Thursday, June 20, 2013

What is the real point of abstinence only sex education?

You might argue that abstinence only sex education is meant to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). I submit that if you did so, you would be wrong. I contend that the actual purpose of abstinence only sex education is to shame and control young people by teaching them to despise themselves for having normal human emotions and experiences.

To begin with, abstinence only sex education is an abysmal failure at preventing either pregnancy or STDs. States that insist on using abstinence only sex education have higher rates of teen pregnancy than states that offer comprehensive sex education. A 2011 study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia found that “increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates”. In addition, abstinence only sex education does not prevent the spread of STDs or delay sexual initiation for any meaningful amount of time.

That’s because kids who are subjected to abstinence only sex education don’t actually learn anything about sex. Being human, sooner or later they’re going to have sex and when they do they won’t know the first thing about preventing STDs or pregnancy. Abstinence only sex education programs actually teach false and misleading information.

Students are taught that condoms have a 14% failure rate (it’s actually 2-3% with proper usage), and that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV or other STDs (completely false). 

Does this sound like useful information? 

In short, abstinence only sex education increases rather than decreases teen pregnancy, does not reduce STDs or sexual activity and provides kids with false and dangerous propaganda. Why would anyone sanction a program that was such an unmitigated disaster? Because it is effective at its true mission.

Here are a few things Pam Stenzel, an abstinence only sex education spokeswoman who regularly gives lectures to high school students, tells her captive teenage audience:
If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you.
No one has ever had more than one [sexual] partner and not paid.
I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous. 
In other words, abstinence only sex education is used to personally attack and shame young people. If that doesn’t turn your stomach, consider the story of Elizabeth Smart
Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home in 2002 when she was only 14 years old. Against all odds, she was discovered alive nine months later and reunited with her joyous family. She subsequently revealed that during her captivity, she did not take advantage of opportunities to escape. Why not? Smart credits abstinence only sex education:
I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.
Think about that for a moment. A fourteen year old girl is kidnapped and decides that no one will want her back because she was raped by her captors. That's the lesson she learned from abstinence only sex education.*
In summary, abstinence only sex education doesn’t work unless it’s intended purpose is to make girls feel dirty and worthless. In that case, its been a big success.


*Elizabeth Smart now runs a Foundation to help protect and educate children about sex crimes. She teaches children that "you will always have value and nothing can change that."


40 comments:

  1. Sad but true. Thank you for writing this. I just shared it with my 19 year old.
    I think we have to be more open about the damage some of these programs can do to people. I have often been silent thinking, "Not how I'm going to do it, but to each his own." I'm rethinking that.
    Thank you.

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  2. Thank you for your comment. It's nice to hear!

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  3. Here's a great resource for condom failure rates and proper usage, submitted by a reader: http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/explanation-condom-failure-rates?nocache=1

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  4. A lot of misinformation and misconception about abstinence education.
    Since the beginning of abstinence education in the early 1990s, teen pregnancies
    have dropped 40%, teen birth rates hit a 70 year low in 2010 and teen abortions are
    down 42%. (CDC stats) These are the years that the abstinence opponents call the failed policies
    of the Bush abstinence years. If that is failure... give me more of that! Those are also
    the years that teen sexual activity dropped from 54% to now 47% for high school students.
    Yes, less teens are now having sex. Abstinence is about the best health and safety message for
    teens. Teens want the info and appreciate it. It is a positive message that helps teens focus on their dreams and goals as they say no to things that can derail them... such as drugs, alcohol, and teen sexual activity. There are positive trends that need to be recognized and encouraged.

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  5. Yes, teen birth rates have been dropping. The overall average for the country is now about 3%. But that's because that overall rate encompasses the 1.6% of states like New Hampshire (comprehensive sex ed in schools including information about condoms and other forms of birth control) with the 5.5% of states like Mississippi (abstinence only).
    http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/teen-birth-rate-per-1000/

    Besides, don't you think it's presumptuous to say that teens appreciate not being given information about other types of birth control?

