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Monday, May 21, 2007

Saying 'no' in U.S. has political price

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that we've plunged into a candidate's premartial sexual activity with his wife as a legitimate presidential campaign issue, is there anything left that doesn't require disclosure?

How many times does the candidate and his spouse or "partner" do "it"? Mike Wallace (him again) has brought us to this idiotic state by casually asking Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney whether he and his wife, Ann, engaged in premarital sex. Romney, presented with this question on CBS' "60 Minutes," may have been the first person in the world to provide this bit of information to 14 million people. His answer was no.

Romney was asked this caught-ya-with-your pants-down question because he is a Mormon, a religion that has strictures against sex out of wedlock. As PublicEye, CBS News' watchdog, put it, Romney's answer goes to how serious a Mormon he really is and Mormonism "is an issue for many voters."

Oh, you mean as in: Lots of people have an "issue" with Mormonism because it -- as do many religions, millions of Americans and social commentators -- opposes pre- and extramarital sex.

This is a fight that a conservative candidate can't win. If he says he had premarital sex, he'll be nailed as a hypocrite because he has violated the precepts of his church. (If that reasoning is valid, then only atheists need run for president.) If he says he didn't have premarital sex, he's a hopeless, ancient moralist and, by extension, someone who would impose his religious views on the nation. (His denial also would unleash a pack of reporters trying to prove he did have premarital sex.)

In today's climate, it took guts for Romney to (admit to) (confess to) (make a clean breast of) being chaste. Like in a boys high school locker room, virginity is not a virtue to be disclosed. In fact, the words virginity and virtue are barely mentioned in the same sentence anymore.

As if to prove that virginity and abstinence are on the run, the new Democrat-controlled Congress is expected to kill a $50 million abstinence education program designed to delay sexual initiation, hopefully until marriage.

The programs include instruction on human anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, building self-esteem and other techniques that will help combat the powerful peer pressure and cultural messages that encourage early sexual activity. This Title V abstinence program shouldn't be confused with "abstinence-plus" programs, whose basic message is, "Yes, well, abstinence is a fine idea in theory, but if you can't control yourself -- and you won't be able to -- here is how to sexually gratify yourself."

You can be sure that under the Democrats, such how-to programs will continue to be funded, but not the abstinence-only programs. Republicans, when they controlled Congress, at least let the two types of programs exist side-by-side. Democrats apparently can't tolerate kids being told both sides.

Rep. John Dingell, Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Title V funding, said it should be eliminated because it is a "colossal failure." He pointed to a recent congressional study that said so.

But it's not necessarily so. Ten scientific studies, according to the Heritage Foundation, have shown that "real abstinence programs can be highly effective in reducing early sexual activity." You can find studies that support both sides of the issue; but that doesn't mean Dingell should get away with pretending that all the science is on his side.

No, the problem isn't that the abstinence programs have been a colossal failure. If they have managed to hold back even a small part of the tide of the sexualization of children, they would be a colossal success. The colossal failure has come on the part of a culture that has no problem with the sexualization of children, by, for example, flooding entertainment media with messages that not just endorse sexuality but deride abstinence.

No government program by itself can hold back the tide; the reduction in single motherhood, increases in sexually transmitted disease and all the other disastrous effects of today's sexually obsessed society can only be stemmed by a change in culture. It takes, as it were, a village.

5 comments:

Jimmy Smith said...

Bravo. I appreciate you getting this perspective out there.

-Jimmy Smith
Analytical Insigts

John said...

Dennis,

The problem with abstinence-only programs is that the failures produce illegitimate children and spread STD's. That's a heavy price that society has to pay for any failures.

It makes more sense to me that public education should cover health implications of sexual behavior, and leave the moral and emotional issues up to the parents.

The emotional cost of premarital sex is insignificant when compared to the health cost of contracting an STD, or the societal cost of illegitimate children.

Kaptajn Kold said...

If he says he didn't have premarital sex, he's a hopeless, ancient moralist

He is what he is, isn't he?

by extension, someone who would impose his religious views on the nation.

I fail to see the argument for this? Suppose it is simply the case that his beliefs are considered extreme by the majority, then wouldn't that in itself be good reason for them not to vote for him?

Republicans, when they controlled Congress, at least let the two types of programs exist side-by-side.

Seeing as it has been documented countless times that abstinence only programs do not work, it seems peculiar that a republican congress would want to fund not only one but two such programs. Aren't republicans the ones who are against squandering the tax payers money?

If they have managed to hold back even a small part of the tide of the sexualization of children, they would be a colossal success.

First of all: What has children all of a sudden got to do with the issue? I don't think any program will have much of an impact on the number of children engaging in premarital sex...

Next, there is your argument that an endeavor should be considered a 'colossal succes' no matter how marginal a fraction of it's stated goal it met. Isn't that absurdity the reason why the US won't sign the Kyoto protocol?

[...] increases in sexually transmitted disease and all the other disastrous effects of today's sexually obsessed society

Do you in all seriousness believe that a sexual obsession in todays society is the cause for increases in sexual transmitted diseases? If so, is this a purely north american phenomenon, or can the same cause be used to explain the increase of sexual diseases in, say, Africa?

I did some googling whilst writing this, and I could find no statistics confirming that there has even been a rising trend in the number of registered STDs in the US for the past 50 years. The trend if anything, has been a downwards one. I am sure you can think of any number of explanations for this. I personally think we can thank the awareness caused by this sexual 'obsession' you speak of (others might call it the sexual liberation).

I have a hard time understanding people like you. You claim that your concerns are single mothers and the spread of sexual diseases, but where I come from (Denmark), we simply educate our children about contraception and safe sex from an early age, and be done with these problems. Syfilis killed more people in Denmark in 1901 than AIDS does nowadays. Holland -- arguably one the most sexually liberal contries in the world -- has compared to the US, fewer than one tenth the number of unwanted adolescent pregnancies, percentagewise. There is just no question that safe sex education is infinitely more effective at solving these problems, as any serious study will confirm. (see for examble here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/13/AR2007041301003.html or here : http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/7351/1426

So, please enlighten me. What is the real problem with premarital sex? And what makes this problem so grave that you would neglect to give your children the information they need out of fear that it could make it worse? (Don't say that your children have the information they need. My example with Holland shows that they do clearly not)

GentDave said...

What is the goal here? Do we want to reduce the amount of teenage sex? Is that the primary goal? Or is the primary goal to reduce the sum total of negative effects on society due to teenage sex? Is the goal less STDs and unwanted pregnancies? Or is the goal just less sex? If you want less sex as the primary goal, teach abstinence only. If you want to reduce STDs and unwanted pregnancies, then teach abstinence plus.

Tom said...

You have an excellent argument here, Dennis. Fantastic. Thanks for your courage.

Great writing!