Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mandating Abstinence: The Nanny State Strikes Again

Dave Diamond has already touched on this here, but I thought I’d add a little more.

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) has released a statement that discusses in shock-ridden tone how many high schoolers in Wisconsin are having sex. The info Lazich uses comes from a survey of all high school students in the state taken during the 2004-2005 school year.

I was teaching Social Studies at Monona Grove High School when this survey was distributed to students. The most frequent question asked before and after they took it was, “Why are we taking this?” I told them it was so that some people could get outraged by the results and make a big fuss about how much they were having sex and drinking. They all chuckled a bit, and nodded their heads in agreement.

Kids are used to such treatment – having their lives broken down into convenient numbers so that people can easily rant about how bad and misguided they are.

But, to be quite honest, upon reading the results of the survey, I was surprised how few of our high schoolers have had sex. Lazich cites in her press statement the cumulative figure of 40%, but it’s useful to break that down by grade level.

The full results of the survey can be found here – sexual behavior findings start on page 16.

Predictably, the percentage increases significantly between 9th and 12th grades. Freshmen were at 21%, sophomores at 32%, juniors at 51%, and seniors at 59%. By far, the biggest jump in there is between 10th grade and 11th grade, which is also when most teens get a significant boost in independence through the ability to drive.

Based on the results of the survey, all-in-all, it seems to me sex education in Wisconsin is working quite well. 93% of high schoolers claim they have been taught about ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs in school (whereas only 48% recall ever discussing the issue with their parents or other adult family members). And out of the 40% who have had sex, 78% used reliable protection against pregnancy the last time they did (the survey didn’t ask about previous incidents).

That means 9% of high schoolers in the state reported having what could be considered unsafe sex -- the same percentage that reported using cocaine and half the percentage of those who reported seriously considering suicide within the last 12 months (18%).

Granted, the percentages on sexual behavior always could be better, but I think it’s clear schools in Wisconsin are on the right track with their sex education programs (the same can’t be said for all families).

Nevertheless, last August, Lazich introduced legislation that would require that abstinence is taught as the preferred method of behavior in sex education classes across the state (initially Lazich also wanted the bill to require that more instructional time was spent on abstinence than forms of safe-sex, but that provision was cut in the Senate).

Having passed both the Senate and the Assembly this legislative term, the bill is currently at the desk of Governor Doyle.

If Doyle signs it, do you think conservatives will start breathing down his neck about supporting more state mandates and furthering the reach of our dreaded Nanny State?

(Image courtesy of Fraley's Dailytakes.)


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