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Sex Education and the GOP Ticket

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Governor Sarah Palin is a woman of many interests. We've seen her lean out of an airplane to gleefully shoot wolves, and we've delighted in her ability to catch and gut a fish. And now, thanks to a recent L.A. Times article, we also know that she loves to gamble.

No, not gambling of the Vegas variety, sipping drinks and mindlessly pulling a lever. I'm talking about gambling on the possibility that by denying teenagers accurate, honest sex education, they will magically decide to suppress their raging hormones and stay chaste until they get married.

At first glance, it may seem as though Palin is on the fence about the subject. According to the Times, a Palin spokesperson confirmed that the governor stands by the following remarks she made in 2006:

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“I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues."

Weeks prior, though, she claimed to support abstinence-only programs, and later said that "the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”

I have to wonder -- in terms of sex, what exactly does "explicit" include? Some might consider it explicit, for instance, to discuss female and male anatomy using proper terms. We're reminded year after year, courtesy of Eve Ensler, that plenty of people in this country find the word "vagina" to be a personal affront, yet the term would be a fairly critical component of any competent sex education curriculum.

If, because of muddled reasoning like Palin's, kids aren't hearing about contraception explicitly (read: clearly) at school or at home, the problem is that there likely won't be any "other avenues" for them to come across. And when left to their own devices, teens have been known to propagate pregnancy prevention "facts" that range from the silly (i.e. jumping up and down after sex) to the downright dangerous (i.e. douching with bleach).

The good news, though, is that even if Palin remains ambiguous, her running mate John McCain stands firm:

McCain believes abstinence is “the only safe and responsible alternative.” “To do otherwise is to send a mixed signal to children that, on the one hand they should not be sexually active, but on the other, here is the way to go about it,” according to a statement provided by the campaign.

I would counter that the mixed signal is trying to convince teens that sex doesn't exist even as every fiber in their adolescent bodies is screaming otherwise. Besides, it's already been tried. The Bush administration has steadily increased the money spent on Title V, which federally funds abstinence-only programs, over the past eight years, to no avail. In 2006, a steady, 14-year decline in teen pregnancy came to an abrupt halt, and the programs then began to face off with reports like the following, from the Guttmacher Institute:
A long-awaited, congressionally mandated evaluation of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs has found that they have no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior.

In other words, they're a waste of time and money, neither of which California has in any sort of abundance at the moment. Our budget deficit makes the news daily, and Los Angeles County's teen birth rate ranks 22nd out of 58 in the state (with one being the highest...that's you, Mono County).

To solve the problem, an overwhelming 89% of California parents support comprehensive sex education in schools. That means that four more years of the same misguided use of federal funds, which is apparently what the McCain/Palin ticket promises, would simultaneously flush money down the drain and lead teens to take huge risks with their health, all while remaining staggeringly out of touch with popular opinion.

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If that's what they mean by "maverick," then I guess they're right on track.

Photo by bitmask via Flickr