My last post was about a new law in Mississippi that requires the collection of cord blood under specified circumstances. (Read the post for details.) I want to further develop some of the ideas there and actually tie it all back to a discussion of “human nature” that came up recently in a series of posts about putative father registries. (I’ve linked to the first in the series. You can read as many as you want and either read or skim the extensive comments, too.)
The proponents of the cord blood collection statute say that their primary concern is teen pregnancy. I think that reducing the rate of teen pregnancy is then tied to increasing prosecution of men who commit statutory rape–which is to say older men who have sex with women who are 16 or under. The way MS law is written, “older” there must mean men over 19.
Let’s assume for a moment that older men are deterred by the prospect that the cord blood DNA will serve as crucial evidence to support their prosecution. (I think this is open to question for some of the same reasons I’m about to discuss in a different context.) Will that significantly reduce the rate of teen pregnancy? Only if a significant number of teen pregnancies are actually the result of intercourse between older men and 16 (0r younger) year olds. Probably the statistic is out there sometime, but rather than go that way right now, I want to talk about the view of the world reflected by the assumption that this is the case.
Remember that this is proposed by the same folks who promote abstinence only sex ed? It seems to me that the world view here is that young women–16 year olds, say–have no innate inclination to engage in sex. They engage in sex only when 1) their will is overborne by the older man (that’s part of the concern in statutory rape) and/or 2) they are pressured to do so because of expectations set up by comprehensive and medically accurate sex ed. If you accept this world view, then the two policies (abstinence only education and enhanced statutory rape prosecutions) advance the goal of fewer teen pregnancies.
In a cursory way, you could say that these policies are premised on the belief that young women are, by their nature, pure and non-sexual. And this, it seems to me, is wrong. Young women (like young men) are interested in sex. I’m not particularly a fan of our hyper-sexualized commercial culture, but I do think teens’ interest in sex is in the nature of things.
If you accept that statement instead of the one about purity, then I think you would see the policies as doomed to failure. All that abstinence-only education does is set girls up for pregnancy. Same thing when you restrict access to birth control, which is almost always part of the same picture. And reducing statutory rape doesn’t acknowledge that many (if not most) of the pregnancies are the result of two teenagers engaging in sex, and that’s typically not going to be statutory rape.
(I think I ought to make clear that I’m not saying that statutory rape is itself okay–I just don’t think it is a big part of the teen pregnancy problem.)
Now the reason this ties back to those other posts is that it seems to me this boils down to a debate about human nature: Is it human nature that young women are sexual creatures or not? And what follows from a statement that some behavior is “human nature?”
These are important questions that, as I mentioned earlier, have come up recently in a different context. I cannot recall whether we’ve talked about them before. The rest of what I do right now may just be set-up for later discussion.
The first question is what we mean when we say that something (a behavior, say) is human nature. Is that an excuse? (We shouldn’t blame a person for doing it because it is human nature.) Or is it an observation that increases our understanding of what to expect generally? (Which is what it seems to be with regard to teenage girls and sex)
The second question is how we know (or how we think we know) what human nature is/is not. Why do I think that I know that girls are, by their nature, interested in sex? Is that just my own experience? Is it based on research? Is it just some self-serving assumption?
And the third question is what follows from something being “human nature?” Does it mean that we just have to live with it, that we cannot try to change it? This is the one I can most easily answer–I don’t think it does/should. It may be human nature to just grab for what you want, but we teach children not to do that and, for the good of society, I think we do have to learn to restrain that grabby impulse. But does it mean that we’ll have to work especially hard to change things, when those things are human nature?
I will come back to this next time because you can see I’m just getting started/just thinking it through.