Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

07/08/2009 (11:12 am)

Brit Government Condom Program Doubles Teen Pregnancy

In the “Urban Yuppie Myth Gets Mugged by Reality” category (a cousin to the “things an 8th grader could tell you that we have to waste research dollars proving” category,) the UK Daily Mail reported a British Department of Health survey showing that a program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy by handing out condoms and teaching safe sex resulted in doubling the rate of teen pregnancy among the girls in the program.

A multi-million pound initiative to reduce teenage pregnancies more than doubled the number of girls conceiving.

The Government-backed scheme tried to persuade teenage girls not to get pregnant by handing out condoms and teaching them about sex.

But research funded by the Department of Health shows that young women who attended the programme, at a cost of £2,500 each, were ‘significantly’ more likely to become pregnant than those on other youth programmes who were not given contraception and sex advice.

A total of 16 per cent of those on the Young People’s Development Programme conceived compared with just 6 per cent in other programmes.

This speaks directly to the incredible myth believed by a large number of Americans, that somehow teaching our already-media-sex-saturated kids about sex and giving them condoms is a means to reduce both teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease, but that encouraging them to refrain from sex will have no effect. A recent survey of research reporting on comprehensive sex ed and abstinence programs in America reported that abstinence programs actually work better than comprehensive sex ed.

The British launched their program in 2004 based on reports from a program in New York that, in retrospect, may have cooked the books in order to seem more effective:

The failed YPDP, launched in 2004, was based on a similar scheme in New York claimed to have significantly reduced teenage pregnancies.

However, attempts to replicate the work elsewhere in the U.S. did not lead to a fall in teenage pregnancies, casting doubt on the project as a whole.

So, the British program spent £6m on 2,371 teenage girls over a three-year period, and following the New York program’s lead, managed to double their pregnancy rate. The program also aimed at reducing the girls’ cannabis usage and drinking, but apparently had no effect on these.

The report, commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health and published in the British Medical Journal, claimed that the program failed because it gathered at-risk girls into a peer group, which produced pressure on the girls to conform to a self-destructive life pattern. If this assessment is correct, it appears possible than any program that pulled these girls together might have failed for a similar reason, unless that program also empowered the girls somehow to resist peer pressure. However, it is clear that gathering them for the purpose of saying “be safe, and use condoms,” does not solve the problem. This seems like a no-brainer: it’s hard to imagine a teenager in our media culture who does not already know too much about both sex and condoms, and the few who fit that description are probably those least in need of the knowledge.

What teenagers lack is a clear message from the culture saying “It’s virtuous to say ‘No.’” Lacking such a clear message, kids who feel peer pressure to engage in sex in order to fit in have no grounds from which to resist. Widespread abstinence programs give them those grounds by spelling out the consequences of too-early sexual involvement and providing an unambiguous message from adults. Contrary to the urban myth, children do listen to adults, and mark both their convictions and their behavior; they rebel, but they expect parents to resist their rebellion, and they despise those who don’t.

fourabortionsThe saddest item in the story was the sidebar photo, which I’ve clipped and included, reporting a young lady by name and announcing: “No regrets. L… L… had four abortions by the age of 16.” The loosening of sexual mores is normal and healthy for teenagers, don’t you know?

American Boomer parents are afraid to be “hypocrites” by instructing their kids to abstain from sex until they’re in a position to handle it responsibly (e.g., the sexually active couple will be able and willing to care for the kid if they get pregnant) because so many of them acted irresponsibly. This is craven madness. “I made a mistake, so it’s appropriate for you to make the same mistake.” This makes sense? Boomer parents need to grow balls and tell their kids the truth: that premature, casual sex puts them at significant risk of debilitating diseases and pregnancy, that having a kid out of wedlock will make their lives much harder and the kid will suffer as well, that abortion is a risky surgery that endangers future fertility and produces powerful, negative feelings from which it will take them years to recover (not to mention that it’s grossly immoral), and that they are not ready to have sex until they are able to take care of the children that sex is designed to produce.

