Sex and Washington interns

The Providence Journal

About a year ago, a conservative organization called the Independent Women’s Forum commissioned a study to gauge the sexual activity of interns working on Capitol Hill. The report surveyed 200 interns and found that about half had engaged in some kind of physical intimacy over the summer. Most relations occurred between fellow interns, but about 11 percent reported flirting or relationships with staffers and elected officials.

The survey is filled with hilarious factoids about the summer dating scene in Washington. For example, the study breathlessly reported that interns working for the Senate were almost twice as likely to engage in a casual physical encounter as their counterparts in the House. In addition, less than 20 percent of all interns believe that "hooking up" will lead to a lasting relationship. Scandalous!

Of course, none of this should be surprising. After all, an estimated 20,000 interns flock to Washington every summer. There is bound to be a lot of romantic intrigue when that many young people are together in one place. This abundance of sexual activity poses a very interesting question: Will young people interning for conservative elected officials and organizations practice what they preach?

What do I mean? Well, take Sen. Rick Santorum, conservative GOP stalwart from Pennsylvania. He is one of the leading congressional advocates of abstinence-only sex education. In the last year alone, he has secured more than $2 million for ideologically driven programs that encourage young people to save sex for marriage. For Santorum, these programs are part of a broad agenda of social conservatism. And every summer, Santorum’s office is filled with college-aged interns who want to help him fight the culture war.

Since Santorum is so eager to impose his beliefs on others, it seems only fair that his interns should volunteer for the cause. Santorum regularly bemoans the lack of traditional role models for young people; by publicly promoting an eagerness to forgo sex before marriage, Santorum’s interns could show that conservatives are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Of course, interns for elected officials shouldn’t be forced to go it alone. Conservative think tanks could also get in on the action _ or lack of action.

Consider the Heritage Foundation. It has an extremely robust internship program. It also has a strong affinity for abstinence-only sex education in public schools. These two worlds are bound to collide.

For example, Heritage Foundation interns often work on public-policy briefs, such as the many documents on the foundation’s Web site extolling teenage virginity pledges. If virginity pledges and abstinence programs are such a good idea for the public, they should be good for Heritage interns. These future conservative leaders should be willing to take public virginity pledges. After all, one of the cornerstones of conservative politics is the idea of voluntary compliance; if these young conservative aren’t willing to jump on the abstinence bandwagon, it seems fairly foolish to try to force it on everyone else.

Demanding that summer interns take celibacy pledges might seem draconian. However, conservative elected officials and their allies are eager to impose their brand of morality on everyone else; is it really too much to ask that they make sure their own house is in order? Better to assemble a coalition of the willing before mandating programs for young people everywhere.

Of course, I won’t blame conservative interns if they don’t want to become poster children for abstinence-only sex education. A recent congressional study found that many abstinence-only curricula were riddled with factual errors. Other studies, including one by the well-respected Guttmacher Institute, have found that virginity pledges are woefully inadequate at preventing teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In short, the programs being promoted by conservative elected officials and policy organizations are a complete failure.

In the end, both liberal and conservative interns will do their share of hooking up this summer. After all, summer romances are a rite of passage during college. Still, the hypocrisy of those who are working for abstinence-preaching organizations shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s important to practice safe sex _ but it’s just as important to practice safe politics.

(Ben Waxman is a senior at Juniata College, in Huntingdon, Pa. E-mail benwaxman(at)