Over the past few decades, many state education systems across the United States have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that abstinence-only sex education is the best way to prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The Department of Health and Human Services, under the Trump administration, has also advocated for teaching abstinence to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs. While there is nothing inherently wrong with teaching abstinence, that should not be the only form of sex education that students receive. While many may choose to abstain from sex for religious or personal reasons, and they have every right to do so, it is unrealistic and naïve to assume that a majority of people will follow this decision.
To assume that teaching teenagers to “just say no to sex” will actually solve the issues of teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs, is absolutely ridiculous and downright foolish. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is true. According to National Institute of Health, states that fund abstinence-only sex education have higher rates of teenage pregnancy and STIs among teens than those that fund contraception-focused sex education. Thirty-seven states require that sex education programs include information about abstinence, 25 of those require abstinence to be stressed over other forms of sex educations, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only 18 states, and the District of Columbia, require education programs to present information about contraception.
According to advocatesforyouth.org, the federal government began the Title V abstinence-only funding stream in 1996, which provides states who accept the program with federal funding.
The states that accept Title V must “meaningfully honor” all points of the federal government’s definition of abstinence-only education, which include: “has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity; teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children; teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems; teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity; teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects; teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society; teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances; and teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity, according to advocates for youth.”
While it is easy to blame the government and the education systems for these problems, parents also need to be held responsible for teaching their children about safe sex. I get it. Talking about the birds and the bees to a bunch of snickering teenagers can be awkward and uncomfortable, but look at the alternatives. Teaching teens to use contraception and how to practice safe sex may be a weird conversation, but it’s better than the teen having a child before they are 20 years old or having a lifelong disease. Parents need to understand that they cannot rely solely on the education system to effectively teach their children about sex, especially in the 25 states that reinforced abstinence-only sex education.
As someone who is the result of teenage pregnancy, I can say with certainty, that while it is not impossible, it is very difficult to raise a child as teenager. Unfortunately, while teaching students about sex education, many schools will use the possibility of pregnancy and STIs as a scare tactic and a way to reinforce the abstinence-only approach to sex education. While these are certainly important topics in sex education, no one should assume that they will deter people, especially hormonal teenagers, from having sex. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the only effective way of lessening teenage pregnancies and the spread of STIs is to include contraception education into sex education. Hopefully, state governments will start reevaluating their approach to sex education, however, this is unlikely. In the meantime parents need to make sure their children are informed about all areas of sex education, not just on abstinence.