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The Answer Blog

Why Can’t More Americans…?

In the hit Broadway musical and movie My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins sings plaintively, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” The lyrics came to mind recently as I found myself vexed by several national media stories that reveal our negative attitudes about sex. Yet my plaintive question is: “Why can’t Americans be more accepting of their sexuality?”

Story 1: Anna Quindlen on Abstinence-Only

If Americans were more accepting of their sexuality, Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen might never have had to write these sentences in her March 16th column:

“Texas leads the nation in spending for abstinence-only programs. It also has one of the highest teen birthrates in the country. Those two sentences together sound like the basis for a logic question on the SAT, but a really easy one.”

Quindlen writes a brilliant, perceptive analysis of Congress’ blindness to the failure of abstinence-only programs. If we, as a country, were more accepting of our sexuality and more willing to follow sound program evaluation, we’d have decided years ago that all young people deserve comprehensive sexuality education and be done with it.

Story 2: Obama’s Budget and Abstinence-Only

Sexuality educators learned that the new administration hasn’t removed funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Sure, it may have cut some of the money, but the Department of Health and Human Services section devoted to Preventing Teen Pregnancy states:

“The Budget supports State, community-based, and faith-based efforts to reduce teen pregnancy using evidence-based models. The program will fund models that stress the importance of abstinence while providing medically-accurate and age-appropriate information to youth who have already become sexually active.”

I call this budgetary decision a big waffle that divides kids into two groups: the sheep (the “good” kids who don’t have sex while in high school), and the goats (the “bad” kids who do). It denies young people equal opportunity to learn in advance of having sex about important ways to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Isn’t it useful for kids who decide to remain abstinent in high school to have knowledge about contraception, which they might put to use when they are in college or, as adults, ready to get married or commit to long-term partnerships?

If only Americans were more accepting of their sexuality, the DHHS would fund programs that offer balanced information about abstinence and contraception before most kids become sexually active. And it would support distribution of condoms and birth control pills to those who ask for them, as is done in many European countries with far lower teen pregnancy rates than ours.

Story 3: Pornography and the Confirmation

Charges of supporting pornography almost prevented the confirmation of David W. Ogden as deputy attorney general. According to the Times story, Ogden, when he was in private law practice, “represented Playboy magazine as well as librarians opposed to software mandated by Congress that filters Internet content.”

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, received an “unprecedented number of phone calls and messages opposing [the] nomination.” People flooded his office will calls claiming that Ogden must support pornography because of his choice of clients. The good news is that he was confirmed 65-28. But still, if Americans were more accepting of sexuality, would this have become such a contentious issue?

Story 4:  NewsHour on Arne Duncan

I watched this PBS NewsHour story about Arne Duncan, the new U.S. Commissioner of Education. Duncan, who is very close to President Obama and took him into many schools while he was Chicago’s Superintendent of Schools, spoke of implementing educational initiatives that have proven track records of success.

But neither he nor the president mentioned a word about the importance of sexuality education in the school curriculum, or said that kids deserved sex ed programs that had track records of success and were scientifically not ideologically based. Perhaps I will have to wait until the cows come home before a cabinet official or a president shows some courage on this subject.

Again: Why can’t Americans be more accepting of their sexuality? What a big difference it would make in people’s lives. My Fair Lady has a happy ending. Maybe someday negative attitudes and behaviors about sexuality in our country will undergo significant change and stories like the above will not be so newsworthy.

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