Or better yet, they tell their kids what one woman I knew told her daughters: “Sex will kill you. No, I don’t mean AIDS; I mean if I find out you’ve been having sex outside of marriage, I will kill you.” Now, that’s parenting.

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July 8, 2009 @ 12:20 pm #

You said that too many lack a clear message that “It’s virtuous to say ‘No.’” I would have to take a step back further than that and say that I question whether most teens understand that it is a good thing to be virtuous. I am afraid that many would say, “And why would I want to be virtuous? No way!”

Morality today has been stood on its head in the minds of so many people. I think that teaching sexual morality is simply one brick in the whole edifice. Without building the entire structure, the single brick does very little and does not make much sense by itself.

July 8, 2009 @ 12:47 pm #

Post hoc, ergo prompter hoc?


July 8, 2009 @ 1:39 pm #

“Post hoc, ergo prompter hoc?”

UK’s Dept. of Health:
“The report, commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health and published in the British Medical Journal, claimed that the program failed because it gathered at-risk girls into a peer group, which produced pressure on the girls to conform to a self-destructive life pattern.”

They seem to be desperate to explain something hoc, Joe.

July 8, 2009 @ 5:18 pm #

Dullhammer hits the nail squarely on the head, despite whatever dullness. I will only add this question: do you always, Joe, leap to supposing a logical fallacy when reading the results of research from a major medical journal, or do you reserve this only for instances where the results cut across some predisposition of yours?

Additional data from the Daily Mail article:

The study, published online by the British Medical Journal, was carried out by Meg Wiggins, from the Institute of Education at the University of London and Chris Bonell, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

They were commissioned by the Department of Health to evaluate the programme independently.

They concluded that ‘at best, the programme had no impact – and at worst it had a negative impact’.

July 8, 2009 @ 9:08 pm #

Desperation? Perhaps. But an advocate’s desperation is not a good reason to dismiss his legitimate criticism. I’m sometimes desperate in court to answer a judge’s question regarding my client’s position, but if I hit upon a legitimate point, my desperation won’t matter.

I think it may be a fair critique of the structure of the study.

Also, I don’t believe the typical supporter of full sex education, including access to contraceptives, thinks that public endorsement of the “it’s virtuous to say no” and “dangers” messages “won’t do any good.” Most acknowledge that these are legitimate messages, but also think that any apparent equivocation on these messages- the ole “don’t, but if you do”- is outweighed by the benefit of giving prevention information to the understandable.

The disagreement is really about the effect of the apparent mixed message. Supporters of “abstinence only” think the mixed message does more harm than good. Proponents of “abstinence plus” think any mixed message loss is made up for in prevention gains.

It is worth noting that those who think a mixed message is counter-productive are apparently willing to sacrifice the increased safety provided to the non-virtuous in order to deter (from sex) those that the messages can deter. That is, it seems more important to social conservatives to deter kids from having sex than to provide those who are going to have sex no matter what we say with information they could use to protect themselves.

Personally I’d trade a little more hanky panky from the vitreous for less teen pregnancy (or disease) overall.


July 8, 2009 @ 9:34 pm #

As to my assuming a logical fallacy, aren’t you implicitly arguing that increased access to contraceptives caused the increase in pregnancy rates? If so:

Event A: Girls are given contraceptives;

Event B: Pregnancy rates double;

Event A preceded event B;


Event A caused event B.

If that’s not what you were arguing, pardon moi. But if that is what you were saying, then, Post Hoc, Ergo Prompter Hoc it is.

The point of the UK Dept. of Health’s claim was to show that there is another plausible causal explanation. It might be an argument of “desperation,” but it illustrates the fallacious nature of your argument – if it was your argument – that Event A caused Event B. The inference that access to contraceptives caused the pregnancy rates to rise is precisely the type of inference that constitutes the fallacy. It assumes causality based on chronology.

The prestige of the scientist who conducted the study doesn’t matter. I’m criticizing the inference you drew from the results.


P.S. I meant to put “unpersuadable” not “understandable” in my previous entry.

