Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Proven Impotent
$176 million is spent annually on abstinence-until-marriage sex education in the United States, but Congress is currently considering the renewal of their block grant program for abstinence-until-marriage sex education in light of a new study that concludes that students in the programs are just as likely to have sex as those who are not in the programs.
The study, released this month, was ordered by Congress and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. The study observed about 2,057 youths. Some were students in four abstinence-until-marriage programs around the country and some were students in the same communities who were not participants in the programs. The students in the programs participated for one to three years and were between 11 and 12 years old when they began the programs. The youths came from big cities as well as rural communities.
According to the research, one of the programs reported that its students had as many sexual partners as students who did not participate. Also, its students had sex at around the same age as those not participating.
The study says, ‘Program and control group youth appear better informed about the risks of pregnancy than about the risks or consequences of contracting STDs.’ This part of the study leads us to question the American perspective and management of teenage sexual activity.
Our government’s approach to preventing teenage pregnancies and the spread of venereal diseases encourages saying ‘no’ until marriage. In 1996, Congress appropriated $250 million dollars over five years to abstinence-until-marriage programs. These programs would adhere to teaching the social, psychological and health gains through abstinence outside of marriage and that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and transmission of venereal diseases.
As a result, the federal government assumes that the responsibility ends there and, therefore, their methods do not emphasize the availability of sex education and contraceptive and disease-preventive information.
The United States must recognize and accept, rather than ignore, the needs of the inevitably sexually active youth. We need to redirect the funds currently reserved for abstinence-until-marriage programs to implementing more comprehensive sex education which can include abstinence as part of the curriculum. At a time when more than half of the United States’ 18-year-olds have already had sexual intercourse, it is important that the government focuses on programs that prevent pregnancies and the spread of venereal diseases.
There are critics of the study, including the National Abstinence Education Association. The executive director, Valerie Huber, believes that the studies began during the programs’ infancies and, therefore, are not representative of the entire field of abstinence education, which has evolved since then.
Nonetheless, many European countries more effectively prevent pregnancies and transmission of diseases by encouraging responsible sex rather than no sex, and European teenagers, particularly those of the Netherlands, Germany and France, generally delay sexual intercourse until two years after U.S. teenagers do. These countries have also had better health outcomes: According to Advocates for Youth, an organization in Washington, D.C. advocating responsible sexual and reproductive decisions, Germany’s gonorrhea rate is close to 25 times less than that of the United States.
According to Advocates for Youth, Germany discourages transmission of venereal diseases such as HIV by recognizing the need for protection, developing motivation for that protection and teaching safe as well as unsafe behaviors to people infected with the disease.
Also, according to Advocates for Youth, Germany believes that sexual education should include learning the sexual physical processes, understanding individual sexual development, understanding the positive effects of shaping a full sexual life and learning about prenatal life. Students are motivated towards sexual responsibility as well as to shape intimacy and tenderness in relationships. Students are also taught to deal with sexual abuse and violence.
According to another study released in March 2005, adolescents who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to contract STDs because they substitute anal or oral sex for sexual intercourse. It seems as if our country’s attempts to impede teenage sexual behaviors have instead lavished the idea of sex with a forbidden-fruit appeal, leading teenagers to escalate their opinions of sex or engage in riskier sexual activities.
Given the results of the study, our country must recognize the inevitability of teenage sexual engagement and deflect our approaches to advocating sexual responsibility.