13 May Abstinence Education in Schools
The world we live in has been sexualized in just about every way. Our children can’t turn on the television without being inundated with racy images and messages. How do children growing up in this environment learn about respecting themselves and others as they contemplate sexual activities? How do they learn what is or isn’t appropriate, and at what age? How can they learn the skills necessary to resist what pop-culture tries to constantly force upon them in terms of sexuality and self-image?
One effective method of arming our children with important information is through Abstinence Education programs at schools. Schools in the U.S. generally begin teaching some type of “maturation” classes in the upper grades of elementary school and then introduce sex education classes in junior high or middle school. This is sometimes followed up with more extensive sex education classes in high school. In many cases, a sex education program is part of the health curriculum. The topics discussed and the methods used to teach are often a concern to many parents and lawmakers. Through Abstinence Education, teens are taught that abstaining from sex is the only way to avoid all physical and emotional risks associated with casual sex. Some Abstinence programs give limited information about contraception and STDs, but they focus on the importance of delaying sexual activity and resisting the pressures of our sexualized society. When teens are given appropriate medical information and taught abstinence they can make decisions that will maintain their sexual health and well-being. Abstinence Education programs empower teens to say “no” and mean it, without being scared of sex.
Funding for Abstinence Education Cut by Obama
Congress first allocated $80 million in grants for Abstinence-only Education programs in 1999. Eligibility for abstinence funding is based on guidelines that limit the introduction of content related to contraception, sexual orientation, etc. The focus of the programs receiving abstinence funding must actually be abstinence – refraining from sex. In 2005 the Bush administration backed the movement with $168 million. Programs throughout the U.S. have been implemented mostly in schools, where children and teens can be given good information at an early age.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s new budget indicates that he will fulfill his campaign promise to cut funding for Abstinence Education. His budget would eliminate most money for Abstinence-only Education and shift it to a different program aimed at teen pregnancy prevention. The new budget allocates nearly $178 million for teen pregnancy prevention, with a portion of that going to “innovative” programs.
The executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) responded to Pres. Obama’s budget cut by saying, “At a time when teens are subjected to an increasingly sexualized culture, it is essential that common-sense legislators from both sides of the aisle reject this extreme attempt to defund the only approach that removes all risk. Members of Congress would be well advised to listen to youth and parents in their districts who overwhelmingly support these valuable programs.”
Abstinence-only vs. Comprehensive Sex Education
There is a fierce debate between supporters of Abstinence-only Education and Comprehensive Sex Education as to which program is most appropriate and really has a significant positive effect on children and teens. Supporters of Abstinence-only say that traditional sex education sends mixed messages and that abstinence is the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). An excellent article by the Heritage Foundation outlines important facts about early teen sexuality and the effectiveness of Abstinence Education. For example, studies have shown that sexual activity at an early age has multiple harmful consequences including increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth, increased rates of single parenthood, decreased marital stability, etc. The article also explains that “there are currently ten evaluations showing that abstinence education is effective in reducing teen sexual activity. Half of these evaluations have been published in peer-reviewed journals.” On the other side of the debate, the ACLU and others claim that Abstinence-only programs are ineffective, medically inaccurate and are there to promote religion. These groups question the validity of studies that repeatedly show how effective Abstinence Education really is.
As parents, school boards, policy makers, etc., grapple with finding the right balance for sex education in schools, some are trying to mix a variety of approaches. Some have implemented “Abstinence Plus” programs that do not focus on the message of true abstinence or refraining from sex until marriage. Unfortunately, the danger with these programs is that in the end, little or no emphasis is placed on encouraging students to abstain from sexual activity. Instead, a significant number of these programs heavily endorse condom use and condone sexual activity among teens, and simply give a mention of abstinence as one choice among many. Nearly all such programs contain material and messages that would be offensive and alarming to the majority of parents.
There is a great need for our teens to receive good information about sexual behavior, and receive it in a way that allows them to make good choices. The cultural norm in societies around the world accepts the fact that teens are sexually active, but with proper information about the positive effects of abstinence, teens will be able to resist society’s pressures. In a 2007 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47.8 percent of all U.S. high school students 9th through 12th grade report they have had sexual intercourse. The percentage of high school students who have had sex decreased 16 percent between 1991 and 2007 (54.1 percent to 47.8 percent). Teen pregnancy rates among teens aged 15-19 also decreased 38 percent between 1990 and 2004 according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen an Unplanned Pregnancy. Abstinence Education can help continue this downward trend to give our children a chance to grow up and mature before engaging in sexual activity.
The Role of Parents and Families
Schools will always struggle to find the right balance when dealing with sex education. There will always be strong voices on each side of the issue trying to persuade us that their side is the right one. Ironically, however, it is not the school that can have the most significant influence on our children’s attitude toward sexual activity. A recent survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that parents are more influential than peers, the media, teachers, and sex educators when it comes to a teen’s decisions about whether to have sex. Most parents don’t think their kids listen to what they say, but that is untrue. Parents have a tremendous opportunity if they will be vocal and upfront as they discuss expectations and acceptable actions with their children.
United Families supports Abstinence-only Education to help families as they confront a culture that has become extremely sexualized. Parents have an especially important role as they teach their children important concepts about self-worth and proper sexual health. The debate over funding for Abstinence-only programs continues and it is more important that ever to raise our voices in support of Abstinence Education as President Obama and members of Congress cut funding for this important program. We can make a difference in educating and empowering our youth to make good decisions that will benefit them now and throughout the rest of their lives.