"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day



I was raised in the South, as a member of the Church of Christ, and thus I grew up with a very particular, and very conservative, view point on sex. But then I went away to college, became somewhat involved in the gay community, and began working with HIV patients, which lends itself to a very particular, and somewhat liberal, view point on sex. I remember very well how terribly weird it was to sit down at my desk, at my first real job and find a huge basket of condoms sitting next to me; my disappointment the day I learned that abstinence education does not work; my overwhelming embarrassment the first time one of my patients told me in detail about the sex she was having with her neighbor. But like so many issues, I believe that having been raised on one side and having come to live on the other has greatly increased the depth of my understanding of this issue.

There was an article in the New York Times this week about how abstinence-only education may be on its way out. This is sad for the call of many religious groups, but I can tell you, in capital letters, that IT DOES NOT WORK. Teaching children nothing about sex, other than the fact that they shouldn't have it until some point far in the future when they may be married, leads them to (a) have sex despite the fact that they have no education on how to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy; and (b) to feel such a sense of shame about anything sexual that it scars even their church-sanctioned relationships. And this is really just the case for a very small portion of Americans. In other cultures, things like gender roles, the power structure of familes, and educational opportunities influence people's thinking about sex and relationships, and their effects of the future. In many countries, these elements are in part responsible for the AIDS pandemic.

For much of the last decade, most of the funding the United Stated provides for AIDS prevention has gone to abstinence-only programs. For a time, the current administration forced the CDC to removed information from its Web site that sited the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of AIDS and other STIs. Many states have started cutting funding for such programs, but the federal government continues to spend money on something that has proven ineffective and impractical time and again. The issue has now become another part of political debate in the upcoming presidential elections. And many researchers have found abstinence education to be the wrong direction to move in the future, and have stated that this is dangerous and "morally problematic", but it has persisted for many years against the better judgment of experts. Maybe now is the time to put a stop to it.

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