July 9, 2009 @ 5:38 am #


While your your A, B logic may be true on it’s face, when you are talking about a study that specifically targeted TEEN PREGNANCY, and noted that while teaching this particular method the rate of pregnancy doubled, as opposed to your control group, that does tend to tell you something. It is not like they were working on a study of insomnia and then the rate of hair loss in one group doubled. They were doing a study on sex, and one groups rate of pregnancy went up. It is not like sex and pregnancy are not related in any way.

However, you are right in that we should be cautious about studies like these. I wonder, what are the conditions of their control group? Did they have several different groups with different educational premises? What were the backgrounds of the subjects they used in the various groups? In other words, how rigorously scientific was the study?

Now I agree with Phil- I think just giving condoms without any “moral” teaching is highly likely to lead to an increase in pregnancy (and it seems odd that that particular A–>B logic does not seem to be intuitive to a lot of people.) HOWEVER, I think what is more important is both what kids are taught and even more importantly THE EXAMPLES THEIR PARENTS LIVE that play a huge part in the study of promiscuity and pregnancy rates. I always find it odd that people do not understand that promiscuity has a hell of a lot more to do with how children are taught by example to treat members of the opposite sex and also in their own self-worth. A teacher who teaches them in a class for one semester in middle school is not going to change their opinions a whole hell of a lot one way or another.

July 9, 2009 @ 5:42 am #

Joe –

This is amusing. I don’t think I’ve ever had an opponent “show his work” before when constructing a straw man.

You should probably stick to what I’ve written, which was pretty much a straightforward report. The Brits tried a program, it failed, they ditched the program. They produced a report with a suggestion why it failed. The reason they gave may be true, or it may not be.

My conclusion? “However, it is clear that gathering them for the purpose of saying ‘be safe, and use condoms,’ does not solve the problem.”

I proceed after that to explain why I think such approaches fail, namely, that a lack of information is not the cause of the problem, the problem is a media-driven, sexually libertine culture and the lack of a clear counter-message from adults.

That’s the whole thing. See? No assertion that the approach caused the doubling. It’s just not there. I’m simply pointing out that sex education and condoms do not solve teen pregnancy, and cannot.

July 9, 2009 @ 6:13 am #

Also, I don’t believe the typical supporter of full sex education, including access to contraceptives, thinks that public endorsement of the “it’s virtuous to say no” and “dangers” messages “won’t do any good.” Most acknowledge that these are legitimate messages, but also think that any apparent equivocation on these messages- the ole “don’t, but if you do”- is outweighed by the benefit of giving prevention information to the understandable.

On the contrary, Joe, “This is useless” is the typical response one hears to abstinence programs, except they’re usually accompanied by sneering, with words like “fundie” and “brainless” thrown in. Oh, and they usually include references to the contrived “study” that found that abstinence programs have no effect (by using a different standard to assess abstinence programs than they used to assess comprehensive sex education.) And then they say “conservatives are allergic to evidence” or the like.

“Don’t, but if you do” is simply insane. It’s immediately clear to the kid that he can safely ignore the “don’t” part, and you won’t be upset; you may as well save your breath. Furthermore, the “if you do” part is full of horrible misinformation. Condoms do not prevent pregnancy or disease in sexually casual teens. It’s a lie, and it’s killing our children (which ultimately means demolishing the future of our civilization).

The disease statistics are telling. Half of young women will contract HPV (human papilloma virus) on their first sexual experience; and, no, condoms would not stop a single one of them from contracting the disease, the effect of condom use on the spread of HPV is zero for females. The simple fact that 1/5 of the nation has an incurable STD (this is not an exaggeration) demonstrates that we are not designed for the casual partner-swapping we’re practicing. The demographics are well-understood; the crucial variable in the spread of STDs is the average number of sexual partners per person in the general population. Reduce that number to 1, and STDs would vanish in a single generation. (And please keep in mind, disease is far from being the only negative consequence to casual teen sexuality.)

