Jill and Phil Fell Down the Hill

Lou FCD's picture

Blindfold game 2 by Lee Carson @ Flickr

I was actually looking for some good sex-ed resources for linking here at SitPS when I recently stumbled across one of the most bizarre and counter-factual rants I've seen outside of the Discovery Institute's network of self-referential web-dust-collection blogs. Admittedly, I don't carouse around the right wing blogs often, preferring to have the straight stuff filtered for me by writers with a firmer grasp on reality. For that reason, I was thoroughly blind-sided by the utter credulity with which some blogger named Jill Stanek breathlessly repeated some pretty outlandish claims by a Canadian child psychiatrist named Dr. Philip Ney. I had never heard of Stanek, but after poking around it seems that she is a leading light of the forced birth/anti-sex-ed religio-political movement.

Apparently, Dr. Ney asserts not only that there is no need for comprehensive sex education for students, but that sex ed is detrimental to their mental health. Stanek doesn't really contribute much to this particular article herself, but opts to simply parrot some of Dr. Ney's "more noteworthy points".

Stanek begins her article with a rather foreboding exclamation.

With renewed debate over how to curb the rampant, irresponsible sexual activity of our youth - the other side pushing more of what sexualized our children to begin with - we thought it a good time to resurrect a good piece on Life Site News last year by Psychiatrist Dr. Philip Ney regarding sex education for children.

Right away, the tone of the article is set by the assumption the reader is supposed to take for granted - that our youth are engaging in rampant, irresponsible sexual activity. Even granting the assumption (a dubious proposition to begin with), the rational response of educating the youth in question is brushed aside without consideration by Stanek. Still, it's not unheard of for scientific findings to be counter-intuitive, so let's take a look at the "more noteworthy points" Stanek points to from Dr. Ney, and the evidence to support them. 

The more sex education, the more sexual self-consciousness. There is substantial evidence that the more sex education, especially on technique, the more the couple is sexually inhibited. The greater the emphasis on sexual performance, the less communication and interpersonal intimacy there is....

That's certainly a surprising finding in the first part. I can't say I've ever heard of such a claim anywhere before. Of course, I'm not a professional in the field (yet), but it would certainly fall under the heading of "counter-intuitive" for me. And according to Dr. Ney, there is "substantial" evidence to support it. Unfortunately, Stanek fails to pass any of it along to us in her rehashing of his article. Looking through the "more noteworthy points" she lists, it appears that she's not inclined to pass along any data at all on any of them.

The more sex education, the more sexual activity. It is quite conclusive now, that the more sex education, the more sexual activity and all the problems that go with that. The introduction of sex education is well correlated with the increase in abortion, STDs and boy-girl interpersonal problems.

This seems to run counter to the best government and academic research on teen behavior. Data from the National Family Growth Survey, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Mathmatica study (all .pdfs) of abstinence-only sex education all indicate that comprehensive sex education and access to contraception reduce the problems associated with teen sexual behavior, and find no dramatic increase in teen sexual behavior as a result of sex ed programs. Since Stanek fails to provide even a hint of data in her article, she can be fairly dismissed as irrelevant to the point. We might as well go to the research upon which Stanek based her blog post and ignore her entirely, except to tip our hats to her for pointing us to Dr. Ney.

The article from Ney to which Stanek points begins thus:

I am a retired professor of psychiatry, having taught in 5 universities in different parts of Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand.  I have also run child and adolescent psychiatric units.  I have been on school boards.  It is from a review of the literature and from my experience that I write this brief opinion.

Wait, what? Not only is Stanek not referencing peer-reviewed published research, but Ney himself seems to be working from a review of research that doesn't exist. Immediately upon opening Stanek's link, it becomes very clear that what she is referencing is run-of-the-mill forced-birth, anti-sex boilerplate. If evidence is what you seek, you will not find it here. You will however, find even more shocking claims by Ney, again bereft of even a whiff of a statistic.

1) There is no particular need for "sex education."  For many centuries there was no sex education, yet children were conceived and their parents enjoyed the process.  Discovery of each other and what is pleasant in bed, on the wedding night and thereafter, is an important part of the exciting and unique pleasure that bonds the couple.

