Bristol Palin on abstinence: What’s not to like?

It looks like good news:  Bristol Palin says that abstinence only for teenagers  is not  realistic.   Anecdote meets the facts and they agree! 

That’s another blow against the policy advocated by US political conservatives like her mother.   Sarah Palin  ‘oppos[d] programs that teach teenagers anything about contraception. “The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she said in answering a questionnaire from the conservative Eagle Forum during her 2006 gubernatorial race. ‘

But what’s not to like is that Bristol Palin doesn’t seem to see having sex as a matter of choice.  Opposing abstinence-only education doesn’t mean giving up on  abstinence.  In fact,  there’ s been evidence available  for decades now that ‘explicit sex education’  programs, particularly combined with discussions of health and values and access to medical treatment, can raise the average age of sexual relationships, along with lowering  pregnancy rates and disease rates. 

 Behind the scenes in this discussion, then, appears to be  another conservative fallacy:  inferring from someone’s opposing a restriction to their endorsing what’s being restricted (or endorsing the subject of the restricted discourse).  Here are two instances:  If you are pro-choice, then you are pro-abortion.  (False!)  And:  if you oppose abstinence only education, then you endorse teen promiscuity.  (False!) 

In short, B Palin’s thought may be just an instance of this fallacy:  abstinence only education fails people like me, so teens are promiscuous.  And such a thought might be one of the sad results of her education. 

OR she’s launching a gigantic excuse.  “Hey, the sex wasn’t my choice and so the pregnancy was not my fault, given my mother’s views.”   And how could she have any better understanding?

On a Completely Different Note: Kate Moss is a Woman Now.

New York Magazine quotes her as announcing ““I am a woman now. It’s true. No, honestly, I’ve never worn a bra in my life. Ever. It’s so awful, even my friends are phoning me up and saying: ‘Are you pregnant?’ And I’m like: ‘No! I just put on a couple of pounds, and they went in the right place.’ Isn’t that weird? And how perfect for lingerie. Now I can fill a B-cup.”

The London Paper Reports that ‘The supermodel, famous for her “heroin chic” skeletal frame, has shown off her “real” body in a set of raunchy new pictures, which appear to be free of airbrushing.’

So, let’s have a look at the fattie, shall we? yes let’s:

SO, what have we learnt? About Womanhood? About the value of a bra size? About what counts as extra weight?

The mind boggles.

US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform December 2004: more on the clown.

Lest you think me (simply) a mean-spirited clown-hater, I present to you a link to the December 2004 US Committee on Government Reform–Minority Staff Special Investigations Division report “The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs”.

At the request of Rep. Henry Waxman, this report is a comprehensive evaluation
of the content of the curricula used in federally funded abstinence-only education
programs.18  It is based on a review of the most popular abstinence-only curricula
used by grantees in the SPRANS program.

To conduct this evaluation, the Special Investigations Division obtained from the
Health Resources and Services Administration the program summaries of the 100
organizations that received SPRANS abstinence funding during fiscal year
2003.19  Each summary contains a proposal listing the curricula that the program
intends to use.  The Special Investigations Division then acquired each curriculum
that was listed by at least five funding recipients.20  Thirteen curricula met this
criterion (Table 1).

The 13 curricula were reviewed for scientific accuracy.  For several curricula with
a separate teacher’s guide, both the student and teacher manuals were included.
The review was intended to provide an overall assessment of the accuracy of the
curricula, not to identify all potential errors.

I had *such* trouble picking a short list of favourites. But I’ve managed to trim my list to these four excerpts, which I find particularly illustrative:

