Things To Act
Saturday, February 14, 2004
I Hope "Sex" Didn't Just Become a Search-Engine Keyword For This Blog
More reader reactions, with responses.

"Which is worse (since you raised this subject anyway)--one who sins without premeditation (in moments of weakness), or one who plans to be ready just in case?"

I rather prefer leaving that one up to God to judge, though in general premeditated sin is pretty bad. I suspect that individual circumstances would play a considerable role.

"The problem with teaching "safe sex" is that it unfortunately legitimatizes the very sins we are trying to teach youth to avoid at all costs."

I’m not sure that this always follows. In large part, it depends on the manner of the teaching and the previous rapport established between the parent and the child (in a parent-child setting). There’s a big difference between ‘here’s a condom to keep you out of trouble’ and ‘chances are you’re going to hear people talking about birth control, and a lot of what they’re going to say may not be true. So let’s talk about what really is true, and what we believe about the consequences.’ In any event, if the proper groundwork is laid by the parent, the kid is already going to realize the seriousness of chastity independent of the temporal consequences, and will generally, I suspect, find knowing more useful than not in combating the misinformation put out by the world.

The school setting, of course, is different. To me, the chain of reasoning still goes something along the lines of:
*It may be the appropriate role of the schools to educate children about reproduction, if parents aren’t going to. (This is obviously highly controversial right here, but everything I’ve seen suggests that a nontrivial number of parents aren’t teaching their kids anything, and I’m inclined to think that formal instruction will lead to fewer problems than peer instruction).
*Due to cultural changes, a nontrivial number of adolescents are going to fornicate. Regardless of one’s moral beliefs, this is going to create serious public policy problems due to both STDs and out-of-wedlock births. Social science is pretty clear that children raised out of marriage are at greater risk. We are also not well-served by sickness and death among youth, regardless of their morals. Thus, some sort of governmental intervention may be necessary.
*If we have a fairly cheap method of cutting into the STD and OOWB problem, it may make sense to make it available, particularly if we add in a strong discouragement of any premarital sexual activity at all. However, knowing that some will disregard this counsel, we make available ways to cut into the resulting problems.
*Reaching this point, the argument seems to be that at the margin will be some adolescents who will take the official information about preventing out-of-wedlock birth and STDs to be official sanction, and thus some youth will fornicate who, in the absence of government information, would not have. This would seem to be the sticking point to sex ed in schools. However, it would seem to be necessary to know how many youth would be convinced by the same instruction not to be sexually active, and how much other harm would be prevented by this course of action. At this point, however, I lean toward more knowledge being more desirable, as adolescents can repent of their own mistakes, but innocent children shouldn’t have to deal with their (unwed) parents’ mistakes.

"In everything we do we teach something:

If we go on vacation, we teach the children the importance of family. We also teach them to value fun over work.
If we don't go on vacation because finances are tight, we teach them thrift and carefulness in providing for the family. We also teach them that family doesn't matter as much as they thought.
If we go on vacation even though finances are tight, we teach them the importance of family; we may also teach financial irresponsibility (at the same time).

The problem with teaching "safe sex" for the unmarried is that despite our best efforts, we not only teach them how to avoid other problems, but we also undermine our efforts to teach them chastity. Which is worse? I admit there is a problem. But the solution proposed seems to be little better than the problem."

The one point here that I don’t think I already addressed above is that I don’t it’s a bad thing to teach people how to avoid problems, particularly when the problems in question affect other people, often innocent. Punishment belongs to God—our job is to relieve suffering and encourage righteousness through persuasion, not punishment. We would look on someone who biologically engineered a new fatal STD as morally repugnant, regardless of whether it scared some people into being more chaste in action (if not in desire). Thus, I find the appeal to fear in not teaching children about modern contraception to be an unjustifiable argument. As someone on Nauvoo said, I’d prefer that they live long enough to repent.

Another analogy. Suppose parents who don’t believe in keeping guns are trying to decide what to teach their children about guns. The easy answer would be to simply not ever bring the subject up—except that kids will eventually learn about guns anyway from the surrounding culture, and may someday be in a situation where their lack of authoritative knowledge will be dangerous. Thus, even the most anti-Second Amendment parents should still probably see that their children learn such basics as ‘always treat any gun as loaded’ and ‘never point a gun at a person you don’t fully intend to shoot.’ Additional facts, such as how lethal guns are and what will and won’t kill someone, could conceivably lead a child to eventually want to use a gun to kill someone—but it seems just as likely that he might use his knowledge to deter a peer from reckless action. I’m inclined to think that in almost everything, knowledge (including knowing how to use that knowledge) is better than ignorance.

Ultimately, I agree that the decisions of how and what to teach children are not easy (and my public policy preferences are certainly open to change, if I find more compelling evidence to think differently). However, if we build on a strong moral foundation, any knowledge we give our children should be used for good, if they are inherently good.

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