Monday, September 08, 2008

Sarah Palin on sex ed

A story from the LA Times indicates that Palin might not be as pro-abstinance education as we keep hearing she is.

Palin's running mate, John McCain, and the GOP platform say children should be taught that abstinence until marriage is the only safe way to avoid pregnancy and disease. Palin's position is less clear....

In July of [2006], she completed a candidate questionnaire that asked, would she support funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs instead of "explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?"

Palin wrote, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

But in August of that year, Palin was asked during a KTOO radio debate if "explicit" programs include those that discuss condoms. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign."

"Explicit means explicit," she said. "No, I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."

Does "explicit" include homosexuality? Probably.

That said, my guess is that it's mostly referring to the idea that sex ed classes are instructing kids on how to do it, like it's Driver's Ed or something. I've heard conservatives espouse this, though I don't really understand it.

And, as I've mentioned, Governor Palin has never done anything to promote abstinance-only education.

Yet another reason why leaving Bristol alone is both the right and the pragmatic thing to do.

But hey, Palin is a backwoods Christian and we all know what they are like. So maybe y'all can just jump to some more conclusions and keep going. Why let the facts get in the way?



Bill Baar said...

I think she was refering to the tone of the program more than anything else.

An MD from our Church did OWL when my daughter went through it. When we went to the parents meeting he made a big point of saying he taught abstinance only and was mad at the public schools for giving a false sense of safety with condoms etc... he said he saw way too many STDs in his practice for him to teach anything but abstinance only.

It's hardly a fundamentalist notion.

Robin Edgar said...

"So maybe y'all can just jump to some more conclusions and keep going. Why let the facts get in the way?"

Because that' s what U*Us love to do? Let's face it CC, you and no shortage of other U*Us have jumped to unfounded conclusions about me because you couldn't be bothered enter into a free and responsible search for the truth that just might let the facts get in the way. . . Let me paraphrase what you just said about Sarah Palin in light of what Rev. Ray Drennan and a good number of other U*Us have said about me -

But hey, Robin is a psychotic cultist (dare I say "hateful whackjob"?) and we all know what they are like. . .

Joel Monka said...

I think part of the problem is that people speak of sex education as if it were binary; either the kids are on track for a masters from Kinsey, or they aren't even told why their voices crack. The truth, as it so often is, is a continuum. Most conservatives want an academic sex education for their kids, including descriptions of birth control. When it gets to having everyone practice putting condoms on bananas, when it gets to technique, like the proper way to hold a dental dam to allow safe oral sex, they start calling it explicit. When it gets "values neutral" and they start handing out condoms they call it aiding and abetting.

The most effective abstinence education I ever witnessed was when the instructor held up a set of percentile dice and asked if the kids knew what these were. Of course there were enough gamers among the kids that they were easy to explain. He produced dice for everyone and said that even with perfect use, condoms had a 2-3% failure rate. Assume you have a stabile relationship, and are having sex twice a week. Everybody roll twice for the first week- a 1, 2, or 3 means you're a parent. Naturally, with 20 some kids rolling, it was only a couple "weeks" before someone hit, then another. Then he said that was for perfect use; real people make mistakes- let's try it at 15%.
I don't know how long the lesson lasted, but you should have seen the looks on their faces as they were rolling.

Chalicechick said...

I think he's misstating the rates on condom failure. Will check on this after work.


Bill Baar said...

You'll find the rates vary with alcohol intake.

I think you nailed it Joel.

PG said...

The one part of Juno that annoyed me was where she's making fun of the condom-rolled-on-a-banana part of sex-ed -- and then apparently she either doesn't use a condom or she doesn't use it correctly, because she gets pregnant. Not a good case for "too smart for sex ed."

I guess people I don't know are having most of the "perfect use" condom failures. The one person I know who got pregnant while using condoms was using them inconsistently because he didn't like how they felt. I know people who relied on condoms literally for decades and never got pregnant, and they were freaking obsessive about it -- a condom that so much as snagged on a hangnail was thrown away. Condom breakage is 2-5%, and most of that is due to "imperfect use" like using a condom that has gotten a small tear from your fingernail, or not using enough lubricant to ensure that it doesn't tear during intercourse.

I'm all in favor of scaring kids straight, but I have a feeling that most kids in high school know someone who has been having sex for some time, relying on condoms, and hasn't gotten pregnant. They're going to be skeptical of the idea that if you have sex 50 times with a condom, you'll get pregnant. If the condom has a breakage, you won't necessarily get pregnant because even people trying to have babies don't get pregnant instantaneously, even if they have no fertility problems. Let's not make our kids stupider about probability and biology than they have to be.

PG said...

Also, who is this straw-man who is scared of discussing abstinence as an "alternative"? I know a lot of liberals and none of them are like, "Yikes, what if teenagers DON'T have sex?"

Chalicechick said...

According to planned parenthood:

* Each year, 2 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly.
* Each year, 15 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they don't always use condoms correctly.

So your dice rolls weren't single instances of sex, they were years.


