Rick Perry's absurd defense of abstinence-only sex ed, and a reporter's non-response, show the problem with how we talk about teen sexuality.
It's rare when a three-minute conversation can reveal so much about our culture. In this clip, a Texas Tribune reporter asks Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry why the state continues to provide "abstinence education" even while it has the "third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country." In response, Perry offers a nonsensical, bumbling defense of current policies. "From my own personal life, abstinence works," Perry says awkwardly. (TMI, buddy!) Then he explains what he's against:
If the point is, we're gonna go stand up here and say, "Listen, y'all go have sex and go have the whatever is goin' on and we'll worry with that and here's the ways to have safe sex," I'm sorry, call me old-fashioned if you want, but that is not what I'm gonna stand up in front of the people of Texas and say that's the way we need to go and forget about abstinence.\n
When the reporter rephrases the question, Perry attempts to "make a comparable" with money spent on preventing teen steroid use, arguing that if five percent of teenagers end up staying abstinent, then the millions of funding dollars were worth it.
Perry's logic doesn't surprise me. Although his answer is inarticulate, his characterization of comprehensive sex ed as a teen sex free-for-all is a pretty standard conservative position. He appears to have no clue that actual sex education teaches abstinence in addition to other methods of preventing pregnancy and STDs. His policies and positions indicate a complete lack of understanding of sexual health, and he's far from the exception.
There's something that frustrates me even more than Perry's skewed logic, though: the reporter's missed opportunity. He fails to point out that teaching safer sex and abstinence are not mutually exclusive. He doesn't remind Perry that while, yes, abstinence itself works, abstinence-only education doesnot. And he doesn't even really explain why teen pregnancy rates would be affected by keeping information away from students; he just cites the two facts side-by-side.
Exchanges like these, where the two sides do nothing but talk past each other, spotlight a serious disconnect in the way we talk about teen sexuality. Those of us who believe in providing teens with information on how to protect themselves need to make it crystal clear: just because you teach about abstinence doesn't mean you can't teach about condoms and birth control pills, too.