Emerging Questions for Emerging Answers

November 19, 2007

A pattern has emerged. Five easy steps, repeated each year, continue to promote the notion that adults should forget teaching teens the benefits of remaining sexually abstinent until marriage.

Step one: Those in favor of promoting contraception to our young people as "safe and protected sex" publish a Report suggesting sexual abstinence for teens is an impossible...and possibly undesirable...goal.

Step two: The liberal media quickly skim for any phrase that might give them a justification ...no matter how slight...to print bold headlines declaring that abstinence education is a failure.

Step three: Repeat "Step Two" ad nauseam.

Step four: Experts fully and thoughtfully analyze said Report, revealing glaring errors, omissions, and inaccuracies in the report. Press releases are issued: the Report fails to qualify as research and is demonstrated to be a thinly disguised political tract controlled by bias.

Step five: The liberal media ignore their own prejudiced reporting of flawed "research". No headlines appear to retract their errant headlines. The media could take responsibility and announce, "We goofed," "We messed up," "We were wrong." But they don't.

The latest report to trigger this five-step pattern, Emerging Answers 2007, was issued with great fanfare this month by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies. Written by Douglas Kirby, Ph.D., it was quickly raised on high by the liberal media...ad nauseam...and used to "prove" that...you guessed it...teaching sexual abstinence to teens is a failed enterprise.

Now that the media has finished its part in this charade and departed for other urgent news flashes, thoughtful experts will be able to take the time to analyze Dr. Kirby's work and put forward their responses. I offer the following Emerging Questions for their consideration:

1. Why is researcher bias ignored? The introduction to the report states, "Dr. Kirby thought it important to note that ETR Associates also developed and continues to market several of the curricula reviewed in Emerging Answers 2007." Plainly speaking, Dr. Kirby makes money selling the curricula he helped write and is now "researching.

Listed as the sole author of the report, Kirby also gives credit to his Research Associate for "important contributions"...none other than an ETR Associates employee of eight years. Further, ETR staff Lori Rolleri and Karin Coyle are thanked for helping determine the topics covered by the report and creating its "balance."

Amazingly, The National Campaign announces these conflicts of interest with thanks to Dr. Kirby for his admission, as if the admission absolves both of them from any professional or ethical challenges. Would this work for the tobacco industry?

2. Why do The National Campaign and Kirby continue to isolate and address only one of many consequences of teen sex...teen pregnancy? Throughout the report, teen pregnancy is identified as the target for educational programs and the basis for Kirby's evaluation. If there are fewer pregnancies, the program succeeds? No matter how much sex adolescents are having? No matter the age of the adolescents having sex?

This emphasis on teen pregnancy is a foundational research bias. It defines what will be accepted as "success" by the researcher. Consider an eleven-year-old who is sexually active. One program may prevent pregnancy by helping her become sexually abstinent. Another program may inject her with Depo Provera. Which approach is successful?

3. Where are the many positive evaluations of abstinence-until-marriage programs and curricula? These exist. Could their exclusion from Kirby's "balanced consideration of topics" have anything to do with the research bias set up from the outset in the design of the study favoring contraception for adolescents?

4. Why is medically accurate information on STDs minimized and even mischaracterized in its importance for teens, suggesting that "protecting" teens from pregnancy is the same as "protecting" teens from STDs? Kirby refers to "behavior that affects the transmission of STDs" and to "protection against pregnancy and STD" as if such "protection" actually exists.

Behavior doesn't cause STDs. Bacterium and virus are the culprits. The research on their individual infectivity for the major STDs is clear. Condoms have a limited ability to prevent STDs. Chemical contraceptives have NO effectiveness.

In good time, the answers to these and other Emerging Questions will emerge. They will be developed by experts in the field of teen sex who will finally be able to review the full 204-page report in detail. Their answers will shed great light on teen sex and truly effective ways to intervene.

Most likely, "Programs That Work" will actually include many abstinence-until-marriage programs overlooked by Dr. Kirby and The National Campaign. These abstinence programs will focus on teen sex as an inherently risky behavior and will teach teens the truth about the many negative consequences, in addition to pregnancy, related to teen sex.

When that time comes, one great question remains. Will the press take note, much less care? Never mind the ad nauseam. Will the truth, when it fails to conform to media bias, ever make even one headline?

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Copyright ©2007 Jane Jimenez