Eugene Volokh points out a problem in the way some people are arguing for brute parental control rather than looking at serious studies to determine whether abstinence-only sex education has the effects it's supposed to have. He's right about that.
I do have a quibble, though, and I wonder if it shows a deep disagreement between many of the people on the two sides of this issue. The way he frames his criticism seems to me to assume something that many on the abstinence-only side will not grant. He says:
But if you're going to talk about what's actually "best for ... children" -- which is to say what's actually effective in preventing harmful behavior -- then don't claim that parents have some sort of innate insight into a process that they've never systematically studied, and as to which they have at best a couple of observations (and far from perfect ones, since they may not know that much about their children's sex lives). It's not that parents are less inherently "elite" than public health Ph.D.s. It's just that, on the question of what sorts of educational programs work in this area, only people who have indeed studied the subject in a systematic way are likely to have a trustworthy opinion on what will actually work.
That's probably right if we can all agree on what counts as what's best for children and then figure out how to measure that. But he's given a very explicit account of what's best for children, and it's not one that I think many people on the abstinence-only side would accept. He equates what's best for them (i.e. well-being) with preventing harmful behavior. Doesn't that assume that the only thing that can make their lives worse is their own and others' harmful behavior rather than simply not living up to high standards?
I wonder if this reveals a key difference in assumptions lying behind disputes about this issue. People who favor more comprehensive sex education are simply trying to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs. People who favor abstinence-only education are trying to promote a much broader kind of excellence than merely not running into those two very narrow problems compared to all the other ways people can fall short of the ideal sexually. (They have other differences too, including differences in what counts as the sexual ideal, but I think this issue is an important part of the puzzle.)
Now some people do agree with the Volokh view of self-interest, thinking of well-being just as lack of harm. But some people have a higher notion of excellence, and I wonder if that assumption leads many people to avoid the studies he wants them to pay attention to. If the studies assume something about what's best for kids, and it's not the most important thing about what's best for them in the minds of these parents, then it's no surprise that they don't care what the study shows. The study relies on assumptions they disagree with. It's thus irrelevant to them. Most of the people I'm talking about probably don't think explicitly in these terms, but I think it's part of what's going on. If I'm right, then they're not being quite as anti-intellectual as Volokh thinks.