Mothers of Abstinence

I showed up fairly late at Avogadro's Number for the Wednesday jam and it was already cooking. Eight banjo pickers and six fiddlers were tearing through Cripple Creek. I figured my 5-string couldn't add anything but noise so I found a seat at a table where a few other musicians waited for an opening.

"It's a regular cluster pluck up there," said Sue Forebucks. She plays slide ukulele, a solid gold instrument with wonderful tone but not enough volume to compete tonight.

"Yeah," said Sloan Down, an old guy who plays the electric bones. Told me once the acoustic ones were too much after all these years.

"But you can just crank up the volume on your cute little amplifier," said Sue.

"It ain't the noise, it's the speed. My wrists don't flick that fast anymore." He turned to me. "No offense, Mike, but sometimes I wish the parents of all the banjo pickers had practiced abstinence."

"Who said they didn't?" offered my buddy Seymour Sharpe who doesn't play anything but the devil's advocate (which he plays at a professional level). "Abstinence may not be any more effective than any other form of birth control."

"Well they're here, ain't they?" said Sloan disgustedly. "I figure if you keep yourself under control, you don't end up with kids."

The song ended all of a sudden so we all heard Seymour say loudly, "That's common sense, not statistics." Everyone stared at him, even the banjo pickers. One of them made a face then jumped right in to Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

I decided to listen to Seymour instead of trying to think of a ninth variation to play for a lead. "Is there a difference?" I asked.

"Absolutely," said Seymour. "If I'm comparing abstinence to condoms or the Pill, then I need to use similar methods. For example, I read somewhere that the prevention rate of diaphragms is 90%. Now I believe the 'true' rate, the rate of prevention when properly used, is closer to 99% but people get lazy and don't use it or excited and put it in wrong or run out of spermicide and don't care. Statistical studies take all those foibles into account by examining a cross-section of the population and measuring what happens without worrying about why. Now if I were going to analyze abstinence the same way, I'd take a random group of say, 5000 women between the ages of 14 and 25 who said they were going to practice abstinence. At the end of two years, I'd count how many had gotten pregnant to get a true measure of the effectiveness of abstinence."

"But those mothers didn't abstain," said Sloan shaking his head.

"Duh," said Seymour. "Common sense says throw those 500-700 ladies who fell off the wagon, so to speak, out of the study, but I can only do that if I also throw out the people in other studies who forgot to take the Pill or broke a condom. This sort of study gives me an accurate measure of abstinence that I can use to make valid comparisons with other measures of human, uh, interactions."

I asked Seymour, "So you think abstinence is only about 90% effective?"

He shrugged. "No telling without a study. That's just a wild guess, but it's less wild than assuming abstinence is one hundred percent effective. Individually, if you don't do it you're safe, but collectively, it's a different story. As public policy, government should abstain from promoting only abstinence, at least until they've actually studied it with valid statistics instead of making unfounded assumptions."

"Well, maybe," said Sloan scowling at the noisy musicians, "but I don't think abstinence from banjo pickers needs any study at all" Several heads nodded.

"No argument from me," said Seymour. I joined the jam figuring there was safety in numbers.