Monday, December 29, 2008

Futility defined

As the fans of the Detroit Lions wake up this morning, they are reminded in every way possible about the accomplishment of their hometown team. The 2008 version of one of the original franchises in the National Football League managed to go a whole season without winning a game. They had opportunities, more notably a two touchdown lead on the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter of their second match up over a month ago, but like the industry that defines The Motor City, they managed to squander it with devastating consequences.

This was an achievement that took years to develop, like drafting a wide receiver several years in a row in the first round. Matt Millan, the designer of the current squad as the team's general manager, was given his walking papers earlier in the season, and there may be more shake-ups before the Super Bowl takes place this February.

But at least their futility did not cost nearly $2 billion. That distinction goes to the abstinence-only movement, of which I was a participant of for two years. A thorough study released this morning showed that teens who took an abstinence pledge were as likely to lose their virginity as a teen who did not. Even more disturbing is that the majority of those that took the pledge, when they engaged in sexual activity, they did it without protection.

This is troubling because of the federal restrictions of the program, which cost the American taxpayers $200 million a year for the last seven years, the mention of contraception as an alternative is forbidden. As an instructor, I got that, but as a public servant who grew up in the home of a health educator, the numbers now show that was not the best approach.

Many in the abstinence movement say that to mention contraception would send mixed messages, but it is the federal government that is sending that mixed message. While spending $200 million on abstinence-only programs, the same government is spending an equal amount on providing condoms to health departments and other related organizations.

The solution is a comprehensive sex education program that makes abstinence the first option, but also teaches teens strategies to deal with sex responsibly, like how to properly use a condom and how to talk your way out of situations. The program I was in used scientific data to make the case for abstinence and I believe that is still effective in a comprehensive strategy. If one wants to use a moral approach, good luck, because you cannot legislate or mandate morality, especially in the developing mind of a teenager.

Peer pressure may make a teen take a pledge and that same peer pressure will make them break it.

The new Obama administration has promised to address this issue and I hope that a rational discussion will ensue to develop a strategy to address teen sexual behavior in a realistic, but effective way. The administration cannot solve the problem of the Detroit Lions however.