Touting condoms and CSE (comprehensive sex education) has been going on the whole time that these statistics have been building. If such an approach had the power to stop the trend, it would have done so by now. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten.

I didn’t argue that the British experience proves that CSE causes teen pregnancy in this post, but let me be clear — I do think that the combination of media sex saturation, a permissive message from parents, and CSE is the cause of the teen sex culture. Let me say that again: comprehensive sex education is part of the CAUSE of massive teen pregnancy. If we want to CURE teen pregnancy, part of the solution is for the government to stop teaching kids how to have sex. It’s not their job anyhow.

The mere fact that a partial cure can be effected simply by teaching abstinence in an unambiguous fashion, demonstrates the need for a consistent message. There are millions of kids out there aching just for an adult to tell them that it’s appropriate and healthy to say “No.” Let just ONE adult tell them that, and they’re empowered. That should tell you something.

July 9, 2009 @ 12:34 pm #


On the fallacy issue, if you want me to stick to what you’ve written, you should look at the title to your post. “Doubles” is a verb.

On the mixed messages front, “don’t, but if you do” admittedly weakens “don’t.” But in some cases, including sex, I think it’s the best advice. I acknowledge that an unequivocal message would help those who are on the fence, but I’m more concerned about those who aren’t going to listen – the majority of teenagers have at least one sexual encounter before they are 19.

I can tell my son, “don’t drink” or “don’t drink, but if you are going to drink and you get drunk, call me for a ride.” It is an equivocal message, but it accommodates reality better than the unequivocal message IMO.


July 9, 2009 @ 1:22 pm #

Joe –

I think perhaps there are equivocal messages, and then there are equivocal messages.

I used to tell my kids that I’d always love them no matter what they did. I also told them that sex was for marriage, and they’d better not start screwing around. Those are somewhat equivocal, but I don’t think they really affect each other.

On the other hand, I hear parents telling their kids “You’re really not ready for sex yet, but if you do it, here’s what you should do.” That’s not really an equivocal message, and that’s the point: the parent has caved on “don’t,” and the kid knows it.

I have no quibble with sex ed teaching about condoms, so long as they’re accurate and coupled with a clear message about sex. The clear message needs to be “unattached teenagers are neither physically nor emotionally ready to handle sex; and nobody is really ready until they’re both willing and able to raise the child that might result. End of discussion.” If the condom message that follows is accurate — “condoms fail 70% of time in the age group under 20, and barely reduce the spread of disease, so if you engage in sex, maybe a condom will save you trouble, and then again maybe it won’t. Now, here’s how to use it…” — then it helps reinforce the original message.

The real problem is that a lot of the people claiming they want to use comprehensive sex ed to reduce teen pregnancy are, in my humble estimation, lying. They actually believe that teenagers should be engaged in sex more or less whenever they like; they just can’t say that, because they’d be run out of the school systems overnight if they did. CSE does not reduce teen sexual activity. It never has, it never will, and it is not designed to.

Regarding the title: it’s catchy, it’s quick, and unfortunately, it’s ambiguous. But the article is pretty straightforward.

August 3, 2011 @ 3:18 pm #

Gets to the roots…I didn’t find this in BBC, CNN, or anything like that. Encouraging teenage sexual activity is what contraception and abortion do, and that sexual activity causes teenage pregnancy. Solution? Teach them their real human worth. Don’t turn them into canines who do what they want at a whim.

August 3, 2011 @ 3:25 pm #

Phil, I think the sex ed teaching condoms is does exactly what you say in the “don’t do it, but if you do…” paragraph. They don’t teach kids virtue and why it’s what we’re made more. They say, “Virtue? Why do that? It takes work, self-denial, and not going with the flow. Why do that? You can just abort now and get divorced later if “it doesn’t work out”. Collateral damage? Who cares. It’s all about YOU.
The govt. spent millions of pounds year after year on condom economics, even when reports told them it was a failure. If the wheel’s broke, FIX IT!

August 3, 2011 @ 3:27 pm #

Sorry for the couple typos…I’ll do better next time.

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