Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mathematica Report, Part 3: Sleazy Sources and Self-Sufficiency

In Part 1 of this series, I advanced the radical hypothesis that one of the aims of abstinence-only education is to inculcate the belief, crudely put, "No fucking until you can afford it." In Part 2, I looked at some of the language used in the beginning sections of the report.

While I was taking down my notes, I happened to notice a passing reference that one of the "tenth grade program[s referenced in the study] also featured slide show materials from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH), which provided information on STDs and instructed students that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid contracting them." (34, as noted previously, all page numbers reflect the pages in the PDF, not the report pagination, for easier reference).

That institute name caught my eye, and got mental alarm bells ringing way in the back of my head. For some reason or other, the juxtaposition of "Medical" and "Institute" (hm, I tried to type "Mental" there; Freudian slip?) makes it seem as though they're desperately pushing for credibility in nomenclature. So who are these crazy MISHed up folks?

Well, according to their own website, MISH "founded to confront the global epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)." Interestingly enough, though, the Google search result page says:

In case you can't read that, it says "A nonprofit scientific, educational organization to confront the global epidemics of nonmarital pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease..." I decided to include a screenshot, because I'm assuming they track statistics and do vanity searches every so often, and I suspect that once they figure out that their Google search result text drops the dime on them, it won't remain as it appears now for very long. (And check out their Executive and Board of Directors while you're there.)

So let's break that down a bit. According to MISH, there is a "global epidemic of nonmarital pregnancy." Do you smell something a bit patriarchal there? I do, I see a couple of male doctors trying to dictate that if women have children, they should do so only within legal marriage...

A little further poking turns up even more evidence of the same:
The healthiest sexual activity is intentional, mutually agreeable, and mutually pleasurable in the context of a respectful, lifelong, mutually monogamous relationship. The healthiest sexual activity occurs between adults who are mature physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. They are financially self-sufficient and...
And hold on a minute. We just hit paydirt. Financially self-sufficient.

They claim to be interested in promoting optimal sexual health, but their definition of optimally sexually healthy does not include anyone on an economically unsound footing, among other things.

It continues:
...prepared to handle the results of sexual activity. ... For adolescents: delay of sexual debut, ideally until committing to a life-long mutually monogamous relationship such as marriage

For adults: abstinence outside of a life-long mutually monogamous relationship such as marriage

(Personally, for myself, I don't quite understand how you're supposed to have a pleasurable and mutually-satisfactory sexual relationship if you're also expected to have only one sexual partner in your lifetime and commit to that partner before beginning sexual experimentation. To use the same analogy as some other bloggers, that's a little bit like getting your driver's license without ever having been behind the wheel of a car, and then having your first real driving experience be on a ten-lane superhighway.)

According to SIECUS, MISH's study on abstinence-only education
cites mostly unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies to argue that abstinence-only education has a positive impact on teens’ sexual behavior. This contradicts overwhelming evidence from peer-reviewed evaluations of sexuality education programs that show that age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education programs that include information about contraception as well as promote abstinence are the most effective form of sexuality education for young people.

A report by the Guttmacher Institute says that the President of MISH wrote a
monograph on condoms and STDs, billed as "the most comprehensive scientific review of the science on condom effectiveness to date," MISH provides an analysis of the workshop report that, while factually correct, nonetheless asserts that condoms do not make sex "safe enough" to warrant their promotion for STD prevention [shouldn't that be up to the interested sexually-active parties to decide? -- ?!]. According to MISH, because condoms are "not foolproof" and marriage is "generally safe" from STD infection [except for all those people who get STDs from their spouses, but we won't mention them -- ?!], the government should be only promoting marriage and abstinence outside of marriage for STD prevention.
In other words, these are the same people who persistently keep their heads in the sand about the realities of human sexual behaviour, and insist that other people should submit to their control based on their unenforceable and impractical codes of conduct. They're also the same people who are looking to remove the "C" from the "ABC" HIV-prevention model, thereby condemning untold numbers of people to death.

Have I mentioned yet that this stuff falls neatly within the literal definition of evil?

