How Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Is Failing Everyone

This summer, the Trump administration has cut funding to a number of comprehensive sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs, instead redirecting the money to abstinence-only programs that are traditionally religiously based.

This decision will have consequences that will surely prove to be detrimental to individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole with access to family planning services further restricted and dependency placed on programs that have been proven to have the opposite effect. They also do not prevent teenagers from having sex. While the average age at which people are getting married has continued to rise, teenagers are still initiating sexual contact around the average age of 17-18.

This statistic is the same no matter what programs are in place, whether they're abstinence only or comprehensive. Facing the facts: comprehensive sex ed is not encouraging promiscuity or we would see a rise in the number of teenagers having sex that have been through this program.

The difference between the two types of education lies not in the number of young people having sex but, instead, in the consequences of the behaviors that they choose to engage in. Multiple studies have revealed that states with abstinence-only programs do not prevent teenagers from having sex; instead, they raise the teen pregnancy rate, the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, and ambiguity surrounding consent and sexual assault.

The information presented in abstinence only programs does not even have to be medically accurate; focusing instead on scare tactics and sexist portrayals of people (specifically women) who have a lot of sex as objects that are worthless, used, and unworthy of being loved. They teach that women should be conservative in what they wear, that boys have no self-control, and some even teach that premarital sex is illegal and can be punished with jail time.

Abstinence-only programs, particularly those that are religiously based and strictly anti-abortion also propagate medical scare tactics to dissuade people from participating in sexual activities. They teach bold-faced lies, including that women who have abortions are at a much higher risk for breast cancer, are more likely to be sterile, and are at a higher risk of suicide (there's no medical proof of this), that half of gay male teenagers have HIV, and that condoms have a much higher failure rate than they really do. In a 2004 study done by Congress, 80 percent of abstinence-only programs were found to contain falsified information. Despite their widespread illegitimacy, they are still widely praised by conservative organizations and continue to be federally funded.

Now, there isn't anything wrong with people of any age that choose to practice abstinence for whatever reason: religious, medical, personal, or anything in between. The issue, however, lies in education systems and religious organizations preventing students from being able to make the decision for themselves and refusing to equip them with the resources that they need if they do choose to be sexually active.

Abstinence-only programs don't talk about contraception, STI prevention, testing, and treatment, sexual assault, homosexuality, other types of sex besides traditional intercourse, or any other sort of sexual exploration that young teenagers are participating in. Instead, they focus solely on the narrative that any form of sexual contact belongs only within the context of heterosexual, monogamous, legally and religiously legitimate marriage.

Furthermore, —withholding essential medical information from young people is not only causing a great deal of damage to their well-being, but has also been described as a violation of medical ethics. The facts are clear about the serious consequences of these programs.

It is high time we abandon these backward, ignorant, and cruel ideologies in favor of programs that will actually work and leave the sexual health of our children in the hands of doctors, rather than politicians.

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