honorary Hose Monster:
Dear editorial staff of Newsweek:
I have said in this space repeatedly that, for the most part, I think you and your writers do a respectable job of reporting and writing news stories. On the whole, I find them generally credible and well-researched without containing an easily-perceptible editorial slant. On the other hand, I strongly feel that your non-news/current events features leave a lot to be desired, and more specifically, I would argue that your features and covers relating to social trends and issues are a disgrace to the rest of your magazine if it were not self-evident.
This week's cover story, "Choosing Virginity," is an absolute farce of journalism and is quite possibly the most irresponsible and, to be frank, stupidest piece of writing I have ever encountered in what we should be decreasingly labelling mainstream media.
The contention of the article, that teens are increasingly choosing to abstain from sex falls flat on its face from the very first page of the article, where your designers chose to extract a quote and highlight it next to the title of the article. Just for your information, I'm referring to the quotation where one abstinent girl claims that "If you're abstinent, it's like you're the one set aside from society because you're not doing it." That one teenager feels ostracized because she's choosing to not have sex does not defeat the pedastal on which the article stands, a Centers for Disease Control study claiming that the number of high school students who say they've never had sexual intercourse rose by almost 10 percent between 1991 and 2001. On its face, I could argue the study has some credibility. What I cannot believe is that the Newsweek editorial staff would choose to base an entire cover story and the related article and sidebar on one study that seems to directly contradict the common perception that teens are, if not having sex younger and more frequently than ever before, or at the very least maintaining the sexual exploration that makes our grandparents shake their heads and wonder how things could so greatly change in so very little time. As journalists, I would expect that you and your staff would recognize the pitfall of making surprising assertions on the strength of one study; as someone with common sense, I cannot believe you would put such a clearly contradictory article on your cover and choose to make it the centerpiece of your weekly edition.
The article lede claims that "there's a sexual revolution going on in America" and within the first paragrapgh, the story asserts that a growing number of students have decided to remain chaste until marriage. Following comes a series of short stories of six teens who have chosen to abstain from sex.
Did you, in reviewing the copy from your staff writers, fail to notice that in each of the six stories, the text contains a direct or hinted statement that these abstaining teens constitute a minority, rather than a revolution or a "wave of young adults" choosing not to have sex? From the quotation on the opening photograph, the entire structure and text of the article proceeds to debunk the entire premise of your article, an article I do not think I go far in supposing developed in your staff room. In the first story, your writers claim that "judging by MTV's 'Undressed' and UPN's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and just about every other TV program targeted at teens, everyone is doing it" (emphasis original). In describing the town where your girl feels weird that she's not doing it, you parenthetically recall an anecdote where one local said "It figures you had to come all the way out here to find a virgin." The first sentence of Latoya Huggin's story begins, "Remaining a virgin until marriage is neither an easy nor a common choice," and in a later story, a young collegiate girls claims she "feels little temptation to do what many of her peers are doing behind closed dormitory doors." The renewed virgin knows "it's not easy to practice such restraint, especially when those around him do not," and perhaps most quizzically, the text makes a point of informing that the El Paso beauty queen has chosen to remain abstinent in an area that has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.
And aside from the fact that in each of the six stories the article details contains a reference that these teens are not like most of their peers, did you forget the logical mistake of making an assertion without at least discussing to some extent the other side? I know it might not have fit in with your article, but I would have been interested to know how many kids you interviewed, or could have interviewed, who have chosen to engage in sex, be it oral, anal or traditional. Might be interesting to see how this fact affects the idea of a revolution. Just a thought.
Moreover, did you stop to think that this phenomenon, this "wave of teens" choosing not to have sex, might be restricted to a relatively small sector of kids who just might share common beliefs? Actually, congratulations, you did. You noted that "the new abstinence movement" has been "largely fostered by cultural conservatives and evangelical Christians." But cultural conservatives and evangelical Christians? I could see how these two groups, who have historically engaged in such promiscuously sexual behavior across all ages, and the sudden change in their sexual behavior they have affected, could form the basis for such strong assertions, especially when every abstinent teen you interviewed falls into one of those two groups, groups who clearly constitute the majority of American teens.
Based on this information, I clearly see how a sexual revolution of abstinence is taking place among our teens. The fact that every story you claim in support of this revolution contains an implicit, and in more than one case, an explicit statement that most teens are not in fact abstaining from sex, and the fact that this revolution is taking place among a group that has historically adhered to standards of abstinence and moreover has openly and self-righteously preached abstinence as though they had the clear right to do so as given to them by God himself, certainly suggests that an abstinence revolution is happening. Especially when this assertion comes on the strength of one study, which you cite as evidence of this wave of change repeatedly as the only actual evidence.
Pardon my sarcasm, but the egregiousness of your irresponsible "journalism" deserves a little facetious ridicule at this point.
The CDC study certainly is interesting, and a story stemming from it is probably warranted, based on the single study. But do it correctly: give it one page, and set it up that one study is suggesting that teens might be choosing to abstain in greater numbers than in previous years. I think you could stand repsectfully on that platform.
But do yourself a favor, Newsweek: don't make yourself to look foolish by trying and atrociously failing to make it a bigger deal than it might possibly be. You're one of the pillars of the supposed mainstream media. Try and act like you understand some of the ethics and responsibilities of journalism appurtenant to that position.
Hose Monster's note: Attached to this "story" is a policy debate on the efficacy and legitimacy of teaching abstinence, including the current Administration's desire to increase federal funding for abstinence education programs. I have some similarly strong opinions on that one, so stay tuned.