Mathematica Report Part 2: Preliminary Notes
Here are my initial impressions, with the original quotations in numbered form, and then an exegesis (NB: all page numbers are given as the pages in the PDF, not the actual report pagination):
- high-risk girls only
- programs did not simply raise the likelihood that youth believed any disease was transmitted sexually; rather, they had a beneficial long-term impact on STD identification (pg 19)
- In addition, a sizeable fraction in both [the program and control] groups, about one-in-seven, reported being unsure about condoms' effectiveness for preventing HIV. (20)
- Program group youth were less likely than control group youth to report that condoms are usually effective at preventing STDs; and they were more likely to report that condoms are never effective at preventing STDs. For example, 21 percent of program group youth reported that condoms never prevent HIV, compared to 17 percent of control group youth. For herpes and HPV, 23 percent of program group youth reported that condoms are never effective, compared to 15 percent of control group youth. (20)
- One-quarter of sexually active adolescents nationwide have an STD, and many STDs are lifelong viral infections with no cure. (23)
- STDs have been linked to infertility, miscarriages, cervical cancer, increased HIV risk, and numerous other health problems. Their cost is estimated at several billion dollars annually. (26)
- A fifth program Heritage Keepers in South Carolina (31)
This term has not yet been adequately defined. What constitutes a "high-risk girl" for the purposes of this study? Girls who are at high risk of becoming sexually active outside the "accepted standard" of mutually monogamous sexual activity inside marriage (see the definition of abstinence-only education given in the Title V regs)? Girls who are at high risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases? Girls who are at high risk of becoming young or unmarried mothers? While those groups may overlap somewhat (this is basic Venn diagram stuff, keep up with me), there are large areas where the three groups are mutually exclusive.
I certainly qualify as someone who was at high risk of engaging in sexual activity outside the bounds of either monogamous or marital relationships (as I'm unmarried and polyamorous and knew that I was likely to remain so for a long time even before I started having sex), but I waited until I was 18 -- a legal adult in my jurisdiction -- to begin having sex, have never contracted an STI, aside from swapping a pesky candida* infection back and forth with one long-term, monogamous partner, and I have also never been pregnant, thank goodness.
I'm not even going to go into how replete with assumed heterosexism this entire report is. In most jurisdictions, teaching that the "accepted standard" is sex only within marriage means that gay people must either remain chaste or marry opposite-sex partners. The heavy emphasis on accidental pregnancy seems to exclude the possibility of lesbian activity as well.
This is actually a positive thing. Knowing what STDs are out there and so on, is generally a good idea. Nothing much to say here, except that I imagine a good programme of comprehensive sex ed that takes into account the reality of premarital sex, would probably accomplish much the same thing. Remind me to come back and harsh on the "accepted standards" thing a bit; it reminds me just a little too much of those behaviour-training films from the 1950s for comfort, and I would also argue that those terms reflect ideational standards (for some people) rather than "expected" standards. (Whose expectations?)
This represents a serious failure of education. Note that in the study, the "control" group is not necessarily receiving comprehensive sex ed. I have to wonder if this statistic represents the triumph of the right-wing anticontraception meme that condoms do not, in fact, reduce or prevent HIV transmission. I am not going to go into details here; perhaps someone with more biology background could do it for me?
In other words, the Waxman report that showed misinformation, scientific inaccuracies, and outright lies in some abstinence-only education curricula holds true for the curricula reported on here as well. The net effect of inculcating these beliefs, in short, that condoms don't prevent STDs (and that HIV statistic is particularly pernicious, will someone please write about the biomechanics of how condoms prevent HIV transmission?!), will likely be to reduce condom use in the target youth population, at least the ~50% of it that hasn't, as of the release of the report, yet had sex. I can almost follow the thought process entirely: It doesn't matter what I do, I can't prevent getting an STD, so why should I care about trying?
I do not know where they're getting this statistic, since it isn't sourced, nor what they're classing as an STD, either. It seems like an incredibly high number to me, but I'm not inclined at the moment to go chasing it down. (Note: This is not an argument from incredulity; this is merely noting that I'm skeptical of the authors' intentions in stating an improbable-looking, unsourced statistic, given the provenance of the study and the subject matter, especially given the recent tendencies on the part of policy-makers to insist that the facts are irrelevant in policy decisions.)
This is an interesting juxtaposition, and an interesting ordering of list items. We can generally assume from basic rhetorical principles of saliency and importance, that an author making a list will front- and end-load the list with the most important items, for greatest rhetorical impact. So what does that say about the writer of the study, that the list items closest to the head of the list are "infertility" and "miscarriages" and the item at the end of the list is "numerous other health problems," where the two items I would consider to be most severe in impact -- cervical cancer, and HIV risk, both of which can and do kill you (and are proven consequenses of STD infection, rather than merely "linked to" it)**, are buried in the middle?
I also find it interesting that the very next sentence discusses the "cost" of these various risks, since "cost" is not generally a primary concern (although it is legitimately an important secondary concern) when discussing health policy issues. Also, "cost" is not adequately defined here, either. Is this "cost" in terms of the monetary value of healthcare services provided to treat/ameliorate these conditions? "Cost" as in lost productivity, lost wages, lost potential earnings, what? (Are you noticing a lot of painfully vague terminology in this report? I know I sure am.)
Now that is an interesting choice of nomenclature, particularly juxtaposed with the location, and the methodological notes that the study population was skewed in favour of low-income girls of colour (33). Why does it put me immediately in mind of the Heritage Front meets the Promise Keepers?
I think I'm going to stop there for now, as it occurs to me that the next item in my list of quotations discusses a curriculum called "Vessels of Honor" [sic], and there's probably an entire blog post just in that eight lines or so alone.
* A yeast/jock itch infection, which, if you're in a sexual relationship with someone and one of you gets it, you both should treat yourselves.
** After all, we know a lot of people like to "link" breast cancer to abortion, and Plan B to abortion, when there's no actual connection between either of those pairs of things.