Monday, August 16, 2010

Teenage Sex Is Not Harmful

If there’s one thing liberals love, it’s spinning studies to back up their point of view. Take the recent study by two sociologists from the Universities of California and Minnesota who studied the effects of teen sex on academic achievement. This study is being spun as evidence that teen sex “is not going to derail [teenager’s] educational trajectories.” Of course, that’s not what the study actually found.

The study was done by Bill McCarthy and Eric Grodsky. They analyzed surveys taken by students in 1994-1995 and compared those to student academic records to determine if being sexually active had any effect on student academic achievement. Here’s what they found: teens who were in a “committed relationship” did no better and no worse than their non-active peers. In other words, as the AP describes these results:

“Teens in serious relationships did not differ from their abstinent counterparts in terms of their grade-point average, how attached they are to school or college expectations. They were also not more likely to have problems in school, be suspended or absent.”
Cool huh! Party on kiddies.

Indeed, here’s the spin people like Peggy Giordano, a sociologist from Bowling Green State University, have put on this: “this should give some comfort to parents who may be concerned that their teenage son or daughter is dating.” And the AP reported this study thusly: “the findings. . . challenge to some extent assumptions that sexually active teens tend to do poorer in school.”

Whew! And here I was worried.

But wait. . . there seem to be more findings.

First, the above conclusions apply only to teens in committed relationships. Teens who are engaged in “casual sex had lower GPAs, cared less about school and experienced more problems in school. . . . Teens who hook up also were at greater risk of being suspended or expelled and had lower odds of expecting to go to college.”

In other words, if your teen is in a “committed relationship,” then they should do as well as everyone else. But if they aren’t in a committed relationship, then being sexually active hurts their grades, their attendance, their chances of graduation and their chances of going to college. That's a pretty big caveat and looks a lot different than how the AP is spinning this study as finding that teenage sex is not harmful.

And it doesn't stop there. University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright uses these results to argue that it’s time to revamp sex education to “emphasize the importance of relationships and spell out the consequences of casual sex.”

But that’s faulty logic, if you can even call it logic. In Vegas, these results would be called a sucker bet: if you win, nothing happens, but if you lose, then it gets bad. That’s hardly an enticing proposition. And, consequently, it makes no sense to advocate "committed relationships" to teens. In fact, that's like suggesting kids try pot in the hopes they stay away from meth.

There’s also one more interesting fact that I haven’t mentioned yet. It turns out the quote from the AP about teens in a committed relationship not being “more likely to have problems in school, be suspended or absent,” isn't accurate. To the contrary, the study actually found that teens “who have sex -- whether it’s a serious or casual relationship -- were at higher risk of being truant and dropping out compared with teens who don't have sex.”

In other words, our sucker bet actually is: if you do it right, you lose, if you do it wrong, you lose big.

The other thing the study did not address was the effects of teen pregnancy, which simply does not happen to the abstinent group. Teen pregnancy has been shown to be linked to lower educational levels for the mother and child, higher rates of poverty, and poorer “life outcomes” for the children of teenage mothers, i.e. lower paying jobs, higher chance of poverty, higher crime rates, higher drug addiction rates, etc.

How can anyone legitimately spin this to say that parents should take “comfort” from this study? Well, because this study is aimed at a generation of lazy parents who didn’t want to raise their kids. They preferred to hand that task off to the schools. And now they’re feeling guilty that their kids have turned out to be losers. The spin on studies like this is intended to assuage that guilt.

So what is the answer? The answer is probably to take this whole issue away from schools and thereby force parents to take responsibility for their own kids again. Having unionized employees teach kids to aim for the second worst outcome on a sucker bet just doesn’t seem like a good policy.


Anonymous said...

(sigh) I wouldn't know. :-) I mean -- nevermind.

There must be a happy medium somewhere. I can't say I'm a big supporter of abstinence-only education but I'm also not a fan of 12-year olds putting condoms on cucumbers either.

