Each year, almost 230,000 teenage mothers give birth to children whom they are not expecting, according to the Centers for Disease Control (“Reproductive Health: Teen Pregnancy”). Many of these pregnancies might have been avoided if those teenage mothers were taught comprehensive sex education in their high school health class. Comprehensive sex education teaches about the variety of relationships, decision making skills, and types of contraceptives, while abstinence-only sex education focuses on “traditional” heterosexual relationships, and abstinence-before-marriage programming.
Schools should not teach abstinence-only sex education because it is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancies, has been found to promote medically inaccurate information, and is not inclusive to all students.Abstinence-before-marriage programs, known as abstinence-only, have been ineffective in preventing STDs and unwanted teenage pregnancies. Researchers have suggested changing programming from abstinence-only, which is proven to be ineffective, to comprehensive sex education. In 2007, a nine-year congressionally mandated study conducted by Mathematica revealed that elementary and middle school-aged children who received abstinence-only education were just as likely as their peers who had received zero sex education to have sexual contact throughout high school (Trenholm). A different report by the Sexuality Information Education Center confirms these findings from Mathematica (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). These studies suggest that abstinence only education is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancies and unwanted sexually transmitted diseases, because regardless of being taught abstinence-only sex education, students are still having sex at the same rate as their peers with no sex education. For sex education to be worth the time, money, and effort that goes into creating programming, it has to be both effective, and include accurate information, two things abstinence-only is currently missing.
Abstinence-only programs have prevented students from knowing all of the information that is needed to protect themselves and their partners. Research from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that when students are given medically accurate information, they tend to make healthier, and safer choices related to sex (Mccammon). It makes sense that when students are given the information they need, they are able to make safe decisions. An example of students not getting all of the information they need is seen in the strict set of guidelines that abstinence-only educators must follow to continue receiving grants for programming. Most states do not allow sex education teachers to demonstrate how to use different forms of contraceptives, or even discuss some of them, which could leave students to figure things out on their own, leaving them open to making potentially unhealthy and unsafe decisions. Studies by Mathematica confirm the findings from the Guttmacher Institute (Trenholm).
When students are not given the proper information, their families and teachers are almost condoning unsafe and unhealthy behaviors and choices, because the students may not know any different options. To better protect students, sex education should include medically accurate and be considered a safe space for students of all identities.Abstinence-only programming promotes heterosexual relationships, excludes LGBTQ+ teenagers, and reaffirms gender stereotypes. Abstinence-only curriculum has compared homosexual relationships to pedophilia and incest, teaching hateful ideals to children, which excludes any students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). In addition to comparing homosexuals to pedophiles, abstinence-only programming has completely ignored non-heterosexual relationships by promoting “straight marriage” in the curriculum (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). This programming has gone as far as calling heterosexual marriage “traditional” and “normal,” potentially singling out students who do not identify as “straight” or heterosexual.Comprehensive sex education is much more inclusive to non-heterosexual students.
According to a comprehensive sex education article, about 79% of parents surveyed wish for their children to learn about different sexual orientations, identities, and relationships in school so they can be more accepting of their peers (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). If so many parents want their children to learn about different types of relationships, why does abstinence-only education focus so much on heterosexual relationships? According to that same study, about 92% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed have reported hearing derogatory terms used in their high school hallways (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). When students are taught that LGBTQ+ people and relationships are less than heterosexual relationships, it really does have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ students. Sex education needs to be inclusive towards everyone for it to work.
Public education should be teaching students to be accepting of people who are different than them, rather than equate homosexuals to pedophiles. In 2014, over 75% of students attended schools in a state where sexual orientation and identity was not a protected group against discrimination (“Abstinence Programs Isolate LGBTQ Youth”). This potentially leaves LGBTQ+ students with the threat of discrimination and bullying in their schools. Students cannot learn or participate in an environment that they do not feel safe or respected in. In addition to LGBTQ+ students being discriminated against in abstinence-only programming, journalist Sarah Mccammon cites a 2004 House of Representatives study which states that abstinence-only sex education “promotes female passivity and male aggressiveness” (Mccammon) which could prove harmful to students learning from this programming. Teaching students to accept the stereotypes that supposedly define them does nothing but harm students. It is becoming clear that not all students are given equal respect in some abstinence-only programming.
It is time for change in the way that students learn sex education.Opposition to comprehensive sex education has cited reports that claim abstinence to be the most effective contraceptive. There is truth in the argument that the single known way to completely eliminate the possibility of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases it to completely abstain from all sexual contact. Although condoms and other forms of contraceptives have been proven to be almost completely effective, abstinence is the only way one can be completely protected from sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy. It is important for students to learn that abstinence is the most effective contraceptive, but the truth is that students do not always abstain from sexual contact one-hundred percent of the time. This is why teaching something like comprehensive sex education, which includes information about how to obtain and use other forms of contraceptives is useful. The opposition to comprehensive sex education is correct about abstinence being the only effective contraceptive, but it is important to note that teaching about other contraceptives can help students make healthy decisions as well.
One of the most effective ways to prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies and STDs is to provide teenagers with all of the information available about different ways that they can make healthy and safe decisions. Whether that be informing them of the different types of contraceptives, or the various diseases that can come from having sex, students must be informed to stay safe. By promoting abstinence, the most effective contraceptive, while providing students with accurate information, teenagers can be better prepared to deal with situations that may occur in future relationships. Between 1996 and 2009, The United States government has spent over $1.5 billion on abstinence-only sex education, which comes out to about $150 million per year in federal funding (Mccammon). Comprehensive sex education has shown to be more effective in pregnancy and STD prevention, so why is it not being taught nationwide? Why has over $1.5 billion been spent on ineffective and inaccurate programming? We need to put our resources into education which teaches healthy decision making and prevents teenage pregnancy.