The implicit assumption here of course is that people are, and should be, virgins on their wedding night. Why? Well, because it is an important part of the exciting and unique pleasure that bonds the couple. What the one has to do with the other, Ney never mentions. Other than that, Ney's claim rests solely on the idea that "it's always been that way, therefore it should remain that way". People have always died of viral infections too, but I wouldn't argue that they should continue that way. What is is not always what should be.

2) Sex education inhibits pair bonding. To educate young people about something that comes naturally robs them of the spontaneity and joy of sex that is vitally important for pair bonding and thus family stability.

This is an empirically testable claim, at least in part, and a scientifically minded reader would think that Ney would throw us a bone here. Something that begins with "67% of 3000 couples studied..." would have been nice. Instead what we have is a bald assertion. Again, this is nothing but an opinion piece, but it's purportedly an expert opinion. It's rather glaring in its omission of anything resembling support.

The rest of Ney's article reads similarly, though it hints at some sort of scientific founding with phrases like "It is quite conclusive now...". Nevertheless, the points hang there unsupported. While one or two of Ney's points might serve as launch points for interesting and valuable discussion, these are some of Ney's more problematic assertions:

4) The more sex education, the more sexual activity. It is quite conclusive now, that the more sex education, the more sexual activity and all the problems that go with that.  The introduction of sex education is well correlated with the increase in abortion, STDs and boy-girl interpersonal problems. Good education gives people the desire to try it out or learn more experientially.  Paradoxically, in that respect, current forms of sex education are good education but have the wrong results.

5) The earlier the sex education, the younger children explore sex and try various sexual techniques. Present evidence makes it possible to also conclude that the earlier the sex education, the earlier the sexual behavior. Thus sexual education is sexual titillation.

6) In preventing disease and pregnancy, sex education has been a failure. Sex education has had the opposite effect in preventing young people from engaging in "risky sexual behavior."

7) The idea of "safe sex" has failed.  Frightening children with the dangers of "unprotected sex", drugs, fast driving, alcohol, etc. for many children has the paradoxical effect of increasing their interest in trying it.

8) The reliance on condoms has been dangerously misleading.  There are sexually transmitted diseases (eg. Human Papilloma Virus) for which condoms offer no protection.  The most effective use of the best condoms offers 87% protection from lethal HIV, transmitted by anal intercourse.  Condom use has failed particularly in Africa.  Condom use creates the false impression of safety, thus encouraging sex, when there is a 13% (at least) chance of dying as a result.

I'm going to come back to point number 9 in a moment, as it actually contains something of interest. For now, let's skip ahead and take a look at the final point in this list of strange and meritless assertions.

14) Many kinds of sex education, including "chastity" education, leave a young person with the impression that any kind of sex except vaginal intercourse is okay when it is not.

This point in particular is a rather obvious tell. It tells us something rather profound about where Ney is coming from. Read it again.

14) Many kinds of sex education, including "chastity" education, leave a young person with the impression that any kind of sex except vaginal intercourse is okay when it is not.

Ney plainly and unequivocally asserts that vaginal intercourse is the only acceptable kind of sex. Why? Because he says so. That's it. Ney tells us that the only sort of sex that is "okay" is vaginal intercourse, and we are presumably to unquestioningly accept his self-restrictions as a given. I hope the reader will pardon me if I decline this peculiarly narrow prohibition on my own sex life based on the opinion of some random internet zealot with an anti-sex obsession.

Now, let's go back and take a look at arguably the only point that Ney makes that is even worthy of intellectual discussion.

9) There is nothing in sex education that cannot be part of a more effective general health education.  Everything of value in sex education can be integrated with the necessary knowledge of how the body and mind work. We found that by using the young person's curiosity and letting them discover how their heart, lungs etc. work, gives them a natural desire to protect something very precious - their body and mind.