And I am sympathetic to the argument that teachers should just get out of the sex ed business altogether. But in a society where too many parents don't participate in their child's education, if not them, then who? (He asked rhetorically.)

Notawonk said...

one of the reasons we homeschooled for 12 years was because i don't like being told what to do by public schools. i don't play well with douches. being a parent, and PARENTING, is the hardest job i've ever had. everything else seems like a cakewalk now. mmmmm, cake...


BevfromNYC said...

Interesting. I haven't seen the study, but did they factor in that people (even teens) who are more likely to "commit" to anything (including abstinence) tend to be better equipped to commit to school, study, work etc. than those who cannot "commit".

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL!

The problem I have with that argument is that schools are remarkably poor places to teach what are essentially morality issues. These issues are far too complex to be taught in a one hour class -- they need to be taught over years of observation and years of subtle lessons, where parents teach kids boundaries.

And as long as schools are assigned the task of teaching this, too many parents will abdicate their responsibilities to schools -- which only makes the problem worse.

As for the parents who simply don't pass on good values to their kids, I honestly don't see a sex ed class changing anything. I also suspect that these kids have a whole host of other problems, and that we're deluding ourselves to think that schools can make them good citizens. (Something different needs to be done to reach those kids.)

So, as I see it, the trade off is that by pretending to help those who are unreachable, we're creating a whole group in the middle who are now being let down because their parents have abdicated their responsibilities.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, That's the other problem with public schools from what Scott mentions. Scott is concerned about those who are simply taught nothing. Your point is schools teaching values that you don't want taught.

I really think the only way to solve this issue is to take it out of the schools hands. Get back to educating, i.e. the learning of knowledge and how to gather it. And leave the morality for parents to sort out.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, There weren't enough details for me to get their precise methodology, but I can tell you that my first reaction was: "so you've discovered that kids who act responsibly are more like to act responsibly all around? Not very shocking."

Other than that, I also wonder how they kept kids from lying on the surveys (we lied on all the government surveys just for fun), how they connected individual surveys with academic records (which should not be available to researchers without permission), and what they did to factor out other factors -- like divorced parents, drug problems, etc.

Unknown said...

I agree that the schools are not where children should be learning about sex and/or relationships. Parents, churches and social support groups should be where they learn. Morality shouldn't be reduced to its least common denominator, and the public schools reduce it even beyond that to "anything goes." What little sex education took place in my schools were aimed at the consequences of permissive sex. After seeing some of those films, I'm amazed I ever had sex. But my parents and my church linked sex with love, fidelity and family. Then I went off to Berkeley in the 60s, and amazingly survived the love generation. LOL

Though I put the major responsibility on parents, we have to remember that most parents with younger children today are products of the same public schools which are now indoctrinating their children, and don't have the good sense to understand that they got the wrong information as well.

Today, Obama's safe schools czar is a pervert who promotes sex for children as young as kindergarten. He's big on homosexual activity, but any sex is better than no sex in his twisted mind. Was Bob Seeger's "working on a mystery without any clues" such a bad thing?

Joel Farnham said...


All I can add is when the energy is spent on studying, you get good grades. When the energy is spent on sex, you get babies.

BevfromNYC said...

Joel - WOW! That is just about the most perfect statement I have heard on this topic. That says it all AND, of course, you said at Commentarama! I am going to use that...

When your energy is spent on studying, you get good grades. When your energy is spent on sex, you get babies.

rlaWTX said...

I tried to find it in my online article access, but I didn't look in the right spot or it's not online yet.

I give credit to my grad (psych)program, they all push looking at studies instead of accepting the conclusions the authors/ commentators make. The only thing I remember from my undergrad stats (poli sci circa 1993) class is the prof saying "liars figger & figgers lie."

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You're right about the problem, but the thing I've found in all human endeavors is that people rise to the occasion. It's only when they are relieved of responsibility that they start making stupid choices because they have someone else to blame.