Joel Monka said...

True- his math was wrong. On the other hand, he sure got the point that they were gambling across. I don't think his error is any worse than describing sex with a condom as "safe", however.

Anonymous said...

I have this page bookmarked - it's about the effectiveness of different forms of birth control. I love it because it distinguishes between "typical use" and ideal use.

When my kid's old enough I'll strongly advocate for abstinence - for many reasons. Not because I think sex is something that should only happen between a married man and woman, though. At the same time studies have shown that abstinence only sex ed is not as effective at preventing teenage pregnancy and transmission of disease. So I think you can encourage abstinence and still teach the facts and realities.

Ultimately, it's about the relationship you have with your kids. Most parents just don't talk to their kids about sex at all.

Anonymous said...

What are "percentile dice"? I've never heard the term.

Robin Edgar said...

"I think you nailed it Joel."

Looks that way. . . ;-)

Allow me to be a bit waggish and point out that "abstinence until marriage is the only safe way to avoid pregnancy and disease" until after marriage. . .

Joel Monka said...

Kim- "percentile dice" are used in role playing and board games- Dungeons and Dragons, etc. They are ten-sided dice, with one die being tens and the other ones- added together, they give you a number between 0 and 99. If the Dungeonmaster says you have a 20% chance of surving the basilisk venom, if you roll 20 or less you live.

Steve Caldwell said...

Bill wrote:
An MD from our Church did OWL when my daughter went through it. When we went to the parents meeting he made a big point of saying he taught abstinance only and was mad at the public schools for giving a false sense of safety with condoms etc... he said he saw way too many STDs in his practice for him to teach anything but abstinence only.

I would offer a cautionary note about this doctor's modification to the OWL curricula here.

The Our Whole Lives (OWL) curricula were field-tested in Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, and non-religious settings.

A single doctor's experience shouldn't trump the wisdom of years of field-testing experience in many locations with many professional and volunteer sexuality educators.

This doctor's concern over sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may be a "sampling error" here -- a doctor sees the individuals who didn't use condoms and other safer sex methods, didn't use them consistently, etc.

The potential sampling error here is the doctor not seeing the seeing the healthy folks who don't have STIs.

The OWL curricula for middle school and high school are abstinence-based and they promote abstaining for oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse (three higher-risk behaviors) as the best choice for younger adolescents.

But these curricula are not abstinence-only.

Some youth may decide to engage in higher-risk behaviors like the intercourse examples mentioned above.

They may engage in sexual intercourse as adolescents.

They may engage in sexual intercourse as adults too. All of these folks need both how to avoid risk and how to reduce risk.

Given what we know about sexual behavior and the average age for marriage in the US, it's not realistic to expect people to wait until their late 20's for their first intercourse experience.

Youth and adults do need to know about abstinence. But youth and adult also need to about the differences between low, medium, and high risk sexual acts as well.

They also need to know how to reduce risk through safer sex measures if they decide to become sexually active.

Becoming sexually active is possible when they are youth -- it's a near-certainty when they are young adults.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote
"I don't think his error is any worse than describing sex with a condom as 'safe,' however."

I know the layperson language is "safe sex" but the language used by sexuality educators today is "safer sex."

No responsible educator is promising 100% safety with condom or other safer sex barrier methods.

Condoms and other barrier methods are highly effective (not 100% effective) if used consistently and correctly. The FDA web site that hsofia provided us says that condoms have a 3% failure rate when used consistently and correctly over the course of a year.

Condoms (for STI prevention) combined with hormonal contraceptives and a male-female couple has a very low risk of unplanned pregnancy or STIs.

Bill Baar said...


I lived in Oak Park Illinois and belonged to a UU Church in the 80s. We had the highest AIDs rate per capita of any town in Illinois.

This was before effective therapies and it really felt like the plague.. you have no idea how lame it seems to talk about "safe sex" when your watching friends, coworkers, and neigbors die brutal deaths like that. The couple who taught the OWL class (it had a different name then) both perished.

Belive me.. people don't rattle on about condoms when people are dying like that all around you. Forget the studies...

PG said...

CC, I'd be interested in your take on this.

Comrade Kevin said...

Even AYS never gave instructions for performing the act itself. Contraception is worth teaching. If you can't work off instinct and accomplish coitus on your own, you need more than classes to come to your aid.

Bill Baar said...

PG... it's interesting no UUs have posted on the link you gave.. considering the out cry over the Episcopal Church in LA running afoul of the IRS on politics... you have to wonder if UUs would rally behind this effort.

I think it would be wise not too myself.

PG said...


I'm afraid that I'm not religious myself and not very up on what's happening in various denominations. From a legal standpoint, though, I think ADF is full of shit. I don't get to make tax-exempt contributions to any other organization that endorses candidates -- why should an organization that refers to itself as a "church" be different? Pastors have every right to say whatever they want in the pulpit -- they're just going to lose their tax-exempt status if they do. Churches' tax exemption is by the grace of government, not because of a Constitutional mandate.