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  6. That is not what I said. I do believe that teens appreciate being given MEDICALLY ACCURATE information such as, even though teen condom use has gone up, STD/STI rates among teens has also gone up. They need to know that young people 25 yrs old and under will contract 9+million SDT/STIs this year. Teens need to know that 1 out of 8 teens who use a condom every time they have sex will become pregnant within a year. Teens need the accurate information that condoms will reduce their risks not that they provide "protection".
    Protection means "I am safe". While condoms can greatly reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission (if they are used correctly and consistently every time), they are not very effective in preventing the transmission of HPV or Herpes because those diseases can reside on parts of the genitalia that are not covered by the condom. The NAEA (www.thenaea.org) references 22 authentic abstinence education programs that have been published in peer-review journals and shown to be effective. Teens deserve to be given the facts and they deserve to be challenged to pursue their dreams and goals and AVOID the risks of teen sexual activity. Authentic abstinence ed programs accomplish this.

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  7. First, we may be talking at cross purposes. No one is saying that young people shouldn't be told that abstinence is an option (though how anyone could fail to figure that out is a mystery). or that sex has risks. The question is how to minimize those risks if you ARE going to have sex. Because over 2/3 of girls will have have had sex by the time they turn 18 and abstinence only sex education programs do not change those statistics. You can challenge teens all you want, they're still going to have sex.

    Second, condoms. Yes, condoms can easily be used incorrectly, and that makes a huge difference. All the more reason to teach people how to use them properly so they can approach the 2-3% failure rate rather than the 14% failure rate. And yes, there are many types of intimate contact from which condoms will not protect you. Again, a cause for more education rather than less.

    As to the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEE), I did find research articles referenced, but none of them were about abstinence only sex education. For example, the most recent citation discusses the fact that HPV was found in lung tumors. Unless the point is that the no one should ever have sex at any age, this finding has nothing to do with abstinence and it certainly has nothing to do with sex education.

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  8. Correctly and consistently? How many teens do you know that do anything consistently or always correctly? Like making their bed, taking vitamins or brushing their teeth? That is why the reality rates for condom use among teens shows closer to a 76% failure rate vs the 98% you referenced. Which by the way, the study that showed 98% was done with married couples over 30 years old. Not teens who are impulsive and don't have a fully formed pre-frontal cortex - their brain's judgement center. If 2/3 of teens were using drugs would we tell them to keep using them just use the safer ones? I don't think so. We always give them the best health and safety message including a path back to abstinence - re: drugs, alcohol or teen sex. Risk avoidance is the best message for teens, not risk reduction. BTW, your NAEA quote is obscure. That website is filled with valid info that is medically accurate.

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  9. re: NAEA: I went to the link you cited and clicked on 'research'. The HPV article was from April, 2013 and was at the top of the list. I scanned and opened most of the other articles on the site, and the only ones that were even tangentially related to abstinence only sex education were not research articles but press releases and opinion pieces.

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  10. Here is a link to the full abstinence works 2013 report with the programs that were studied and results. Footnotes will take you to more detail of the published studies.
    http://www.thenaea.org/docs/Abstinence_Works_Part2.pdf

    http://www.thenaea.org/resources/Abstinence_Works.html
    These are not press releases or opinion pieces.
    thanks

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  11. I live in Corpus Christi Texas and they teach fear and show us gruesome pictures of peoples privates, STD and disease ridden and tell us "THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!"

    They target the women and shame us, but do not touch men. They do not show dirty penis images or anything. They are all vaginas and what would happen to your vagina if you have sex before marriage. Most are mauled and unrecognizable, obvious rape victims.

    It is very terrible and sexist and should not be allowed in schools today. It is also emotionally disturbing to the 14 year old class. My peers already know about sex when shown this, I know about sex as well and what they teach us is plain disrespectful and degrating. The men love the class and yell at the girls going "YEA! SO DONT DO IT SON!" and laugh. Boys will be boys but it encourages segregation and basically tells women they are whores if they have sexual relations.

    My mom taught me most of my sex education and I am on a 99.8% effective birth control and i love it. They need to teach people how diseases are spread, how people get pregnant, and common misconceptions on how people CAN get pregnant (like how pulling out doesnt actually work) etc. That will really help.

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