So while there may have been decades of poor decision-making being taught to current parents, when the responsibility is put back onto them to take over this issue, I firmly believe that the vast majority will rise to the task.

Also, I think you've put your finger on it there with the idea of your church connecting love and sex. That seems like it tends to work out the best. But again, I think it's up to parents to decide how best to instruct their kids on this.

By the way, I'm surprised any of you made it out of the 1960s!

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Like Bev says, very well said! I suspect that's a much simpler formula than is being taught in sex ed class today and probably would make an excellent PSA!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Here's the link to the AP article where I found the issue: LINK.

I'm not sure where I first started to realize that you always need to look a lot deeper than the headlines in studies, but I've been doing it for years. I'm amazed how often the statistics are garbage, how often they ignore important issues, how often they rely on statistically insignificant data or spin, and then how these studies are often spun even further by the news.

You should never accept any of these things at face value. Always check out their limitations and watch for contradictions or even the use of survey techniques that skew the results.

And that doesn't even count the other things to consider -- like the fact that answering yes or no is easy, but acting on your answer is something completely different; accounting for the human tendency to make ourselves look better than we are; trying to please the questioner; etc.

And NEVER believe a meta-study, which is a study based on multiple different studies. Those are very popular right now, but they are statistical voodoo.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew and Bev,

Thank you. Uh... your welcome. Uh... did that come out of me?


AndrewPrice said...

Joel, LOL! You should run out and copyright that! ;-)

Tennessee Jed said...

It seems to me that this study is long on jumping to conclusions. Typically, when there is strong parental involvement, children do better. My rembrance is, who you end up being friends with can have an impact as well. A committed relationship with a sharp mature young person can be a positive influence, but a commited relationship with the wrong person can be a disaster. Lastly, children can mature or "find" themselves (e.g. disciplined) at different ages.

Based on your article, I put very little in the results of this "study." It sounds like it was an "agenda" study much like today's lib newscasts.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think you're right. I think there are so many factors that are much more important that simply the nature of the sexual relationship, that this strikes me more as a coincidental bi-product of a series of other traits. But the results, as presented, fit with the current narrative that schools should be raising kids to make sure they get "the right values".

StanH said...

This is another example of defining deviancy down. To look at any study with anything other than an a jaundiced eye is the journey of a fool. There are many parents today that look at parenting as the other peoples problem, and are more than happy too leave the tough stuff to the “professional” …gag me!

There is one immutable fact of life, boys will find girls, and vice versa, and it is the responsibility of the parents to get their kids through this very difficult time. Raise kids with moral decency and clarity, and your kids will respond…sometimes, HA!

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, You sound like a very cynical parent?! LOL!

I think you're right though. It is the responsibility of the parents. And if you raise your kids to know right from wrong and how to determine right from wrong, then hopefully, they will make good decisions. Schools just can't take the place of parents.

And you're right about accepting any study at face value, especially one like this that is looking for a simple answer to an issue that probably doesn't any a simple answer.

StanH said...

I worked with a salesman for a couple years about twenty years ago, WWII vet, Commander in the Navy. He had a wonderful saying that fits kids and their teenage years, and parental attitude, “oh hell son, that doesn’t bother me, you can strike a match off my ass!” The point is, you have to be prepared for anything with teenage kids, it’s a rewarding bumpy ride. It’s not cynicism but battlefield experience.

AndrewPrice said...

"battlefield experience" -- I like that!

I think the thing we all know is that kids will do stupid things. It's in our nature. And it's like a rite of passage. But if they've been taught how to make good decisions, then they tend to come through it unscathed.

But if you lower the expectations, then they will tend to lower themselves to meet those expectations. And those are the kinds of horrible lessons that stick with you your whole life.

Ed said...

I love the picture. It's from The Giant Gila Monster right?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yep. One of the better MST3ks.

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