Kayla Chandler English 1113- Section 204 Professor McPhate 24 April 2010 Abstinence-Only Programs: Friend or Fiend? We’ve all been through the routine of the abstinence-only sexual education class. The fun of ditching the usual science lecture, slowly killed by high-pitched voice of a curly-headed old woman (usually with a golden, Christian cross hanging gingerly across her chest) rambling on and on about the dangers and horrors of premarital sex. After an hour or so of mildly intimidating slides, signed virginity pledges, and reiteration after reiteration of the “joys” of waiting to have sex until after marriage, we go on our way; some of us are affected, but most of us feel as much catharsis as if we’d just watched the evening news. While abstinence-only programs leave an impression on the conscience and hearts of some teens, offering them a new perspective on sexuality, the programs fail to give valid information, a fair perspective, or options to those teens who choose to be sexually active, a fault that has had dire consequences on our society.
Although the idea of using scaretactics and moral questioning to force teenagers into celibacy is an appealing one, it is hardly rational. Abstinence-only programs do not delay the initiation of sexual activity, a choice that many teenagers make regardless of what they’ve been taught (National Sexuality Research Webpage). In fact, regardless of the barrage of abstinence-only programs in the United States since the Clinton Administration, forty-seven percent of teenagers have sexual intercourse by the time the reach the age of seventeen. For this forty-seven percent, abstinence-only programs are violating their basic human right to make their own informed decision about sex, sexuality, and how to practice “it” safely, leaving the fifty percent of teenagers ages 12-17 who want more information about their sexual health (The Kaiser Family Foundation) in the dark. Another tragic flaw in the design of abstinence-only programs is its refusal to give any information whatsoever about preventing pregnancy; instead, it focuses solely on the idea of waiting until marriage to have sex, which puts those teens already involved in sexual activity at a higher risk for unplanned pregnancy. With this refusal to focus on methods of birth control, it’s no wonder the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world: one-third of girls experience a pregnancy before their twentieth birthday. Even more startling than this statistic is the proven fact that teenagers that are properly educated about birth control are more likely to use it when (and if) they become sexually active (LIVESTRONG. com News). With these hard facts and stunning results of a generation raised on abstinence-only education, where is the action for change? Disregarding the fact that abstinence-only programs fail to provide information about birth control, the programs also fail to provide information about sexually transmitted diseases. Sure, instructors will “beat the dead horse” of the horrors and tragedies of contracting an STD without mercy, but they fail, epically at that, to provide any information on how to prevent these grotesque diseases they display, except for abstaining for sex altogether, a feat that obviously isn’t being accomplished by today’s teenager. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reported in 2007 that one in four sexual active teens between the ages of fourteen and nineteen contracted a sexually transmitted disease; fifteen percent of the aforementioned infected had more than one disease (Long). If that statistic doesn’t shock the proponents of abstinence-only programs, maybe the fact that approximately half of all new HIV infections occur in people under the age of twenty-five will (KFF). Not only are abstinence-only programs outdated and unrealistic, they do not work as well as they should, cost tax-payers far too much money for their success rate (which is extremely low), and are not backed by the medical community or any prevalent statistics whatsoever. Americans are spending billions of dollars on a sexual educational system that is totally ineffective. Abstinence-only programs have received almost one and a half billion dollars in federal funding since 1993. Not only are we spending tons of cash on these programs, most of them are flawed to the point of intervention by Congress. Out of thirteen grant-receiving programs investigated by Congress in a 2004 study, only two were free of “major statistical errors and distortions. ” What’s ironic about Congress’ findings is those two programs were the ones used the least nationwide (NSRW). Adding fuel to the refuters of abstinence-only programs is the lack of support by the vast majority of the medical field. Abstinence-only programs have been criticized in official statements by many professional associations and organizations, including, but not limited to: the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School psychologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association, all of whom maintain that sexual education must be comprehensive in order to be effective. Two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on abstaining and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior, compared to one-third in abstinence-only programs, according to a 2008 study (KFF). Regardless of whether the United States wants teenagers to be sexually active or not, some will choose to be so. For these teenagers, abstinence-only programs are detrimental to their physical well-being. Dr. Margret Blythe of the American Academy of Pediatrics even went as far as to assert that “there is evidence to suggest [the inaccuracies and distortions] in most of these programs are harmful and have negative consequences by not providing adequate information for those teens who do become sexually active. ” (Long). Whether or not parents, conservative government officials, religiously-biased instructors, and proponents of abstinence want it or not, one fact remains: we do not live in a perfect, Leave it to Beaver world where kids wait to get married before jumping into the waters of sexual relations. No amount of scare-tactics, promises of emotional well-being, or warning of unwanted babies and genital warts will ever change that. While abstinence-only programs do inspire some teens to hold off until marriage and “do the right thing,” most won’t. Will they be forced to listen to droning, irrelevant, cross-bearing old ladies forever, facing rampant STDs and unwanted pregnancies, simply because we as a society won’t wake up and provide for our youth’s needs? Or will medical expertise, realization of human sexual nature, and the desire to accept the inevitable win over, giving our youth a more informed path through their journey through sexuality?