It’s quite apparent that one of the hallmarks of devout religions is willful ignorance. This is especially true in the area of science versus religion, most notable in the creationism/evolution debate. Creationists choose to believe what is written in the Bible, willfully ignoring the facts of science. They do this because to accept those facts, they would have to jettison their beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible, especially Genesis and the theistic explanation for the beginnings of life, man and the universe.
Another area where we find this phenomena is sex. Recently a study was released and reported in the journal Reproductive Health, which strongly suggests a correlation between higher teen pregnancy rates and religiosity. The conclusion of the study?
With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception.
What does this mean? Well, it means that those states in which there is a higher incidence of religiosity also have a higher incidence of teen pregnancy. As the NY Times opined:
It could be that more religious teens are having sex than less religious teens, hence more of them become pregnant. It could also be that the percentage of teens who become pregnant in each state is similar, but the percentage who terminate in the less religious states is higher, leading to more reported pregnancies and births (although the authors did take some steps to adjust for that.) Or it could be, Strayhorn suggests, “that religious communities in the US are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself”.
I would tend to agree that it is the last. Sex education is a no-no the more fundamentally religious the family. The oddball rationale for this is that sex education encourages sexual experimentation, which totally ignores the physiological underpinnings of sex, as if teenagers would never have sex if adults didn’t implicitly sanction it. Of course, Madison Avenue and Hollywood both send the message that teenagers should be sexual animals, yet it’s education, the one mechanism we have to counter the external stimuli of print and screen, that the religious decry. Teenagers and hormones are a predictable cocktail when it comes to birth rates, and a lack of sex education naturally results in the ignorant having babies. Encouraging ignorance of sex, in effect, encourages the production of babies.
This would seem to be a no-brainer, but to people who don’t use their brains when it comes to their religious beliefs, the results are quite predictable. If the only form of sex education is the abstinence only one, not only are the parents who believe this being willfully ignorant of the consequences, they are attempting to pass on their own willful ignorance to their children.
While the conclusions are correlative and not a causative, they should still cause one to pause and consider the implications.
After eight years of faith based government, we now have a President that seems to be amenable to reason. He has the bully pulpit to affect American attitudes, even though most practical work can only be handled at the state level. The country needs to come to its senses, and throw off the yoke of religious intolerance of education, ideas, science and facts. Magical thinking and wishing it to be true will not keep teens from having sex. It has historically never been that way, and there is no reason to believe it ever will. This study and others that will follow, point to a reason-based national sex-education policy. The world has changed since the 1920s. It’s time to accept reality.
Education and an acceptance of reality will have more effect on teens than a simple “just say no”.