A dangerous ring

The Ring: Less effective than DurexThe Ring: Less effective than DurexTalking about your shiny new ring in the context of sexual "education" is not an acceptable topic of conversation over most dinner tables. Let's hope it stays that way.

Beware Britain! Research by an associate of the Poorhouse has indicated that the UK may soon be deluged by the ever so well-meaning perhaps-not-so tolerant people from the Silver Ring Thing. These entrepreneurial educators (in the loosest sense of the word) are out to teach the youth of today the virtues of sexual abstinence. What's more, they are more than happy to hard-sell you a special silver ring you can wear as a sort of force-field to ensure all around you keep their hands off your private parts. And if you can be persuaded, probably a bible too.

The Poorhouse has nothing against either religion or abstinence. Both have their place and can be taken advantage of in a free and fair society. However they should be matters of informed choice, and if like in a certain other country across the Atlantic this campaign takes off and enters the mindset of our youth - and quite possibly even the public schools and public purse - then this smacks of an unsettling imposition of arbitrary beliefs on the citizens of our future. If it goes forward as planned, it would furthermore be at least a little comforting to think that it is based on some evidence of harm-reduction and not some individual's moral judgement - in this case some hardline Christian(s) - about what is "right" for, to quote Denny Pattyn, charming founder of the organisation and a believer that the end of the world is quite literally nigh - you over-promiscuous types better prepare for a painful judgement day, "the cesspool generation".

"Aha!", says eagle-eyed reader, be silent on your liberal self-righteous meanderings; it's well held that the country is amock with sexually transmitted diseases and inadvertently pregnant 12-year-olds. Surely if the evidence shows that this sort of education cuts down on these sort of undeniable (if possibly exaggerated) social problems then we could try and get over the philosophical objections?

Turns out there's no need to think that quandary through. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact the evidence suggests that if Pattyn et al's single-track policies do anything, they add to the harm relating to sexual behaviour.

It does seem that in the right context, pledging abstinence does work to help reduce adolescents having sex by delaying the act of sex itself by a "substantial and robust" amount, but only at certain ages and when there are a certain number of pledgers - neither too few nor too many (Bearman and Bruckner, 2001- see attachment to this page).

However, sex, in itself, is not innately harmful in the same sense that cutting your head off with a knife is. Much of any life-pejorative effect attached to the act is a social overlay, and hence avoidable. It is the consequences of certain types of sex that cause the real harm; unprotected sex can result in pregnancy every time, and if done with infected people can transmit life-threatening STIs. True enough, abstinence will - and successfully does for many people - avoid these negative outcomes, but there are alternative methods. Most obviously the use of contraception, for instance condoms which massively reduce risk of pregnancy or infection.

By hiding information regarding these possibilities one immediately removes those options for the people who, whatever they are told and however many tacky silver rings they own, will still have sex. This thus increases their particular chances of suffering from unnecessary harm as a consequence. This outcome was another finding of the Bearman and Bruckner study whereby those who had pledged abstinence, but then went on to have "illicit" intercourse nonetheless, were a third less likely to use contraception.

DiCenso et al. analysed several studies relating to abstinence programs and found that, perhaps non-intuitively at first sight, there was actually "an increase in pregnancies in partners of male participants."

For those who through whatever extra-curricular method are made aware of these alternative harm-reduction methods such as using contraception, the social disapproval of even needing such an item may make it less likely that they will be used. If you have pledged abstinence before God, your parents and your peers (in no particular order), would you want to risk getting caught with a pack of condoms?

As often happens, by forcing an inevitable activity into the underground, the peer support, knowledge gathering and establishment of safe norms are removed, and the harm to those who choose to participate despite any amount of discouragement is heightened. One further consequence of this is that, even if they begin to become aware of suffering from any problem as a consequence of sex, participants may be too ashamed or disaffected to seek medical help.

If the Ring Thing does come over to the UK it will be another example of - to use the favoured loaded terminology of the moment - declaring "war" on the wrong thing. No WMD puns needed; this will be a war on sex; when what should really be declared is a war on STIs, a war on unwanted pregnancies (teen or otherwise) and a war on whatever other negative effects sex can have.

If our Government wants to make good in its claimed wishes to use evidence based policy-making (rather than, say, whim based, or prejudice based) it is imperative that they do not unfairly back such a scheme without some public evidence that it is at least beneficial to the population. If anything, if the research indicating abstinence-only education increases harm proves to be correct, it should act to counterbalance the message.

Abstinence-only (evidence-free?) education is all the rage amongst conservative Americans; not least the arch-leader-of-the-world George Bush. Bush spends several hundred million dollars worth of his country's wealth exclusively on these programs. He is under the impression even the mere mention of such child-corrupting articles as, say, contraception "sends a contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of abstinence". He is committed to "understand[ing] the power and promise of abstinence education", which thankfully for him shouldn't take long, it not being a huge amount of power or backed by virtually any evidence.

Au contraire, let's ask his own experts. "Current research findings do not support the position that the abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is effective in delaying the onset of intercourse", say those wacky guys at the American Medical Assocation. One editorial in their journal on this subject stated that the "public health policy debate appears to have been ideologically motivated rather than empirically driven". Couldn't have said it better ourselves.

The National Institutes of Health concurs that although abstinence might be kind-of-cool "programs must include instruction in safer sex behaviour, including condom use. The effectiveness of these programs is supported by strong scientific references". The US Office of National Aids Policy claims that the "effective programs identified to date provide information about safer sex, condoms and contraceptives". And these are just a smattering of expert quotes stolen from the Adovcates of Youth Website.

Finally, whatever successes or otherwise it might have had in America, is the UK going to sign up to The Silver Ring Thing's evangelistic cause? Yes, our head honchos get on with each other for sure, but the cultures are not necessarily interchangeable. Taking the Ring-bearer's lead insomuch as not needing to cite any evidence, the Poorhouse would venture a no opinion on this matter. It is hard for many people to imagine that UK teen culture will embrace these rings and what they stand for in their true sense. Perhaps if they do make it big over here they will be nothing more than fashion items as many people thought the Make Poverty History armbands turned into - and possibly like them another potential business opportunity for unscrupulous eBayers.

Links:
Beware the virgin army roadshow

Joy of sex education

US virgins urge UK teen celibacy

ACLU Challenges Misuse of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Religion in Nationwide Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

Attached below:

DiCenso A, Guyatt G, Willan A, Griffith L. 2002, Interventions to reduce unintended pregnancies among adolescents: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. British Medical Journal. 2002 Jun 15;324(7351):1426.

PS Bearman and H Bruckner, 2001. Promising the future: Virginity pledges and first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology, 106(4), 859-912.


AttachmentSize
InterventionsToReduceUnintendedPregnancies.pdf329.62 KB
PromisingTheFuture.pdf278.65 KB

Comments

silver ring or scarlet?

Judging by a recent documentary aired in NZ about the be-ringed teens, they did indeed go down "other" paths, as their definition of chastity was very narrow.

Thought for the day: Jesus is watching...look busy.

Inspired by Clinton?

"Other" huh? Are we talking that special sort of "non sexual activity" beloved by Clinton & Monica - that still leaves dubious stains?

and the reverse

that and coming up from behind...these young things, so inventive.

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