In a column accusing liberals of “nonsensical delight” over the downfall of Mark Souder, S.E. Cupp writes the following:
Fallen Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican from Indiana, is just the latest excuse to throw poor abstinence under a bus full of condoms. Salon.com’s Alex Pareene wrote about Souder’s unseemly tryst with a female staffer – who was not his wife – under the headline, “Abstinence Proselytizer Mark Souder Regrets Nothing.” For Pareene, the fact that Souder supported abstinence education is apparently an important thread of the story line.
But why? Granted, the promotional video of Souder and his mistress advocating abstinence is a delightfully vivid and embarrassing twist of irony. But Souder’s infidelity, and his inability to abstain from having extramarital sex, has nothing at all to do with abstinence education.
Zero. Abstinence education is a policy issue that we should discuss on the basis of its merits, without leaning on irrelevant, tawdry tabloid stories to prop up a position. Kids deserve better than that.
And everyone in the world deserves better than this embarrassing opinion column. There’s not much of an argument any more about the merits of abstinence-only education. Federal studies on the subject have been quite clear: that they don’t work, and that they might even increase the risk that teens will engage in unsafe sex.
What Cupp doesn’t understand is that the reasons for the failure of abstinence-only education are very much parallel to Souder’s inability to abstain from his own extramarital affair. Those of us who delighted in the hypocrisy of Mark Souder’s transgression are certainly able to connect the dots. If you understand why abstinence-only education doesn’t work, you’re not too surprised to see the reasons for that failure manifesting itself in ways that embarrass its strongest proponents.
But Souder wasn’t just a moral scold about sex. He was also the most fervent drug warrior in Congress. His infamous provision to the Higher Education Act in 1998 has cost hundreds of thousands of (disproportionately minority) students educational opportunities over the past decade. One can only imagine that Souder believed that such harsh measures would discourage drug use, but it clearly had no such effect. All it did was reduce opportunities for those who got caught and couldn’t subsequently rely on their family to continue to pay for their education.
There are strong parallels between abstinence-only education and programs like D.A.R.E. They both put a great amount of faith in the ability to use fear to keep teenagers from engaging in certain behaviors. And they both don’t work. At least with drugs, an effective regulatory scheme that keeps them out of the hands of young people could make it easier for kids to be drug-free, but we don’t have that right now. For both drugs and sex, we have very little ability to force young people to control their urges. The smartest thing has always been to provide them with accurate information and teach them how to be safe.
The reason that Mark Souder’s downfall has everything to do with abstinence-only education is because if even the biggest nanny in Congress doesn’t have the ability to abstain from sex that he knows could have serious consequences, very few teenagers out there do either. That’s the basis for why comprehensive sex-education is more realistic and more effective than trying to scare teens into keeping their pants on.