  • Several curricula cite an erroneous 1993 study of condom effectiveness that has
    been discredited by federal health officials.  The 1993 study, by Dr. Susan Weller,
    looked at a variety of condom effectiveness studies and concluded that condoms
    reduce HIV transmission by 69%. […] The Department [of Health and Human Services] cited numerous methodological problems, including the mixing of data on consistent condom use with data on inconsistent condom use, and found that Dr. Weller’s calculation of a 69% effectiveness rate was based on
    “serious error.” […] Despite these findings, several curricula refer approvingly to the Weller study. […](One) curriculum that cites Dr. Weller’s data claims:  “In heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV
    approximately 31% of the time.”
  • [One] curriculum states, “Sterility:  Studies show that five to ten percent of
    women will never again be pregnant after having a legal abortion.”  In
    fact, obstetrics textbooks teach that “[f]ertility is not altered by an elective
  • Under the heading “Abstinence-Only Curricula Treat Stereotypes about Girls and
    Boys as Scientific Fact”:  A third curriculum depicts emotions as limiting girls’ ability to focus.  It states:
    “Generally, guys are able to focus better on one activity at a time and may not
    connect feelings with actions.  Girls access both sides of the brain at once, so they
    often experience feelings and emotions as part of every situation.”
  • One curriculum presents data on HIV exposure in a misleading and confusing
    way.  The curriculum uses data from a CDC chart originally titled “HIV infection
    cases in adolescents and adults under age 25, by sex and exposure category.”94
    The original CDC chart looks at all people with HIV under 25 and categorizes them by reported route of exposure, such as heterosexual sex or intravenous drug
    use.  But the curriculum misleadingly puts the CDC data in a new chart called
    “Percent HIV Infected” and scrambles the CDC data in a way that suggests
    greatly exaggerated HIV rates among teenagers.  For example, where the CDC
    chart showed that 41% of female teens with HIV reportedly acquired it through
    heterosexual contact, the curriculum’s chart suggests that 41% of heterosexual
    female teens have HIV.95  It similarly implies that 50% of homosexual male teens
    have HIV.96

Incredible. Truly incredible. (Sorry for the formatting niggles.)

Send Out the Clowns!

We’ve had a nice (and informative!) discussion about sex education in Britain this week. But as is so often true, all roads lead back to the clown. You might remember the previous post that was devoted to Derek Dye, the abstinence-only clown. As you’ll recall, Derek juggles machetes, tells Ohio schoolchildren that premarital sex will make attainment of their dreams impossible, and has received US federal funding to the tune of $800,000.

To date, $1.5 billion of federal funding has gone to abstinence-only “education” like that from Derek.

The Obama administration is currently hammering out a budget for fiscal year 2010, and pressure is mounting for him to drop funding for abstinence-only education. Apparently Derek Dye is running scared. Let’s help chase the clown out. (It’s an inarticulate way to put it, I know. But I sort of dislike clowns in general, so I like the mental image of an angry mob chasing the clown out of town with torches and pitchforks.) Follow this link to send an email to President Obama, encouraging him to ‘zero out’ federal funding for abstinence-only programs. Like a metaphorical hormonal/barrier method double-up, you can also increase your (your children’s) protection against uninformative clowns by writing both to Obama, and to your congressperson.

Mummy goes to a conference

How does she survive?  One thing she might be able to use is a room for breastfeeding. 

Does anyone have experience organizing childcare for parents at a conference?  Any suggestions about that? 

Any other suggestions for making academic conferences more welcoming for Mummy or Daddy?

Anecdotes are welcome!

(Thanks to KA for raising the topic.)

The Chronicle of Higher Ed: framing sexual harassment

The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter just arrived on my computer and I was taken aback by the following blurb:

Notoriety Yields to Tragedy in Iowa Sexual-Harassment Cases


Arthur H. Miller, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa, was an internationally recognized expert on public-opinion polling. His colleague Mark O. Weiger was a celebrated oboist with an affinity for raunchy puns. When the professors were accused, separately, of sexually harassing students, each envisioned his career derailed, his reputation sullied. And in the span of three months, each took his own life.

The Chronicle does go to just about every US university, and to lots of sub-units within universities; it’s also read outside the States. So it seems to me worth raising some genuine questions about this blurb in the newsletter, and the report more generally.  Let me also note that as far as the reports I’ve read go, none of the allegations  has been ratified by the university.  The point here, moreover,  is certainly not to add to anyone’s miseryover this particular and awful situation.  Rather, the concern is solely with the report and its possible effects on the politics of harassment in universities.
      As the unfortunate contrast between “notorious” and “tragedy” suggests,** the report appears to be written by someone clueless about the politics of sexual harassment charges; given the author’s extensive coverage of gender in the Chronicle,  I assume the impression is misleading.  Nonetheless, it is there.   Thus the following:

Vicki L. Hesli worked with Mr. Miller for 20 years. She is the only female full professor in the political-science department and has served as its director of graduate and undergraduate studies. She would have been an obvious point of contact for any female students who felt uncomfortable with Mr. Miller. But, she says, “I never heard a complaint of any kind.”

