Christina Hale: Time for an adult conversation on abstinence
Saturday, March 11, 2017 9:47 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – People from the beginning of recorded time have noted that human intercourse, sex, can feel really good. It usually doesn’t cost anything, and people have been doing it for years, in fact, this is how we have populated the planet. It is going to continue to happen, even when circumstances are less than ideal.
Yet our attitudes toward it can be very impractical and public policy can actually bring harm. In Indiana, sexual education can only be taught in public school through the lens of abstinence. Abstinence only for disease prevention. Abstinence only for pregnancy prevention. While well-intentioned, this strategy leaves out a great deal of necessary information, like how to protect yourself from or get help after violent encounters in an age-appropriate way.
These good intentions, intentions presumed to cut back on promiscuity, lead to all kinds of problems.
To be fair, we do need to do something. Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned. The Guttmacher Institute claims that in spite of improvements over 20 years, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the industrialized world. In fact, rates of teen pregnancy in the United States are two to six times higher than those in most of Western Europe, including France, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden.
In South Carolina, State Rep. Mia McLeoda just filed a bill that got my attention. Rep. McLeoda wants to do something about promiscuity in her home state. She suggests that a man seeking Viagra, Cialis or any other drug intended to treat ED would have to cool his heels for a 24-hour waiting period, submit a notarized affidavit from at least one sexual partner affirming that the patient has experienced symptoms of ED within the last 90 days, be examined by a state-licensed sexual therapist to make sure his ED isn’t “attributable solely to one or more psychological conditions” and attend three sessions of outpatient counseling within six months, “including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”
Others have suggested that single men should not be eligible for such medications, and that married men should obtain the written permission of their wives.
A recent study in Indiana conducted by the IUPUI School of Global Public Health Communications tells us that two-thirds of the time, sexual violence happens in a child’s household. Evidence is also clear that those that have experienced this kind of violence in childhood tend to be more promiscuous in early adulthood. For these and other good reasons, perhaps we should acknowledge that it is beyond time to develop more thoughtful and realistic public policy that will truly address these kinds of problems.
Rep. McLeoda is getting cute but she makes a great point: The practical costs of promiscuity are everyone’s problem, and thinking in creative ways are worth considering. We also need to be thinking in particular about challenged populations like children in foster care. As high as the rate of unintended pregnancies (and sexual transmitted infections, for that matter) is among American teenagers in general, it is far higher among the subset of youth who age out of foster care.
A staggering 71% of the young women in the University of Chicago’s “Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth” reported having been pregnant by age 21. Further, “Repeat pregnancies were more the rule than the exception. Among those who had ever been pregnant, 62 percent had been pregnant more than once. By comparison, only one-third of the Add Health females (the comparison group) had ever been pregnant and a majority of those who had been pregnant reported they had been pregnant only once.”
Even more concerning, half of the young men in the Midwest study reported that they had gotten a female pregnant, compared with 19% of their comparison group counterparts.
Let’s begin an adult conversation about how we can do better by our young people in trouble here in Indiana. They deserve better information, and taxpayers deserve public policy that will save both the human and financial costs of naivety.
Hale was the 2016 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee and a former state representative.