by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Last week, Gov. Matt Blunt proudly signed into law HB 1055, a bill designed primarily to restrict access to abortion services and family planning information for women and to allow schools to substitute abstinence-only sex education for biological and medical education about human reproduction. Although I can understand why social conservatives are happy to see more restrictions on a woman’s access to abortion, I am still having a hard time understanding what good they can see in promoting abstinence-only sex education.

Let’s just assume for a minute that a goal of abstinence-only sex education is to prevent teenagers from engaging in sexual activity. If that’s the goal, abstinence-only sex education seems like one of the last things you’d try to reduce teen sex. Several higher-priority items come to mind.

First, why not reduce the number of television programs and movies that teens and kids watch where casual, consequence-free sex is depicted as the norm? Yes, I know Rachel on “Friends” got pregnant, but she could still afford her upscale Manhattan apartment and didn’t have to change her lifestyle. Granted, it wouldn’t have been very funny if one of the “Friends” characters had gotten HIV or a venereal disease, but it would have been more true to life.

Adult-themed material should be moved back to late night where it belongs, where it can’t be so easily accessed by teens and children. Of course, this might cut into the ability of the giant media corporations to maximize their profits. But doesn’t the public already provide media corporations with the use of public airwaves for their transmissions and the use of public rights of way for their cables? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to demand that these corporations stop bombarding our youths with the message that having sex on the first date is a normal and healthy way to conduct your life.

Second, why not do something to discourage our teenagers from dressing like sex-crazed celebrities? Darin Preis has already brought up the idea of school uniforms for those enrolled in Columbia Public Schools to reduce gang association and increase discipline among students. It seems like uniforms would also reduce the number of teens wearing salacious outfits to school and relieve parents and school staff from having to determine what is and is not acceptable dress.

Third, why not impose some level of regulation on the adult content available on the Internet? Right now, just about anything can be made available on the Net, and, in the most bizarre twist of roles, the federal government has demanded that schools limit access to this material through various content filters as a condition of receiving federal “E-rate” funding for technology. This has led many schools to limit access to tools like Google and other search engines that can display all sorts of adult images based on a given search term. It’s like allowing an adult bookstore to place a magazine rack full of pornography outside the school and then demanding that the principal make sure no students see it.

This past spring, the organization that makes most of the decisions about how the Internet will be organized – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN – approved the creation of a .xxx domain so adult material could be categorized and easily filtered out by parents and schools. This was a strictly voluntary program; no adult site would have been forced to move to the .xxx domain if they didn’t want to, but it was a step toward making the Internet safer for kids to use. However, the .xxx domain was cancelled after the Bush administration opposed its creation on the basis that it would encourage the posting of pornography on the Internet. What? Obviously whoever was handling this issue for the White House has yet to even use the Internet, let alone understand how it works.

Abstinence-only sex education has been proved time and again to be extremely risky. It has the highest rate of failure of any birth control method, and when abstinence fails, those teens who have been taught abstinence are less likely to use a sound method of birth control, relying instead on the myths they have learned from their peers – you can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up, or in a hot tub, or if it is your first time, and so forth. As such, teens who are taught abstinence only are much more likely to get pregnant or to contract a venereal disease if they do have sex.

Teenagers today are constantly exposed to sex and sexual images, usually so some adult can sell a product or make money. Unless we get serious about addressing how sex is depicted to teens, teenage sex will continue to increase in Missouri. Promoting abstinence-only sex education is nothing more than a way for the governor and the General Assembly to pretend they are doing something about the problem of teen sex and avoid a fight with the corporations and businesses that use sex to make money from teens.