On its face, this point actually has merit, and is worthy of further consideration in its own right. Why exactly is Comprehensive Sex Education not more fully integrated into more general health education? Sexuality is a fundamental part of the human condition and impacts (and is impacted by) a person's overall health. It would seem that segregating sex ed from the rest of health education is a vestigial remnant of earlier times when discussion of sex was taboo, closeted, and not for "mixed company". But those times are behind us now, and in the twenty-first century there is no legitimate reason to hide sex-ed in a separate course, shoved into gender-segregated classrooms and requiring parental permission slips that serve only to give basic biological education an aura of shame and dirtiness. We are human, humans are mammals, and mammals have sex. It's an indispensable part of us as a species, and disconnecting it from health ed reinforces the idea the sex is the opposite of healthy: dangerous, dirty, and taboo.

I still wanted a look at the research, so I continued to search.

Ney is now President at Mount Joy College, a small Christian "college" he started in British Columbia that seems to exist solely to train counselors in Ney's "Hope Alive" program (Vanity college, anyone?).

The Hope Alive Program deals with men and women who suffer from PAS ( Post Abortion Syndrome), children and adults who have PASS (Post Abortion Survivor Syndrome) and men who are affected by LOPS (Lack of Partner Support) and everyone damaged by mistreatment especially childhood abuse and neglect (CAN). This program does not involve hymn singing, prayer and Bible reading so that all hurting individuals feel welcome. Because it is so thoroughly Christ centered, people will readily come to know Him personally.

So the point of the Hope Alive Program, and thus the "college" itself, seems to be Christian proselytization by preying, albeit nominally without praying.

It turns out to be less surprising once the Mount Joy College Statement of Faith is perused:

Therefore, motivated by gratitude and love, I will obey God's command to love, praise and glorify Him. I will strive to love my neighbors as well as I love myself, regardless of their age, race, color, creed, disability or disease. I will work to meet the needs of all my neighbors. Thus I am pro life (from conception to death), pro family (parents of two sexes) and pro truth, beautiful and disturbing (Emphasis added - Lou FCD)

I'm not aware of any legitimate institution of higher learning that demands oaths of ideological conformity like this. Even universities with overtly religious underpinnings like Notre Dame and Calvin College express their mission statements in terms of the goals of the college rather than as a pledge of allegiance to dogma. Still, a scientist's ideology, no matter where it lies, is irrelevant to the actual research. Science doesn't care what you believe to be true, only what is supportable with empirical observation and testing. Newton's theory of gravity is accurate regardless of his involvement with alchemy. Darwin's theory of evolution is accurate regardless of his ignorance of genetics. Ney's research could be entirely supportable regardless of his religious opinions on abortion and in spite of his homophobia. 

I needed to find the data.

The MJC history page credits him with 66 scientific papers, but oddly doesn't mention the journals in which they were published. I wanted to see the actual peer-reviewed scientific papers that support Ney's assertions, whether by him or from relevant academics (after all, anyone can have an opinion, I'd rather rely on empirical research, thank you very much), so I followed the link from the Lifesite article to his own website. I was pleased to see that right at the top Ney promises to provide "information, scientific data, thought provoking essays and an opportunity to contribute to a whole range of life issues..." Unfortunately, Ney's own papers on the subject do not seem to be available and so it is impossible to evaluate his claims based on an examination of any data. Despite the fact that many of his research papers on other topics are easily accessible from his website, none of those seem to have anything to do with sex ed and teenagers' sexual behavior.

In the end, I admit that I came up empty. Truth be told, it was this article at Catholic Insight that ended my effort to take Ney with even a grain of seriousness.

In the article, Ney not only posits that the popularity of the Harry Potter novels is due to their resonance with what he terms "abortion survivors", but goes so far as to accuse JK Rowling of using "coded language" to beguile them into Satanism.

The inventor of Harry Potter describes with great accuracy the world of the abortion survivors. However, in a truly satanic fashion, she leads these broken people in a downward spiral into a world that is not life-giving, but one of death and despair. She shows them the way to an illusion of power, which is without life and which is the realm of Satan. Harry Potter can become a cult, making people feel they are understood and will understand the truth and then deliberately lead them away from the source of Life and Truth. The psychopathology associated with being an abortion survivor is real. It needs to be understood by those involved in the new evangelization. We now need people who are saintly enough to descend into the pit of hell where they are and who can bring them to the light. Preaching Jesus Christ is a work of love, healing and life. It is a work of mercy.

