Tangential, but it irritates me to no end when these papers list "fewer sexual partners" as an objective good achieved by the program. Fuck you, paper author, I do not share your utility function.
Starting sex later also might not be a measure of anything that necessarily improves quality of life.
Yeah, that one pisses me off too.
Well, depends on your age. Age of puberty is coming down, apparently. So if an eleven year old girl is growing breasts, menstruating regularly and her body is physically capable of bearing a child, should she be having sex?
Please note: all those inclined to answer "Yes", I expect a better reason than "It's fine as long as she is put on the pill/contraceptive implant and doesn't get pregnant." Also, what age should her sexual partners be? Eleven or twelve year old boys? Fifteen? Eighteen? Why would eighteen be squickier (if it is squickier for you) than thirteen or fifteen?
I think starting sex later is used as a proxy for waiting until a teenager has further matured and can be responsible about their own sexuality. It's grossly inaccurate on an individual level, but I'd imagine it works ok on large samples.
I'll obligingly note that your utility function is wrong.
But, more interestingly, they are just not talking about the polyarmorous situations you seem to be thinking about.
Perhaps, if your cluster of personspace is sufficiently isolated from the infectious one, it is possible to have a literal clusterfuck without it turning into a figurative one.* But in this context we are talking about large subspaces of personspace that don't cluster, so everyone is connected to everyone and STD's can travel the whole network unhindered. Having lots of sex partners sounds a lot less attractive in that context, which is the context most promiscuous people are promiscuous in.
Also, most people still connect sex to at least theoretically exclusive romantic relationships, which means that more sex partners means more broken exclusive romantic relationships, which is clearly bad.
So, even on your moral assumptions, less sex partners are a good proxy for something sensible in the context we are talking about.
*I know, if I was a better person I would have resisted that line.
Yet something makes a difference. AIUI the Northeast has lower teen pregnancy and STD rates than the South. The Dutch have lower teen pregnancy rates and later age of first sex than the British. I don't know about NE schools, but the Dutch have much more open sex education, as well as parental attitudes.
UUs have some interesting sex ed program of their own that I don't know much about, nor the epidemiological results of, but most of the raised-UU people I knew seemed very comfortable with their bodies and touch and each other. I even saw someone's thesis on how growing up UU then turning adult was like leaving fairyland. "Wait, the real world sucks."
Edited at 2012-12-03 06:59 am (UTC)
2012-12-03 07:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I kind of agree with both of those, although there are a few patterns that are bad and very common such as Extremely Early Naive Sex and uncautious promiscuity.
I would of course say that there are potentially other benefits to sexual education.
I would finally add that a lot of sexual education, even that which is more than just abstinence and fairly detailed, is AMAZINGLY bad AND very narrowly focused on preventing STD transmission and unwanted pregnancy. Common problems include only the vaguest treatment of emotions or social issues, no treatment of consent, and, especially in those meant for the younger people, a discussion with so little context that I didn't even know that people found sexual penetration pleasurable or associated it in any way with romantic love.
Really interesting comment, in that treatment of consent is a huge issue in every sex-ed class I know about, my sample being biased by location and ongoing interest in engaging boys and men against GBV; but see, also, the everydaysexism blog, which suggests to me that consent-education is, as you suggest, absent...
Schools are extraordinarily bad at any kind of education on any subject, so why would sex ed be any different? That's not what they're set up to do.
Sex education, or education in general? If the latter, I'd be interested in an expanded comment.
Roughly, I'm pretty convinced by Gatto's
analysis, based both on my own experiences in the public schools as a special-needs kid and on fifteen years of various kinds of teaching and one-on-one tutoring. The popular/progressive view of the public schools is largely the result of myth-building; public schools do a poor job of educating because that's not what they're actually constructed to do at the institutional level.
Don't Gatto's criticisms apply to most schools in general, public or private?
One of the best school systems in the world is the Finnish public school system. Many of the best schools in the US are public schools. White flight is largely about moving so as to send one's kids to "better" public schools and avoid integration with blacks kids. Even in general, the students do tend to learn to read, write, and do basic math.
