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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Should contraception be taught in schools?

I’ve been saving this post for a rainy day. It isn't raining today, but this post by OMF Serge at Imago Dei made it rain for me. I encourage you to read Serge’s response to NARAL president Nancy Keenan’s open letter to pro-life groups. Keenan's letter calls for increased access to contraceptives.** And then consider this:

Neil Uchitel wrote a post back in summer 2004 regarding abstinence/contraception education, at “Digitus, Finger and Co.” He made a case for the retention of contraception education alongside of abstinence education. I understand his concerns and he makes a good point, but I still have reservations about the teaching of contraception in schools.

(One might wonder why I'm concerned about this, since we homeschool our children and plan to keep doing so unless circumstances force a change. Well, it’s because the society we live in is full of school-educated people, and is greatly influenced by what is taught in schools.)

One of my reservations is that teaching contraception in a public setting contributes to the removal of the privacy element from sex. How much so depends upon how it’s taught, I suppose. Teaching kids how to put on a condom is a bit much. I think it might be better for girls to learn about contraception from their gynecological caretakers at an appropriate age, and boys from their physician, if not from their parents. Actually, the doctor’s office might be a better place for sex ed to take place in general, besides the home (parents), that is. Yes of course I realize that many parents are sadly negligent in this area.

There’s also something about teaching contraception in a school that lends implicit approval to its use. If someone is given the sense that they have a choice in something, then any of the options are given a sense of legitimacy. If, however, someone is given the sense that a particular option is not a choice for them, then they are in rebellion if they choose that option.

Neil uses the fact that there is no statistical difference in terms of sexually-related activity and its consequences between those who make abstinence pledges and then break them and those who make no such pledges in the first place, to support his view that contraception should be taught (alongside abstinence). I see this as a non-sequitur, however. What does contraception education actually accomplish? How does it help those who, regardless of abstinence pledges, are sexually active? Does it help them avoid disease? Perhaps. Does it help them avoid consequence of immoral behavior? Not completely, no. Certain consequences are reaped whether a youth uses contraception or not, but isn’t consequence of the type that can be avoided, via use of contraception, a natural deterrent to sin?

And what of the fact that young people typically ignore deterrents to sin? Is it cruel to say they ought to be allowed to experience the consequences of their sin? If so, why? Isn’t it better for one’s body to suffer than to lose one’s soul? If a parent who has taught his/her child abstinence discovers that the child is sexually active, should they then teach the child about contraception? Isn’t that “enabling”? Isn’t that capitulation? I thought that rebellion meant you’re on your own until you come home. When Jesus spoke to the adulterous woman, He didn’t tell her to beware of disease; he told her to go, and sin no more.

Says Neil: “Teens need to be held accountable and made to understand that having sex has numerous consequences beyond the physical pleasure of it all, but in a society where the structures to reinforce this don’t really exist in any sort of pervasive way, except for people in active religious communities, are we expecting too much from only one educational track? “

A good question. But I don’t believe that teaching contraception to people who have no immediate plans to be married helps to hold them accountable for their sexual practices. Of course we don’t want any young person who fornicates to acquire an STD or become pregnant, but if they do, whose fault is it? Ours (society’s) for not teaching about contraception in the schools?* How much do the schools actually teach about contraception that kids don’t find out about in other ways anyway? If a young woman aborts an unwanted illegitimate child, whose fault is it? Doesn’t accountability rest upon the person who commits the sinful act? Isn’t consequence, no matter how awful, an unavoidable (or ought-to-be-unavoidable) part of accountability?

(I do believe that society, or certain individuals, are sometimes partially culpable for an individual's transgression. But, in this case, the culpability would lie in society's implicit or explicit support of contraceptive use among the unmarried, not in its failure to educate youth in the use of contraception.)

Teaching contraception in schools is not a structure that will reinforce the negative consequences of fornication. If there aren’t enough structures to reinforce these consequences, why weaken one of the structures already in place, or that could be in place, in the form of abstinence education? And if the issue is that abstinence education doesn’t delve deeply enough into the underlying causes of teenage sexual activity, why on earth would we not want to make abstinence education better, rather than just say, oh well, guess we better teach contraception?

I invite comment. (Be nice, please :-) )

(*Who is ultimately responsible for children? Parents? Society? The state? The children themselves?)

**edited for clarity 2/18/05

6 Comments:

  • Certainly! Lets' teach kids about sex ed. While we're at it, let's teach them how to buy the best pot and use clean needles because kids are going to do what kids are going to do!! :)

    O.K., I'm kidding.

    What I have taught my young men is that if they want to marry virgins, they have to be virgins themselves or else they are guilty of holding a double standard. With my oldest we have gone over what it means to be in a sacramental marriage and God's plan for sex in marriage. We have taught him that whenever he has sex he is potentially making a baby. I've gone over the basics of how God designed the female body and how all forms of artificial contraception work in some way or another AGAINST the natural design of the body.

    My daughter is only 5 but when she is older I definitely want to teach her the basis of Natural Family Planning in the context of how God designed her and the morality of sex in marriage.

    By Blogger Elena, at 7:26 AM  

  • I agree...thanks for the great analysis.

    This is off the subject, but...

    You wrote, "There’s also something about teaching contraception in a school that lends implicit approval to its use. If someone is given the sense that they have a choice in something, then any of the options are given a sense of legitimacy. If, however, someone is given the sense that a particular option is not a choice for them, then they are in rebellion if they choose that option."

    I have always thought the same type of argument applies to legalizing drugs. If the government gives it tacit approval in the form of legalization, perhaps more people would see taking drugs as an option. Look at the cesspool that is Amsterdam.

    By Blogger Kristen, at 1:29 PM  

  • Also--I linked to you.

    By Blogger Kristen, at 3:34 PM  

  • So, Elena, where do you buy the best pot??

    ;-)

    Seriously, you make some very good points about teaching what marriage is meant to be. I'm not sure how that could be taught in schools, however. It'd be great to have something like a "Marriage 101" class that would discuss Christian marriage, hopefully accurately enough to appeal to young people as the superior option.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 11:27 PM  

  • Thanks, Kirstin :-)

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 11:28 PM  

  • The argument that kids won't learn about condoms if it is not taught in school became a moot point with the advent of ubiquitous internet access. If kids really want birth control information, they know how to use google. We don't need it in schools, which DOES add a stamp of approval to the activity.

    This sort of "education" was just starting to be phased in when I was in high school. Fortunately, my parents gave me a copy of Dobson's Preparing for Adolescence long before it became an issue. THAT education saved me from a lot of (but not all) bad decisions.

    By Blogger Adrianne, at 6:57 PM  

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