celebrating sixty years of failure
Quick, what’s the definition of insanity according to Albert Einstein? It’s trying the same thing and again again and expecting a different result. And this sums up what I try to explain in my latest essay for BusinessWeek.com on the constant hot topic in the culture wars, contraception. Since the dawn of sex education, the social conservatives who generally set the agenda for school districts kept trying to bombard teenagers with moralistic dogmas about the “evils” of sex outside of marriage. In all that time, they never managed to start paying attention to the fact that our bodies are wired for sex and our teenage years are actually a transition to sexual maturity, which means that teens will experiment with sex regardless of what we tell them and how much we seem to mean it.
Trying to stop some 40 million years of evolution with a pious message that will fall flat in reality, is like standing in front of an oncoming tsunami and expecting it to stop and turn back into the ocean because you give it an angry glare. And not only does the abstinence-only crowd propose we do just that, but they also tend to counter all the evidence that their approach isn’t working by telling us to just keep glaring with more anger. As we realize that sex is a natural part of our lives and a good sex life outside of moralistic legalities is actually healthy and normal, social conservatives incessantly complain about how our culture is sliding into a spiral of moral decay, coming up with ever more fanciful gloom and doom tales that are less reflective of reality than their vivid paranoia.
But where their denial of reality turns into a public menace is their insistence on trying to badmouth contraception. In their bizarre view, pre-marital sex should be awkward, messy and downright dysfunctional. But when teenagers are able to use condoms or birth control pills as an important safety measure against STDs and unwanted pregnancies, they panic because they can no longer control the sex lives of others in search of personal validation for their ideology. The abstinence-only activists then cast contraception as enablers of moral decay, things which help teens get away with trying to have a normal sex life. It’s basically like saying that a car with seat belts, airbags and crumple zones encourages people to drive recklessly. And their effort in infesting sex education classes with pseudoscience and religious overtones is helping to reduce the number of teens using contraception, opening the door to more pregnancies and infections. They’re slowly but surely achieving the exact opposite of their goal, then proclaiming the woefully ineffective curriculum they advocate is the only way to fix the problem they created in the first place.
In the real world, outside of the noxious and often hypocritical moralistic haze, we have two options. We could give teenagers the tools to protect themselves and recognize that we should be teaching them what sex really is and what it entails. Or we could scare them, lie to them and pretend they’re not going to go out and have sex even though they do anyway. If you’ve ever spend any time in rural areas, you’d note that places without a lot to do and filled with religious, abstinence-only zealots, also tend to have plenty of teen pregnancies and quite a few sexually active young people. The only difference from an urban setting is that the sex is never discussed so the moralists can pretend it’s not happening right under their noses while they’re powerless to stop it.