Not only that, but let's look at some of the people this model excludes:

  • gays and lesbians, who cannot legally marry in many jurisdictions, unless they marry someone of the opposite sex;

  • many disabled people, who cannot find or retain work, and are therefore not "financially self-sufficient";

  • poor people in general;

and anybody else who can't, for one reason or another, get legally married within the jurisdictions they consider their purview.

I suspect too that part of the heavy emphasis on the "no fucking until you can afford it" message is because of the subtle (or not so subtle) anticontraception mentality of the writers and promoters of abstinence-only curricula. What they mean by "wait until you are financially self-sufficient before having sex" is "wait until you are financially self-sufficient before having children," which is not at all the same thing.* However, they would like you to believe, and to act, as though it is.

* Incidentally, there is some evidence that in some cases, early childbirth has little impact on later educational and financial attainment, although I'm having trouble locating the source at the moment. I'm not at all against the idea that one should have enough money to raise kids before having them, but it isn't up to me to enforce that idea on everyone, nor to attempt to deny people the opportunity to have children if they wish based on the contents of their literal or metaphorical bank accounts...


Blogger olvlzl said...

Interrobang, if you would be so kind as to e-mail me, I'd like to ask you a few questions.

8:22 PM  
Blogger olvlzl said...

Interrobang, you or someone using your name made an attack on me on another blog yesterday. I have written a response which I will post on my blog. If it was you, please let me know, if it was someone who stole your name I will be very pleased to remove your name from my response. After nine months of putting up with this kind of attack I am not going to be called a liar in public without responding. So, please let me know.

8:57 AM  
Blogger olvlzl said...

Note: This has been cleared up by Interrobang and I withdraw any statements I've made on the matter.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi interrobang,

An interesting set of posts on 'abstinence only' . I wanted to leave some ideas and maybe start a debate.

I do agree with you that there should be no censure on the disabled or the poor having children. But when abortion and contraception was introduced, financial arguments were used (and are still used) as part of the case for contraception. No longer would poor families be cursed with too many children and not enough money to feed them. Every child would be a wanted child.

Realities of sexual behaviour.

It is a reality that people sleep around a lot more than they used to, when contraception was not available. It is also a reality that there is a higher level of STDs to match. It's obvious that the 'safe sex' message is not getting through. But I don't think this is because of abstinence ideologists. They simply do not get the press that you would need to put this message across. If you watch the telly you'll get your answer. It regularly portrays people having unprotected sex on impulse, and makes out that this is mature sophisticated behaviour. Nobody ever catches an STD, or has to attend a clinic to check for an STD, unless of course, it's AIDS' which is far more dramatic than old run of the mill chlamydia. Anyone who is married, is protrayed as boring and usually has something faintly socially unacceptable about them (bad teeth, no make up, frumpy cardigans etc). If we're serious about tackling STDs, isn't it time they made an appearance on mainstream telly and not on stupid public info adverts that are put on at times that noone is watching them?

Do you really think that the reason that STDs are increasing, is because people don't know about condoms or have qualms about using them? They are in every chemist, public toilet, doctors surgery, supermarket, student start pack. What more are you going to do to increase awareness of them? isn't time to admit that condoms of themselves, are not solving the STD problem and that we actually need to ask questions about why sleeping around is portrayed as smart, especially when diseases like chlamydia are at epidemic proportions (they reckon one in ten women at the mo has it).


There are many reasons why AIDs spread in Africa and the main reason for its spread, was war. If you have war in a country, there is disorder. You cannot set up clinics or medical schemes. Supplies of medicine are interrupted. Families get broken up, mensfolk get killed and women turn to prostitution to make money. There are large groups of aggressive male soldiers travelling round the country, carrying the disease with them as they go. Who is one of the biggest supplier of arms to Africa? the UK. If we're going to do something serious about AIDs in Africa we need to do a whole lot in the peace department before we do anything else.