In fact, Ms. Hesli says Mr. Miller helped jump-start her own career in the male-dominated field of political science, introducing her to important players and including her in research projects. “I probably would not be where I am in the profession were it not for him,” she says.

Unfortunately, no one with a grain of sense would go to the one senior woman in the department who was a protege of the alleged harasser. Equally sadly, the report can provide evidence for why alleging sexual harassment can provoke wide-spread hostility against the complainer, even from those quite remote from the facts.

The author claims, “The image of Mr. Miller squeezing students’ breasts and rewarding them with A’s was a stark contrast to the well-traveled, cultured man who enjoyed fine wine and good cooking, and whose teaching had been honored by the university with a photo in the library.”   Sorry, but cultured tastes in food and wine, along with legitimate power, does not necessarily make one a good person or an honorable professor.  How could you cover academia and think otherwise?!?

**The more specific “Alleged crimes eclipsed by ….” might  have set a different sense of the burden of proof.

APA Anti-Discrimination Petition

Following on from JJ’s post, please do consider signing this petition.

This petition requests that the American Philosophical Society enforce its own non-discrimination policy by ceasing to advertise jobs on behalf of colleges and universities that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, or at least indicating that the colleges and universities in question fail to comply with the non-discrimination policy.

Sex Education

This story is from a while ago (I drafted this post and forgot to publish it – oops). But it’s still relevant. The UK Government is currently debating whether or not to provide sex education to primary school children. The plan has met with criticism from so-called ‘family campaigners’, who think that educating children about sex will lead to all manner of relentless fornication. I must say, that kind of talk pisses me off. For one thing, it’s never been clear to me that being in favour of the traditional family unit, and thinking it’s a good thing to teach young people where babies come from, and how to avoid making them, are mutually exclusive. For another, have people not yet realised that no matter how carefully they closet their children, they will pick up ideas about sex from the world around them – TV, magazines, books, the internet, other children are all a source of information. Some of it better than others, which brings me to my next point. As Dr. Trevor Stammers (a GP and lecturer in healthcare ethics) has pointed out, learning the mechanics of reproduction won’t do much to combat the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases unless it is accompanied with education about sexual behaviour, sexual relationships, and so forth. Some friends of mine run a group that provides sex education of the latter sort in schools, and from what they tell me, it is sorely needed. I suspect many adults know very little about the things children (in some areas) pick up about sex and sexual relationships. In the schools where my friends work, sex is still something that boys do to girls, who let them – reluctantly enough to avoid being labelled ‘a slag’, but willingly enough to avoid being called ‘frigid’. There is still a sense that boys are entitled to girls’ bodies – which, I hasten to point out, is a double-edged sword: girlfriends are under pressure to let boyfriends ‘give it to them’; boyfriends are under pressure to ‘give it to’ girlfriends, and laughed at by their peers if they don’t. What people expect to do or have done to them – or at least what they think others expect to do or have done to them – is the stuff of pornos: oral, anal, the ‘facial’, etc. When asked to name five things that you can do with someone to show them that you love them apart from have sex, one eleven year old suggested ‘fisting’. Another child named ‘dildo’ as a form of contraception. Here’s the Virgin News report – although I suggest not reading most of the comments if you share my views on sex and have high blood pressure. Read them a while back, and still feeling stabby.

There’s a related story about sexual bullying in schools here.

Keeping yourself safe online

The issue of safety online has been brought to our attention by some of our readers recently. As you no doubt know, we prefer to blog anonymously so that what we say here doesn’t attract unwelcome attention our real life selves. But I recently came across this useful post which has more detailed information about how to keep oneself safe online.