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Down a Dark Abby: Executive Summary

Jeanne Phillips, the current writer of the 'Dear Abby' column, is the leading authority figure among advice columnists. Her column runs in 1,400 newspapers worldwide and reaches 110 million readers daily - nearly three times the daily news viewers of ABC, CBS and NBC combined.


Phillips enjoys a tremendous platform to promote her beliefs on everything from wedding etiquette to handling the crazy uncle in the attic.


The 'Dear Abby' column has a reputation for dispensing solid, homespun wisdom, so most people assume Abby is a trustworthy source of traditional advice on all topics. However, a Culture and Media Institute analysis of Dear Abby columns from 2007 reveals that 30 percent of her columns address the topic of sex, and in 53 percent of those columns, Abby takes a distinctly non-traditional approach toward moral questions. Many of Abby's columns on sex could have been written by Dr. Ruth.


As many as 20 million of Abby's readers are under the age of 18. Millions of young men and women are forming their views on sex and relationships under the influence of a libertine advice columnist who is advancing anything but traditional values.


Major findings:


  • 30 percent of Dear Abby's 2007 columns deal with sex. That's 108 out of the 365 columns.
  • 53 percent of Dear Abby's 2007 sex columns reject traditional morality - the view that sex should be limited to marriages of one man and one woman.
  • Abby does not encourage unmarried adults to abstain from sex. Fifty-four columns address sex between unmarried adults, and only one column suggests that sex should be preceded by marriage. Abby's advice to a woman who wanted to take a 'friends with benefits' relationship (a sexual relationship between uncommitted friends) to a more meaningful level was to 'stop asking for a commitment, and fill the time you're not with him with friends - and other dates should you meet someone you 'click' with.' Abby did not tell the reader to cut off the 'benefits.' One column even accepted sex between cousins.
  • Abby almost never finds adultery to be wrong. Thirty-six columns address infidelity. In only ten of these columns does Abby suggest breaking off an affair, or not getting into an affair in the first place. Only once does Abby flatly state that an affair is 'wrong.' At times Abby appears to condone adultery, even homosexual adultery. 'Confused in Illinois' wrote Abby that she had no interest in intimate relations with her husband, but she is now involved in a 'passionate sexual relationship' with a female friend. Abby told her to 'look at the bright side. At least you now finally understand what has been missing [in her marriage].'
  • Abby fails to tell sexually active teens to stop having sex. Twelve columns address teen sex, and Abby's greatest concerns are avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Only three columns on teen sex suggest abstinence, and that was only for teens who were not yet sexually active. Her advice to a girl whose 12-year-old friend had engaged in sex was: 'She needs to be seen by a doctor because she has become sexually active.' Abby told another reader, 'Sex before marriage may be 'wrong,' but if my mail is any indication, it's happening….' Abby is an advice columnist. She's the one person who should never condone harmful, immoral behavior simply because it's commonplace.
  • Homosexuality is perfectly acceptable to Abby. Ten of Abby's 108 sex columns address homosexuality, and Abby never says homosexual behavior is morally wrong. Instead, she treats it as normal and ignores the well-documented, associated health risks. In one column, 'Distressed Aunt' wrote to Abby asking whether she should 'out' her nephew to his parents after finding an online profile that listed his sexual orientation as 'bi.' Abby told her, 'If your nephew were engaging in self-destructive behavior, I would say tell his parents. However, identifying one's sexual orientation doesn't fall into that category.' On October 10, 2007 the Associated Press reported that Abby endorsed same-sex 'marriage.'
  • Abby adopts a permissive attitude toward a variety of odd sexual behaviors. Twenty of Abby's sex columns address topics such as stripping, nudism and cross-dressing. Abby told a woman struggling to understand her significant other's desire to dress in women's clothing that it's a 'quirk,' and, 'If I really cared about him, I think I'd ask to spend some time with his 'other self.' Then I'd make up my mind about whether I could accept the situation.'

Conclusion


As evidenced by her massive audience, Dear Abby is regarded widely as a reliable authority on life's dilemmas. Yet her columns on sex reflect an unwillingness to support traditional, common-sense moral values that steer people away from destructive behavior and protect them from harmful situations. Dear Abby's advice on sexual matters cannot be trusted.