How ironic that the hot-button election time battles over teen pregnancy are being waged by what are called “interest groups,” when in pocketbook issues America, the public itself largely isn’t interested.
People care, but too many of them care just enough to click here to sign our online petition. Takes a few seconds, and then you’re back to clicking singles profiles and something called Farmville.
Meanwhile the struggle is unending --- and supposedly it is between two very polarized approaches: Family Planning and Abstinence Only. The Louisville area is clearly a fault line in this nationwide cultural clash.
We sent Mike Ward to Congress, rewarding him for years of passionately pushing for comprehensive sex education in a skeptical state legislature.
Quickly, however, we reversed course and gave Anne Northup a decade to, among other things, side staunchly with the abstinence approach.
Family planning includes fully accessible birth control and comprehensive sex education.
Locally, its quintessential supporter shops at farmers markets, mourns our Amtrak service and buys Bill Moyers DVDs during KET pledge week.
Abstinence Only, contrastingly, relies solely on moral persuasion and its typical supporter here vacations in the Smokies, hates being told to press 1 for English, and refuses to wonder how many members of Congress who voted for Abstinence Only are sleeping with their office managers.
There is a third method of stopping teen pregnancies that we don’t hear about – because it doesn’t have one of those “interest groups” working for it.
It’s by far the most effective, and yet, SO simple. And it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a cent. It is: be a dorky teenager with no social skills.
In the mid-1970s, I deftly mastered this method at my Southern Indiana high school, and managed to do so during the rise of the new sexual freedom and hyper-commercialism of youth media.
“Why don’t I remember you?” more than one new Facebook friend has asked me after perusing my profile to find that we had been classmates.
One had been my crush for three years, and of course in those days expressing your like of something someone had just said required you to speak it, not click it from thousands of miles away while safely alone in your living room.
Suffice it to say, when you never talk to the apple of your eye for three years, pregnancy prevention is 100 percent effective.
No such thing can be said, of course, about condoms and intensive sex education, and certainly not about Congressionally-ordered sanitizing of school curriculum to make Ozzie and Harriet appeal real.
Of the three methods, there is no contest about which is the most practical in a society desperately in need of a new social model whereby having children is based on long term preparedness to raise them appropriately, not doing what seems right to a 15-year-old.
Straying from what is supposed to be our traditional values by distributing birth control and teaching children all about it is absolutely necessary to allow genuine values to survive.
There are exceptions -- I know some such people -- but overall, we can forget about educating, employing, keeping healthy and instilling character into people brought up by people – of any income level – whose notions of what awaits them as parents come from Paul Anka songs and Huggies commercials.
I’ve been saying this for 35 years as an activist, commentator and, subtly, as a science fiction author championing wider horizons for young girls. So there, I’ve done my duty on that method, too.
But what of Abstinence Only? Would you believe that this crusade once briefly counted me as a minion, if only by being drafted by the great hand of the marketplace?
In the late 1990s, I was working as a telephone survey interviewer for a Louisville company operating out of one of those suburban high rises where the offspring of union auto and tobacco laborers work second shift information age jobs around smoke breaks in the parking lot.
I liked the work and found I was a natural at phone manner. The surveys were varied. We might ask computer users what they were looking for in broadband, a technology so new, I did not understand most of terms we used in the back and forth. Then, it might be a customer satisfaction survey for a bank, or a check on the favorability of a hospital’s image.
One day, strangely, the female employees solely were taken to the training room and when they came out, I was relieved to hear that only they would call households all over Kentucky to talk to teens about whether the TV ads airing as part of this government-sanctioned revival of abstinence before marriage were hitting home.
I dreaded being part of such hypocrisy as Newt Gingrich and Dan Burton telling the kids to, “do as we say, not as we do.”
And I didn’t relish calling strangers about this matter, even though the schools had notified parents – via notes sent home – that someone might be calling (like notes sent home from school always arrive). At least that someone calling wouldn’t be me – or so I thought. On the last weekend of this project, the men were corralled into that training room, then told:
“We’re behind schedule on the teen abstinence survey, so”… Don’t say it, I pleaded. Twenty minutes later, I am calling the most normal families in the most normal state in the union. And I can HEAR the country hams in the fridges and the Kyle Macy autographed basketballs in the garages as I start the intro scripts assuring these parents that this total stranger calling will only ask young Ashley or Jason about ads they may have seen, not about their personal habits.
Good God, I thought to myself as someone went to bring their 15-year-old daughter to the phone, this is what it must be like to be a pedophile.
I’m not that way, be assured -- but the situation brought to mind Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo’s mock-prison experiment in the early 1970s, which showed that even volunteers with spotless crime-free backgrounds could actually adopt the identity of offenders from make-believe incarceration.
Back to the Bluegrass, I had never actually seen any of these advertisements, and when I asked this young girl the required question, “What do you remember from them?” I was floored as she softly said: “Jennifer Love Hewitt.”
Then as now, I didn’t think of “Love” as being the middle name of the abstinence movement, particularly when it was also the middle name of a 20-year-old TV diva who, three years later, would be ranked among the world’s top 10 sexist women in an international magazine’s readers poll.
This phone survey had become so absurd that I wanted to toss the headset aside and storm out of that call center, shouting to my supervisor that I was going to take advantage of the boom of the late ‘90s and get a real job.
My better judgment took over; you see, when it did not require invading minors’ privacy, this was the best job I had had in years. Still, I decided to forever resign from the Abstinence Army, as I pictured Gingrich and President Clinton auditioning celebrities for this advertisement and for the first time in their public lives coming to complete agreement -- on the ideal (as in perfect 10) qualifications of Jennifer Love Hewitt.
God help this nation.