On June 5th, 2002, a 14-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart wakes up to a man hovering over her bed with a knife to her throat. Elizabeth is abducted from her home, held captive in the mountains, and raped every day, for nine months. She recounts her sexual education saying: “I remember in school, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.” She thought: “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if I am rescued? My life still has no value”. Abstinence only programs rarely divulge on any topic other than why sex is unacceptable, using the kind of sex shaming experienced by Mrs. Smart as a primary tactic. It is easy to see how abstinence-only programs ostracize individuals and take focus away from healthy relationships. An example of this ostracism is exhibited by a complete lack of education on LGBTQ culture. If a teen were to ask a teacher “is it okay to be gay?” in a total of 8 states it would be illegal to answer that question with anything more than a shrug . Adversaries of comprehensive sexual education however would argue that sexual education leads teens to become promiscuous and less conscious of the implications of premarital sex and safe sex.
My Opinion. I believe all people have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, including information about their health. I believe that this ideologically driven abstinence only education is incredibly unethical and ineffective.
3 Fixes for Abstinence-Only SexED
- Make it Comprehensive.
In nineteen states in the US, if sex ed is provided, they are required to provide comprehensive information on abstinence, but not on any form of contraceptive.
A progressive sex ed program in the US, could include information on the following issues: LGBTQ culture, consent, healthy relationships, pregnancy and STD prevention, pornography, and Planned Parenthood. The program could also have websites to answer any questions you may have regarding sex, self-appreciation and acceptance of others, and information about negative stigmas and myths involving intercourse. Abstinence could be taught and stressed as the best option; however, it would not be pushed excessively.
- Reliable Education for those who need it.
The broadest goal of comprehensive sex education is to support young people’s development into sexually healthy adults. Yet, abstinence-only programs can threaten fundamental human rights by withholding information about human sexuality and potentially providing medically inaccurate and stigmatizing information. As of 2015, less than six percent of LGBT students aged 13–21 reported that their health classes had included positive representations of LGBT-related topics.
Comprehensive sex ed for all would require the course to be mandatory for schools nationwide. However, parents could still be allowed to keep their kids from learning about any topics in this course. By allowing parents the option of opting their kid out of part of the program the roles of religion and family in raising a child are respected. The aim of this new more comprehensive sexual education would be to decrease unplanned pregnancy and STDs, and promote safe sex within a healthy relationship.
- Treat it like any other kind of education.
In 2016, a systematic review of systematic reviews, summarizing 224 randomized controlled trials. Found comprehensive sex ed improved knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes. Abstinence-only programs did not. In 2012, the CDC conducted two meta-analyses. Comprehensive sex ed reduced sexual activity, the number of partners, the frequency of unprotected sexual activity, the use of protection and STIs. The review of abstinence programs showed a reduction only in sexual activity, but the significance disappeared when considering randomized controlled trials.
A few years ago, federal funding shifted to evidence-based outcomes, letting effectiveness determine which programs get funding. In 2010, Congress created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, with a goal to fund the most evidence-based programs. However, last year Trump canceled funding for 81 projects that are part of this program.
Having sex and having morals aren’t mutually exclusive. Abstinence-only programs sound great on paper, but nothing is perfect. The youth of America have a fundamental right to accurate information regarding sex, and healthy relationships. Teaching about sex with love, appreciation, being safe, as well as recognition of diversity and sexuality should be far more important than chastising and deterring youth from enjoying a content and loving relationship.
“A Comprehensive Review of Reviews of School-Based Interventions to Improve Sexual-Health.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17437199.2016.1240625?journalCode=rhpr20.
Belluck, Pam. “Programs That Fight Teenage Pregnancy Are at Risk of Being Cut.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Aug. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/health/teen-pregnancy-prevention-trump-budget-cuts.html?module=inline.
Guttmacher Institute. (2017). American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Education. Fact Sheet on Sexual Education. Retrieved from: https://www.guttmacher.org Klein, Rebecca, and Rebecca Klein. “These Maps Show Where Kids In America Get Terrifying Sex Ed.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/sex-education-requirement-maps_n_5111835?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAG6MRATqEdNQEdKNoGd8_HjcPKzxa6CelEiKZvxJKHRLHXeULbz3MPZmNPA4BFmldhsSGWmM0coQeqx_0zEgw5-rECqni8Z-MvoJVjw37Iz_A0vx-04TlLsZVDXmh5r0FthiLsZnyMhKl41OBQ8sqcZxs4O9i5ERitlPFvwY2lU4.
Kosciw JG et al., The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, New York: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 2014, https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2013%20National%20School%20Climate%20Survey%20Full%20Report_0.pdf.
Office of Adolescent Health. “About TPP.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 7 May 2019, www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/grant-programs/teen-pregnancy-prevention-program-tpp/about/index.html.
“The Effectiveness of Group-Based Comprehensive Risk-Reduction and Abstinence Education Interventions to Prevent or Reduce the Risk of Adolescent Pregnancy, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Two Systematic Reviews for the Guide to Community Preventive Services.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Elsevier, 14 Feb. 2012, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379711009068?via=ihub.