(originally posted 02/09 at wordpress)
by Marissa Mark
Let’s talk about sex. Or can we? Since 1981, the federal government has been supporting abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Though theoretically, abstinence-only programs are a good thing, in actuality, they are ethically problematic; exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth; and create unknowledgeable teens (SIECUS).
Abstinence-only education, set up through the Social Security Act of 1998, states that the programs must teach, “social, psychological, and health gains of abstinence; abstinence as the expected standard; abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity; sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects; how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances” among other things (U.S. Social Security Administration). Abstinence-only education is somewhat like communism-- in that the idea looks good on paper, but the execution of it becomes skewed. Though it claims to be teaching what is moral and what is effective, it is misleading to teenagers.
“Comprehensive sex education teaches about abstinence as the best method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancy, but also teaches about condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with STDs” (Advocates for Youth). Comprehensive sex education talks about abstinence as being the best option, but doesn’t pretend that teenagers are innocent, and includes information about contraceptives, STDs, and sexual health.
The execution of abstinence- only education often is distorted. In 1997 in North Carolina, chapters covering contraception and STDs were cut out of ninth grade text books because it didn’t comply with statewide curriculum. “The board hoped that if they obliterated a discourse on condoms, getting down wouldn’t dawn on youngsters” (Mackler). Another skeptical route this type of education can take is better known as the Great Antipleasure Conspiracy which is where adults attempt to convince teens that sex is no fun. They even go as far as omitting the clitoris from high school biology textbooks (Mackler). Both of these courses are just ridiculous; teens will still find out about these sorts of things either from friends in different schools, online, or on television.
Even the curriculum of abstinence-only sex education is problematic. It not only discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, but also violates human rights. Because abstinence-only education, as previously stated, teaches “marriage as the expected standard of sexual activity” and “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful… effects” (Alford), it excludes non-heterosexual teens. It also “rejects the idea of sexual intimacy for lesbians and gays and ignores their need for critical information about protection” (ACLU). Access to comprehensive and accurate information health—including sexual health—is recognized as a human right (SIECUS). Abstinence- only courses often censor information about contraceptives or distort the statistics. They also lack giving any information about where contraceptives can be obtained. Without this sort of information, teens get confused.
Abstinence-only defense is weak. Kathleen Tsubata claims that it can’t be true that “kids are going to do it anyway” because that used to be said about smoking, racial discrimination, and drunk driving. Even though education of those topics has decreased their happenings, they will still continue to happen. Since the frontal lobe of the brain --which controls planning, problem solving, and judgment-- isn’t fully developed until a person’s mid-twenties, teens will continue to make bad decisions. Abstinence-only program supporters will tell you that they do teach about contraceptives, but they “do so honestly by showing the failure rates for pregnancy and disease prevention” (NCAE). Frequently it is shown that these sex education classes use the “typical use failure” as use failure whereas typical use failure is mostly due to incorrect or inconsistent use. By omitting important words and spinning statistics around, abstinence-only education ends up simply misinforming teenagers.
Although abstinence-only courses appear to be a good idea, the students being taught by their methods often experience bad side effects. Despite the fact that abstinence-only students often remain abstinent while in high school, 88% of them still engage in pre-marital sex. Studies also show that those in abstinence courses, if they engage in pre-marital sex, they are less likely to use contraception (CCGR). Previously mentioned is that the courses only discuss failure rates of contraceptives if they discuss them at all. If all teens are hearing about that over and over again, condoms and birth control simply fail at keeping them protected, then why would they even attempt to look into it? Teens in abstinence-only settings tend to see abstaining from sex meaning from vaginal intercourse. Due to misinformation and lack thereof, teens think that oral and anal sex is fine. In fact, those who describe themselves as being not sexually active often also report having oral sex instead of sexual intercourse because they were being abstinent (ACLU).
Abstinence-only programs are put in place to try to prevent pre-marital sex, but instead, they tend to create unknowledgeable teens and greater problems.