You mention the ABC method that was used by Uganda (abstinence,faithfulness, condoms). Uganda was unique in its approach to tackling AIDs in that it made a value judgement about sleeping around (that it should be discouraged) and promoted that idea along with condom distribution. Other African countries had gone for distribution, but had not bothered about tackling the culture. It cut its AIDs rate in half from 17% to 8.5%.

There are major problems in using a method of birth control as a method of disease control in Africa.
In Africa, where there is no NHS and limited medical treatment, one way of keeping yourself alive is to have children who will look after you and earn money when you are sick. So promoting a means of birth control as a means of disease control is going to be a non starter.
2. Africa is severely underpopulated and needs children.Introducing mainstream contraception western style just now, would be disastrous. We need to teach other ways of avoiding AIDS and we should also be providing AZT drugs to all pregnant mothers, so that their children will be HIV free.

In countries where clinics and medical supplies are limited and erratic, there has to be alternatives to medical contraception. The west also has a nasty habit of dumping less than suitable supplies on Africa;with one consignment of condoms some months back, the condoms were perforated. There was a million condoms in the consignment!

Poverty has to be tackled. Women often sell themselves to earn money and this cycle has to be broken. One small project that is gaining momentum is called Mary's Meals (a Scottish guy set it up). He worked out that it cost £5 to feed a child for a year. So he got contributions to provide the meals and they what they did was to set the feeding programme up at the local schools. That way, the child came along to the school to get the meal, got fed and got an education. It meant their parents would be encouraged to send them, because they would not have to find a meal for them. It also broke the vicious circle for AIDs orphans, who end up selling themselves in return for food and end up catching AIDs themselves.

Droit de signeur.

This is prevalent in Africa, where the chief of the tribe sleeps with any woman who is getting married, before her husband does. If he has HIV, then he can infect a whole village. This practice has to be done away with; condoms are not enough here. This is an abusive type of behaviour that is violent and dominating towards women.

Interrobang, this is a very long way of saying that neither abstinence or condoms is the answer on its own. I think there's need for more intelligent debate on this subject, which is why i've answered. Hope you find it interesting.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I'm not sure why you have devoted the vast majority of your comment to Africa, owing to the fact that this series is about abstinence-only education in the United States, and the ABC thing was a passim reference to a programme that had been implemented successfully in terms of reducing HIV/STIs in general. (I also don't agree with you that the Ugandan ABC implementation made a "value judgement" about "sleeping around"; my experience with materials from the program was that the message was "If you're going to have sex, do it using condoms," which is a reasonable thing to say under any circumstances.) It seems to me as though you are setting up an enormous strawman argument here, or else you're distracted from the main point.

Further, I don't agree with you that the abstinence-only movement has very little traction and no political influence, contrastively with portrayals of sex in the media. You're obviously from the UK. Are you aware that the majority of school districts in the US now teach abstinence-only curricula in place of comprehensive sexual education, and that various government moneys directed to education are being spent to promote it, and further that the language quoted in the first part of this series, from Title V, Section 510 (b)(2)(A-H) of the Social Security Act (P.L. 104-193), is basically mandating what abstinence-only education must teach (that is, that "one of the goals of abstinence-only education is to '[t]each the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity'") by legislation?

I'd also disagree with you on the availability of condoms in the US, partially from personal experience. I'm not from there, either; I'm Canadian, but I've basically lived in the US for a couple of years, intermittently, and I think I'm damn well qualified enough to make a judgement on how available they are, which is to say less so than here (and, I'm presuming there, too).

I'm also kind of wondering at your invocation of the discredited notion of droit du seigneur in an African context. That's a new one on me (got a cite?), and it smacks of racism, frankly. Colour me skeptical until you pony up with some evidence.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is called Womens' Bodies as a battleground' a document by Amnesty International.The relevant section is on p25, although the whole document's worth reading.

Also,have a look at this article on Malawi from the Open Democracy website;

There's plenty of other references on droit de seigneur in Africa if you google it.

Fair dos, you are mostly talking about the US; I thought when you mentioned ABC that you were talking about Uganda's 'Abstinence,Faithfullness,Condoms' programme. I know a bit about Africa (some of my friends work out there) which is why I talked about it.

8:13 AM  

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