More than just the Birds and the Bees
Right now the only type of education that is funded by the government is abstinence only until marriage. “By law, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are prohibited from providing lifesaving information about the health benefits of contraception and condoms for the prevention of STIs, including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy. These programs can only teach about failure rates of contraception” (Advocates for Youth). Currently, I have found no evidence that this type of program has succeeded in preventing teenage pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDS. So what does that mean to the people of Memphis? Well, Memphis has a teen pregnancy rate that is almost double the national average. According to statistics collected by the University of Memphis, in a 2008 study, zip codes 38127 and 38106 have teen pregnancy rates that have reached 26 percent.
The fact is that abstinence only programs are not successful enough in preventing teen pregnancy, actually they seem to be aiding in the spread of STDS and teen pregnancy because abstinence until-marriage programs do not teach about contraception methods. The government needs to accept the fact that teenagers are having sex and start funding sexual education programs that promote different methods of contraception.
Let’s begin by clarifying some definitions. First abstinence means voluntarily refraining from sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. And yes it is the only 100 percent effective method for avoiding unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. But, statistics seem to show that teens are in fact anything but abstinent.
Advocates for Youth supports encouraging youth, especially young teens, to delay sexual initiation. They also support sex education that includes abstinence and medically accurate information about contraception and condoms. According to their website “U.S. teens account for about 71 percent of all teenage births occurring in all developed countries. The United States’ teen birth rate is nearly nine times higher the Netherlands’, four and a half times higher than France’s, and over four times higher than Germany’s.”
Analysis of federally funded abstinence-only curricula found that over 80 percent of curricula supported by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services contained false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. Specifically, they conveyed:
- False information about the effectiveness of contraceptives;
- False information about the risks of abortion;
- Religious beliefs as scientific fact;
- Stereotypes about boys and girls as scientific fact;
Do we see the problem yet? Let’s be honest, teens, are more likely to engage in sexual behavior then they are to practice abstinence. Now, this doesn’t imply a “Well they’re going to do it anyways” attitude. Instead, we should be working to inform them of the correct safety measures and practices, not trying to scare them into believing that sex is a private act only to be done once you are married. The difference between abstinence only (or abstinence-only-until-marriage) and comprehensive sexual education is the difference between being naïve and being proactively informed. Comprehensive sex education addresses both abstinence and age-appropriate, medically accurate information about contraception. Depending on grade level, comprehensive sex education also introduces information on relationships, decision-making, assertiveness, and skill building to resist social/peer pressure.
For more information please read Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs: Ineffective, Unethical, and Poor Public Health.