Abstinence-only programs are required to teach that teen sex leads to juvenile delinquency. If there was ever such an explicitly sexophobic idea, I can't think of it. And, like most ideas that stem from our culture's widespread anxiety about sex, it's probably not true:
So obvious and well established was the contribution of early sex to later delinquency that the idea was already part of the required curriculum for federal "abstinence only" programs.
There was just one problem: It is probably not true. Other things being equal, a more probing study has found, youngsters who have consensual sex in their early-teen or even preteen years are, if anything, less likely to engage in delinquent behavior later on.
The new study isn't based on new data, rather it's a re-examination of data from another recent study that concluded the opposite.
An Ohio State University study asked teens about the age at which they lost their virginity and compared it to their criminal record and found that:
One year after losing their virginity, children in the early category were 20 percent more likely than those who started having sex at the average age to engage in delinquent behavior, even when several other relevant factors such as wealth, race, parental involvement and physical development were taken into account.
Of course, they couldn't control for genetics and parenting, so the University of Vermont took on the twins in the data set. They:
studied more than 500 pairs of twins in the same national survey analyzed by the Ohio team. Because twin pairs share similar or identical genetic inheritances (depending on whether they are fraternal or identical) and the same home environment, twin studies are useful for seeing through false cause-and-effect relationships.
They found "no positive relationship between age of first sex and delinquency."
This suggests that the original relationship between sex and delinquency wasn't cause-and-effect, rather it was some other correlation. The researchers believes that genetic factors can cause both early sex and delinquency:
Together, those findings suggest that some genes -- perhaps, for example, those that increase impulsivity and risk-taking -- may underlie both behaviors.
"You need to have some appetite for risk-taking to be a delinquent. And the same if you're 13 and going to have sex for the first time," Harden said.
But how can we demonize sex without saying it causes things like delinquency? How can we justify attempts to regulate sexuality that don't and won't ever work if we can't tie it to a hard and fast wrong?
Well, those are big questions, but abstinence-only advocates have never really been all that concerned with "fact" and "studies" and "truth".