The essay “Condoms: The New Diploma” by Rush Limbaugh discusses why distribution of condoms in school (or promotion of other controversial school sexeducation programs), are not the solution to teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Limbaugh then continues to explain why he thinks public schools should focus on promoting more traditional methods, such as abstinence to prevent the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Rush Limbaugh is a well known conservative radio talk show host whose views and commentary have been labeled as highly controversial since he is outspoken and often argues with emotion and reasoning, rather than logic and facts. This essay is highly critical of the condom distribution system in American public schools. Limbaugh tends to not refer to a large amount of scientific data and surveys, but rather it attempts to appeal to his audience by explaining why the system is faulty. He expresses shock and outrage at the reasoning why condoms are an insufficient solution to teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs, and the underlying problem of teen promiscuity. The first sentence of the essay immediately unfurls Limbaugh‟s stance on the subject, which reads, “The logic and motivation behind this country's mad dash to distribute free condoms in our public schools is ridiculous and misguided.” Limbaugh is appealing to parents and educators about the problems surrounding teen promiscuity and condom distribution as a response. Limbaugh contends that the distribution of condoms in our public schools give the wrong message to kids that tell them that pre-marital sex is ok, and that condoms will prevent the consequences of unsafe or pre-marital sex. Limbaugh begins by discrediting the logic that is used by many advocates of condom distribution: "kids are going to do it anyway, you can't stop them." He uses
hyperbole in his argument, comparing the distribution of condoms for controlled sex to distributing guns to control violence, or „safe‟ cigarettes to teen smokers. This is highly typical of Limbaugh‟s style since he argues throughout this paper with emotion and appeal. Depending on which side of the argument you agree with, the way he presents his argument is either a rallying cry in opposition or just plain fear tactics. There is truth to both sides of the argument: teenagers (and humans in general) have free thought and action, and are capable of doing whatever they want. Although Limbaugh is displaying outrage and irrational thought with his examples, the underlying logic that condoms are a „band-aid‟ solution is correct (in my opinion). Advocates of condoms need to reconsider their position and see if condom distribution is not taking the „easy way out‟. I disagree with his assessment that condoms are an extreme solution to the problem. His use of the „slippery slope‟ fallacy is incorrect here, since he portrays the distribution of condoms as the first step towards schools just outright encouraging students to have sex. There is already controversy surrounding the issue of condom distribution, and the implementation of more extreme methods would be very unlikely.
The next argument is in the defense of abstinence. Limbaugh is highly critical of attempts to remove abstinence from school curriculum. He points to two cases, one in New York where abstinence was narrowly approved to remain in the sex education system, and in Jacksonville where the ACLU and parents sued because abstinence was approved as the main stance the local education system would take.
By distributing condoms, Limbaugh proposes that schools are encouraging students to engage in sexual activity. Public schools are places of learning for children and teenagers, and by distributing condoms from an educational institution they are sending the wrong message that „sex is acceptable and safe‟ to teenagers. To Limbaugh‟s credit, he does not specifically state that schools should stop distribution of condoms altogether, but rather emphasizes that the public school system should examine their approach to the problem. In recent years, the public education system tends to agrees with this and advocates abstinence and safe sex practices in tandem. The current trend is teen pregnancy is decreasing, but still double the rate of comparable industrialized nations. Since the time of this publication in 1992, the rate of teen pregnancies has decreased significantly. Condoms as well as other sex education programs, including have halved the rate of unwanted teen pregnancy since the time of the publication of this essay. I believe that condoms are a necessary evil since abstinence is not enough (this was the method used before condom distribution), and therefore condoms are a compromise (although a flawed and imperfect one).
Limbaugh‟s final argument is that condoms are not reliable. He claims a failure rate of close to twenty percent. Limbaugh then poses a question to its audience and compares the potential failure of a condom to death: “Would you get on a plane--or put your children on a plane--if one in five passengers would be killed in flight? Well, the statistic holds for condoms, folks.” Limbaugh also contends that condoms are providing a
false sense of security among teenagers, and that teenagers are being uninformed about the potential dangers of unprotected sex.1 However the statistic of twenty percent that Limbaugh points to is actually the worst case scenario for condom failure. And although the failure rate of condoms (if used improperly) is close to this number, when a condom is used correctly, the actual failure rate is closer to one or two percent. Again, Limbaugh is using scare tactics and misrepresentation to discredit condoms as a preventative measure to a certain degree. One or two percent failure is not a statistic that would be very convincing to parents or teenagers. However consider this: even at one percent failure rate, the chance of a condom failing is still incredible when compared to other potentially lethal or harmful occurrences, such as flying on a plane or being shot or in a lethal car crash. Doing an activity where a person knowingly accepts the risk of even a half percent or fractional chance of dying would be a hard pill for someone to swallow. Despite the fact that teen pregnancy is decreasing, STD transmission among teenagers is rising. In 2000, people aged 15-24 made up 76% of all new gonorrhea cases, 60% of all Chlamydia cases, and 50% of all new HIV infections in the United States. Therefore, Limbaugh is correct in saying that condoms are unreliable although he overestimates the danger. It is interesting to note that while I was doing research and study to better familiarize myself about the topic that the term „safer‟ sex appeared quite often, replacing the term „safe‟ sex. This to me is an admission that condoms and other apparatus are effective, but not fail proof, and even when using such devices there is an inherent risk of failure.
Abstinence in my opinion would be the optimal solution to the problem. STDs are not able to spread, if the host is not able to transmit it to another person. Teenage boys and girls are not faced with the decision of what to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, if they are not engaging in sexual activity. The promotion of abstinence prevents problems related to unsafe sex before it occurs. In the worst case scenario, condoms are better than nothing, and abstinence is better than condoms. Although Limbaugh would be loathe to admit it, condoms are effective although not optimal. It‟s a problem that goes beyond our public education system, and extends to popular culture and the environment that teens are placed when entering present society. Although it is clear that he is not petitioning for the removal of condom distribution system, he is admonishing our educating system to prepare a more comprehensive solution to the larger problem of teenage sex. Limbaugh tries to create a larger picture about the underlying problems behind teen promiscuity; however I believe he is only able to scratch the surface with his essay. Realistically, abstinence from sex for all teenagers is not something that public education or government institutions should enforce. In present society, teenagers will have sex no matter what educational policy is placed in our school system. Public schools should seek to educate teens about the potential dangers of pre-marital sex and minimize the problem by teaching abstinence. Teenagers would be more reluctant to engage in sexual activity if they are well informed about the risks. Ideally, my opinion to a solution to this problem would be a combination of both. Students should be educated about the consequences of unsafe sex, and even safe sex (given that condoms do have a documented failure rate even in the best of circumstances). Sex out of wedlock should be
discouraged by society (abstinence education) since the consequences are unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of STDs. Although the entire solution to the problem cannot be found or given in this essay, I believe that it has provided insight on the topic. Limbaugh uses passion to create a sense of urgency regarding this topic, which I find refreshing in an increasingly apathetic environment. The final solution lies in some sort of cultural compromise that society must form a consensus to solve.
Works Cited Smith, Wesley J. “The U.N. on Cloning: Ban It” The Daily Standard. 15 March, 2006 News Corporation 20 Sept, 2006 <http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/360mveat.asp> Strasburger, Victor C. “Teen Pregnancy Rates in the USA” <http://www.coolnurse.com/teen_pregnancy_rates.htm> “Current Statistics and Trends” <http://www.pubpol.duke.edu/courses/pps255s/2005/tteam-f/stats.htm> “Odds of Dying” <http://www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/odds.htm>