Douthat's Problems With Sex

by tristero

Yesterday, by accident (I don't normally bother to read him), I started the lead to Ross Douthat's latest Times-subsidized typing lesson.
Liberals hated almost everything about George W. Bush’s presidency...
and immediately thought, "This creep just wrote at least two demonstrably false lies."

Unfortunately, something sucked me in and I actually read the entire column, a genuinely terrible way to begin a new month. Lucky you, Amanda Marcotte has an accurate summary:
Shorter Ross Douthat: we'll let your kids be perverts, if you let our kids be tortured and shamed.
In other words, if people in Alabama want to teach their kids that masturbation is unhealthy (I swear, that's the example Douthat used), they should have that right and no big bad federal government should say otherwise. Why? Because stats show that sex education really doesn't work - not just abstinence-only, but all sex education in school. So, if sex education doesn't work and you can't get rid of it because liberals insist... well, Douthat says, then fuck it, teach the brats whatever the fuck you want (I'm paraphrasing his words here), It's a local issue, for local schoolboards. You know, like teaching evolution.

It will come as no surprise to the vast majority of sentient beings - ie, those who hated the presidency of George W. Bush - that the truth bears little resemblance to Douthat's distortion of it. Kate Harding does a pretty good job here of going through it all, debunking , among other things, the notion that ignorance of contraception among teenagers is a trivial issue without profound personal and even national consequences. Then:
...back when teen pregnancy rates were still declining, the Guttmacher Institute found that although trends in contraceptive use were mixed, only about a quarter of the drop could be attributed to increased abstinence; the other 75 percent was the result of sexually experienced teens managing not to get pregnant. Furthermore, that report noted that "The greatest change is an increase in the proportion of sexually experienced teenagers who report having used a method at first sex." While that obviously doesn't tell us about long-term contraceptive use, a 2004 CDC report stated, "Teenagers who do not use a method of birth control at first intercourse are about twice as likely to become teen mothers as teens who do use a method at first intercourse." Twice as likely! So educating kids about contraception before they start having sex probably does matter, as it turns out! Oh, and about when they start having it? According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 55 percent of Mississippi teens have had sex by ninth grade -- versus 27 percent of New Hampshire high school freshmen. Just FYI.

So, one really big problem with not encouraging Berkeley values in Alabama is that kids who grow up with Alabama values have babies at much higher rates. (Alabama has the No. 12 teen birthrate; California's No. 28.) Even if communities and families have more of an effect on teens' behavior than schools do, it is abundantly clear that kids growing up in environments where they learn something about sex and contraception beyond "Don't do it, and then you won't need it" are less likely to get pregnant. So, not for the first -- or 50th -- time, I have to ask: Do the folks who insist on keeping their children ignorant actually want to prevent teen pregnancies?

While it should go without saying that not every teen pregnancy is a sad story in the long run -- our president seems to have turned out all right, and Salon contributor Amy Benfer has written numerous times about the daughter she had at 16, whose awesomeness I can vouch for -- there's no question that it's in society's best interest (not to mention most teenagers') to reduce the number of them. There is no question that abstinence-only education doesn't help with that. And there is no question that in a nation where church and state are meant to be separate, public schools should favor curricula that offer comprehensive, scientifically accurate information over those that offer limited and sometimes false information based on a narrow, usually religious worldview.
Exactly. Oh, and obviously. The worst part of providing the cognitively deranged a widely-seen forum for their distortions (eg, Douthat in the Times or Beck on Fox) is that an enormous amount of effort is spent in simply correcting their grossly misleading assertions and stating the obvious. It's a goddam waste of everyone's valuable time.

And that, of course, is the reason they do it. Because the more time we spend correcting them, the less time there's left for actually doing something constructive. As has been said many times, not just by me, while it is vital that we have a serious discussion of the complex problems and issues this country faces, unfortunately, modern conservatives are neither serious nor capable of having a serious discussion. It is simply disgraceful that these professional bozos are given the opportunity to influence our discourse while truly intelligent people... ehh, you've heard it before.

The Times, to its credit, has never run an astrology column because, you know, obviously misleading hokum is not - to coin a phrase - fit to print. And they have had, and still have, many truly great reporters, among the best in the biz. Yet they seem perfectly fine not only publishing Kristol or Douthat (or Brooks or Seelye or Friedman or Dowd or...) but letting them collect a regular salary.

Strange Times.

Note: What, you ask, were the "at least two demonstrably false lies" referred to at the beginning? Oh, please, isn't this exactly the point I'm trying to make, wasting time restating the obvious? Okay, okay:

1. It wasn't just liberals who "hated almost everything about George W. Bush’s presidency." It was anyone in the world with either a brain or a heart, and certainly everyone who had both.

2. I, a liberal, didn't hate "almost" everything about the Bush administration. It was all hateful, all of it, from the wars, murders, and wholesale neglect of American security and safety right on down to the fake turkeys.