Yesterday I watched Senator Barak Obama (D-Ill) on the Oprah Winfrey show. During the interview he mentioned his distaste for certain commercials during family viewing hours, specifically erectile dysfunction ads during football games. This reminded me of the Congressional uproar following the Janet Jackson incident during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show. Janet was, coincidently, the guest on Oprah the day before.

It’s good to dust off an old commercial from time to time. I think several people will recognize the following from Spoofing the Janet Jackson Superbowl halftime incident, we see an attractive young woman testifying before Congress. Even this commercial was cut in length and not shown in it’s entirety for fear of FCC reprisal. Does the American public view policing sex as an absolute function of Congress?

America’s issue with public sexuality is seemingly rooted in its puritanical foundations. Legislation on public decency and sex education curricula continue to be newsworthy. Even the advertisement for Gardasil, a Merck vaccine for human-papillomavirus (HPV) which could potentially save thousands of women, has sparked controversy among members of conservative groups, some of whom sit on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory committee.

Family Research Council’s Bridget Maher warning that “giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex.”

Contrast this attitude with that in Europe. A quick search of YouTube and Google Video will yield a multitude of commercials from Europe, some of which portray sex in both a serious and satirical manner. It appears that for Europeans a more relaxed environment is enjoyed when it comes to public sexuality; a fact that can be verified by those who have spent any length of time in the EU. What some may find surprising is that this public acceptance of sex has little bearing on the issues that concern most Americans, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Western European teens have fewer pregnancies, and lower levels of STDs, than their American counterparts. Why? Because teens in Europe have easy access to contraceptives, confidential health care and comprehensive sex education.

The recent election is a decent indicator of how most American’s felt Congress was doing on the job, but how representative are our legislators. Typically legislators fall in between two dichotomies, acting as stewards of the will of the people or a more paternalistic manner where they determine what is best for the common good. Despite the fact that sex education and public decency were not at the top of the list of important issues for voters in 2006, where should Congress balance its priorities?

Despite the discomfort and embarrassment some Americans share with the topic of sex, evidence suggests that the current environment of censorship and abstinence only education is not only ineffective but may exacerbate the negative aspect of human sexuality. Benjamin Franklin said “the only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” On which side should Congress stand?