As Abstinence Pledges Falter, A New "Middle Class Morality" Emerges

Illustration for article titled As Abstinence Pledges Falter, A New "Middle Class Morality" Emerges

Social conservatives have had the lock on "family values" for decades now, but in this week's New Yorker's, writer Margaret Talbot reminds us that statistically, blue states have the lowest rates of teen pregnancy and divorce. In addition, although 74% of white evangelical Protestants say they believe in abstaining from sex until marriage, they lose their virginity at 16, the second youngest age of any group. "For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders or family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness," Talbot writes. "This isn't true, and every once in a while, liberals might point that out." Talbot describes a new teenage "middle-class morality" emerging from the rubble of unrealistic expectations, and perhaps counter-intuitively, this morality keeps them from losing their virginity at a young age."The teenagers who espouse this new morality are tolerant of premarital sex (and of contraception and abortion) but are themselves cautious about pursuing it," Talbot says. They have high hopes for their futures in terms of education and careers, and so, "simply put, too much seems at stake. Sexual intercourse is not worth the risks." The most interesting detail from this article concerns virginity pledges, like the one so proudly and publicly undertaken by non-slut Jordin Sparks. Talbot explains, "If too many teens pledge, the effort basically collapses. Pledgers apparently gather strength form the sense that they are an embattled minority; once their number exceed thirty percent, and proclaimed chastity becomes the norm, that special identity is lost. With such a fragile formula, it's hard to imagine how educators can ever get it right: once the self-proclaimed virgin clique hits the thirty-one-percent mark, suddenly it's Sodom and Gomorrah." Sodom and Gomorrah, indeed: the risks end up being greater when evangelical teens have sex, mostly because many evangelical teens who break their chastity pledges forgo condoms. They believe that purchasing contraception "will send the message that they are looking for sex" and some abstinence education programs teach that condoms do not prevent pregnancies and STDs in the first place. All of which brings me to Shelby Knox, who figures prominently in Talbot's article. Knox, a sex-education advocate, was the subject of an incredibly well-received documentary that debuted in 2005. Knox grew up in Lubbock, Texas, where evangelical Christianity, STDs, and teen pregnancy all run rampant. Although Knox comes from a Southern Baptist Republican background and does not believe in premarital sex for herself, she spoke strongly against the abstinence-only education that was given in her town. At a congressional hearing, Knox "testified that it's possible to 'believe in abstinence in a religious sense' but still understand that abstinence-only education is dangerous 'for students who simply are not abstaining.'" If only everyone could be so reasonable. Red Sex, Blue Sex [New Yorker]

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Ah Texas. My home state has redonk pregnancy rates, and very little sex ed. When we were younger, my very religious best friend almost got kicked out of the house for being on the pill. Then she got pregnant. Her parents were overjoyed that she "did the right thing" and didn't get an abortion. She is now on her third marriage.