Judy Carne, on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: "The film Romeo and Juliet features a love scene between two 14-year-olds. You have to be 21 to see it." Which wasn't true, exactly Zeffirelli's film was never rated X, or even R, in the States but it summed up the situation nicely: in 1968, when it was released, schools tended to tiptoe around the question of whether the youngsters ever actually Did The Deed, presumably because they didn't want their students to get any idea that this sort of thing was acceptable. Teenagers, of course, have other ideas:

According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of AIDS cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

"It is disheartening that after years of improvement with respect to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we now see signs that progress is stalling and many of these trends are going in the wrong direction," said Janet Collins, a CDC director.

Good word, "disheartening." It goes with having your hopes dashed. And some people's hopes evidently were dashed:

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values, which describes itself as a supporter of traditional marriage and "against liberal education and cultural forces", said the abstinence message is overwhelmed by a culture obsessed with sex.

I'd find that a tad more plausible were there any cultures not obsessed with sex that could be used for control groups.

As a general rule, somewhere around 95 percent of teenagers tend to think of themselves as basically indestructible. (The other 5 percent are either contemplating their own destruction, or actively pursuing it.) You can yell at them all you want that actions have consequences, but who's going to believe it?

Me, I blame Bush. Neil Bush, that is. Silverado Savings and Loan in Denver, which went broke in 1988, of which Bush was the most visible member of the board, managed to drain $1.3 billion from the taxpayers. Bush himself had to pony up, oh, $50,000 in fines for his part in the debacle, and was barred from the banking business thereafter, a move roughly equivalent to revoking Willie Sutton's overdraft protection.

Were this situation unique, it would be deplorable enough. But twenty years later, on George W. Bush's watch, a whole new generation of bankers managed to pull a fast one on the American taxpayer, a problem the Obama administration subsequently greeted with shrugs: taxpayers, in Washington's view, have no rights anyone is bound to respect. And with TARP being thrown over everything in sight, it's only getting worse.

So I'm not buying "obsessed with sex," as our American Values spokesperson says. If we're obsessed with anything these days, it's avoiding consequences.

Once upon a time, maybe 30 years ago, the District of Columbia went on a let's-discourage-them kick. I remember seeing a reproduction of one poster, of an appallingly-young girl holding a newborn, captioned: IT'S LIKE BEING GROUNDED FOR 18 YEARS. Didn't work so well.

I discussed this matter with Left Coast Cowboy Lisa, who is generally sensible on these matters, and she said:

I can remember, in the course of High School Sex Ed, and lots of talk about condoms and what they protect you from, being COMPLETELY PUT OFF SEX! So it worked as an abstinence program for me.

I went to a Catholic school, where the very mention of condoms was grounds for suspension. Then again, I'm quite a bit older than she is.

And all else being equal, perhaps it's better to err on the side of more information:

During the Nineties (Clinton era) when lots of time and attention and money was spent on sex ed programs especially in inner schools teen birthrates and disease rates dropped. Even among the traditionally "difficult" group to reach, inner city Black kids. Once those programs were scrapped in favor of abstinence, in the Bush era, disease and pregnancy rates have climbed steadily.

The ever-popular Thou Shalt Not, reportedly none too effective in 16th-century Verona, is apparently none too effective in 21st-century America. I keep hearing of abstinence programs that are supposed to work, but they seem to be few and far between. And what high-school student hasn't imagined being a star-cross'd lover? Well, not me: when my school worked up R and J, I wound up playing Mercutio. Which, if you've followed this site for any length of time, shouldn't surprise you in the least.

The Vent

  1 August 2009

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 Copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Hill