I think I've read enough of Dr. Ney at this point to have a good idea of the substance of his opinion, and I'm inclined to give it the same weight as the opinions of Jerry Falwell (which is to say, none). Any research he may or may not have done does not appear to be the basis of any of his opinions, and for Stanek to so mindlessly repeat such unsubstantiated garbage speaks volumes about her own credibility and credulity. Stanek is looking for something, anything, that appears to support her preconceived conclusions, and cares not one whit for either the veracity or the credibility of the source.

Stanek presents us with a valuable object lesson here on the danger of mistaking unsupported opinion pieces for real research. For that at least, we should thank her. Hers is a striking example of how not to form an evidence-based opinion, a problem all too common in the media and in society at large. Sexual education for both students and adults is too important to base on the philosophical masturbations of a person with little more than the title of an authority and an ideological agenda the size of a Wooly Mammoth.

Further reading from Dr. Philip Ney:

"Increased Emission of Dead Baby Souls Causes Global Warming" and

"Pregnant?: Join our Dating Service or Sell Us Your Kid"

References

"Calvin College - About Calvin - Our Mission." Calvin College - Distinctively Christian, Academically Excellent, Always Reforming. N.p., 2009. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.calvin.edu/about/mission.htm>.

"Faith & Service." University of Notre Dame. N.p., 2007. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://nd.edu/faith-and-service/>.

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2007. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. <http://www.childstats.gov/pdf/ac2007/ac_07.pdf>

Ney, Philip G. "GLOBAL WARMING; An ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS." Welcome to Messengers2.com | Hope Alive | Abortion Survivors. N.p., 19 Feb. 2008. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.messengers2.com/articles/science/global_warming.htm>.

Ney, Philip G. "Messengers2.com." Welcome to Messengers2.com | Hope Alive | Abortion Survivors. N.p., 6 July 2009. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.messengers2.com/>.

Ney, Philip G. "Prominent Psychiatrist: "No Particular Need for Sex-Education"" LifeSiteNews.com - Your Life, Family and Culture Outpost. N.p., 4 Sept. 2008. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08090405.html>.

Ney, Philip G. "Ten Live Options to Abortion." Welcome to Messengers2.com | Hope Alive | Abortion Survivors. N.p., 2 Jan. 2005. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.messengers2.com/articles/discoveries_and_ethics/ten_options.htm>.

"Our History." Mount Joy College. N.p., 2009. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.mtjoycollege.com/history.htm>.

Peeters-Ney, Marie, and Philip G. Ney. "Catholic Insight : Features : Harry Potter: The archetype of an abortion survivor." Catholic Insight Home. N.p., Dec. 2003. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://catholicinsight.com/online/features/article_746.shtml>.

Princeton Survey Research Associates International. National Survey of Young Teens Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Rep. NBC News/People Magazine, n.d. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/Sections/TVNews/Dateline%20NBC/NBCTeenTopline.pdf>.

Stanek, Jill. "Sex education unnecessary?" Jill Stanek. N.p., 12 June 2009. Web. 7 July 2009. <http://www.jillstanek.com/archives/2009/06/sex_education_n.html>.

"Statement of Faith." Mount Joy College. N.p., 2004. Web. 07 July 2009. <http://www.mtjoycollege.com/faith.htm>.

Trenholm, Christopher, Barbara Devaney, Ken Fortson, Lisa Quay, Justin Wheeler, and Melissa Clark. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. United States. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. , Apr. 2007. Web. 7 July 2009. <http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control. Division of Vital Statistics. Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15–44 Years of Age, United States, 2002. By William D. Mosher, Anjani Chandra, and Jo Jones. Centers for Disease Control, 15 Sept. 2005. Web. 7 July 2009. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362.pdf>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control. Vital and Health Statistics. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2002. By Joyce C. Abma, Gladys M. Martinez, William D. Mosher, and Brittany S. Dawson. Centers for Disease Control, Mar. 2006. Web. 7 July 2009. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_024.pdf>.

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