But Leslee Unruh Personally Assured Me that Sex Was Evil!

So as we all know, teen sex causes global warming, cancer, and the breakdown of human society, and unless we teach our children they must me abstinent until marriage, we may as well just surrender to the Muslims. Except for one little thing: it turns out that kids who do it earlier turn out to be better kids in the long run:
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.

But...but...used chewing gum!

The study was interesting because it looked at data that had previously been used to indicate that kids who have the sex are more delinquent. The new study looked at identical twins, and found something interesting:
It found that identical twins, who have the same DNA, were more similar to one another in the ages at which they lost their virginity than were fraternal twins, whose DNA patterns are 50 percent the same -- an indication that genes influence the age at which a person will first have sex. Other twin studies have found the same pattern for delinquency.

Together, those findings suggest that some genes -- perhaps, for example, those that increase impulsivity and risk-taking -- may underlie both behaviors.

But was it all just twin studies? No:
Efforts to prevent delinquency can hardly take aim at people's genes. But the Virginia study also indicates that social factors, as yet unidentified but perhaps involving relationships with family and friends, have an even bigger impact than genes on whether a child will become delinquent. Those are the things that should be identified and targeted by delinquency-prevention programs, said Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, co-director of Columbia University's National Center for Children and Families.

"I wouldn't be focusing on early sexuality . . . to alter rates of delinquency," she said.

Perhaps most surprising, the Virginia study found that adolescents who had sex at younger ages were less likely to end up delinquent than those who lost their virginity later. Many factors play into a person's readiness for sex, but in at least some cases sexual relationships may offer an alternative to trouble, the researchers say.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that we should be encouraging kids to have sex willy-nilly at the onset of puberty. Sex can be risky for a variety of reasons, which is why a sensible, intelligent discussion of its potential consequences is important.

But we do have to stop panicking about teens having sex. For one thing, a large chunk of them are going to, just as they have for as long as humans have been alive. For another, sex in and of itself is not destructive. As the study says:
Young adolescents, in particular, are less likely to use condoms and so are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

But those are risks that other nations have mitigated with education, Harden and Turkheimer said, while U.S. educators wanting a piece of the nation's $200 million "abstinence only" budget must adhere to a curriculum that links sex to delinquency and explicitly precludes discussion of contraception.

The new study "really calls into question the usefulness of abstinence education for preventing behavior problems," Harden said, "and questions the bigger underlying assumption that all adolescent sex is always bad."

Amen. Now, if we can just get our friends in the Democratic party to realize that, maybe we'll be on to something.

(Via Lord Saletan, who happily doesn't bring up abortion.)

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