As our common ideas of sex and relationships change, our ways of teaching sex education in school needs to adapt. 27 states that have an abstinence-only policy, supported through Title V, that are harming children and teens as they grow up without learning the essential information needed to take care of their bodies. Over half of the country is receiving abstinence-only funding. These students do not learn the basic concepts needed to take care and control of their bodies, how to use contraceptives, and they may end up in undesirable situations from a lack of education.
Schools are attempting to teach sex education in the classroom but are failing to mention options besides abstinence. Abstinence-only curriculums consist strictly of how sex before marriage is bad. It disregards discussion on safe sex, contraceptives, and what to do in risky situations. It teaches more about the social and physiological implications of sex, disregarding the conversations on protection against pregnancy and STDs. Though abstinence is an important aspect to touch on, students need a more comprehensive approach.
In some states, the idea of abstinence-only is replaced by a “plus version” which is aimed to focus more on contraceptives but still stays far too close to the "only" realm. Compared to other curriculums, the abstinence-only or "plus model" can be viewed as a scare tactic. It is more important to learn all aspects of sex and health than to feed children scare tactics laced with misinformation. Teens need to learn and understand their bodies not be afraid of them.
Abstinence-only education can be a danger to students, as it fails to protect them from unsafe practices. No sex before marriage is a foolproof way to avoid getting an STD or ending up with an unwanted pregnancy, but to ask this of teens in frankly unrealistic. A study asking kids about their sex lives found that abstinence-only programs were ineffective in delaying sexual activity, or in reducing the risk for teen pregnancy and STDs. The study concluded that Comprehensive Sex Education programs, however, were associated with reducing teen pregnancy and decreasing the likelihood of a teen becoming sexually active.
Most students lack the knowledge about having safe sex. Teens are more likely to neglect contraceptives; thus resulting in high pregnancy rates. Abstinence-only is failing to help educate/promote healthy sex for young adults properly, however there is a more successful model on the market: comprehensive sex education.
Schools need a more comprehensive, evidence based sex education model in the classroom so students can learn to advocate for themselves and be empowered. comprehensive sex education can be thought of as a planned curriculum focused towards motivating and assisting students in maintaining and improving their sexual health, preventing disease, and reducing sexual health-related risky behavior. This model should include a variety of topics from anatomy of the body and sexual health, to families and relationships. Teachers with specific sex education training should be teaching the class, not just teachers with a typical gym and health degree.
Classrooms need to stress that although it is best to wait until you are in a committed relationship to engage in any type of sex, it is human nature to experiment with hormones and emotions. Students need to understand their body and their choices and if something goes wrong then at least they have the knowledge and resources to know how to deal with the situation at hand.
Comprehensive sex education is a must in public schools and abstinence-only is a proven failure. This can be fixed, through more training for teachers and better curriculums in the classrooms, we can teach students the vital information they need to know, while also keeping them safe when they decide to make decisions about their own body.
Organizations like Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education are working hard to change these policies through legislation along side a large cohort of concerned parents, educators, activists, and health professionals. Comprehensive sex education is not something that can be taken lightly, as it contains topics that are difficult to discuss, but in the end it will equipt students to make their own choices while being safe and empowered.
Kohler, Pamela K., Lisa E. Manhart, and William E. Lafferty. "Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy." Journal of Adolescent Health 42.4 (2008): 344-351.
Martin, Shannan, Robert E. Rector, and Melissa G. Pardue. Comprehensive sex education vs. authentic abstinence: A study of competing curricula. Heritage Foundation, 2004.
Miller, Kevin. "Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education." Keystone CASE,
Kevin Miller, 26 July 2017, www.keystonecase.org. Accessed 27 July 2017.
Schaalma, Herman P., et al. "Sex education as health promotion: what does it take?." Archives of sexual behavior 33.3 (2004): 259-269.
Pardue, Melissa G., Robert E. Rector, and Shannan Martin. "Government Spends $12 on Safe Sex and Contraceptives for Every $1 Spent on Abstinence." Backgrounder 1718 (2004).
"What's going on in my state with sex education and abstinence-only programs?" Advocated for Youth, www.advocatesforyouth.org/ understanding-sex-education-policy-and-funding. Accessed 28 July 2017.