Picture this: A young girl who, just weeks ago, lived the perfect adolescent life. She had good relationships with her friends and family; she made good grades; she was a star athlete. Now, she is living with her life in turmoil and her head hanging low in a cloud of regret, because she had made one wrong mistake…and she had gotten pregnant. Incidents like these, the indelible results of unprotected teen sex, happen far more often than one may expect. The effects one mistake can have on a teenager’s entire life are truly calamitous. There is a very apparent correlation between the type of sexual education a teen is receiving and their chances of becoming pregnant, getting someone else pregnant, or acquiring an STD. There are two categories of sexual education: abstinence-only education and comprehensive education. While abstinence-only education seems ideal in theory, teaching sexual abstention exclusively contains many foundational flaws.
The educators involved with abstinence-only education are very particular about the information they choose to share and they often equivocate/alter the information they do teach in order to substantiate their opinions or biases. Conversely, comprehensive education encompasses a variety of important topics and fairly includes controversial issues that are imperative for students to learn about. The curriculum of abstinence-only education includes almost nothing about contraceptives, except for exaggerated statistics of their failure. Research conducted at the University of Washington shows that abstinence-only education is linked to the deterrence of contraceptive use among sexually active teens, while students who had received comprehensive education are 60% more likely to use protection if choosing to engage in sexual activity.
In school, it is taught that junk food can hurt your body, but that in moderation, it is not as harmful. However, seeing a voracious consumer of McDonald’s burgers stop eating fast foods is not likely, just as it is not commonplace that we would see a devoted health nut start eating the occasional bucket of KFC chicken. Teens are especially stubborn and incorrigible by nature, and it is extremely unlikely that a sexually active teen would stop engaging in sexual activity because they are told to at school, or that a non-sexually active teen would start because they learn how to take preventative measures. However, if a sexually active teen is taught about something that benefits them and keeps them safe (while still being taught about risks and failure rates), such as the usage of contraceptives, and does not try to completely dissuade them from their current behaviors, they are far more likely to listen.
Roughly four-fifths of abstinence-only education programs slant statistics on the risks of abortion and focus almost exclusively on worst-case scenarios. Abstinence-only education only goes as far as listing the horrific consequences of teen sex and sex before marriage, and presents the information in a shame-based, narrow minded manner, providing no solutions other than the ‘you should not have done it in the first place’ mentality. In regards to comprehensive education, educators go further to acknowledge that if a person makes a mistake, there are options for ways that one can cope and manage the situation rationally.
Abstinence-only education teaches that abstinence from sexual intercourse before marriage is the only acceptable behavior; it teaches only one set of values as morally correct for all students; it omits controversial topics such as sexual orientation and sexual expression; and it teaches that carrying the pregnancy to term and placing the baby for adoption is the only morally correct option for pregnant teens. This is small-minded and does not educate students in a manner that truly benefits them, or teaches them how to deal with reality situations.
These extremely myopic views suggest that the curriculum of abstinence-only education is heavily based on religious bias and very partial morals. While there is such a thing as fundamental morals that should be enforced at school, such as basic respect, every student should be entitled to their own opinions otherwise. Individual political and religious views need to be taught through one’s own culture and familial values. The job of the school system is to provide reliable information and to teach with the interest of the students’ well-being in mind, not sided views. By middle and high school, students have reached the age where they should be allowed to formulate their own opinions based on facts they are provided, as opposed to having them strictly imposed upon them. This kind of indoctrination should not, by any ethical standard, be used on the developing minds of students.
The effects of improper education can be imminently detrimental to a student, but also create some harmful long term effects. A student who is receiving abstinence-only education can believe the fallacies they were taught for the rest of their lives. Abstinence-only education is not only ineffective in stopping abstention, but can actually be harmful to its recipients mentalities. A common misconception is that comprehensive education does not enforce abstinence. While in reality, comprehensive education wholly emphasizes abstinence as the best and most effective way to prevent diseases, pregnancy, and all potential psychological issues. The difference is that comprehensive education does not evade the topic of basic sex education in order to suit a specific agenda, and actually teaches the students useful and healthy matters.
While abstinence has proven to be the only 100% effective way to avoid the possible negative consequences of premarital/teen sex, teaching a sexual education class solely based on abstinence is asinine. The name “abstinence-only sexual education” seems like a ridiculous oxymoron within itself, defeating the purpose of a sexual education class in the first place. While emphasizing abstinence to students is extremely important, sex is an inevitable part of life and is the basis of all human (and most animal) existence. Sexuality is normal and healthy and if the topic of the class is supposed to be sex, educators should not neglect to disclose pertinent and fundamental information to students. Whether it is today, tomorrow or in fifteen years, it is important for students to have a working knowledge of sex, because it is a topic so present and unavoidable in everyday life.
A congressionally mandated study of four of the most popular abstinence-only programs uncovered evidence that they were entirely ineffective. A different study on abstinence-only programs, present in approximately 13 states, has shown no positive improvements whatsoever. Contrarily, 23 comprehensive programs were investigated and the results were as follows: 14 showed a significant delay in sexual initiation, 13 showed drastic declines in teen pregnancy and STDs, and 13 showed substantial reductions in the number of sex partners in already sexually active youths.
Sex can be made analogous to driving. Once a person has learned how to make safe choices and has become mature enough, it can be beneficial and eventually may become an essential part of their life. If a fifteen-year-old enters a driver’s education class and all they say is ‘don’t do a, b, and c because if you do, you will get into an accident’, the 15-year-old does not know nearly enough to truly maneuver a car and cautiously drive on the roads. Although the teenager in the class may not need the information at that very moment, because they are too young to drive legally, it is important that they are privy to the fundamentals of driving, so they are well prepared for the future.
Many advocates for abstinence-only education claim that this type of curriculum reflects American values and represents what the majority of the population believes should be taught. Not only are the outcomes of abstinence-only education the exact opposite of what the few supporters are intending, but it does not align with enough people’s personal values that it should even be considered in being instituted as a normal standard of education. It does not make logical sense to implement an education program that has not only proven to be destructive, but does not even represent the consensus of the people it affects.