Many US public schools are crappy, yes, for various reasons, but saying public schools don't work is a broad brush.
So long as sex ed doesn't make things actively worse I'm in favour of it, as I'm generally in favour of education.
2012-12-03 08:41 am (UTC)
Are you familiar with the concept of opportunity costs?
If Sex Ed doesn't work, we may as well spend that time teaching math (or whatever you need) instead.
Sex ed is as perfectly reasonable a subject as art, history, geography, (or for most people) any math beyond the very basic.
Not if they don't learn the sex ed, but do learn math and history.
More related to your main point on epistimology than sex ed, I would be interested if you had looked at studies of home births vs hospital births. My impression is that obstetrics is quite over medicalized.
I'll have to admit that I skimmed a few pages of the Kirby/National Campaign report before that blog post and then dismissed it purely on accidents.
If a long report published by an organization with an ax to grind has excellent graphic design clearly done with a DTP program, magazine-style separate text blocks, pictures of happy diverse people, and math&science explanations on a level clearly geared to innumerate journalists & politicians, I tend to assume it's just PR looking for a home in the cylindrical file.
I think that's a reasonable heuristic and we would live in a better world if policymakers followed it, but it's of course not actual proof of anything. It is possible for real information to hide behind that kind of mask, particularly in a world where that is exactly what policy makers want to read.
So given that you think it most impressive I grumblingly conclude I probably need to read the whole thing. Maybe I'll be back with an update some time after Christmas...
Also, you obviously know much more about that kind of stuff than I do, so I probably should defer.
OK, so much for eating crow, but I still have nit-picks:
The Johnson et al. meta-analysis isn't about youth reached through sex-education in school, the participants were on average 28 years old, and mostly recruited through communities or clinics. I think that's closer to the social work category I hedged for. That would also be compatible with the minority report on the Preventative Services Task Force study you already mentioned.
And I'm not quite comfortable with ignoring the abstinence-only study, because the normal (mostly comprehensive) program was the control group, so if there is no measurable difference that points to both being ineffective. Of course the the control group also served as waiting list, so some of the abstinence only kids could also have gotten some of the comprehensive sex ed, which could dilute an advantage it might have. Still there is evidence against the effectiveness of either version there.
Finally, the working community based stuff sounds much more intense, so the "it works on average but not on the margin" story for comprehensive sex-ed sounds like a stretch.
But then again basically every statistical study leaves some points open to quibbling by people who dislike it. So my having complaints here doesn't mean that much either.
So for the moment I'll just take your point that it's always more complicated.
I agree with you about the glossy brochure, and I agree that it worries me that Kirby has done like ten of these reports for the WHO and the UN and various other advocacy groups. I am trying not to let that worry influence my opinions, just because if someone were an honest and brilliant researcher his path would probably also go through getting associated with all the big groups that give money to study topics, so I don't feel like it's good evidence against him.
When I say his is "most impressive", I mean only that it is very long and comprehensive, that it reviews the most studies, and that it has an entire chapter dedicated to possible biases in meta-analyses and how it's going to avoid them. I certainly didn't do more than skim the actual research before looking at the results. But I find the fact that the results weren't really all that impressive, and he acknowledged them but didn't try to inflate them, a point in his favor.
I do think some evidence supports the "more intense" hypothesis, but then that also seems like exactly the thing the meta-analysis you cited should be demolishing, since it mostly compared normal school programs to more intense programs.
Overall I'm sticking with "confused", but I'm eager to see what you find in a more comprehensive review.
Sorry, you're on a path that leads through Pyrrhonian skepticism. Hopefully it eventually leads out, through the discovery of some authority or source, somewhere, that is reasonably reliable, but wishing won't make that happen. Most likely, you'll have to find like-minded people and build such a source yourselves. Naturally, that's what I'm trying to enable.
...what's wrong with Pyrrhonian skepticism? :(
He said he doesn't want to go there.