The delay in posting this comes from it being originally written for another blog; this might get taken down if the technical issues going on are resolved, and posting starts up again in earnest.
In a new study mandated by Congress, who’s reviewing yearly federal funding for abstinence only sex education programs this summer, everyone gets to find out what those of us who’ve taught comprehensive sex education have known for years: abstinence only sex education is not effective. As a matter of fact, exactly the same number of kids who go through abstinence-only courses decide to have sex as those who get the comprehensive sex education courses – about half. Nor did going through the abstinence only coursework delay having sex; they all started having sex about age 15.
So some folks are going to say, if it’s 50/50, about the same, what’s the problem? Why not promote abstinence only education, since it’s no more effective than comprehensive sex education?
While recent reviews of the abstinence only courses suggest that they’ve dropped their more inflammatory statements, such as Choosing The Best’s comment that the final stages of condom usage are to immediately wash the genitals with soap and water and either rubbing alcohol or a diluted solution of lysol, or several programs claims that it’s not at all uncommon to see women with genital warts the size of fists, they still base their curricula on fear, shame, inaccurate medical information, exclusionary language that leaves out anyone who doesn’t identify as heteronormative, often ignore anatomy and puberty, focuses only on heterosexual, vaginal intercourse, and utilize either outdated, misleading, or worst-case scenarios when they do discuss sexually transmitted infections (which is only done in fear tactic manners).
For me, that’s a pretty good laundry list of reasons to avoid abstinence only education. Add to that vague language that leaves teens thinking that abstinence means “no pens to vagina intercourse” and everything else is fine, without knowing how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections that can occur during oral or anal sex (as these are topics are often simply not at all covered), and I cannot understand why anyone believes these courses to be a good idea.
Abstinence is definitely a part of a comprehensive sex education program; I fully agree with SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a great resource on all things sex-related, including detailed reviews of the problems with abstinence only courses, and recommendations for how to get comprehensive courses in your community), who says that students “deserve comprehensive sexuality education that provides unbiased, accurate information about sexuality and relationships including vital information on such important topics as STDs, HIV, and pregnancy prevention.” We should be arming our children with the knowledge, self-confidence and ability to make the best decision for themselves – and the only way you can make the best decision possible is to have all the accurate information there is.