant improvement in abstinence classes that eliminate Christian moral preaching! That may be one of the “landmark” distinctives of this particular study, but that’s not anything Colson is going to want just anyone to notice.

The Christian agenda for abstinence-only sex education is part of a bigger agenda for sexual control. Conservative Christians are trying to produce a government-enforced monopoly on sex, with Christians in control of who is and is not allowed to participate. God has decreed that there will be no sex outside of marriage, and He’s the only one Who can bestow the blessing of marriage on those He favors (as determined by…guess who).

The result is that, in the hopes and dreams of conservative Christians, people who want sex will have to submit to Christianity in order to obtain it. Christians control the supply by eliminating the competition of extramarital sex and by maintaining a monopoly on marriage. After all, since their God does not show up in real life, they have to have some motivation for people to turn to their religion!

Chuck Colson’s deceitful promotion of abstinence-only education is in no way motivated by any kind of concern for kids. What he and his cohorts are after is to harness the power of sex, and to use it as a tool to convert people. It may not be a conscious conspiracy, and in fact it’s highly likely that simple greed and selfishness are what motivate believers to want to monopolize sexual power. But there’s no question that they are seeking this monopoly, or that they consider themselves legitimately entitled to decide how, when, and with whom, everybody else is allowed to have sex.

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2 Responses to “Colson plays the numbers”

  1. Chigliakus Says:

    My first thought when I started reading your post was “did they compare the rates of STDs and pregnancy between the abstinence only course and the comprehensive course?” but then I got to this:

    whereas Jemmott’s involved no preaching and no denigrating the effectiveness of contraception…

    That’s where the typical abstinence only programs do real harm to both the children and society. Some of the kids are going to have sex regardless of what you do, so it’s simply pragmatic to limit disease, teenage pregnancy, etc. by educating them about contraception.

  2. Inquisitive Raven Says:

    Did Colson somehow fail to notice that 33% is still 31-32 students sexually active? Ignoring the margin of error for the moment, that’s still a lot of no-longer virgins.