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No Sex Sells 

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One day in London’s Fleet Street district, home to that country’s notorious “scandal sheet” newspapers, editors there concluded that the best headlines for moving copies off the racks usually included one of three words: “win,” “free” or “sex.” Combine all three in that order, preferably with an exclamation mark at the end, and copies are sure to fly off the racks, editors joked.

Here at home, we’ve got a very earnest, concerted effort to corral sex firmly back into the locked fence of marriage. For the “values” crowd that delivered President Bush his second term, apparently nothing else will do.

Lest you doubt the current boom in abstinence advocacy, google up the official Website of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, “networking people for abstinence,” as the organization mottos itself, from the cold and chilly burg of Sioux Falls, S.D. Abstinence Clearinghouse markets celibacy with a fervor just short of a U.S. Armed Forces STD documentary, but without contraceptive tips, of course. Who needs condoms when you may purchase a “Men’s 14K Yellow Gold Rugged Cross Purity Ring” for $329? Who would ever turn to The Joy of Sex when you can instead read a brochure titled The Casualties of Kinsey: The Truth About the Founder of Sexual Decay in America?

Here to rally America’s youth into one big cold shower is America’s newly deemed “chastity czar,” Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the Department of Health and Human Services. He’s got a lot of federal money to play with, too. Altogether, states and community organizations teaching abstinence will get $155 million to spread the word that not having sex is a healthy choice. Or, as Abstinence Clearinghouse president Leslee Unruh told Hearst Newspapers News, “They [youth engaging in pre-marital sex] get their hearts broken and they do respond with some really negative outcomes such as suicide and depression. When kids get good information on skill building and basic decision making on relationships, they do wait until marriage.”

Got that, kids? Wait until you’re married or you could risk depression—even death.

Of course the Clearinghouse has “facts” to back up its message. But its central claim, that abstinence-until-marriage education programs work, cites a Journal of the American Medical Association article stating that such a message works best when taught inside the family, by parents. Most everyone else, it seems, is having sex. The Centers for Disease Control found 61 percent of high school students have done the deed before graduation. A Columbia University study found that even 88 percent of those taking chastity-until-marriage pledges still end up getting friendly with someone they’re not betrothed to. Little wonder, of course, when the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the percentage of people ages 25-44 living alone has jumped from 14.8 percent in 1970 to 29 percent in 1997. Horn and his ilk will have to turn the handle on many a cold shower to keep those folks in their cloistered places.

While we’re at it, someone might want to ask the Catholic Church whether celibacy hasn’t done its charges more harm than good. And how much of our current divorce rate is driven by youth who married early for the privilege of sex—an often reckless, but still very human need—rather than the privilege of being with someone they know they truly love? Doctrinaire approaches don’t like messy questions.

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