When it comes to sex and kids, our nation's chief medical officer should know better.
Since becoming surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders has called for expanding government-sponsored sex education, from kindergarten through 12th grade.She wants free contraceptives and abortion referrals through schools and clinics. And she insists that welfare mothers have unrestricted access to contraceptive and abortion services.
But Elders and her allies in the administration must know that government "family planning" has done next to nothing to reduce teen sex. Instead, decades of evidence show that such programs only encourage higher rates of sexual activity and teen pregnancy.
This isn't the verdict of right-wing zealots. Much of the data come from Family Planning Perspectives, a journal of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.
Starting back in 1980, the journal reported that from 1971 to 1979 - after more than a decade of increasing sex instruction in public schools - the proportion of metropolitan teenage women who had premarital sex had jumped from 30 percent to 50 percent.
Two massive studies published in Family Planning Perspectives in 1986 found that young people who received sex education were more likely than others to engage in sex at an early age.
In 1991, I submitted an affidavit as an expert witness to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, reviewing seven published studies of the outcomes of pregnancy-reduction programs in seven U.S. cities. None of the studies of these programs - all of which relied on sex education curricula and easy access to contraceptives - offered valid evidence of a decrease in the pregnancy rate. Six out of the seven showed increased sexual activity, and some even revealed higher rates of pregnancy after the programs were in effect.
The evidence of reduced pregnancy from school-based clinics also is questionable.
For example, the Baltimore school-clinic program based one such claim on questionnaires from only 96 of the 1,033 girls originally surveyed for the program.
What's amazing is that the government continues to finance such programs in the face of mounting and irrefutably negative evidence.
Even supporters of government family planning admit to the ambiguity or ineffectiveness of the programs. Reviewing all the studies on school-based clinics, investigators at the Department of Health and Human Services and Northwestern University Medical School concluded:
"There is little consistent evidence that school-clinic programs affect pregnancy rates."
The National Education Association concedes there is "only meager evidence" that sex-ed programs have any positive effect on teen sex and illegitimacy.
On the other hand, in 1992 Family Planning Perspectives reported a startling find: That young people who are taught "resistance skills" - how to say no - engaged in significantly less sexual activity.
The only conclusion to be drawn is that belief in sex-ed programs has attained the status of dogma among its adherents and is impervious to the facts.