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A "nuanced" view

Education

A front-page article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "A nuanced view of abstinence" ("nuance": appreciation of subtle shades of meaning, feeling, etc.).

The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of four groups of 662 inner city Philadelphia sixth and seventh graders (average age: 12 years old) as follows: one group was placed in an abstinence-only program; a second group received a comprehensive course instructing them in both abstinence and condom use; a third group was exposed to counsel on safe sex; a fourth set of kids, the control group, did not discuss sex but studied nutrition. Most workshops took place in four-hour sessions over two Saturdays, and researchers followed the lives of the participants for two years afterward.

Results in the abstinence-only group: 95 of the 165 youngsters had been virgins when the program began. Of these, 33 percent engaged in sex in the next two years.

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Results in the comprehensive (abstinence and condom) group: 41 percent of the original virgins had sex in those two years.

Results in the nutrition group: 47 percent went on to have sex in the two years.

An advocacy group called Abstinence Clearinghouse hailed the study as proof that "comprehensive sex ed [is] a big flop." But the punch line of the Inquirer article can be seen in the third paragraph, which begins, "Not so fast." It proceeds to whittle away at---to "nuance"--- the significance of the findings. It does so first with a baffling and nonsensical statement:

"Jemmott's study . . . examined an abstinence program that would not have qualified for federal funding during the Bush administration. Those programs required an emphasis on abstaining until marriage, whereas Jemmott's involved no preaching and no denigrating the effectiveness of contraception."

Huh? Was the abstinence-only instruction abstinence-only or wasn't it? Or was it careful to not "denigrat[e] the effectiveness of contraception"? If it was careful not to denigrate the effectiveness of contraception, how was it an abstinence-only perspective, by definition? If it was abstinence-only, what is the point of this comment?

Cheering for team abstinence was further dampened by the observation that 33 percent versus 41 percent between groups one and two (participants who went on to have sex in the two years after the Saturday school) is not statistically significant. On the other hand, 33 percent versus 47 percent for the control group is.

The reader of the Inquirer article is left "nuanced" into a stupor---by design, I would say. Here are my own reactions to the newspaper report:

  1. Let's all rend our garments in shame and throw dust on our heads that 12-year-old children are having sex.
  2. Let's all congratulate ourselves that we are such "nuanced" and sophisticated people, so able to see the varying shades of . . . the meltdown of civilization.
  3. Let's test God's ways and commands and see if they produce positive results that are statistically significant enough to meet with our approval.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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