Abstinence only eduction has failed. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease and Planned Parenthood estimates that two thirds of teenagers will have experienced sexual intercourse by the time they leave school. Also, with some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year, America has one of the highest teen birth rates in the developed world. This article goes on to discuss the fact that the federal government is thinking about cutting funding to those programs that only use abstinence-only sex education. The article does a good job of pointing out both sides of the issue both the thoughts from the side that says that this education is obviously not working because it is ignoring the obvious facts that teens are having sex and so we need to help them to understand the dangers that can reside with having unprotected sex and how to protect themselves. It also discusses those on the other side of the issue who feel that abstinence is the only way to go because that is what their religion teaches them is right, that you should be a virgin until you are married. It even quotes one teenage girl who equates having sex before your married to having your future partner feel as though you cheated on them.
Now as I am sure you know if you have read this blog before, I am definitely not on the side of abstinence-only education. It is obviously not working and as said above it ignores the facts, kids are having sex. I would also venture that most sensible people would also add that we do not want kids to have sex, teenage pregnancy is an epidemic in this country and that statistic that I started with about the high number of teenage girls who are contracting STDs is saddening. But the real point of this post is going to be that there is something missing in the idea of abstinence only education and possibly other forms of sex ed that we are now using in our schools, they pretend that all of this happens in a vacuum. Abstinence only education may work if that was the only information that children are getting, but it is not. As I have talked about here and here children are receiving messages about sex and affection constantly and long before they get to high school or junior high when sex ed would usually be taught. They see their favorite celebrities pregnant i.e. Jamie Lynn Spears, they see mommy and daddy sleep the same bed and kiss or share affection, hell they share affection with their parents and relatives in the form of kissing and hugging. And as I have talked, at times children get into situations which might be inappropriate for their age such as kissing each other or laying on top of each other. So they are getting the message that sharing affection with someone you love is a good thing and so it only seems to make sense, to me, that sex becomes that ultimate sharing of affection. As preschoolers that I work with, they may not think of sex as the natural progression, but it doesn't take long for peers to start to "educate" each other about sex. I would reasonably say that in under five years this peer education is fully in effect so then they have a long time of thinking about sex and how to get to that ultimate goal.
Sure teenagers are not prepared for the consequences of sex and are not even thinking about it, but in the same way that misogyny and racism are deeply ingrained in our society so is the concept that sex is a good thing and that you should be having sex when you can. But with abstinence-only education we send mixed signals, we say that sex is ok within a loving relationship, marriage, but not before and yet all of the messages that we see in the media say that sex is fine anytime. Now, I am not coming down on the media here, although they are also at fault as well, but really as a society we need to educate our children better to understand and be able to process that sex is a big responsibility. I would never say you should wait till marriage, as that would be hypocritical of me, but I do say that we should encourage teenagers to be in more long term relationships and to be careful who they have sex with. I would also say that we need to educate teenagers on how to be safe with sex, that birth control pills should not be the only form of protection you are using and that the pullout method is just plain stupid and not effective. We need to take this on as a society and not rely just on the parents or the education system to do everything, this needs to be a joint effort of everyone involved from parents and educators to the media. Finally I would argue that we need to start a lot earlier with teaching children. We need to start to teach them when they are still young about their bodies and use proper names. We need to allow them to ask us as parents about sex and be open that children may have questions. I believe that once sex is no longer is such a mystery and that it is not forbidden to even ask questions, we may actually see the rates of teen pregnancy drop.