Op-Ed

Lawmakers hypocritical, shortsighted about sex-ed

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The proposal in the General Assembly that would require schools to teach abstinence as part of their sex education classes is a fool’s errand in trying to legislate morality and flies in the face of hard facts.

The most laughable aspect of this whole tawdry affair is that the legislators who want to teach that abstinence and monogamy are the expected standard are not very good at modeling those behaviors themselves.

Early in this legislative session, Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was forced to resign as speaker of the House due to charges of sexual harassment.

He is far from alone.

In fact, the situation has spiraled so far out of control that Gov. Matt Bevin has publicly called for all state lawmakers of either party who have settled a sexual harassment claim to resign. Included on this list are Republican Reps. Brian Linder from Dry Ridge, Michael Meredith from Oakland, Jim De Cesare of Bowling Green, as well as Republican caucus Chief of Staff Ginger Wills who has been accused of creating a hostile work environment.

State Rep. Dan Johnson died by suicide in December after charges of sexual assault from a young woman who had been a member of his church.

The problem has become so malignant that Kentucky lawmakers are required to take mandatory training dealing with issues of sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Kentucky is one of dozens of states that have had state and federal lawmakers forced out of office because of sexual improprieties.

In 2017, Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker Tim Murphy, who vociferously attacked abortion-rights supporters, resigned when his mistress revealed that he had insisted she get an abortion. Tennessee Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais, another vehement anti-abortion proponent, chose not to resign after it was revealed that he had urged his ex-wife and a mistress to have abortions.

The most ludicrous aspect of this whole abstinence issue is study after study has confirmed that states that have abstinence-only sex education classes have significantly higher rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than those that teach a more comprehensive curriculum. Among evangelical Christians, who often lobby for abstinence-only education, 80 percent admit to having premarital sex.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Pregnancy for any woman is an incredibly risky business, but the risks are dramatically higher for teenage girls. Medical problems ranging from anemia and high blood pressure to miscarriage, depression and toxemia are common.

Few parents would want their girls to become mothers, but the reality is that thousands do. And of those, some die. Is blindly clinging to some vacuous religious or political ideology worth the life of a child?

This is not the first time we have seen social conservatives try to address complicated societal problems with prosaic shibboleths. Remember Prohibition or, more recently, Nancy Reagan’s vapid “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign?

A popular one-liner of the time was, “I tried to say no to drugs but they were so insistent.”

Let us not be naïve: Sexual urges have always been extremely strong for teenagers. We may have extended human life expectancy greatly, but we are still prisoners of evolutionary principles. As late as 1900, life expectancy was about 45 years, so early reproduction carried a premium value because the parents needed to survive long enough for their children to reach reproductive age.

But western society has increasingly hyper-sexualized kids long before they are physically or emotionally able to cope with these serious issues. The world is a very confusing place and, deep down, children are searching to make sense of all the stimuli thrown their way.

How can we expect them to make good choices when the so-called adults charged with shepherding them to meaningful and productive lives are amoral hypocrites who hold children to a higher standard than they themselves can achieve?

The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde perfectly encapsulated the reaction of most teenagers today: How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.

Roger Guffey of Lexington is a math professor.

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