Article by Jordan Wylie and Ana Gantman: “Comprehensive sex education works. Years of research show that it is much more effective than an abstinence-only approach at preventing teen pregnancy. In fact, abstinence-only programs may actually increase unplanned pregnancies and can contribute to harmful shaming and sexist attitudes.
Yet abstinence, or “sexual risk avoidance,” programs persist in the U.S. Why? Ultimately many people believe that teenagers should not have sex. If adolescents just abstain, they reason, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases will no longer be a problem. By contrast, comprehensive sex education operates under the premise that some young people do engage in sexual behavior, so it is worthwhile to help them understand how to avoid unwanted outcomes. For dedicated abstinence-only advocates, however, that approach is morally wrong.
Given the deeply held moral beliefs many people bring to this topic, it’s easy to think the debate over sex ed is doomed to a stalemate between those who want to ban it and those who want to promote it. And this is just one of several subjects where policy makers face a tough choice: ban or prohibit a potentially harmful activity, or allow it to continue while mitigating the harm. Mitigation options include needle-exchange programs that help people who use intravenous drugs lower their risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses. Another example is mandatory waiting periods for firearms purchases, which allow people to possess firearms but also reduce homicides.
These harm-reduction strategies are often effective, but they can be unpopular. That’s because issues like sexual behavior, drug use and gun ownership involve highly moralized opinions. Research shows that when people feel moral outrage toward a behavior, they are more likely to support policies that aim to completely stop that activity rather than make it safer.
But our research suggests that not all expressions of moral outrage are alike. Through a series of studies that involved surveying more than 1,000 Americans, we found that, in some cases, people base their moral opposition on the harm that an action causes. In those instances, if you can find ways to make an activity safer, you can also make it more morally acceptable…(More)”